Day 11: Emotional Roller Coaster

School is out for another week. Some schools won't reopen until after the end of the month. All for safety reasons. Teachers are asked to report in order to help clean the school. Get the classrooms ready for the students.

That's today.

Then, by the afternoon, the north side of the island the volcano sits at collapses. The tremors are getting stronger. Earthquakes are still happening. The danger zone has been expended, prompting forced evacuations in eight more towns.

Just when we started to hope that the volcano was settling down, it starts acting up again and we're all on our toes. Teachers don't want to repost in because of health reasons. I see where they are coming from. One said, "What good is it to report now when there are no students? What happens when we get sick by the time that the schools finally open for students?"

First, we're up. Then, we're down. This holding pattern is making everyone crazy.

The only one not crazy? My mother. She's calm through all of this. And optimistic, which I greatly appreciate because I have the tendency to prepare for the worst. I have a worst-case-scenario kind of thinking. Not good. Not good at all. But you can rely on me in a disaster.

I wonder how long this will be? The waiting. The will it or won't it? Some people are saying, "It should just erupt already and get it over with." I get where this mindset is coming from as well, but what that person isn't thinking about is the faultline that runs the middle of where we live. It's a ripe faultline too if the people in the know are to believed. Scientists who can't really predict anything because nature is unpredictable, which adds to the frustration of the reports who only want factual, concrete answers to their questions. To anyone's questions really.

And here I am thinking, did I will this into existence? A week before the eruption, I woke up pretty much in tears because all I really wanted was time to focus on my writing. Time to do what I love most. Now I have that time. Did I will it? All I know is I'm getting some writing done and I feel good. Grounded. At peace with myself. A feeling I haven't felt in two years. TWO YEARS. So, yeah, maybe I did will this into existence.

Day 10: Cleaning Day

As we remain in a holding pattern, waiting to see if Taal will decide to quiet down or release an angry surge of lava and debris, we try to put our lives back together as best we can. That starts with cleaning. Ashfall is a tough adversary. Besides the dust everywhere, you have several things you need to contend with.

First, the roof. Ash, when accumulated over time, is heavy. Don't believe the movies. Once there is enough ash on your roof, the structure can collapse because of the excess weight. Your greatest enemy when dealing with ashfall on a roof is rain because precipitation creates a cement-like substance that makes it virtually impossible to remove without damaging the roof.  Oh, and before I forget, gutter. They are hell to clean when full of ash.

Once you're sure that your roof won't collapse on top of you while you sleep at night, you start with the garden. Plants need sunlight, we learned this in school. Ash covers all the leaves, causing the plants to die. This is where water can be your friend. It washes away the ash and all your plants are happy again.

Then there's the car. Ash is acidic. It can damage the paint and cause the car to rust. Washing the car down is a daily occurrence when there's ashfall. When you have to drive around, the car inevitably gets covered again and again and again. It's not like you can just stay home. You have a life to live. Hence, daily car washing. Car washes are making a ton of money off of this.

Cleaning the inside of the house isn't as tough if you made sure to keep your windows closed during the heaviest of the ashfall. Vacuuming is involved and lots and lots of dusting. These two chores are my least favorite but are essential. There's something about starting the year cleaning out your room. Everything is organized. I'm glad I did that because now that I have to dust and vacuum, the task is much easier.

We're crossing our fingers that Taal will go back to sleep. A bigger eruption will not be good for anyone. Especially now that we just finished cleaning the house. (Okay, take the last part as humor and not in any way an insult to the people who are currently unable to go home because they live within the danger zone.)

Day 9: Post-Apocalyptic

The past few days have been a surreal experience. Sunday, my brother celebrated his 31st birthday. We left the house to have lunch. On our way home, a volcano erupted. How weird is it that you can go about your everyday life without a care about anything else but what you have to do that day then the universe decides: Calamity time!

The funny thing about disasters, no one expects it to happen, it just does. Suddenly, you’re driving home through ash rain. You can’t hardly see out of your car’s windshield. The air reeks of sulfur. You close all your cats into the house. The cateo is off-limits because of the falling ash. You go to sleep only to wake up to a couple of inches of black ash covering everything. Your car. Your driveway. The road. Every time a car drives by, the ash is kicked up into the air again. This forces you to wear a mask whenever you venture outside.

Then the power goes out. Even if this is an inconvenience, all the food in your fridge going to waste as the days stretch on, you are reminded of the fact that other people have it worse. There are people who are currently in evacuation centers with only the clothes on their backs because they were forced to flee in a hurry. There are places with no electricity and running water. All the establishments are closed, even the gas stations. The situation almost becomes an every-man-for-himself. Thank God for kind volunteers.

I’m grateful for all the donations coming in. Food and water are always a staple of donations. Clothes too. But what most people forget are a few essentials like sanitary napkins and diapers. These are usually an afterthought when it comes to donations, yet they are needed badly.

Speaking of afterthoughts, my heart goes out to all the animals that were left behind. I know a majority didn’t intend to leave their animals. The evacuation happened so fast, there was little time to think. I’m grateful to all the men and women who risked their lives to go back for the animals and having them from imminent danger. My students know this. I am more concerned about animals than people. People, if they are not being idiots, can save themselves. Animals, especially if they have been domesticated, have no hope of surviving on their own.

Right now, the volcano seems to be calming. We are all on a holding pattern. Classes are still suspended. PHIVOLCS says if the volcano remains calm until January 26, it will lower the alert level. We are all hoping for this to happen. There is still great unrest around the crater, meaning earthquakes. These tremors show the presence of magma. Until those stop, and the other factors like fissures opening subside, they can’t lower the alert level, which means the danger of a massive eruption is looming over us all.

Day 8: Volcano

A volcano erupted on my bother's birthday. Yesterday, my mom and I were at a reunion, reliving memories. Today, we're at home watching ash fall get thicker.

About two decades ago, Mount Pinatubo erupted. That was unexpected. No one even knew that the volcano was active. It was asleep one day and awake the next. I remember ashfall reaching all the way to our house, which was more than 200 kilometers away.

Today, I remember waking up after an 11-hour sleep because driving home yesterday was hell. Then we hurried to my brother's place, picked him up, and had a great lunch at his favorite buffet. When we were driving home, that was when we found out Taal Volcano was erupting. We could see the plume of smoke and we were driving toward it because we live close by.

By the time we got to my brother's place, we were already in the middle of ash rain. I could bearly see through the windshield and I was running out of water for my whippers. Cars coming from Tagaytay were covered in ash. It's a surreal sight.

Classes have been suspended, of course. It smells like rotten eggs outside. All our windows are closed. Every time I peak out of the cateo, the black ash is getting thicker. The alert level has already been raised to four, which means actual lava and debris are going to spew out of that volcano within hours. Not days, since the escalation is too fast. We went from Alert Level 1 to 4 in a matter of hours. The last level is 5.

Pray for us.

Day 7: Reunion

Today is one of those days when I have to wake up while the moon is still high up in the sky. I mean, really high up. My cats were confused as to why I was already up and about when we had just settled in for the night. Add to there confusion the fact that I'm already feeding them so early. They happily ate the bowls of food, because cats. Then I dressed in my fancy new blouse and skirt combo, slipped on my favorite Docs, and removed the curlers in my mother's hair. We drove off soon after hiding the curlers from the curious kitties.

Drove over 200 miles just to be sitting at the lobby of a cheap hotel while my mother meets with her classmates. I don't mind being at the lobby for the duration. I have my headphones on and I'm ready to write. The WiFi is decent. I've been fed a combination of spaghetti and waffles. I'm good.

My mother is attending her 40th class reunion. She hasn't seen her classmates since she graduated from high school and married my father soon after college. I think it's a little weird for her to be back where she came from, re-meeting people she'd spent four years of her life with enclosed within the walls of a classroom. She was all smiles though, so I'm happy for her.

In the Philippines, we have what is called a Star Section in school. Or also known as Section A. This is the class where all the smart students go. The lowest grade in this class is 90%. Get anything lower than that and you get bumped to a lower section like B. By this logic, the last section is the well . . . you get what I mean.

To say my mother is smart is an understatement. She's a phenomenal woman and I hope her classmates see that. Pictures to follow on my Instagram later.

I'm never much for class reunions. I never attended my 10th-year high school reunion. One, I haven't proven anything to myself. Two, I hated high school. Why should I be rubbing elbows with people who didn't particularly like me and who, in return, I didn't like? I've since returned to my alma mater on an official capacity as a published author. I was even asked to give a commencement speech once.

For me, it's been twenty years since I graduated from high school. Will I attend my 40th reunion should there be one? Maybe not. We'll see.

Day 6: Truth in Death

It's been a little over four months since my father passed away. I was the one with him when he took his last breath. He was 90-years-old.

He died at home in his sleep, peacefully. I remember my mother was away, running some errands. We would take turns caring for him. He had been at the hospital for a week with pneumonia. Problems with his lungs had always been what plagued my father and ultimately it was what took him. Not even cancer could do that.

The biggest space for his hospital bed was the dining room, so I had been editing my newest book at the table across from where he lay. He had been so active for the entire day. He insisted on tidying up the clutter that had become of our dining table, which of course my mother had done for him. Then, when she left, he asked me for a razor because he wanted to shave. I refused to give it to him because he might accidentally cut himself. So, instead, he mimicked shaving his face.

When that was done, he asked for a toothbrush. I saw no harm in helping him brush his teeth. My father always prided himself on being clean. He always smelled so good. So, I helped him sit up in bed, handed him a toothbrush with a dollop of toothpaste on it, and held the spit bowl and cup of water.

Little did I know at the time that this ritual of cleaning himself was his preparation for passing on. Even in death, my father wanted to be clean. Needed to be clean.

He's in my thoughts because was at a cremation yesterday. His cousin had passed away last Sunday. My aunt told my mother that they were all going one by one. It's a sad thought, but a true one. We are all going one by one.

You can never be prepared for the passing of a loved one. Even when you see the end. Even when you know that it is inevitable. They may have been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Or they may have reached the end of their life. Even when you know it's coming, it still takes you by surprise.

What grieving my father has taught me is how important to treasure every second of life. We don't know what happens after death, but I'm a firm believer that at the end of my life, I will see all those I have lost along the way. We will all meet again as our perfect selves and truly live happily ever after. 
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