Hunched over my laptop and a pile of cherry cough drop wrappers, I was somewhere between 1976 and 2005. You look in her eyes; the music begins to play, Glenn Frey crooned about the girl who was swept up by “Johnny Come Lately.” But I was looking into my sister’s eyes and the music that was playing was “New Kid In Town,” an Eagles song she and I used to call “Johnny Come Lately” because it was the only lyric we knew for certain. We made the rest up from our car seats in my mom’s silver Camry.
I wrote my Boston College personal statement about that Eagles song and the gap-toothed little girl who grew up to be a gigantic pain in the ass—a savant of “srat” in the making, my “Aly Come Lately.” That night, I thought the story was of primordial importance—if I told the story of our sibling rivalry just right, the acceptance letter would be signed, sealed, delivered; mine. And eventually, it was, making “New Kid In Town” the first song in the Spotify scrapbook of my four years at BC.
That night, I followed up Hotel California with The 1975, Disc 1, Side B, Track 1: “Sex.” And this is how it starts—my first attempt at storying my life by co-opting the lyrics and instrumentals of others. The essay was a fraught attempt. I stumbled over clunky metaphors about “taking the midnight train going anywhere with Steve Perry,” a regretfully real quote from the essay. I’ve since replaced Journey’s unrelenting reassurance with the jaded optimism of “Float On,” a song I’ve hummed on the walk to every single midterm and final in the past three and a half years. Cleopatra’s monologue over Antony’s lifeless, loveless body? Too heavy, we’ll all float on—alright. Although I passed Shakespeare’s Politics, I failed the poet’s eloquent musings endlessly.
At BC, I spent more time with other poets. I clung to Flea’s cooing “Californication” bass line like the golden California necklace to my fluorescent sun-deprived skin during my first Boston winter. Jacob’s sprawling 675-song “Hi High Heights” playlist became the soundtrack to my sophomore year by force, “Time in a Bottle” spilling out of Mac 113 every Sunday. During the better part of junior year, Morrissey indulged my aching heart in seven-minute 36-second increments—“I Know It’s Over – Live in Boston” because The Smiths singer’s tremor sounds more tragic unretouched.
Learning all of the words of the select 14 songs on “getting shitty in new york city!” made a summer home out of the concrete island of Manhattan, where St. Vincent’s ethereal piano ballad was the only motherf—ker in the city who could forgive me for pausing on Madison Ave. to check Google Maps. (“It’s a grid system, motherf—ker!” John Mulaney screams in the distance.)
Playlists eventually became the currency of friendship. Steven and I became friends when we watched The Peach Scene from Call Me By Your Name at 2x speed under the gaze of the figures on the posters that line the wall behind the arts desk. But we became best friends when we sat at that same desk and slogged over the 73-track “make the heights DEPRESSED again,” fearing the “kids” weren’t experiencing enough existential dread to become good writers. Or at least that’s the excuse we used to exchange the makings of our middle school iPod Nanos.
And then there were the party playlists. The taste of lemonade and raspberry Rubi lingers when I shuffle “the last mod pregame,” a relic of Connor’s 28B residency. “Christmas in July” decked the halls of a Greycliff basement, where “God’s Plan” for the night didn’t include gold-plated BC Admissions name tags.
Tonight, I sit hunched over my laptop as a small puddle of tears accumulates between my dogeared copy of Rob Sheffield’s Love Is a Mix Tape and my off-brand AirPods case. “Hannah Hunt” plays, her ambling melancholy acting as exposition to her unconventional wisdom: Though we live on the U.S. dollar, you and me, we got our own sense of time. For two years, I’ve defied the indifferent gestures of clock hands by writing the soundtrack to my life between the Oxford lines of The Heights. Words on paper became tangible in a way the memories couldn’t.
Part of me wishes love still was a mixtape. That, like Sheffield, after the music stopped I would be able to hold up the cassette tape and say, “This is The Killers song that made my college roommate and I dance—and cry—when we posed as journalists at Boston Calling. Here are the mangled Snail Mail guitar chords that I confided in when words sent me to voicemail.” For two years, the proof was in the print. To steal a line from Sheffield, “It was a smashing time, and then it ended, because that’s what times do.” Tonight, I write. Once I leave The Heights, I press shuffle and hope to God I figure out how to defy time again.
Featured Graphic by Allyson Mozeliak / Heights Editor