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Detours from home: Mending the silence of old friendships

[Editor’s note: Detours from home is a Rappler column where readers can share about the new things they have been doing while in quarantine. In this essay, a creative writer from Manila talks about taking this time to reconnect with old friends. You, too, can share your own Detours from home story.]

She answered my Skype call with her body angling away from her screen, leaning back against her chair. Behind her I could see a foggy sunset on an autumn day in New York City, the maple leaves changing hue, mist accumulating on the glass pane window.

She would occasionally glance at me, but other than that casted a bemused look around, her eyes darted around her desk and wall. She barely opened her mouth.

In the silence, I could hear the leaves rustle outside. I slammed the volume-up key on my computer. Max volume. The sound of birds wrestling continued, their feet gritting against the branches of the trees.

She was in her college dorm room. Grey shelving housing her familiar white violin case and tennis balls behind her. Books strewn all over. It was so different from her home back in the Philippines. The fitbit she wore on her left wrist and vowed to never take off was gone at last. 

That’s how long it had been.

“Hello?” I said. The word slowly traversing the space between us, crawling into the microphone. 


“Long time no talk yeah?”

“Um, yeah I guess.”

It was as if all the time we spent together when she was still in high school, all the hours of being violin stand partners rehearsing in our school’s orchestra, all the inside jokes, all the romance gossip had been erased, like faint pencil led on basic addition worksheets from elementary school: indistinguishable. 

As I was consumed by the demanding workload of the rigorous high school International Baccalaureate program while she was preoccupied adjusting to her new independent freshman college lifestyle, learning to budget finances, familiarizing herself with the campus and neighborhood, and attending classes, we let two years drift between us. We broke our promise to continue “keeping in touch”.

But to my relief, after a couple of minutes of hammering the partially refrozen ice between us, we were back to cracking inside jokes from music class, listening to our favorite song “You and Me” by Marc E. Bassy, and, best of all, making kwento, she told me about her new friend Emma from Jakarta and I updated her on the new members of our high school’s orchestra and this year’s annual Christmas karaoke performance by our vice principal. My voice was hoarse when I ate dinner that night.

We continued to talk often and I learned about how she was coping with this pandemic, living alone for the first time in her life. She was, at times, anxious, her mouth trembling and her hand tapping her desk at every thought. Occasionally, a tear was shed.

Talking to each other and getting caught up in each other's stories for hours, would teleport us to the two chairs in the second row of the first violin section of our orchestra, when there was no virus and when we could walk the halls of our school. It provided comfort and reassurance in an anxiety-filled environment and national panic.

I soon realized how something as minute as a short video call with my old friend has filled the void of loneliness that quarantine has bestowed upon me. Reconnecting was my outlet, a time I could relax for a moment and forget about the harsh new reality. Recusing a connection from being severed, knowing you’ve secured another lifelong friend, overwhelmed my body with joy and relief like no other.

The quarantine has taught me the importance of being open and outgoing, reaching out and initiating conversations with others. It taught me the importance of catching up with old friends and not letting those connections get severed. But more importantly, from these conversations, I realized the gold pot of knowledge waiting for me to discover, narrowly hidden behind a simple “Hey!” text.

These calls defined my quarantine experience so far, an opportunity to unplug my body from this tough reality and reattach myself to old friends, the ones who shaped me. –

Johan Chua is an avid creative writer from Manila, Philippines.  In his free time, he enjoys playing the violin and basketball. His poems have recently appeared in The Heritage Review.