HERE'S TO NEVER GROWING UP
Feature photo by Yasin Arıbuğa
So I make do with what I have: an existence that is starting to resemble a role-playing game, where all my interactions only ever require an online persona.
Living 30 minutes from my dream college meant I had painstakingly planned out the four best years of my life long before they began. Every weekend, my parents and I would pass by my future campus and I would smush my face against the car window and dream up as many vivid scenarios as I could in under 30 seconds. I’d envision free periods spent wandering the bookstore across the street, mid-day stress shopping in the mall a tricycle ride away, and perhaps even early mornings spent sobering up at a nearby McDonald’s. I was set to pursue a degree with a business-oriented curriculum, so to balance it out I also planned on taking extra classes in the humanities or joining different student organizations. Hopefully, the dream concluded, in the process I’d make new friends from all around the country or bag myself a soulmate.
PHOTO CREDIT: ANGEL MARTINEZ
University life is usually painted as a defining era filled with adventure, exploration, and self-discovery—- the final moments of rumination and recklessness afforded to someone before they are forced to sort their lives out and enter "the real world." It was, after all, prescribed as such in the Western romantic comedies I watched religiously as a teenager and in the anecdotes my Filipino parents shared over dinner. As expected, I subscribed to this ideal, treated it as gospel truth: so much so that when we seniors were asked to sing our school hymn onstage during our high school graduation, I was the sole person smiling from ear to ear in a sea of tearful teenagers.
I carried this feverish optimism with me even as the pandemic seemed to steal my glory days. 2020 marked a new low, even for our national government and yet I constantly reassured myself that life here in the Philippines would go back to normal, just at a remarkably slower pace compared to every other country in the world. But last February, my university declared that my entire senior year would take place online, and last week, President Duterte placed us under strict lockdown regulations again like some twisted case of deja vu. At this point, expecting things to look up soon is an exercise in futility.
So I make do with what I have: an existence that is starting to resemble a role-playing game, where all my interactions only ever require an online persona. I am not making the vivid memories and mistakes that will one day be distilled into words of wisdom and passed down in hard-hitting memoirs and TED talks to future generations. Instead, my days consist of trips from my bedroom to the kitchen and back, planned to the minute on Google Calendar and counted down to the second using Pomodoro timers of different kinds.
I force-feed myself lessons, retain them in memory until I can answer a post-test or submit a paper, then dump them to make way for the next set of modules. Though most of my professors try to make discussions engaging, I'm barely learning anything, no matter how hard I guilt-trip myself. Besides the fact that my brain automatically goes on autopilot 10 minutes into a Zoom call, some subjects simply aren't appropriate for online learning, regardless of which teaching strategies are employed. It only makes me wonder how I’m supposed to use this “knowledge” to impress actual companies and solve real-life problems, assuming that the job market won’t be volatile as ever by next year.
PHOTO CREDIT: ANGEL MARTINEZ
I try to vent about it to my friends on Discord or Scener, with an alcoholic beverage in hand or an overrated movie playing in the background. But instead of feeling comforted, I notice that I’m losing all my social cues and slowly forgetting how to fill in awkward silences. Our conversations have always flown better in crowded cafeterias or shared condominium units. Sometimes, I realize that I missed out on so much since I shied away from social gatherings back when they weren’t considered a breeding ground for sickness. I saw an Instagram post a couple of months back that read, "You haven't met all the people you're going to love.” These days, I honestly feel like I never will.
Once this is over and done with, I'll be an adult, expected yet ill-equipped to handle the pressures of daily life. (I mean, I still haven’t figured out my go-to KFC order yet, much less learned how to drive and date and file tax returns.) Each act of rebellion will come with a quick and direct consequence, and each wrong decision will leave an indelible imprint on my future. They don’t prepare you for that in virtual breakout rooms.
Thinking about this often makes me sadder than I think is allowed, so I let the Internet gaslight me into tempering my emotions. At least I'm not sick or dead. I have a healthy family, a roof over my head, a working Internet connection that gives me access to the rest of the world. But while I acknowledge that there are problems far more important and that require immediate attention, I have to clarify that I'm not asking to be the center of the universe. I just want the right to mourn.
A tweet went viral at the start of this year, saying that young adults are robbed of building futures and developing as people. Of course, older Twitter users were quick to ridicule us and claim, “you still have time to do that. It’s been about a year. Relax.” And while these sentiments were obviously meant to downplay our (very valid) disappointment, I’ll choose to reframe their statements instead. I want to stop associating specific milestones with a particular age and ingraining in my mind that I’m supposed to know what to do with myself post-graduation.
This notion only holds true on social media or within year-end lists of achievers below the age of x, which are beginning to look more like an indicator of privilege than a source of inspiration. Yet we have allowed this narrative to conveniently erase the reality of many teenagers forced to assume the role of breadwinner at a young age, or adults still in the process of soul-searching despite inching closer to retirement. It puts us under so much unnecessary pressure and has the potential of sucking all the life out of living, which is the last thing we need on top of a pandemic and economic crisis.
I want to stop believing that once I’ve “grown up”, I am required to have all the answers to deserve the right to take up space— because I never will. None of the adults do: they’re just getting better at hiding it, which is a talent I don’t plan on cultivating. I want to continue making mistakes and asking questions. I want to remain fascinated by the most inconsequential of things and explore what truly sets my heart on fire, even when it means lagging behind by others’ standards. The pandemic has already stolen enough of my time: I’m not going to let society tell me how to live the rest of my life.