It’s Christmas Day. Normally we’d be exhausted from Noche Buena. The house would be a mess, gifts and discarded wrapper all around, food stuffed into the fridge and the pantry. There would still be a few parcels under the tree, for distribution at an upcoming party. We’d be visiting family. The streets would be full of families on the way to or coming from Christmas festivities, their arms aching from heavy bags full of gifts and food. Kids would be wearing new clothes, their pockets filled with new toys or envelopes of cash gifts. Someone would be using a brand new phone, or showing off new shoes.
Instead, today we lunched in a quiet house. We dropped off gifts for friends’ kids, waved hello through car windows and smiled from behind masks. Today I sat six feet away from friends I haven’t seen in a year, whom I may not see again for at least a year. Not a single hug or kiss. We couldn’t even shake hands. Today we saw a beautiful new baby, and we couldn’t even pinch his chubby little thigh or stroke his cheek.
We dropped off a gift for Lucas’ teacher, and she happened to be home. She and her son came to our car, and cheerfully they told Lucas, “This is what we look like in real life!” Lucas seemed stunned.
On the way home, I asked Oneal if we could drive through Makati, so Lucas could see the Christmas lights. Amid glittering stars and droplets of light, shimmering doorways and blinking colors, we saw… nothing.
There was so much nothing. The streets were empty. Stores were empty. Entire stretches of sidewalks and walkways were empty. Makati, normally bustling with activity, people rushing here and there, crowding on corners and cramming through the streets, was empty. The beautiful lights showed us only shadows, bare concrete, pavement. Here and there a few people walked, faces covered in masks and shields. Here and there some buses, a few cabs, cars. But there was so much nothing. No Christmas concerts. No fireworks or lights shows. No bazaars. So much nothing.
While my son squealed with delight and screamed at me to take pictures, I felt my heart breaking. I felt such anger and grief. I could not help but think of everything and everyone we have lost, the simple joys we have been forced to give up, the little routines and habits we have had to sacrifice, because this has just been an incredibly, overwhelmingly horrible year.
I joked, this morning, as my friend and I made plans to meet up–in the park, so that it would be in the open air, wearing masks, staying an appropriate distance apart–that I might burst into tears the moment I saw her. I didn’t. We saw beloved friends, friends who might as well be family, Lucas’ dear dear teacher, and I felt joy at finally seeing people, and sorrow at sharing little more than an extremely enthusiastic wave. We saw lights that should have been festive, in a city that should have been crowded with good cheer and celebration, and I broke.
This has been an incredibly, devastatingly, overwhelmingly horrible year, and while I’m grateful to be alive, I’m just so tired of it all.