Persona

What housebreaking Frankie taught
me about surviving 2020

The key is to look beyond the present torture
to the silver linings—after all that literal crap

A still tentative Frankie about a month after her arrival

TWO months into the pandemic lockdown and three months after my mother died at age 95 after being bedridden for a while, I was in desperate need of cheering up. Little did I know that my decision to adopt a new rescued puppy, my third dog, would be a perfect metaphor for how 2020 has unfolded.

As anyone who has raised a puppy will know, the little furball is terribly cute, but can also make life sheer hell for some time—by my accurate estimate, a good three months. There will be shoes, bedsheets, chairs, tables, bags, clothes chewed through beyond recognition. I made the mistake of leaving my ear pods plugged into my laptop on the bed, and came back to only one pod.

And then, Frankie, my new baby—saved from being buried under volcanic ashfall in Taal by the Animal Kingdom Foundation—literally peed, pooped, and threw up all over my life. Several times a day. Every day. She even wet my bed and my pillows, and I have perfected how to disinfect them using baking soda, bleach, and a good amount of time under the sun, leaving no whiff of what happened.

But like I always told my yaya Dang, whom I inherited from my mother, as she opted to stay with me, and who would groan while cleaning the sixth or seventh mess of the day, we had to trust the process. When Frankie grew older, developed greater bladder control, learned to rely on her routine of three walks a day, and realized that she wasn’t supposed to soil the place where she lived, she would be housebroken, I promised.

This is not to say that my confidence didn’t falter, however. Dogs pick up on your anxiety, and once, during a meltdown I had because of the uncertainty of my professional future, Frankie got so stressed that she actually jumped on the bed expressly to pee. I thought I would end up killing her, or myself, in my bipolar’s rage. And then, about two hours and one emergency pill later (for me, not the dog), we all calmed down, and life resumed.

And yes, I was proven right. About three months after we got her, Frankie was housebroken. There were other accidents, of course; just the other day, she was horsing around with her kuya Kiko right after eating, jumped up on the bed—and proceeded to throw up her undigested meal on my malong as I lay reading Time magazine. Yes, I had to wipe some of the warm vomit off the pictures of BTS.

Thus, the key to surviving a puppy is to look beyond the present torture to the rewards, the joys, the silver linings. After all that literal crap, you reap the benefits of keeping the faith, being patient, and persisting in your conviction that things will work out. Naturally, you do what you can to avoid disaster—get a waterproof mattress cover, buy your puppy things she’s supposed to chew on, give her love and discipline. But like people, every puppy is different, and part of loving an animal is accepting all his or her unique quirks. In other words, you have to be prepared for any outcome—and accept it.

This year has been an exercise in acceptance and delayed gratification, and the big pay-offs—the end of Covid-19, a vaccine that is sure to protect us, and the freedom to move, gather, and hug each other once again—are not yet in sight. I’ve heard countless stories of how people thought that this interruption of our lives would last two weeks, a month; I recall seeing a deserted Edsa on television, and thinking, yeah, right, I’m giving you a couple of days before you’re one big parking lot again.

Well, it didn’t happen. And that’s when people started to unravel, when the reality of this indefinite halt in our lives began to truly sink in. I was supposed to fly to Japan last May; I optimistically rebooked the ticket for September. After the airlines realized that everything remained up in the air, so to speak, they ended up putting my money in a “travel fund” for a new booking in the next two years. I used to be absolutely sure I’d be on a plane again sooner than that; I no longer am.

Two very important lessons in staying steady, from both a spiritual and a mental perspective, helped me to negotiate this past year, and to continue to do so beyond what has been a truly bittersweet Christmas season.

  For some of us, things will never be the same; just ask the children of front-liners

First is the need to, again, live in the moment. Ranting and wailing about when this virus will go away is a waste of energy, because we don’t know—nobody does. So if you fret and stress in the meantime, even if you manage to dodge the virus, your precious life will trickle away with little meaning, and you could have a nervous breakdown or die of a heart attack.

Much has been taken away from us, and people mourned—loved ones snatched by the disease, business ventures and dreams of entrepreneurial success sucked down the drain, careers and livelihoods ended, financial security lost, the futures of new graduates on the balance, the touch of loved ones so sorely missed. For some of us, things will never be the same; just ask the children of front-liners who died from exposure to Covid-19. All the praises sung about their heroism and nobility really won’t bring back a father, mother, wife, husband, brother, sister, or child for those left behind.

PIVOTING

Realizing that they had to do something right now, however, many Filipinos picked themselves up, pivoted—ah, the buzzword of 2020, alongside “swab test”—and whipped up their sushi bakes and ube pandesal. Oh, and they—people who weren’t themselves sure if they still had jobs—also conducted countless fundraising and support efforts for front-liners and people who went hungry because of the health crisis. They stayed in the now, yet found their present moments big and wide enough to accommodate their fellowmen. They were truly heroes, too.

My second lesson is a consequence of the first, and dogs are great teachers of this: the ability to find joy wherever you can. The Big Dream may have been shattered for now, but life isn’t over. I would see the intense focus in Frankie’s beautiful brown eyes as she followed a falling leaf, threw herself at her siblings, or bounced back after I had yelled at her impatiently, having already forgiven me for the outburst.

I started giving English writing workshops during the pandemic as a way to augment my income, and although some attendees, shall we say, really needed the help, I was also delighted and surprised at the gems I discovered among my participants. There was the medical intern whose wry sense of humor came from left field, or the accounting major who found solace in making pancakes, or the field worker who saw her front-liner sister off every week, praying she came home safe after her seven-day shift.

I also continued teaching online Iyengar yoga classes, and although it was frustrating at first not to be able to lay our hands on our students, here was a most brilliant silver lining: the fact that they now attended classes almost daily from home, which made them stronger and more flexible. That led to many moments of exhilaration, as I remotely saw them stand on their heads or lift up into beautiful backbends for the very first time, as I shrieked with glee into my microphone.

Evening FaceTime with friends, dinner at home with all my nephews and nieces in attendance because they didn’t have meetings, gigs, or parties to run off to, even my de-stressing moments watching my favorite band BTS dance, sing and goof off on YouTube—these became little lifelines, compact pockets of life-sustaining joy. They’re less dramatic than what will surely be the jubilation of my first trip out of the country when this is all over, perhaps, or the elation from the hugs I will give my childhood friends, now living all over the world, when our much-anticipated reunion finally happens—but they’re enough to keep me going.

In bed with Mommy over the Christmas holidays

Today, I share my bed with my three dogs. They know their spots on the mattress, and I fall asleep every night touching their soft fur and smelling that doggie smell that fills me with so much contentment and peace, despite all the dog hair (silver lining: I’m not allergic!) and everything that happened that day, this month, this year. Frankie, the youngest, the finally housebroken pup, is on medication now to elevate her blood platelet count, which was dangerously low for a while, probably residual issues from her early days of stress and malnutrition. But for now, she cuddles me in bed, and I would forgive her in a heartbeat if she ever threw up on me again.

The joy of that moment, when the salty, cool water enveloped me—will be enough to see me through for a while

About a month ago, I went scuba-diving for the first time in over a year, in Anilao, Batangas. Three dive trips didn’t materialize this year, and I missed the water terribly. I’ve stopped regretting the time I couldn’t spend on this sport I love, however, even as friends and I joke that by the time we can do another major dive trip, we might be too old to carry our air tanks.

When we finally got there, I found myself thanking God continuously under my breath—that I was really there, I was alive, I could still afford an Anilao dive trip, I had friends with me, and I was about to jump into the ocean. And the joy of that moment, when the salty, cool water enveloped me, and the rushing sound of bubbles filled my ears—that joy will be enough to see me through for a while, as this year ends and another begins.

With dive buddy Christine Enrile-Chua

With diving friends Christine Enrile-Chua, Karen Chan, David Huang and David’s dachshund Douglas

About author

Articles

She is a writer, editor, breast cancer and depression survivor, environmental advocate, dog mother to three asPins, Iyengar yoga instructor and BTS Army Tita. She edits part-time for a broadsheet, but is headed towards a full-time vocation as an online English writing coach and grammar nazi.

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