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When longing becomes permanent |

Young Star

When longing becomes permanent

Ella Rivera - The Philippine Star
When longing becomes permanent
Art by Neal P. Corpus

MANILA, Philippines — My bedroom window opens up to a view of EDSA. A piece of it, anyway. My building is positioned in a way that it’s not too close to the streets, far enough that I can’t make out the faces of people inside their vehicles. It’s strange, EDSA: it’s now sparse, eerily quiet at times, with the billboards dimming exactly at midnight, signaling that the city’s asleep. I used to battle it out there every day just to get to places. That feels like a lifetime ago.

Now I wake up, and it’s mostly the same — check my phone, open work-related apps, say hi/hello/good morning to people I care about (which are limited to four), cook or order in, wait for the day to pass by, and repeat. In between those moments is a particular feeling gnawing at my every move: longing.

It’s been a few months since the pandemic took place, causing a public reckoning that has exposed the many injustices in a system already bursting at the seams. It destroyed the illusion that this is functional and that it was ever sustainable. This — and with much hatred spoken sternly under my breath — is the “new normal,” whatever that is. As I look out my window and see a sliver of the past, my longing felt permanent.

I’ve always been one to obsess over a wish or a desire — my fixations weren’t just distractions, they were my world. They gave me goals, no matter how absurd, and kept me on my toes. I yearn so much and in such specificity that I can pretend I’ve lived it already. Yearning presents me with a world of possibilities, so much so that reality never stood a chance. A K-pop idol with a secret lover. Yes, that could be me. A commoner in a quiet country overseas, reading for pleasure. That could be me, too.

Sometimes it’s just reiterations of lives I’ve already lived or moments that already happened. I go back and forth to the list of romantic obsessions I’ve had like side quests waiting to be uncovered. I look for hints or angles that I might have missed in the heat of a moment, any moment, and turn it upside down. It could be a person, a thing, or a feeling. I don’t mind. The sentiment is enough.

As I got older, I longed for simpler things — things that, in retrospect, were necessities for decent living. “Oh,” I thought, “what joy it would be to live in a two-bedroom apartment of my own.” I would even bargain — I mean, if I could go home from work in less than two hours? What a daydream.

I think about how I was supposed to meet friends and eat KBBQ in Makati and afterward window shop in nearby malls while we figure out how to get home. I now look at people passing along the sidewalks, wondering if this is their only way to get back. I think about my favorite places that shaped me, and how those safe spaces are dwindling month by month, testament that the capitalist nightmare has prevented them from flourishing. I think about lives affected by this deadly virus, and I long for their lives, too. I even think about New Zealand, a lot, and long for a government that cares about its people.

I’ve stretched my imagination during this time of solitude, as I live alone now, going as far as letting my thoughts dip into the pool of reincarnation. I dream about starting over or what it would be like if I went back home. I’m lucky and privileged enough as it is, but my longing remains. With my private ambitions feeling like impossible wishes, my dreams remain just that — dreams. It’s opaque and inconceivable, even though some of it should not be, because with a reality like this, making plans for the future seems futile.

Are we always going to be longing? At what point does the merry-go-round stop and the universe points at you and decides it’s your turn? Will hard work ever be enough? The notion deludes me — I know longing is part of who I am, and the K-pop idol is wishful thinking, but reading for pleasure in a quiet country overseas should at least be workable, I think.

I guess it’s a good thing that I can’t make out the faces of the people inside the cars from my window. I wonder: why are they outside? Is it because of want, or is it because of necessity? As I squint at their shadows, I try to make sense of their imagined lives. I always look out for them to try to figure out who they are, and what my life would be like without all this longing.

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