By Bianca Layog
Since Mid-March, I’ve learned the different flavors of loneliness.
As the last of my classmates trickled out of campus that month, I slouched in my boarding school dorm room manufacturing another playlist. Cardboard boxes and various pairs of stolen scissors lay strewn all over my room. A stuffed koala — one that my friend, Eli, had given to me for safekeeping — sat in front of me, limbs leaking out of a half-open, newly-emptied drawer. Just the day before, I’d booked four flights from Michigan to the Philippines.
I’ve always had a slightly obsessive relationship with music; I repeat playlists for days at a time, play albums until the tracklist is imprinted in my brain. Every song becomes a part of my body. A part of me yearns for the physicality of a mixtape — especially now when everything I own is constantly glazed in a thin sheen of hand sanitizer — but over the past few months, I’ve grown to realize the power of this modern mixtape. No greeting or farewell feels complete without a soundtrack to go along with it. Maybe I’m still attached to memories of me listening to Kelly Clarkson in the car while pretending to be in a music video.
The first song I added to my March playlist was Yesterday by the Beatles. What was left of my friend group and I sat in a circle in my residence’s lobby, mourning the loss of something we couldn’t fully grasp yet. I named the playlist “monday 15:56” so that every time I looked at my phone in the middle of packing, I’d remember that my time was running out. I organized the songs to tell a story; I started with the going away and then the staying-at-home before the coming back, as if I could already imagine the future. Back then, we didn’t know that our futures were pregnant with sobering statistics, that we’d memorize symptoms as survival mechanisms.
I made it home in one piece and self-quarantined in my grandfather’s old apartment, scooping dinners out of plastic containers and learning TikTok dances out of boredom. I added to the playlist “low-density lipoprotein” a few days in, upset that one of my friends had seemed to drop off the face of the earth. It was how I coped; the music muffled the sense of solitude in that apartment. Playlist “burnt toast” encapsulated my thoughts on remote learning; “pedestrian girls” embodied the experience of pressing my spine into the mattress to remind myself that ‘no, my body and self weren’t decaying yet,’ even if almost all my friends were living on the other side of the world and time hardly felt real. I renamed my playlists several times, reorganized songs and told myself that it was absolutely normal to have every song sound as pathetic as my isolation.
Then, I tried to be happy. I listened to Madonna’s Material Girl for at least 48 hours. By this time, my self-quarantine was about to end. I was able to return to my house, where I curated the playlist “power play” and fought to convince myself that I was powerful and that the coronavirus situation would resolve itself in six weeks. It was a glossy illusion, one that took the form of not only Madonna, but the Spice Girls, Beyoncé and two Amy Winehouse covers.
Soon, it became pretty obvious that I wasn’t going to see my friends in six weeks. Since I was home for possibly the longest stretch of time since before my freshman year, I decided that I should probably try my best to get along with my parents. We sat down after dinner in the living room and watched old music videos on the TV. I added 80s music to my playlist “somewhat obligatory” because it made me nostalgic for a time I didn’t know. At least it was a time when people could touch each other.
At night, I listened to songs and playlists on loop to lure my brain into sleep. First, it was my “shower in the dark” playlist, where Cigarettes After Sex and Lana del Rey created a woozy bliss. Next, it was Taylor Swift’s entire discography. Next, Adele’s When We Were Young, before returning to Swift. I regressed to the music I listened to during my freshman year, and even before that time, when I was listening to Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream through tinny car speakers.
It was difficult to find anything new to be miserable or happy about. My body felt nearly formless, organs strung together by playlists I’d constructed out of habit. My favorite days of the week were Monday and Friday because my Discover Weekly playlists came out on the former and New Music Friday on the latter. Desperate for structure, I clung to Spotify’s schedule, waiting until the clock struck midnight to access whatever joy followed in finding something new and exciting.
In my head, decades of music stack atop one another to form a sandwich I’ve eaten too many times. I haven’t left my house since April. The different flavors of loneliness slosh in my mouth — lyrics of too many songs blending together in a murky puddle of confusion. Now, August looms. In my bedroom, still indoors, I put on the Beatles, the lyrics of Here Comes the Sun seeping into my bones, sawing into them a sort of hope.
Contact Bianca Layog at biancalayog ‘at’ gmail.com.