I’ve been back from The Philippines for ~six weeks now as the world-wide Community Quarantine limps through to its final phase. Or not. And limping is how I feel too through this strange artificial existence. Life doesn’t stop just because our liberty has been so curtailed, yet somehow I sense a latent mood of compliance and empty acceptance, resignation. My greatest fear is that I become habituated to this confinement business and my intention to live life vigourously drifts to just a distant memory.
I lament my forced separation from Carmen Beauty; I am missing her company and constant companionship and feeling quite lonely. We Skype twice a day, sometimes four times a day, adjusting for the twelve hours difference in our time zones, and keep ‘in touch’ (ha!) that way. She waits for me to phone her at 6:00 am Ottawa time which is 6:00 pm Philippines time. I know she is itching to talk to me but she knows I am unreliable at my rising time and so has to wait until I signal her that I have my first coffee in hand and am ready. This is my normal morning pattern to which she became conditioned while we were together in Philippines: I like to read email and the news while I work through my first (and sometimes second) cup of coffee before I am really ready for chit-chat. I’m not actually grumpy but I am reluctant, or perhaps you might say rude. Regardless, Carmen knows there is no point in forcing me at dawn’s early light.
By 9:30 am (9:30 pm Filipino time) Carmen is in bed, eyes getting smaller. She likes to say good night to me, though sometimes when I’m in a meeting, (occasionally face to face, more likely on the phone) or even deep in concentration in my writing, we miss this call. It’s not really an intimate moment as she is surrounded by her 3 or 4 ‘bodyguards’. I’m not sure how effective these bodyguards actually are as one of them is only 3 years old and the others are all on their devices. Still, she has a lot of company, some in bed with her, others on foam mattresses on the floor, all taking advantage of the single air-conditioned bedroom.
Twelve hours later the situation is reversed: 6:00 pm Ottawa time is 6:00 am Philippines time and Carmen is ready to talk to me: magandang umaga(beautiful morning). Actually she has probably been up since 5, or 5:30 but I don’t like to reinforce this crack of dawn wakefulness. Regardless, we chat for 30 minutes with me telling her how my day went and her telling me her plans for the day. Her plans are usually pretty much limited to household chores because as a senior in Philippines she has to have her permit handy in order to egress her barangay and she is worried (or perhaps even more to the point, daughter Celca is worried) that she might be exposed to the novel corona virus. Even though the infection rate in the Philippines is considerably lower than here [Canada], it is, predictably, higher in denser populated areas, Manila and the surrounding provinces in Luzon. There have been cases in Trece Martires, and even more to the point, in her barangay of Capital Hills, so their fears may not be misplaced.
By 9:30 pm I am getting ready for bed and Carmen wants to make sure I am properly tucked in.
(Curiously, because we were in each other’s company for 385 days until I was obliged to leave her in Philippines on May 13, I still have trouble adjusting to the difference in time for us.)
The pattern is now well established but increasingly it is not satisfactory, for either of us. Skype and Messenger and the rest of the voip technologies are wonderful to close the distance (though the signal is often annoyingly broken or pixelated and lagging), and cost nothing except internet installation, but it is not the same as in person contact, and the close familiarity of just being together. In the first few weeks of our separation whenever I called her Carmen would soon be in tears, and I would try to comfort her, and avoid crying myself. After about three weeks of this I became increasingly discouraged and disaffected with the whole business. How many relationships is this bloody covid lockdown destroying or damaging? Carmen has her daughter and her ‘bodyguards’ living with her, and a host of other family and friends in close proximity, whereas I have no one, not even the dogs. But there is no prize for who is the loneliest. I told her it is no fun calling her, twice a day or more, and being greeted with tears. So now when I call, she laughs. It’s much better.
This may be a long separation and that is not fun to think about either. Carmen has two family members who are merchant mariners (oil tankers) and they are away from home 8-9 months of the year. I tell Carmen I am now a sailor and she is a sailor’s widow. I try to make her laugh; this doesn’t make her laugh but it does provide perspective. It’s only ‘temporary’ we tell each other, but these lost months are critical losses at this stage of our lives and relationship. Perhaps it’s just as hard on the many thousands of relationships breached by this forced separation – long distance romance is very difficult for anyone – but I feel this a significant hardship for us, coming at this stage of our lives and after our year of discovery.
During this separation solitude my attention has largely been taken up with my book projects.
I have converted the blog of my two year journey through grief and transition into a book, Travels With Myself, and have proofread it twice. My graphics designer has come up with a cover design and it is close to a final look. What do you think?
I had a photo session with a professional photographer (Michelle Barbeau Photography) and I am generally quite satisfied with the results. My main purpose is to have an updated head and shoulder shot to use on the back cover of the book in place of the one I have been using: that one is more than 10 years old. I’ve tested the banquet of proofs with half a dozen people and have six answers.
Here are three of the leading candidates for the final selection (imagine them suitably cropped, mostly head and shoulders, to thumbnail size):
What do you think?
And now I am discovering the problem of issuing a blog post only semi-monthly: how to limit my post to 1200 words and still give you the essence of my doings in the intervening time. I guess I can leave the account of my ‘discussions’ with Air Canada till July 15.
Reporting to you from Kanata Ontario.
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