It’s after midnight and I’m on a yellow dog moving slowly down a two-lane highway somewhere in West Texas. Everyone’s asleep except for me, the school bus driver, my coach, and the chaperone. Between the Smiths songs coming through my headphones, I can hear coach and chaperone speaking quietly to each other up front, in the seat behind the driver. Me, I’m in the back. I’m always in the back.
Our school won the most events at the speech and debate tournament. Three of the trophies stowed under the bus are mine. But that’s not what’s making me so happy. Not by a long shot. It’s the feeling of being alone while surrounded by my sleeping classmates. It’s the slick green vinyl seat underneath me and the window that’s cold when I rest my forehead on it. It’s the flat desert darkness rolling along on the other side of the glass. It’s the stars. In West Texas, you can see so many stars. But, mostly, it’s the relief of having absolutely nothing to do but allow Morrissey to croon into my ears. “Does the body rule the mind or does the mind rule the body? I don’t know.”
I was what would now be referred to as an over-scheduled kid. School, homework, rehearsals, performances, tours, tournaments, acting lessons, dance classes, board meetings, my many electives. I never stopped. I caught mono my Junior year but could only take two weeks off to recover because I was in two plays at the time. To see my friends, I frequently had to sneak out of my house, no small feat considering our storm windows didn’t open and my parents were hyper alert and super perceptive. Even though I was always tired, I used to stay up late into the night sitting cross-legged in front of my stereo with my headphones on, either making mixtapes or listening to music in a zoned-out trance. In retrospect, I think I did this for the alone time more than for a love of music.
Everyone is coping differently with the non-stop catastrophic events of the last year. To deal, my neighbor got even more productive than ever, writing, performing virtually, basically killing it. I have friends who have learned another language or started playing guitar. Some wrote novels or screenplays. Not me. I’m having a tough time working. I’ve found I can’t concentrate on anything for longer than a few minutes at a time. The only hobby I’ve gotten better at is having panic attacks. I’ve read some. I’ve played hours and hours of Animal Crossing. I’ve taken walks. But, mainly I’ve reverted to middle of the night high school me. You’ll find me on the ground: outside on the porch looking up at the sky or sprawled out in the dining room or, once, in our tiny galley kitchen. My feet are frequently in the air, propped up by a wall or a piece of furniture. My AirPods are in my ears and my mind is numbed out by the music I’m constantly blasting. If I’m not lying on the floor, I’m making myself yet another playlist for future lying and blasting. I’ve revisited music I loved as a goofy child, as a goth teen, as a rave kid, as a crystal-loving yoga freak. It’s the only time I feel anywhere close to calm. It’s aural Xanax.
During my listening, I’ve done a lot of thinking and, look, I think whatever gets you through is GREAT. I don’t think we should judge each other for anything right now. I want to come out the other side of this thing with more compassion and more love for my friends, family, and aquaintances than I had before it started. But until then, you know where to find me. Yup, I’ll be in the back of the bus, staring out at the tumbleweeds. Listening to The Smiths.