Turning 18 in quarantine

Maureen Linzaga
(Jaime Solis/The Union)
Maureen Linzaga
(Jaime Solis/The Union)

A puff of air exits my mouth. One, two, three… 18 candles.

It was April of 2020 when I had my 18th birthday.

The age of 18 poses as legal adulthood for most cultures, including the United States.

To me, it is a milestone in our lives that brings about growth, independence, responsibility and change as we begin to make some of the most significant decisions regarding college, our careers, moving out and more.

Now such a day would have been eventful, except mine which unfortunately fell in the midst of a global pandemic, making it nearly impossible to celebrate with anyone but the people I live with—my younger sister, mom and dad.

California’s stay-at-home order had been implemented for two weeks by that April. Feelings of loneliness had already begun to rise in my chest as I pondered the uncertainties of ever being with my friends or family again.

As a high school senior, it was an unfortunate fact that I couldn’t spend my last days in high school doing activities with my friends and classmates, who I may have never seen again after our online graduation that June.

My mind was clouded from considering different universities, colleges and career paths, which didn’t make the pandemic any easier since I missed the opportunities to visit more campuses to see which would fit best for me.

With these regrets and worries, the last thing I wanted was to regret not making the day I turned 18 feel a bit special, thus my family made an effort to hold a birthday dinner at home.

Looking down upon the mango-flavored birthday cake on the table and the 18 flaming candles, all I could do was shut my eyes, wish for good health for the people I love and blow out the fire.

Unexpectedly, as I open my eyes, my mom reaches for the TV remote and starts playing a video.

On the screen flashed the smiles of my family from my hometown in the Philippines and my high school friends. Each of them sent me happy birthday wishes and supportive words.

As I watch the video, the dejected feeling in my chest slowly disappeared and was instead replaced with gratitude. I felt grateful for my friends and family who, though miles away, all still managed to reach out.

My birthday had begun to feel like a “normal” celebration. I realized just how important friendship and connection meant, especially during this time of isolation.

As I started at El Camino College that August and faced further responsibilities as a young adult during a pandemic, I constantly revisited this learning experience to remind myself that simply keeping in touch can alleviate the stress of isolation.

My friends and I have been able to help each other out, though far apart, as we struggle through our first semesters and first experiences taking college classes.

Taking a few hours of my week to catch up with my friends on social and messaging applications such as Discord and enjoying the moments when we’re together made a world’s difference to ease the loneliness and emotional difficulties of living through COVID-19.

Pushing for personal growth during a pandemic which limited my opportunities hasn’t been the easiest, but valuing relationships, even those maintained virtually, made me feel like it was no longer just me against the world.

When the first anniversary of the official COVID-19 lockdowns came about in March, I pondered about the many social changes the pandemic unknowingly brought to our lives during the isolation period, and how it forced occasions like birthdays to simply pass by.

I figured, “Hey, by now a year after the pandemic started, everyone’s had a birthday and probably experienced similar things as well.”

I figured that the experience may differ from person to person, yet the human need for connection most likely remains as we lean on others while we adapt to a new normal.

I’ve now been able to try my best to improve myself as a journalism student thanks to my friends and family’s support that pushes me to do my best, even though my current college experiences are merely online.

And so, once again: a puff of air exits my mouth.

One, two, three… 19 candles this time.

A year has passed and I’ve scheduled my first COVID-19 vaccination appointment, wished for good health once more and will be continuing forward with hope.