by Michaella Rose Soria

At different intervals of the day, the image of my dying grandmother flashes in my mind. 

It happens for a fraction of a second, in the most unrelated times. I’d be doing my modules or watching the news and some innocuous phrase could invoke her. In that split-second I see my grandmother again through the window of the hospital room, the one Papa and I were prohibited from entering because the virus would have reached us. So instead we stood outside, covered in layers of plastic, hoping that our presence could offer her some solace, even if it did nothing to soothe our own anguish. 

My grandmother’s skin had dipped into her like a gorge. She was sinking into herself, a ravine with fragile bones as steep sides. I remember her hands being so still and it was so odd. Parkinson’s made them perpetually tremble, made her handwriting all wobbly, but my grandmother would joke that it put a bounce to her gait, and then she’d laugh and put on her running shoes to go for a half-hour jog around the subdivision. She would have her pink visor on, singing like an older Claire dela Fuente and waving hello to every passerby who would smile and guess her age in their heads. At eighty-five years old she would blush with her wrinkled and rosy cheeks if they mistook her for sixty. She would stop by the park in the subdivision and admire the bougainvilleas and kalachuchis, and would watch as the children chased each other with their dogs lazing in the sun. When it rained my grandmother did yoga on the floor of her bedroom, stretching herself out in positions I could never reach even at a quarter of her age. Papa would joke that even he looked older than her mother, and we were convinced that she would outlive us all.

In a few minutes it will mark one year since her death. There was that smell of something sour coming from her hospital room. Papa held me back when they wheeled her out, and I remember doing whatever I could to stop myself from recognizing what was under the white sheet. I was staring at the ventilator in the room, imagining it running and pumping air into my grandmother’s lungs. Outside I’d heard the whirs it made, the clicks marking the intervals of her mechanical breathing. Now it was dead quiet, no lights on the monitor, and suddenly I was thrashing in my father’s grasp, infuriated at my own powerlessness and incompetence, choking at the searing flames in my chest. My grandmother, who raised me because Papa was working abroad, who never retired and bore the stress of it, who jogged and did yoga and attended mass early in the morning to keep herself away from the worries that plagued our family, who was so full of life but is now many ashes tucked away between rows of cement towers—the image of my dying grandmother torments me at different intervals of the day and I have lost track of who to blame. I have blamed myself for contracting the virus and not knowing. I have blamed the people who had infected me as if doing so could absolve me of this guilt, but there is a simmering, inconceivable anger within me. It trumps even my own grief. It is an anger that festers knowing that nothing about our situation has changed. That it has only gotten worse. More and more people will get infected. More and more people will die, and the state will watch idly as loved ones are forced to blame themselves or each other, until the pain has eaten them from the inside and there will be nothing left. Papa tells me to breathe, to keep moving forward, to let go, but the image of my grandmother remains, and I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.