by Heidi M. Pascual
We know for a fact that COVID 19 brought people apart, sometimes in great distances. Lockdowns literally banned people from leaving their homes
to avoid the spread of the virus that has claimed (and still is claiming) hundreds of thousands of lives all over the world. There is absolutely nothing
more important nowadays than being online, to reach out to others, especially to family members forced to stay put in different locations when the
pandemic hit. COVID 19 left people isolated, sad, and extremely depressed. Thanks to Facebook, reaching out to others and communicating with
them regularly made this grave situation a bit bearable, particularly for some groups of people who are used to domestic living, like senior citizens
and retirees.

One of my best friends, Gabriella, is a 66-year old widow with four grown up children and five grandchildren. Her husband of 40 years, an engineer,
died from an accident in Qatar 10 years or so ago. She retired from her managerial work in a large bank in Manila more than a year ago and decided
to retire for good in her hometown north of Manila, a beautiful place near the sea and the city of Baguio, the summer capital of the Philippines. The
place is located in the province of La Union, where air is fresh and organic food such as meat, poultry and vegetables, are aplenty. Gabby, as her
friends call her, truly loves her new life as a retiree receiving enough financial support from her kids, two of whom are working in the Middle East as
health professionals, plus her Social Security pension which actually covers all of her basic needs outside her kids’ monthly support. Gabby has
been enjoying life with friends from her elementary and high school days, and because of good health, she has fun joining several sports fest for
seniors as well as picnics and outings even outside the boundaries of her town.

Then COVID reached the shores of the Philippines early 2020, and Gabby’s happy life came to an abrupt halt, just like the rest of the world.

Gabby, with only a housemaid and a part-time driver in her household, became extremely sad, because she could no longer do her outside activities
such as her daily jogging with friends at a local sport complex, going to church, and attending happy events. Everything was put on hold, as the
government issued rules and regulations, ordinances and orders banning get-togethers and all kinds of parties, and closing establishments
people usually frequent, such as malls, salons, gyms, restaurants, movie houses, and the like. Only hospitals and a few groceries were allowed to
open. Nobody can visit anyone. COVID 19 killed people as well as people’s happiness,

Modern communications technology and one’s ability to use it made a lot of difference to people like Gabriella. When you cannot get out of your
house, how do you expect to contact and be contacted by other people. By telephone, of course! Without landlines (which is very normal in the
provinces) you can only depend on cellphones. Fortunately, the new cellphone models feature Internet connectivity allowing users to connect
anywhere in the world. Gabby turned to Facebook and Messenger as her means of communication, and both became Gabby’s daily companion.

The new system of communication via social media truly connected people in many ways. With the limitations set by COVID-19, it has become the
new normal means of communication, and helped develop new friends and acquaintances. Gabby, with so much time on her hands, ended up
having lots of new “friends” online. With some caution, however, because of reported scams and schemes that bleed people dry, especially senior
citizens with pension funds, Gabby chose carefully who to accept as her new friends online. She preferred those already known to her close friends
and relatives.

Then one day, while browsing her Facebook account, she received a friend request from a man with 20 mutual friends. She went to check his profile,
and she realized that man was her neighbor, classmate since elementary grades until high school, and was once her partner in a folk dance when
she was in Grade V! His name was Fernando, and his profile photo showed he was good looking, well-groomed, and his smile was infectious. She
found out that Fernando was a widower, with three grown-up children, and six grandchildren. He also recently retired as an accountant of a big
brewery and at that time was residing in Pampanga, a few hour-drive to La Union. Gabby became excited to make “friends” with Fernando, thinking
there was nothing wrong with online friendship with someone she used to know.

The day Gabby acepted Fernando’s request for FB friendship was the start of a special relationship. Gabby and Fernan began a daily ritual of “Good
morning,” “Hello, how’s your day?”, “Good night; sweet dreams,” until their conversations grew sweeter as obviously both of them developed a
mutual feeling that only the two of them could understand. They made video calls almost every day, that everything one did was known to the other.
Being in lockdown created the perfect situation for the two lonely people to fall in love all over again.

They realized, however, that it was quite impossible for them to meet in person, considering the checkpoints in every town manned by law enforcers
that banned travels from town to town, as part of the stringent measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. There is a saying though, “If there’s a
will, there’s a way,” and Fernan mustered courage that made their meeting a reality. It was the first day of May 2020 when Gabby wassurprised by a
A Love Story during the Pandemic
knock on her door, and when she opened it, Fernan was standing there
with three roses for her. Gabby cried her heart out as she rushed to hug
the man of her dreams.

It’s been almost a year since that beautiful day of Spring. Gabby and
Fernan had just sent out an invitation to closest family and friends for a
simple garden wedding, cautioning every one to wear face masks, face
shields, and maintain social distancing -- something they surely don’t do
when they’re together.

Ahh, what a love story for these pandemic times.