The Last “Normal”

TLN-Danny Bernardo-PadfootThis was the last normal picture I took in 2020. March 11 6:13pm PST. Just about an hour before sunset. I’d just gotten off of Day Job #4 and playing in the yard with Padfoot, enjoying a nice cool spring evening. Yeah, I was working four day jobs at the time and I considered myself lucky. Because hustling between all those gigs to pursue acting and writing full-time here in LA definitely beat the “stability” (read: stress) of a full-time marketing job while pursuing an artistic career back in Chicago. And that flexibility allowed me to have a dog and moments like this. Relaxing in the yard after playing fetch for a half hour, drinking in the sunset as I started to map out how to get in an hour of writing and an hour at the online styling job I had (Day Job #3) and could I sneak dinner in there somehow. Regular, normal, every day night. Because at this time, COVID-19 was just a sort of blip on my radar. I’d heard about it on the news but wasn’t too worried – we’d survived SARS and this seems almost identical. I mean, sure it really seemed to affect attendance at Day Job #1 (theme park, fun!) which thus affected hours. But hell, I had three other day jobs. I’ll make it work. This can’t be that bad. The CDC always has this under control, it always does. But almost six months later, we know what happens.

The day after this photo was taken, Disneyland announced that it would immediately close due to growing concerns of the Coronavirus pandemic. The other theme parks in California (including the one I work at ) announced similar plans. To this day, they have yet to reopen. To this day, I wonder what would’ve happened on the shift I was meant to work that Saturday. The day after this announcement is Friday the 13th. The irony is not lost on me. Everyone at Day Job #4 is on edge. I mean, Disneyland fucking closed. That never happens. This is some serious shit. We all exchange pleasantries as we leave the office for the weekend, unsure of what our world would look like next week. I wish I’d done something cool that weekend. Hell, I wish I remembered what I did that weekend. Because that’d be my last normal weekend.

Monday, March 16 – I report to Day Job #4 which is in the heart of DTLA. Definitely not as busy it should be. I clock in and report to my desk. Tension is high. My job is relatively easy, check in members and guests engage them in conversation as I show them up to a workspace. Interacting with people was how I made money in between acting and writing work. It’s what I was good at. But if a member or guest showed up, would I be able to do that with fear of the virus and pandemic on the rise? Oh God, I shook hands with one member last week, laughing about how people were overreacting about everything. Do I have Covid now? What happens if grocery stores run out of food? Should I start an emergency stockpile? My apocalypse thoughts are interrupted by my boss who has official word from HQ – at the end of business that day, we’d be shutting down until the pandemic was over.

I take a long lunch break to run to the dispensary and stock up on CBD (what if I can’t get back because of the pandemic?!). Out of panic, I stop into a Rite Aid on my way back to work just to see if they had supplies I might need. I wander the store in a daze for fifteen minutes before I walk out with a box of garbage bags as my sole purchase. Walking through DTLA, the streets half empty, I feel in every fiber of my being that the world has changed. My boss says I can leave early if I want, like a lot of my colleagues are to “prepare or whatever”. But prepare for? I politely decline because truth be told, I need those extra hours. Who knows when I’d work again? I’m all alone at my desk in the reception area, awkwardly wishing my colleagues well as they leave hurriedly. Until at 5pm it’s just me and the security guard. As I clock out and gather my things to leave, I stare at the half empty bottle of hand sanitizer on my desk. Part of me screams, “Take it! That’s a hot commodity, who knows when you’ll ever see hand sanitizer again?!” Another part of me rationalizes that this isn’t your hand sanitizer, it’s the company’s. And who knows, if someone comes back to work, they’ll need it more than you. I left without it and whether that says more about my character or my survival instincts, I’ll never know.

blog2This was the picture I took the day after. Tuesday, March 17, 10:17am. Padfoot’s a little confused as to why I’m home and not at work but mostly he’s glad that I’m there to play with him all day. Little does he know that that would be all the days between then and now. And don’t worry, I won’t recount every single day of this pandemic. I’ve just been struggling recalling what life was like prior to the pandemic. Prior to a time when hugs weren’t risky behavior, when a trip to the grocery store wouldn’t induce a panic attack, and when we firmly understood the meaning of the word “essential”. And I thought about the timing of when the pandemic officially hit me personally and looked at the photo before that. I can’t even recall being that carefree, where every step I took outside my home wasn’t methodical and strategic.

Like the rest of the world, I yearned to return to some semblance of “normal”. Don’t get me wrong I still do, but the longer we go into this pandemic I realize that the “normal” we see on the other side is going to be a far cry from the “normal” we knew before this hit us. And I’m making peace with that. Let’s face it, as a queer Filipino American, my perception of normal has always been different from society’s and thank God for it. Because my “normal” adapts every day. Whenever anyone asks how I’m doing, I reply “peaks and valleys” because I have no other words. Each day is new and different.

And the world goes round. The entertainment industry is starting to reopen. Friends are on sets and reporting that they’re feeling pretty safe. I’m getting more self-tapes and audition requests and hey, my agent just signed Padfoot too! I may be furloughed from two of my four day jobs and lost the other two, but I have a sweet new freelance gig doing social media strategy so that’s great. And I’m finally taking the time to invest in myself artistically and personally. I’ve got some things up my sleeve and hey look, I started blogging again. That’s fun. Hope you’ll check back in this space from time to time to check out some of my musings.

blog4So I’ll end this with a couple of photos. First is the last photo I took on my phone – August 31, 7:03pm. Again, catching the sunset with Padfoot. It’s been a blessing to have him during this quarantine – to laugh with and play with and cuddle with. And he’s loved getting all the time with his papa he could possibly want – like seriously, I’m relieved he’s not sick of me yet.

And finally, the last picture my family took together before the pandemic hit. March 7. 2020 3:02pm. Literally the weekend before shit true hit the fan. We were all gathered to celebrate my grand nephew Noah’s second birthday. And this is the picture I hold closest to my heart, the one that gets me through every day of this pandemic. The one that gives me hope. Because one day, we’ll gather together again just like this and we’ll hug each other without fear or worry. Just love. Just normal.




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