This year, I lost the drive to connect, and I developed a fear of attachments.

Since the lockdown started, I have unfolded my introverted self once again—it’s as if I opened an old box that had been kept away for a year.

I’ve always had an introverted personality, but that changed in my last two years in college. In 2019, I surrounded myself with people I enjoyed being with. I wasn’t as shy and as awkward as I used to be. I was exposed to different kinds of people—a bittersweet yet insightful experience. I was overflowing with authenticity, love, passion, and rebellion. I now think it was the peak of my life.

Then, COVID-19 happened, and it slowly killed my energy to mingle with the rest of the world. My very own Pandora’s box released all introverted traits that I used to have. So, no new friends.

Or at least I thought. I became friends with grief this year—the only new company I’ve gained since the quarantine.

I guess it’s all rooted in my being a Papa’s girl. My father and I were close. Since my mother is a teacher, I grew up spending most of my time with my father. We watched cartoons together. We napped together. We walked the streets of our subdivision to buy candies from a sari-sari store together. We ate together. He was the one who fixed my hair when I was in preparatory school; I would always be in pigtails. Sometimes, I would wear a thick headband. He taught me how to swim, how to love the beach, how to color, how to love art.

He taught me what good food tastes like. He taught me what unconditional love looks like.

Among many other ailments, my dad had a heart condition. He underwent heart surgery back in 2011—I was 13, he was 49. I had just graduated from sixth grade. My family and I spent our summer vacation at the Philippine Heart Center. There were no private rooms available for us since my dad was staying in an operating room. My mom, sister, brother, and I just had to stay along the corridors and sleep on the chairs in the hallway. It was the first year of my teenage years, so I didn’t really process everything that was happening. I was just well aware that I needed to pray for my dad, to ask for prayers and support from my friends. I was aware that my family had to sacrifice comfort for weeks.

Eventually, my dad’s surgery was a success. He was the youngest patient in the hospital to receive a heart surgery. I don’t recall the number of stitches that he had, but there were a lot. From that time on, I was always reminded not to do anything that would anger him, because it would harm his heart. I was always afraid whenever I put him in a bad mood.

Still, despite his condition, he never failed to attend to me. He still cooked for us, and drove me to and from school. He was always present on the most important days of my life. He wouldn’t miss them for the world. He did his best, but he was also always sickly. He would go in and out of the hospital.

In 2019, he started dialysis. He would always update us through Messenger, saying, “On my way to CLDH (the hospital),” and whenever he was headed back, he would say, “Going home.” On the 23rd day of my birth month this 2021, a different kind of “going home” flashed before our eyes. “Going home” was the message illuminated in my dad’s casket. That night, grief waved “hi” to me, and we started being friends. It accompanied me everywhere. It followed me while washing the dishes, taking a shower, painting, walking. It was always there like a shadow.

A month after my dad passed away, I watched the movie “Crazy Rich Asians” for the first time. The wedding scene had me sobbing. I was reminded of the painful truth that if I got married in the future, my dad wouldn’t be physically present on my wedding day. I wouldn’t have the chance to have him walk me down the aisle. It hurt a lot. I realized that many other deaths came along after his passing—like the bond of a father and a daughter, the trips with a man who always wanted to take pictures, the delicious dishes no one in the family had the chance to learn the recipes of. The list goes on.

Then again, there’s grief keeping me company.

Papa’s death will always be the most painful thing to happen in my life. But it wasn’t the only death that I encountered this year.

I watched my passion for the arts slowly disintegrate. I no longer had the passion to create from deep within. It was as if the fire within that I used to have was now just smoldering. Sometimes, I would force myself to paint for social media content. Instagram is the platform I rely on to sell my products, so it would be an advantage if I posted daily. I also punish my brain, trying to squeeze out creative juices. It has been, and continues to be, a struggle to be a local traditional artist in a Philippine province, especially at this time.

I’ve also witnessed the slow death of a handful of friendships that I once cherished. I lost a lot of friends this year and in the previous year. I made mistakes and hurt people, and in return, they did the same to me. I guess that’s just how life is. Even after trying your hardest to avoid hurting your loved ones, you still end up hurting them.

It’s been a difficult year.

So, yes, no new friends—other than grief. But as they say, “as long as there is love, there will be grief.”

Being human during this difficult, excruciating time is already a lot.

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