Now it’s been more than two months since we were reminded to ensure physical distancing as a measure to prevent the spread of Covid-19 which has restricted our movements and created new challenges.
“Excuse me, I’ve been practising social distancing my entire life, these aren’t challenges.” I said to Rob, like an idiot.
I’ve been thinking about a particular effort of physical distancing of mine lately. Coming from a Javanese family (or any Indonesian family?), we often let our parents dictate our life decisions. They wanted us to get a degree in economics, climb the corporate ladder, an expensive wedding and eventually have children waaay before we could afford them.
Moving out of my family’s house wasn’t initially an attempt to be independent of my parents, although it was obvious that I wanted some freedom.
I’ve always wanted to go to art school for a degree so when I found out that I wasn’t fond of the one in Jakarta, I know there’ll be a good chance for me to spend my young adult life outside the capital. I was so excited.
I have a close relationship with my dad in my teenage years. He was still in his early 30s when I graduated high school. He had a cool job as a photographer even though his major was in physics and famous among my friends (he has long hair and a face that resembles bits of a few local celebrities). He kinda knew I would thrive later in life if I could make up my own mind. So he would pick up a fight with mom whenever she questioned my own choice including my school’s major.
So off I went to an art school in Bandung. Living from one rented room to another by myself. Had the freedom I wanted. All this while my parents paid for a roof over my head and the additional living costs of course and I’m grateful for that.
Then there was graduate school. Then the first jobs. Then the boyfriends. Then the proposal. Then any reasons really for me to stretch my stay in Bandung, for my freedom (the one that doesn’t involve being a well-funded failure on so-called academic career pathway in a state university).
It wasn’t about my parents until it was.
Fast forward to 2013, I went back to my family’s house after almost 10 years living by myself. It was pure hell, even more for my parents. I had to listen to my mom’s rant about everything I did/wear/said, even the way I seat on a chair? About her generation was the best and ours were weak, spoilt and entitled (you know the usual talk). We would fight over dinner, screaming or not talking for a week over silly things like the way I made the bed or I got the wrong towel for Rob when he spends a weekend. Even my dad was a different person, he becoming bapak-bapak it made me angry.
While there are certain advantages of living together with them, it is also pretty clear how this can hold me back. At their home, my parents had power over me. I felt pressure to conform to their sometimes outdated thinking. I usually spent the next hours or the rest of the day in a bad mood- making me extremely unproductive.
So when I got this teaching job in a newly-established university– with help from my highschool friend who works there– I found my way to finally move out again. The room was so small that to open and close the cupboard door I had to move a chair that had no other space. It was hella expensive compared to my last pavilion room in Bandung but street food vendors were just around the corner. My commute time was short I could practically went to a theatre, had dinner somewhere else, run errands or laundry and all finished before 9.30 PM. Life is good again.
It made me realise the only way to escape the need for my parents’ approval and a piece of sanity is to create a distance. A physical one. Something I maintain to this day.
Physical distance improved my relationship with my parents. Now, I made the conscious effort to spend quality time with them. It made me crave of their present. One of the best things about moving out? Much more headspace. Headspace is my oxygen!
Apart from my effortful physical distance from my parents in years, I am more accustomed to – and comfortable with – spending my time alone. I’m not shy but I’m socially anxious. I actively avoid get-togethers activities. I enjoyed going to the theatre alone. I reject invitations to have an after office coffee from coworkers. Because that just not relaxing to me.
The morning I officially went into self-quarantine I feel relaxed and kind of hopeful because I’m safe, my employer made the right decision and took good care of me and my colleagues. I stay energized for days. I sat in front of my laptop wrapping things up until noon. I cooked three times a day including my very first attempt of sambel terasi which was da boom.
The first week of quarantine was easy. So many of the conversations I had with colleagues have circled around how productive we were, as academic worker, working from home. Teaching using Classroom was cool. We were laughing at the messy laundry background or at the noise from our student’s kitchen/mom/chickens in our Meet sessions.
Reeled into the second week, Rob had a panic attack along with a severe GERD condition and we were forced to spend an evening at the ER in this Covid-19 referral hospital. This was our second ER. The first ER we visited rejected us as they were in a complete shut down following some Covid-19 positive cases in their hospital which were resulted in the tragic death of a nurse there.
It’s been daunting to try to getting my head around what happened that night. And for some time, I was so anxious by the prospect that we might have contracted the virus from our hospital trips. This stay-at-home order was a peril to Rob’s regime and he’s struggling under the weight of remote work (he had been working since he was 22 in the same industry, same working environtment). I guess he felt horrible and ashamed for feeling horrible.
Dissolve the image of me relaxing in my bed-office after a week of dilly-dally, replace it with the image of me hugging my pillow every night like a lost child, watching Rob who slept next to me to make sure he was breathing.
This virus hurt proportion of our incomes, I contemplated the risk of unemployment and frantically forecasting how we could stretch our savings. I’m so grateful we can afford to cover our rent, food and other luxuries such as proper neighborhood for our morning walk routine and to get our food supplies while avoiding crowd. Three weeks in quarantine actually felt marginally better (I think it had something to do with our newfound house rules including attending Sunday mass online). We also managed to create a little nook in our bedroom as a work station it’s so cozy.
On a final note, people with kids or more responsibilities than me, I bow down in respect. This physical-social distancing made me realise that I clearly wasn’t as independent as I thought I was. I want my mom.
Photos were taken during my morning walk routine around the neighbourhood. I never had any interest in naturesque visual compositions but hell it was therapeutic.