In A Socially Distanced World, Far Far Away

By the age of 5, I already attended a fair share of quincenearas and knew by then that I did not want to have a traditional 15th birthday celebrated by my Mexican culture. Wearing extravagant gowns with lace trims wasn't my style. I'd rather don a Jedi robe and in lieu of a flower bouquet, I'd carry a lightsaber. My parents, partially to blame for my love of all things Star Wars, gave me the middle name Leia, after Princess Leia. I was a freshman in high school and college and was turning 15 in 2020. My family kept trying to persuade me to have a quinceanera, even trying to coax me into having an 18th Birthday celebration, customary in my Filipino culture. Despite their persistence, they caved in and built the Star Wars themed party I dreamt of, including personalized lightsabers down to handcrafted Baby Yoda ears to wear, to be followed by a Disneyland trip. March, Friday the 13th, a day before my party, there was news about quarantine for this thing they referred to as Covid-19. All that meant to me was my party and trip were canceled. It was spent binging Star Wars to peel our eyes off of the coverage of COVID. We soon realized much was unknown, except for the numbers–numbers of infected, number of countries with outbreaks, number of dead. Numbers were something I loved, math was my favorite subject; solving equations or analyzing statistics. I've never been more scared of numbers. School announced we were doing distance learning and it became a reality, it wasn't just my birthday that came to a halt, everything I normally loved doing was put on pause. Everyone thought it would be 2 weeks, an early spring break. Two weeks became a month, a month became two. and then the rest of the year. It was when our school issued Chromebooks to learn from the safety of our homes that it cemented—2020 history included life in a pandemic. Online school brought challenges: I dreaded someone noticing I was still in my PJs, secretly trying to scarf down breakfast while in class, or dozing off because of the comfort of doing school at home. Uncomfortable desks and creaking chairs were something I thought I would never miss. I longed to hear the chitter-chatter of my classmates, instead of the silence of muted mics. There's a pang of guilt for feeling my world has turned upside down; it's not even remotely comparable to what others go through. Before the pandemic, my only worries were maintaining a 4.0GPA, working towards my AA degree, and meticulously planning that perfect 15th birthday. Instead, I was consumed with worry over things I never thought I'd agonize over. Extreme germaphobe tendencies of my mom plastered on sticky notes were instilled in me, I worried about what germs were harbored on each inanimate object I touched (or even just barely grazed). I felt like I was constantly washing my hands to the tune of Happy Birthday, a reminder that my celebrations were called off, not to mention the constant washing made my eczema flare-up. My hands were dry and itchy, burning when I would apply hand sanitizer for what felt like the 100th time that day. Breathing in another person's air became my worst fear as the CDC reported how the coronavirus spread. It shouldn't be an issue because I wasn't going anywhere, but my father's a correctional officer-a frontline worker. Every night we had a longstanding tradition; I would sneak to the room right before he fell asleep, and put one of my stuffed animals next to my dad as I kissed him goodnight. However, that petrifying word, numbers, haunted me at home. A great number of staff and inmates were infected. Anxiously, I would refresh the website that tracked cases at his work, praying we wouldn't see an increase. The news reported many frontline workers were making makeshift homes away from homes to protect loved ones. Our family just couldn't fathom the idea of dad living away from home. Hugs became air hugs. No cuddling together on the couch. Goodnight kisses turned into video calls as we made that heartbreaking decision because my mom and I both had underlying health conditions. My world became all about screen time. School had turned into Zoom meetings, visits with my sister and nieces who lived just a walk away were now on FaceTime, hanging out with friends in person became video gaming together online, and to be informed with the outside world, I was now consuming more television and social media than ever. My Sweet 16th was another quarantined birthday, which also meant the pandemic reached over a year! However, there's that glimmer of hope as I received my COVID vaccine. For a sense of normalcy, I get dressed up as if I'm going physically somewhere to meet online. I believe in science and chose to make the best of what I can do from the safety of my home and my newly transformed room my parents did for me to make things just a little bit easier. After all, I'm now spending so much time there, we might as well make the most ideal space for me to be in!

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