My best friend died just a month before his birthday. It wasn’t of COVID-19.
“Na-COVID?” was the initial reaction of most people we relayed the news to, which is very understandable in times like this. My best friend and I had underestimated the plague. We thought there was only one way to die at this time.
I remember watching Studio Ghibli’s “The Wind Rises” with him one evening. I started making gurgling noises because, spoiler alert, the girl in the movie dies of tuberculosis. I was thinking about my buddy—what if he also died? “I’m not gonna die,” was all he said, with a wide smile that comforted me.
If only life gave us a spoiler warning.
We thought that the only way to die in a pandemic was by being infected with the virus that was fast spreading all around. Every time either of us would go out, we always reminded each other to wear our face masks, bring alcohol, and stay safe. But since neither of us anticipated an aneurysm in any way, especially at 18, we never told each others’ blood vessels, “Hey, don’t pop, okay?”
When we’re alive, we underestimate life. Or probably, life underestimates us. Maybe it goes both ways. There are experiences that those who die young aren’t able to do—like graduate from college, watch the latest Marvel movie, or even just laugh at a new meme. We, the “lucky ones” who don’t die, proceed to live in regret—not for us, but for the other person, knowing that he or she would have enjoyed these little things had they lived.
I have my own piece of regret. It comes from a common piece of advice given to young people in love: “You’re still young, so don’t invest too much in it, okay?” or “You don’t know if you’re going to end up together yet, so don’t dwell on it.” And from the more conservative ones: “You’re a girl. It’ll be un-ladylike if you run after him.”
I took this advice way too far. And the lockdown made it worse. I wasn’t able to express my love in the ways I wanted to. No holding hands, no exchanging hugs, or even just seeing each other physically even for a minute, like we used to do in church every Sunday. There were just the screens of our laptops, casting our frustrations when we weren’t able to communicate properly. This negativity shaped itself into a needle and poked a hole in my heart. It made the eternal amount of affection I had for my best friend drip and drip until I couldn’t feel it anymore. I succumbed to defeatism—to the point where I didn’t give him enough of the love he deserved.
The people who think the pandemic is contained very well are somewhat like these traditional titas telling us to stay still. “Just stay in your house, and wait for your ayuda.” “Watch Netflix or make some dalgona!” “Look, the government is doing its very best to contain this.”
We say these things until we ourselves are contained forever, and not the virus.
This leads me to remember a quote from the movie my best friend and I cried to: “The wind rises! We must try to live”—Paul Valéry.
In a world where we are held back supposedly to stay safe, it’s easy to tell others not to give it their all. It’s easy to echo their sentiments: “I have so many days ahead of me,” “I still have a long life,” “I am safe”—so much so that we forget about the love we could have given the other person, until we can give it to them no more.
We have missed out on so much because of the lockdowns—such that when we hear news of another person dying, we think they died from the same cause that had afflicted others. But even if that’s true, how can we continue to live for our dear departed if we’re being contained by something we’re not even certain is going to end at all? How can we continue to live for them like how we’re living now?