In the seven years I've known Anna, I'm certain I have only seen her once.
At least, I'm fairly certain of it. It was at the old Hard Rock Café, when it was still at Glorietta. I'm fairly certain I saw her shadow, or her silhouette. It was a bit dark, after all. She was in line for a meet-and-greet with Dia Frampton. I was leaving the concert venue, because I already had my own meet-and-greet, sort of.
I was there mostly to write about the concert on the music blog. I'm not terribly familiar with Dia's work, admittedly, but I wrote about her when she was a contestant on the first season of The Voice, and rooted for her, and this was when I was still a bit more adventurous, so, I thought, why not? Also, something for the blog.
I met Anna online, through Twitter, during that week when the concert seemed to come together. I distinctly remember replying to a tweet of hers in a hotel room in Legazpi, back when I didn't have a smartphone. Something about when the thing's happening and where. Anna followed Dia from even before The Voice, when she fronted a band with her sister. I may have had a bit of impostor syndrome. What business do I have telling an actual fan about her favorite act's concert?
As is standard, we kept in touch after. She read the blog, and even contributed to it several times, either with musical recommendations or, at one point, writing about her favorite acts for the Fantasy Festival thing I cooked up in response to the controversial 7107 International Music Festival. (She's a bigger fan of Incubus.) It would also emerge that we went around the same circles. She studied in Benilde; I studied across the street. We shared at least one common friend, although I never personally met James, either. We would also discover that, years before the Dia Frampton concert, she added me on Last.fm, meaning we kinda knew each other before all that happened. But then, the Internet does things in a funny way. They're connections, but not really. Still, I remember liking the songs she played.
I learned about Anna's health issues the same way most did: when she blogged about it. Turns out she was diagnosed with nephrotic syndrome - essentially your kidneys not working as well as they should - when she was three years old, which progressed to end-stage renal disease as she grew older. It was kept mostly in check - strict food monitoring - until she entered college. In her words, "everything was just too tempting not to try. I’m talking about food, silly!" Suddenly, her creatinine levels are higher than they should be. Her kidneys have failed. She has to undergo regular dialysis, and hope for a donor.
You wouldn't have thought. Anna was pretty active as a blogger and photographer. She blogged before influencers destroyed the whole thing (and agreed with me when I ranted about it five years ago). She went to concerts armed with a press pass and jostled with many others in the pit. (We never crossed paths when we both went to the first Jack TV MAD Fest to watch Kimbra.) She always had something to say on social media, not always controversial, but not necessarily something you'd agree with. And then, nothing. Well, almost nothing. Sure, you can't go out and about when you're hooked to a dialysis machine three times a week, and you can't be in places without air conditioning anymore, but what else do you do when you're undergoing the procedure for hours at an end?
Around this time I decided that perhaps it's time to meet her in person. Not the best circumstances, but it felt like a nice gesture. Allene is another friend I made through the blog - through the same Dia Frampton concert, actually - although we happened to work in the same office building and so have met a few times. She also became friends with Anna through those very conversations we've had. We both thought it'd be a good idea to visit her. The plans went as far as deciding on what should be in a fruit basket we'd bring to her. But before the visit could take place, she had to be rushed to the hospital.
It sucked reading her updates on her health, at least the few of them she decided to put out. I know of an operation on her head and this one instance when she bit down on her tongue so hard she injured it - or perhaps I'm misremembering things - but for the most part, I only knew of her dialysis sessions, of how the nurses were (or weren't). We'd still talk whenever we had the chance. Mostly replies, really. She replies to my tweets, and vice versa, affirming each other's opinions. It's barely a conversation, but I guess it counts, since the Internet does things in a funny way.
She also continued to contribute to the music blog, until I decided to close it down last year. In the months after she learned of her kidney failure, we worked together on an essay. She sparked the idea, actually. She was railing against those people who say they'll be selling their kidney so they can have money to buy concert tickets. I mean, you can function with one kidney, right?
"Come to think of it, an organ that’s less than P100,000?" she wrote on Facebook. "That’d be a bargain, especially if you’re healthy. You don’t care. You just want concert tickets, right?"
That led to a conversation about just how hard it is for her, at least financially. It costs at least a million pesos to have a kidney transplant, and that's if the donor is a living relative. And then there are the costs of testing for compatibility, and the costs of making sure your body does not reject the kidney. She told me she felt discouraged by just how expensive it is.
It does seem trivial when you're not living it.
Shalla and I were sitting down for lunch at Din Tai Fung a couple of weeks back. She was having her passport renewed; she was lucky to have booked an appointment, considering how everything's been reduced to half in the name of social distancing.
I was lazily going through my phone when I saw James post a photo from his college days. "We'll miss you, Anna," he said.
I went to Twitter.
"No," I replied to him. "Is it?"
Anna passed away the night before, or so we gathered. Shalla - who also became friends with her, inevitably - found a few tweets from other bloggers, and then I saw a post from her brother, talking about a wake. Something happened. I don't know what happened. But, just like that, Anna's gone.
I was hoping somehow that she'd manage to hold on for longer, far longer. Dialysis is a pain but it should be enough to keep you going, right? But what do I know? We never really had a conversation, a proper one. The health issues are hard to navigate around, and then there are the restrictions of the last ten months. But still, one should be able to keep you going, right?
I remembered her tweets in the last few months. I noticed they've gotten more cynical as the weeks went on. If she was discouraged four years ago, when we worked on that essay together, she must be really discouraged further down the line. But what do I know? From this distance, you can only hope things somehow get better.
My cheeks began to twitch.
"Hun, are you okay?" Shalla asked me. "Do you want to go home?"
"Nah," I said. "Naka-set na ako, eh."
"First time mo ba na namatayan ng friend?" Shalla asked me.
It was. But it's not as if I haven't had deaths close to me. I've lost two grandparents. I remember when my grandfather died. We weren't close, I think - he was always away, and I remember him more for bringing pizza on Saturday nights than anything else - and I thought I could hold it in, but as his coffin went down to the ground I realized it would come pouring out. I snuck out, hid behind a tree far from the throng, and sobbed.
Death has been in my head more often these past few months, inevitably, considering the circumstances. You just don't know if you'll be dead just by being out and about, even with a mask on. Many nights I stared at the ceiling, thinking of what would happen when I do die. The flat's nearer the fault lines; what if the Big One strikes, and I'm sleeping here by the wall, up on the 24th floor, and I don't wake up, and the building sways, and the wall beside me opens up, and I get thrown out? It isn't always that ridiculous, though. This is the first time I'm living away from my parents for a considerable amount of time - ten months and counting - and I thought about the possibility of them dying while I'm here. They're both in their 50s, but you never know. All of the deaths I hear of are of people in their early 60s. Time is running out.
But it wasn't really just about being old. Paola - a musician I wrote about on the music blog several times, with whom I've had several conversations with - also died this year, of cancer. She's much younger than me. I didn't expect to be this affected by her death, but it has. More of, I'm being confronted by mortality in many fronts. You think you can live a long life and die content, or at least accepting that you've done everything that you can do, but then, you'll never know. She talked about this song she wanted to record and release once she's out of the hospital. I wonder what happened to that one.
I've always been afraid of dying. More of, I'm afraid of the nothingness that comes after. It's an unknown, the unknown to end all unknowns, and I didn't want to think of that, but I often did, when I look up to the night sky, or when I try to sleep, or in the past few weeks, pretty much in most circumstances. I may have dealt with it by being flippant about it. A few years back one of Shalla's friends at work died, and I said something in an attempt to comfort her that I have since regretted. I was trying to make light of the situation and failed miserably. It does seem trivial when you're not living it.
"Oo," I told Shalla during that lunch at Din Tai Fung. "First time ko."
"Ganito 'yan," she replied. "May mga times na iisipin mo siya bigla, na mare-realize mo na biglang... wala na siya. It's normal."
It has happened. I go check my phone, scroll my feeds, and remember that I won't see her tweets anymore. You don't really think about that sort of thing until it happens, and then you don't think about it anymore because it's all over. You'll get your final notifications from her. You'll get your final notifications, full stop.
At the risk of stating the obvious, this past year has been about loss. There are the lives lost, whether due to the coronavirus or through other things. There is this fear that you might lose everything before you know it. There is the realization that you may not be able to do them anymore, because you're stuck at home and expected to weather this thing out. You can't escape to a coffee shop, or to another country, unless you're rich and well-connected, of course.
You wonder why these losses hit you so hard. You do take these things for granted. They'll always be there until you're no longer there, perhaps. You have notions of bucket lists and wish lists and all sorts of lists, of things you want to do before you pass on, and that list will somehow get longer because you just think you have more time, until you don't.
You spend all that time getting comfortable, at least relatively comfortable. You get comfortable with the things you do, the people you do it with. You find communities, or make them yourselves. You gather in trade shows, or concerts, or in deserted islands run by an entrepreneurial tanuki. And then it's no longer just comfortable. You care for it. You want to stick with it. You want to keep it at all costs. You want to keep the common ground, to continue reveling in the pageantry, and ultimately the mundanity and normality of it all, until it isn't, until it's no longer allowed for the foreseeable, and then unforeseeable, future.
And then, you're stuck at home. You see the same four walls at your every waking hour. When you thought the routine of a difficult commute to work and back is mundane, wait 'til you see this. The expectations are different and you manage to get by. Work from home, constant Zoom meetings, and the few social interactions you do have outside your household involves motorcycle riders bringing you packages from China. Maybe there are the fandoms you join, but it's different fawning over an idol over coffee than through laptop screens. Through those, it drags on. Everything drags on. Is this all there is to it?
For some reason I thrive in routines, but then those thoughts will still come through. Must be the big window overlooking the city, the night sky a constant fixture. What if this is it? What if I go to sleep and not wake up? What if I go down to run an errand and someone shoots me in the head? This is rich coming from someone who's had suicidal ideations. What if this is it for the ones you love, though? How do you go on? Now you're being selfish for wanting to go away. Nobody really wants to go away. It goes on, and on, and on. Until it doesn't.
Shalla and I got to talking about the people we've known separately, or together. Her friends that became my friends too, and vice versa. My online friends that she starts talking to as well, and vice versa. Somehow that led to my hypothetical wake, which she thinks will be filled with people who realize they knew each other because of me. I must be misremembering things. I would say I've done little to connect people together, well, perhaps for the time when I introduced Camille to Dale when she was looking for someone to interview. Or when I introduced Dale and Allene to Mamamoo, separately, then together. I'm pretty sure I tried turning Anna on to them as well, but she was pretty resistant to K-pop.
I remembered one more thing I'm afraid of about me dying. Everybody has that fantasy, of being there at your funeral, hearing what people really had to say about you in death. I've always had this image that, when I die, only a few people will go there, because I haven't made an impact on people. I still have that image, even though it's been somewhat assuaged by the fact that, in my line of work, networking is necessary, and people you only knew in a professional manner would swing by anyway, at least until these days, with these restrictions in place.
And then I remembered Allene. She didn't know Anna until those Twitter conversations. They became friends - both Meg and Dia fans with a lot of other shared interests, too. She had to know. She was in one of her regular social media hiatuses, however, complete with hard-to-find Twitter handle. How do I tell her the news?
I send her a text message, not sure if it was still her number.
She sent me a message on Facebook a few days later, only then learning of the news.
"I can't believe this," she said.
"Yeah," I answered. "Parang, we were planning to visit her until her health didn't allow for it, ano? And then it never happened. And then."
"And we can't even visit the wake."
I was in bed when I said that. I looked up to the ceiling, and drifted off again.