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ASL?

Philippines Daily Inquirer logo Philippines Daily Inquirer 10/11/2020 Philippines Daily Inquirer

I hit the send button in my conversation with a stranger.

Three letters: age, sex, location—whether you’re looking for temporary comfort or just killing some time, these are the magic words in Omegle, a chat website. They can unlock secrets and stories, but definitely not lead to love. Never love, because they say love is felt—it is touched, met, faced. What can a screen translate but mere codified words?

It was a lonely night for me. Two weeks into the lockdown, quarantine blues were kicking in, alongside the surge of online classes, the dismay over the government, and the uncertainty of the crisis. I needed an escape. Thinking of the two schools in Katipunan, I tried my luck.

“21, M, Diliman,” someone replied to my post.

We talked, and talked, and talked. He didn’t act like he was my savior, he just listened and didn’t give unsolicited pieces of advice. I told him secrets I didn’t tell anyone before, because he radiated warmth and drew me toward him. Besides, what could a stranger possibly do with them? We transferred to Telegram that night to extend our conversation. We bid each other goodbye when morning came, expecting no continuation.

But I betrayed myself. I was losing my mind. A mélange of anxiety, fear, and desperation for comfort pushed me the next day to say “Hey.” I dreaded going through the hassle of finding someone I could properly talk to on the website again. He was the perfect receiving end of my limitless anecdotes.

Lazare (not his real name) initiated the next day, and I did the following day. We chatted for weeks, and our conversations became meaningful. He would ask about my day, and he’d talk about his in return. My heart yearned for the sound of the notifications on my phone. We became intimate toward each other, sharing our favorite songs, stories, fears, and dreams. At home, I was having a hard time, with head spasms and anxiety attacks paralyzing me at ungodly hours of the day.

Lazare became my solace amid this chaos, and soon everything they said about love was proven wrong—I fell in love with a guy I hadn’t met. What was once a temporary source of relief became a constant refuge, my everyday relief in this hostile lockdown. We began planning to meet after quarantine. Some reassurance that we were real—that I was going to see him, hold him. That we were more than the conversations on my phone.

Perhaps that “ASL?” should have been our only conversation starter. One day, he stopped messaging me. It dragged on for weeks—I started overthinking, I became extra-moody. Finals week came and I was a mess. I could not accept that it was over without a single explanation. I wanted that ASL to be an ILY, but things… happen.

I wrote down every word that had been weighing my heavy heart down and used my brushes to invigorate the feelings that were bottled up. I needed something to put to life what was in me. Were the thoughts at the back of my head right? Was this not love?

It took all my willpower not to blame myself. Could I have done something to make him stay? Should I not have confused all of it for something real? What did I do wrong? What happened?

Sometimes, it feels like everything was a hoax, that what we had was just what many would say it was: a thing on my phone, nothing more. I have yet to touch his face, hold his hand, stare into his eyes; he seemed merely a name on my contact list. Should he have remained that way—a compilation of words on the screen?

After months of endless crying, a heap of emptied pen shells, and pints of ice cream, I realized that I had been dismissing the feelings I harbored, deceiving myself that they weren’t real—that love couldn’t be possible without fleshly proof of what I felt. But I did love him. Beyond the screen. Beyond what those three key codes could unlock.

Two months after we stopped talking, I mustered the courage to confirm my suspicions. It was just as I had expected—I saw it coming—but it felt like a stab in my heart. Things wouldn’t go back to the way they were with us, ever again.

But I am grateful for Lazare. He’s a reminder that I was once happy and that I can be happy again—perhaps by myself, but if fate permits, with someone else. The end of this lockdown remains uncertain, and I wonder if online relationships are something I’m willing to risk again. Maybe. Maybe not. What I’m sure of is that love transcends physical intimacy; it goes beyond corporeal desires and tangible proof.

Who knows? Maybe my next ASL will turn out to be an ILY.

Alexandra Ranielle D. Gallego, 18, is a Bulakenya freshman taking up BS Health Sciences at Ateneo de Manila University.

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