Gruyère

Gruyère tastes like Christmas: mild, soft, sometimes crumbly with its crust, a divine treat you’d only take once a year. Gruyère tastes so much like Christmas that on that chilly December night, there was a back-and-forth between the fridge and the sink: cutting small, triangular pieces to place on the plate, only to find myself later cutting more portions to pair it with soju. Gruyère doesn’t taste like everyday. Gruyère tastes like a festivity, a birth of a god, a celebration, a conclusion to a boring, uneventful, eventful year. And in this rare solitude, Gruyère, obviously, was a blockbuster for one.

On the floor I made a spreadsheet, drew rows and rows and columns. In it were familiar names, and gift ideas for a quick, fuss-free trip to the mall. Spoiling favorite people used to be fun, but the panini happened, and things happened, and my long list turned smaller and smaller. Not that it bothers me. It used to bug me, but the older I grew, the more I knew. What greatly bothers me though is how Christmases have turned into the Presents Olympics: who gave what, who spent more, et cetera. No one ever warned me that Christmas as an adult is part celebration, part public relations.

Though it’s not entirely a bad thing. Sometimes it’s just hard to distinguish sincerity from PR. Being lost in this yuletide sport has left me jaded. I noticed it from my displeasure the moment I was handed a box of cookies at a family dinner as a gift. (I loathe laziness: you get generic gifts from work, not from family.) My lola would probably say, “It’s the thought that counts,” but at 31, I’ve lost belief in sayings and slogans, especially 5 months before the elections.

If there’s any consolation, this Christmas felt as if the panini had died down. Cases were low, and there was bit of a Christmas rush. After months of solely relying on our Telegram group chat, my girlfriends and I finally made plans for brunch—one that lasted 9 hours. My realization was, this health crisis also reset the way we socialize in person. Sure, there’s the physical distancing. But the dead air? The blinks? The crickets? The… brain fog? DOH didn’t make a health advisory for that. After brunch I helped myself to two cups of Ichiban at UCC just so I could be hyper and do my part as a bangka. Thankfully, it worked. I love my girlfriends.

Revelries had a price. Days after Christmas, Omicron. The start of 2022, more Omicron. Thankfully we were spared, but it’s the most contagious this coronavirus has ever been, to the point that I ultimately decided not to take my mask off anywhere indoors. Omicron is so contagious, some relatives caught it; some friends caught it; some colleagues caught it. I’ve lost count how many times I sent “If you need anything, just text me” to loved ones who bore the weight of the virus. I pictured them struggling in bed—sniffles… mild symptoms and all. After the surge, I was deemed ‘immortal’ for staying negative since Day 1. The secret? Face mask, vitamins, and this icy demeanor.

They described January to be the longest month. What with the surge and self-imposed quarantines and subsequent recoveries, January was a drag that the month itself could just well be a year. Post-Omicron, there was February and its 28 days. In February everything suddenly zoomed in fast and felt like a blur. Campaign season started: political ads started bombarding gaps of noontime shows and primetime news, candidates kicked off their sorties, and actress-host betrayed home network. And, of course, there was Valentine’s Day.

Writing this, I’m now twenty one days deep in March, and so far the rollercoaster made a wilder turn: Russia had invaded Ukraine, gas prices are on an all time high, and politicking and troll mudslinging (on social media and in real life) have intensified.

Sometimes I just go on my routine and ride the wave, accepting today’s harsh reality of pandemic… war… and corruption. But, how I yearn to live in the most uninteresting times of our lives. Sitting at the carwash the first Sunday of March, I told my younger brother how I used to detest it when nothing was happening. “We needed controversy for conversation, a scandal for an icebreaker. You know, newsmakers.” Then suddenly we’re given a pandemic… war… and corruption.

But, for now, that’s life: I’m twenty one days deep in March, and I suddenly long for Gruyère: how, on that chilly December night, it tasted like Christmas—mild, soft, sometimes crumbly with its crust—and how things were slightly better, with my slight intoxication… unaware of another forthcoming turmoil.

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