CW / Leah Goggins
I drove into Tuscaloosa on Aug. 16 excited but worried for the fall semester. As I moved into an off-campus apartment paid for by my on-campus housing scholarship, I felt an overwhelming amount of uncertainty. Even so, I tried to balance my instinctual pessimism with the prospect of reuniting with old friends and regaining my independence.
I woke up the next day ready to realize my hopes and ignore my fears. Over the course of the next two hours, however, I received a text from a romantic interest stating that he wanted to be “just friends” going forward and an email that a friend from the University had passed away.
If signs existed, I thought, these ones were written in neon green, reading “RUN AWAY!”
I got in the shower and tried to wash the feeling away. I put on a straight face and blasted bass-heavy Rico Nasty with my hair still wet.
While waiting for my friend to pick me up, I inevitably slipped into a cycle of sadgirl rap and pop, blasting old Doja Cat and Charli XCX’s “how i’m feeling now,” one of my favorite albums of the year.
I got in the passenger seat and took the aux cord with confidence, cruising to songs I thought my friends and I shared. No one else was singing along, though. I started to feel distant – like I should leave rather than try to make the best of this semester that was destined to end.
I sat parked outside of The Cottages at Lake Tacoma and the music stopped for a moment. I heard my friends clearly for the first time. I heard their genuine words of support through the anxiety and grief we were all experiencing.
I felt pure joy in that house for a few hours. This is why I returned to Tuscaloosa, I thought: for these people I was proud to call my world.
Within those few hours, however, I watched my friend’s face change during a phone call. Her boyfriend had tested positive asymptomatic for COVID-19. Her smile was gone, and so was mine.
We left the house quickly and no one took aux on the way back to our separate apartments. The car was not quiet, though. We spoke of our dread for the days ahead.
As we loaded up on drive-thru food for our quarantines, I felt like throwing my Jimmy John’s sandwich at every unmasked undergraduate on The Strip.
“This is your fault,” I wanted to scream. “I wish I could be that selfish! Maybe then I could be happy for a second!”
By 7 p.m. that night – less than 24 hours since my move in – I was sitting alone in an apartment bedroom I never expected to live in. I searched for songs that mimicked the ringing in my ears and the forceful beating of my heart for the first hour, songs like “Riot Rhythm” by Sleigh Bells.
It took less than an hour for my sentimentality to sink in. The day’s events washed over me in the tune of the smooth sad songs my friends and I had shared over the past six months. Everything from Japanese R&B to Car Seat Headrest rang through my ears, and I missed them.
Here I was again, alone with the music. I laid on my back and thought about the impossibility of love and the inevitability of death all while listening to Animal Collective. Yes, I was a character trope in that moment.
Though my friend who received the phone call tested negative the next day, I was determined to quarantine through the five day incubation period.
I felt every emotion I’d tried to suppress over the past six months during my five days in quarantine. The music I listened to reflected this rollercoaster.
I started Tuesday morning with my grandpa’s sappy classic country and was listening to “Zebra,” Beach House’s melancholically hopeful dream pop, before nightfall.
By Wednesday, I was listening to The 1975 and Phoenix, the type of upbeat pop whose lyrics can still call you out on your falsehoods. The realizations this music prompted led me to a period of anger reflected through punk rock. For me, anger allows me to ignore my faults in the tragedies of my life.
After jumping around for hours to FIDLAR and White Reaper, I tried to fall asleep to “Sleep Forever” by Portugal. The Man. My eyes stayed open, though, as “Let It Happen” by Tame Impala ran through my ears. Maybe I was overthinking it. Maybe everything that had happened over the past two days – over the past six months – meant nothing.
After a sleepless night, I woke up to “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning,” the classic Bright Eyes album that shaped my childhood. I started thinking about who the girl I was would’ve wanted to be. I put on “All the Shine” by Childish Gambino, a song I used to blast through my headphones sitting alone on the back of the bus. It advocates for self-love even in the face of isolation.
I started writing this piece to Lana Del Rey like the basic art girl I am deep down, and I realized why so many people refuse to quarantine. We are afraid to be alone with our emotions. We are afraid to be honest with ourselves. I know I am.
Humans need something larger than themselves to connect with. This is often friendship, but it is hard for this to be an outlet during a pandemic.
Without friendship, I became sad, angry, and self-hating. I needed a totally intrinsic way to feel fulfilled.
I stopped thinking for a second and heard the music. It brought back memories of old friends and romances, and I was not alone anymore once I really listened.
I went to bed on the last night of my self-quarantine with the realization that I would always have music.
I rose the next morning to George Harrison’s optimistic “All Things Must Pass.” As I drove to the Student Health Center, I played the folk my mother had often quoted back at me. The Avett Brothers’ words, “decide what to be and go be it” echoed.
I almost cried as the doctor stuck his swab down my nose at the drive-thru testing site. I had done four coronavirus tests before, but this was the deepest.
I decided to hike alone as I waited for my results. I drove towards Hurricane Creek Park and kept driving once I reached it. I ended up at a lake I never knew existed and found a private beach by chance. I floated face-up in the warm water and “Humbug Mountain Song” by Fruit Bats played from the speaker on shore: “The first time I realized I was living in this world, I was probably looking at the sky.”
After my swim, I walked down an empty road in my drying underwear, aware that this may be my last time outside for a while. I sang songs into the open air and was content to be alone.
By the time I found my car, I was dry. I sat in the driver’s seat and checked my same-day results. Negative.