I can remember the first time I commuted alone. I recall when, as I had expected otherwise, my father merely bid me farewell and sent me off, making no haste nor motion that he will take me to school.
For all my life until that point, my father never failed to provide that type of parental service. He would always be the one to bring me and my sisters to places and make sure that we were safe. That was clearly the expectation for when children are still children, but I was growing up and that state of innocence has to shatter at some point. It was just that when I entered this point in my young adult life, I still felt the shock. It also felt like a rite of passage. Or like being thrown in the ocean when you don’t even know how to swim.
I have always felt anxiety during those first few times I had to travel to school alone. It formed part of what I recognized as a personal education for the necessary independence of any human person—we simply need to learn to do things alone, for ourselves.
Yet as the distances I have to cross continue to widen through the years, I find that more and more, there’s something interesting about that same anxiety I would feel over and over again. That anxiety comes from not being sure where and when to say “Para po!” or the anxiety you get when you’re traveling to a new place for the first time and relying only on what other people have told you to do to get to where you need to go. I thought it had everything to do with the anxiety of not knowing.
It lingers in my mind that this has to become my constant experience of moving around. It becomes so much more interesting to me that that remains the case, even with the certainty, routine, and familiarity that come with regularly being in transit to known places.
For a while now, I’ve attempted to give this lingering experience a name. I can only describe it as something like being taken by a primordial form of anxiety. Something about it makes it clear to yourself that you are being displaced, that you’re moving toward a place where you feel, deep down, you’d rather not be. I think this might also come from my personal preferences. I have long accepted that I am not built for the outside world. I almost always want to stay at home. I like the tremendous comfort it gives, perhaps to my own detriment. And so when I set off to go somewhere else, somewhere in the process of moving, something pushes me to spin in my mind how things are supposed to go.
What lingers is the constant worry that you might miss the right stop, or that there might have been changes to the right drop-off and pick-up points that you might not know about. Perhaps it has something to do with that uncertainty—the unpredictability of changes in our modes of transportation, the complete randomness, especially when we’re so assured about how things are that any unforeseen alterations threaten to shake what we’ve already come to know as how things should be.
I suspect, more than anything, that perhaps this constant anxiety might be a reflection of my own deep sense of insecurity. I almost always don’t know what I know, I doubt everything, and deep down I know that the possibility that I can’t keep up with the arbitrary changes of the larger, bigger world around me is greater than that of my certainty about where I’m supposed to say “Para po!”
There’s something awful about the physical movement of the in-transit-ness of commuting, too: It’s a stressful whiplash of a rush, like Morse code only with fuller and longer dashes, abruptly stopping here and there to pick up and drop off. You feel the passing of asphalt and cement beneath the roaring and vibrating mass of the vehicle’s floor.
Ultimately, it dawned on me that commuting alone for the first time forces you out into the chaos of the outside world. It’s breaking away from where you come from, that place of plenitude we call home.
That day my father handed me P20 was my confirmation that I had no choice. I was in my first year of high school then. Most students from my hometown go to the same national public high school. Tricycle drivers would make every trip worth it by picking up as many students as their tiny vehicles can allow. A student pays P15; if you’re generous, you can pay P20.
My father’s usual generosity felt like good luck. I took the fare with apprehension and saw myself out to go to school, a moment that made me recognize myself, for the first time, as an individual.
The day I brought myself to school for the first time was a moment of rupture from my bond with my parents, my protectors. It was a necessary snap of a chord amongst other strings that still connect me to them. And if the French theorist Jacques Lacan is to be believed, this forms the great condition of life: this “lack,” this moment of growing up, this rupture from safety—all a result of a separation, that necessary feature of life which we probably all hate, much like commuting.
Jecko Sanjorjo, 22, is a senior communication arts student from the University of the Philippines Los Baños.
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