By Durin Chappe
On a not-too-distant Saturday morning, after the groggy aftermath of Thanksgiving, my wife has put off leaving for her house cleaning job for as long as she can. She and my daughter have been Facetiming with my wife’s two sisters — Tita Gigs and Tita Daryang — and no one wants to end the conversation, least of all my 6-year-old. Perhaps she is thinking of the two of us being alone for the whole day when her mother finally leaves.
My wife’s sisters have managed to keep their jobs through the pandemic, the eldest in a nail salon in Dubai and the youngest as HR head of a large hotel in Cebu City — even as thousands of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) return newly unemployed from overseas. A prolonged lockdown has made for fewer COVID-19 cases but also for crowded homes and lost remittances.
Yet you would not know there was deprivation from the video feeds at my mother-in-law’s, where feast days and birthday celebrations continue much as before. Uncle Gideon, a saxophonist whose band is normally employed by Carnival Cruise Lines, but whose ship is made fast to a dock in Fort Lauderdale, entertains them nightly, accompanied by a small army of musicians. Nearly everyone in the Philippines can carry a tune.
At home, such smiles seem harder to come by. We’ve kept our daughter home since her entire class was quarantined for the two weeks before Thanksgiving; her classmates have since returned to school. There is nothing to soften the sting, the stigma of her experience on Zoom, where the juxtaposition of her tiny “window,” starkly small and isolated, above a screen crawling with her noisy friends, reminds her continually of her enforced isolation.
Naturally, she has to focus her blame on someone. However, my understanding this has not made it any easier to bear in the moment and our daily battles have often resulted in wordless retreats into our respective foxholes. Her teacher tells her everything she needs to know and therefore I can’t possibly contribute to this knowledge. When she is not Zooming and brushing me off, she has buried herself in Harry Potter books and become a voracious reader. Silver linings are visible if you know where to look — and are inclined to do so.
And yet I must still be there for her when she can’t help but ask for things. I bring her peppermint tea and crustless toast as dutifully as any English butler and sit and attempt to lose myself in a book on the couch opposite her, while listening to her lessons with one ear cocked for subtle clues that I am needed.
With no classes on Saturdays, she cannot retreat into any of her apps. A brief turn on the swings yields to a bike ride. We navigate past the blueberry fields and reach the end of the asphalt, but it’s become cold and raw, with the palpable threat of rain, and we reluctantly head back.
Once home, my entreaties to lure her inside prove useless. The usual inducements — cheese and crackers and a story — generate zero response. Instead, she serves me her own in-flight meal on an imaginary plane ride to nowhere. We navigate through swampy woods in search of a fir tree, to install in our sunroom. We conclude with a long walk with Grandma.
It’s nearly dark when we reach the house and a light rain has begun to fall, but I am mistaken in thinking I can go inside and start dinner. I am hiding instead, prone on my back, staring up at the overhang of our roof, with the dark as my ally. My body slowly flattens into a bed of leaves that has escaped autumn’s rake. The metronomic splatter of still-gentle rain obscures the sounds of my breathing and a deep peace descends in which all sense of separateness, from the ground underneath me and the spitting dark vault above, dissolves. It’s clear I could hide there until morning but I don’t want any horror of the dark to infect my daughter’s enthusiasm so I make subtle noises lest she goes off my scent.
When it’s her turn to hide, I make a show of searching for her behind stacks of firewood before spotting her standing in plain sight at the periphery of the house lights. She’s not really hiding at all but waiting patiently to be found. I cannot pretend any longer: I’ve never been so eager to find her.
Durin Chappe is a carpenter and occasional writer who lives with his family in the shadow of Schoodic Mountain in Downeast Maine.