Exam Instructions: Must Read First

Artwork by Ched Janelle Bautista/TomasinoWeb

I am writing to you with one hand because I am bookmarking a textbook with my thumb, with my shoulders lurched and my hair disheveled, with one leg idle and the other bent and stiff from disuse. I am writing to you with a mouth still fresh with the taste of coffee, in clothes I wore yesterday and didn’t bother changing because I meet everyone else on Zoom and Google Meet anyways. I am writing to you because, for the past three months, I haven’t been okay, and I think you might feel the same way.

Emails have been increasingly difficult to write and even more so to receive them. We wake up to messages for our classes and we feel guilty for sleeping. Days bleed out of us so quickly like ripe mangoes falling off trees. The past two months that led us to where we are now have been anything but peaceful. August was soft at first, then violent like the typhoons that swept through our cities. The exhaustion in September is harder to pin down: we point our fingers at Virgo season, at the monsoons, or the potential retrograde.

In October, we have nothing else to blame for our fatigue except the months that came before, but recently I’ve been writing accusations about the pandemic. What other culprit could it be? Who do we blame for the past year spent in solitude, for the streets that used to be peopled and brimming in color now empty and depleted of life, for the students and professors we see on our timeline with their faces in black and white, for our friends and loved ones we make sure to contact and remind them to eat or sleep because we might not see them in the near future?

Instead of keeping to our families and making sure the days count, we unfold our computers and open our notes, we print out readings and order coffee, we write half-baked papers and submit problems we don’t double check — all for the sake of passing. Of course we want to learn, but I wish we didn’t have to pick between learning and staying alive.

So, humor me. Tell me about your day. What film you’ve watched, what book you’re reading. I am here to remind you that our preliminaries are coming up, but I don’t want to startle you. I want you to be safe. For our exams, I do not need to say you should do your best, because what does that look like during a pandemic? I want you to remember how to breathe. You don’t have to be an exceptional student this year, I just need you to be okay. Okay should be good. Okay should be enough. Promise me you’ll try your best to stay alive first.

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