It’s amazing how we now look so alike, Vergel and I. It didn’t take 50 years of togetherness, like they promised; we’ve only come halfway. But conjugal conjunctivitis, hitting us just a day apart, has done it for us.
I’m not sure how it transferred from him to me; at the first sign of an unusual reddening of the eye—it struck one eye at a time—we drew the line, so severely we even stopped simply looking each other in the eye. But natural wifely sympathy for stricken husband, I suppose, itself breeds contamination.
Like the conjugal flu not long ago, Vergel brought this one home, too. I had hoped to be spared, having enough eye allergies to contend with as it is, but no amount of hand-washing could save one from a sore-eyed bedmate; one never knows what happens in one’s sleep.
But it’s just as well. As an old couple past the danger of dying young, it has always been our hope to depart at the same time, not necessarily in each other’s arms, just on the same bed and in close enough times.
These joint bouts with nonfatal communicable diseases have given us a chance, and good practice, at rethinking our exit plans. That part of life is, after all, God’s call. But along the way, thanks again to conjugal conjunctivitis, we’ve discovered a new life’s dynamics between us.
Indeed, there seems in our case a consensual arrangement regarding the role each one plays in such conjugal conditions: Vergel sits back, his face tilted upward, stretching the lids of one eye full open with his fingers, then those of the other, to take the eye drops I dispense with antiseptic hands.
Then I do all that on myself. Vergel’s contribution to the whole process is his amazing reliability to keep track of eye-drop time.
It’s the same with flu. I do the sponge-bathing to both of us; Vergel is no Florence Nightingale, not gentle at all, even when sick and enervated. But, like clockwork, he calls out the moment for medication—on the dot, without fail! The complementation is just perfect.
(But when it comes to massage, he’s the master; it could be a separate career. I’m afraid I’m so bad at it he’d sooner massage himself than suffer my own.)
Sore-eyed, we’ve resigned ourselves to a two-week “staycation”—all right, quarantine—in our little condominium unit at Cattleya Gardens. First son Rob, who lives next door and normally visits almost daily, has not only made himself scarce, but issued a prompt warning to siblings: “Cattleya is no-man’s land for now.”
Conjunctivitis seems the last thing one would like to go through, not just because it stays at least a week, but because of the stigma it brings. Street diagnosis has it that it happens mostly to people who live near open garbage piles or who don’t wash their hands enough.
I notice that even our driver doesn’t come up for his meal; Lani, our loyal kasambahay, brings it down to him. But Lani herself remains unfazed. She says she has been tested enough with flu or sore eyes; she’s tough. She also suggests mother’s milk instead of eye drops, which, due to the epidemic, has proved difficult enough to get.
Meanwhile, I’ve had to send regrets to inviters and reset appointments. When I called a friend, a renowned but retired concert pianist, whom I had promised to visit and console—she was herself recovering, though from something else—it was I who found relief.
She and her husband, a senior partner in an old, prestigious law firm, themselves had contracted sore eyes, but in decidedly classy circumstances: He had got it cruising the river Seine in Paris with her, and she, a week later, in Virginia, US.
There’s not much to do around the house, but, despite our inaction and confinement, our appetite remains robust. We look forward to meals and snacks almost as eagerly as we do to the soothing eye drops. Other joys, however, like reading and writing, are kept to a minimum—too much strain on already sick eyes.
Television, though, especially programs meant more for listening than watching, like “Dr. Love,” hosted by the cheerful Bro. Jun Banaag, who plays old favorites after meals, from 1 to 3 p.m., siesta hours, is itself soothing. We listen with ice packs on both eyes, and doze off and on as we please.
Alternating with the cold compress, which has to be refrozen after a while, we wear shades, not only to prevent contaminating others by sight, but to look better. One never knows when one would pass a mirror unconsciously or when one would meet the other eye to eye in their scary states.
In shorts and kamiseta, wearing dark glasses and strumming his guitar, Vergel is a sight, one sure to provoke laughter and at the same time induce sticky tears. I must have been a sight to behold myself. Vergel walks into the bedroom and finds me sitting up in bed trying to read a book, peeking from under the cold compress on both eyes. All I can say, “Hirap namang magbasa!”
In any case, we are in it together, for as long as it takes, meaning to make the best of it.