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!
Have you ever wondered how can we stay connected with each other, even with the strangers during these testing times, right from our homes? I feel, through stories we can connect with them even without having a conversation in the real-time. My story is about sharing and narrating stories of hundreds of people from different communities, background, profession, speaking different languages and from different parts of the world. Let me start from the beginning. It was the evening of 14th May 2020, I was watching one of the motivational videos where the speaker advised the people to not just think about something, but doing something about that thought and the initiative. This single sentence had impacted me a lot. Since the coronavirus pandemic started and the lockdown has been imposed, I had thought of talking to people about it. I wanted to know what are they feeling, what are they going through and how has it impacted their lives? This was just a thought. But, while watching the video I decided that I will do something about this thought. Many questions were going on in my mind. So, I shared the idea with two of my very close friends, Nishant and Shivangi. The idea was to make an open platform where people can share their experiences and stories. Both of my friends suggested many more things to be included and some beautiful ideas which can give this idea a practical approach. So, it started. I was the Founder and the other two were the Co-founders. We listed out the things that need to be done to launch this initiative and make this available to the people. For the next 7 days, we segregated the tasks and allotted ourselves tasks mutually in which we were better. We worked day and night, taking a sleep of not more than 4 hours each day for the next 7 days. I worked on the technical part, Nishant worked on the layout, and Shivangi reached out to people for their stories. The day came, 21st May 2020, when we launched in our small community and connections. Gradually it started spreading among people. More people wanted to join us and share the stories with us. We also started interviewing people and pen down their stories and people also started sending their stories. After sometime when a lot of people started joining us, it became more of a platform where anyone can showcase their creativity in any forms and our ever-growing community became a storehouse of ideas, suggestions, interests, creativity and talent. As a result, we started narrating stories through various mediums and platforms like podcasts, videos, graphics, etc. The mediums and platforms are increasing day by day. We have always looked for a way to align the interest and talent of any individual associated with us with storytelling. We have always believed in collaborative teamwork where members join their hands together and contribute and we come up with the final version. It is roughly 2 months since we started this initiative and today we have 54 members in our community from 6 different countries, published more than 250 stories from 15+ countries, interviewed more than 30 personalities and connected to 4000+ people virtually right from our homes. The initiative has reached 45 countries and 20,000+ people visited the stories on the website. It has also been covered by 2 Newspapers recently. We now publish 4 stories every day, release podcasts and videos twice a week and conduct helpful sessions through live talkshows twice a week. We have also released videos related to Mental health titled ‘Sadness v/s Depression' which has been viewed by 12,000+ people. The platform has stories of Doctors treating COVID-19 patients, Frontline warriors, vendors, businessman, employees, essential employees, actors, singers, athletes, RJs, and many more. The initiative is called 'The lockdown story' and it exists because, in this time of the pandemic, every story deserves an applaud. People reach out to us and share with us how the stories are helping them to heal, believing that they are not the only one with a particular thought or feeling, there are many others like them and how they are connecting directly with the stories. These feedbacks motivate us a lot in continuing to do so and expanding our reach to more and more people. I feel that this is the period which the students will read about in their history books in future. This is a very important phase in the lives of people which will be remembered for decades. By reading stories, talking to so many people and interviewing them, I have realised that this period has impacted almost all the people in many different ways and at many different levels, positively or negatively. No two people have been impacted exactly in the same manner. The post-pandemic period will change the life of each and everyone in one way or the other, majorly or minorly. So, the experiences during this period will play an important role in future to learn and to grow.
The world around us collapses, hard to watch it without a movement. This little thing took all the great things, taking peace, taking the Tranquility, He took love from above the earth, to feed him hungry soil The pain that comes out of the windows of the houses is no longer Endurable Slave silence cross-predictable, does not stop the red signage, there is no one crossing the street .. Noise and screaming trip to another place .. Where did he go? In the middle of hospitals, screaming and stacking, Breathlessness came out with difficulty, tired of trying This little thing did not know that children should be happy but he choose them too, did not know that older people love to be remain among they lovers, and he takes them from their sofas houses, did not tell him anyone that young people have big dreams, They are trying to reach it, And he takes them before they arrive. My friend mother's died and no one come to the Solace but her, she told me that when her father died, the strangers who were walking next to the house come .. When her father died and he has a name, her mom become one of the numbers، she can not deposited her without distance, Do not Treat her wound. There is no longer a importance to the feelings of the loss, anyone can't stop to touch his grief, fearing to be moved by the infection .. I stand on the edge of the world .. I do not know that it would be terminated but if that happened I want to fall first. Because i can not seeing that destruction.
After about a month of walking laps around my dining room table trying to work off the energy that had been built up my parents finally banished me, a water bottle, and a mask to the outside world until I had worked off enough energy to sit still. It started by going up a path that I used to take with my brothers when none of us could stand being trapped inside for a second longer, the memories around the path seemed to fit the way I felt so it didn't feel like a jump. But then there was an open gate to another path, one I had been warned to not go down since you could never be quite sure what people were down there. But I felt confident that I would be the only person on this walking path at one o'clock on a tuesday afternoon in 95 degree heat so I turned toward it. My guess toward who'd be there or lack thereof was correct as the only other living creatures I saw on my three hour long walk were the birds flying overhead and the ducks floating in the runoff of the rain storms we'd been having. It was the first sense of peace that had come over my body since the term Coronavirus had come over the news as a new flu going around in China. So I kept walking for as long as I could doing my best to hold onto the peace that I had been so desperately searching for for the last months. Movement became my escape in a way that it hadn't been since I was a small child who had been told to run laps around the field so I could sit still in class. So everyday after that I laced up my beaten down boots and no matter how unbearably hot it was I forced myself to walk. Forced myself into the one thing that would calm my racing heart.
Drop. Dead. Silence. The intensifier of my hallucinations, the bane of my very existence. I am caged, and I wish it were behind indestructible cold metal bars. I am in shackles, and I wish they were clasped around my wrists and ankles. Instead I am trapped, pricked by the thorns of bondage in the comfort of my very own home. It would be less unnerving if I were amidst the laughter of my heartwarming friends, or in the company of people that I was comfortable enough with to call them my family - people that would make my house feel like more of a home. The Coronavirus pandemic has brought about a lot of things for a diverse majority of people. Things from newfound hobbies to new cyber friends, everlasting love and even heart-wrenching heartbreak. All being forms of drama of some sort. Whereas for me, it has only but augmented the truth I have been relentlessly attempting to shy away from: the existence and ever-growing presence of my loneliness. Sometimes I wished I did not have windows, for they are the most elementary doorway to stepping outside the confinement of my ignorance. The booming voices of ignorance that continuously hovered over my minuscule voice of reason. The voices that told me I did not need people to be happy. Through windows, I had front row seats to short episodes of people's lives. I could observe them basking in the joy that I could not share with them. During the winters, it would be James throwing snowballs at John. In the Summers it was the bikini body posse driving to the beach with excruciatingly loud music, waving their hands in the air out of the top of their roofless cars. My stomach would churn at the unfamiliarity of it all, and the nostalgia of when my life was once like that would cloud my thoughts like hawks over a freshly deceased corpse. Sometimes I dreaded the access I had to the internet, for it was just a window in disguise. The windows restricted by the borders of my walls just gave me a narrow scope of the life outdoors, whereas the internet would give me an analytical breakdown of what was happening across the globe. I would scroll past my timeline with mixed feelings of confusion and dejection. I would wonder how people managed to still be productive with all the unfortunate yet never-ending global occurrences, while I lay here, soaking in the stench of my self-pity. Drop. Dead. Silence. And a half-painted picture. With each bristle of my paintbrush that grazed against my canvas, I felt a shard of self-oppression break free. With each droplet of excess paint that escaped from the tip of my brush, I felt a flake of anxiety drop to the ground. It was a sensational occurrence I had only read about in books and seen on television but never one I had experienced personally. It was the feeling of liberation, that quenched the emptiness that had been hovering over me for a long time. But to prove to myself that my current feeling was not my brain putting up a temporary façade to numb my despondency, I had to continue my work in a place where I where I had the option to compare myself to other people but would choose not to; I had to paint outside. I watched as people scurried back to their homes - by car and on foot – which was understandable as the sun was already out of sight. These were people probably going back to their loving spouses, and unbearable yet lovable kids. People that were going back to places where they felt like they belonged. I, on the other hand, sat on the grass and took note of my environment. I noticed something new; something I could not see from the miniature scope of my window. I saw a man, that looked like he had not had a change of clothes for weeks, making himself comfortable on the gravel of the sidewalk. I saw a little girl, sobbing while a woman, who seemed to be her mother, dragged her into a sports car and drove off. I was mentally contemplating the peculiarity of it all as it was not something I was used to, not being the only one around my immediate surrounding going through a tough time. I decided then and there that I loved my life, and whatever had happened to me in the past to make me unsure of that fact was all that it was: in the past. I was going to let in everyone I had mentally kicked out of my life by withdrawing myself from their daily activities which I previously partook in. I realized I did not want to have someone else's life, nor did I want their seemingly everlasting joy, because I had my own. In the dead of the night, I dropped my paintbrush on the dew-holding grass for what was going to be the last time that day. Drop. Dead. Silence. And a complete painting birthed from raw emotion.