Isla Vista

Headphones are the first thing to go in after letting the screen door crash close behind me. Back then they still had a cord attached to them to connect to your phone. My IPhone 4 was wrapped in a teal and yellow, zig-zag case that did absolutely nothing to protect the phone from- well anything. 

The 1975’s “Robbers” sounded in both ears and blurred out any other sound carrying over the staircase I walked down to the graveled street. I never bothered to lock the door back then, there were always roommates and friends coming and going. I decided to walk that day, leaving my mom’s old purple road bike in the bike stand behind the apartment building. I was slightly scared of the bike traffic on campus and knowing that I would be arriving at peak “rush hour” – when all classes seemed to end or start at once. 

The first thing you notice when your Vans hit the asphalt in the middle of the street is the smell. The smell of old liquor bottles, dying grass, and the gloss of ocean breeze that covers it all with the relaxed feeling of summer, despite it being October. I held my head high and let my eyelids flutter shut just for a second on the fifteen-minute walk to campus. My favorite part of the day. It’s still morning and still cool enough to enjoy the sun climbing your arms and shoulders without the stickiness of sweat. 

Skateboarders and bicyclists dart past me, all in the middle of the road. There are hardly any cars and if anyone decided to drive that was their problem, not ours. Most of the bicyclists have their hands off the handlebars, swaying at their sides, and their shoulders hunched. A few have skateboarders holding onto their seats while they stand, pedaling, while their skater friend just coasts. Every single one of them is young and casually dressed, with backpacks and their own sets of headphones, and headed in the same direction as me. 

“Settle Down” still by 1975 replaces “Robbers” and I look down at my shoes. At the intersection of Sabado and Camino Pescadero, I take the opportunity to raise my head and glance right. Against the shacks that can barely pass for apartment buildings, the front yards covered in poorly-crafted wooden tables, and lines of cars with not even an inch of breathing room in between them; there’s the cliffside. Beyond that, the ocean. I took out a single headphone and I can hear waves crashing. 

I put the headphone back in as I continue through the intersection. The 1975’s debut album continues to play. I wave to friendly faces that don’t belong to a name or a title, or if they do I can’t remember what it is. But I know they’re friendly. I see mouths moving, more cars attempting to navigate the narrow streets, more students biking, skating, and walking alone or in small parties towards and away from campus and I can’t help but smile at the fact that I can’t hear anything but “Heart Out”. 

I stop at the cafe with painted walls. Inside there are a few students already studying, determined – like me, to avoid human contact with shoulders hunched over a book or laptop, and headphones turned up high. 

When I take the headphones out right at the chorus of “Girls”, I feel like I’m stepping out of a gray mist where everything glimmered and moved slowly. The shrieking of the espresso maker and the college barista’s lips smacking after every word are startling wake-up calls. I shake the remnants of the marine layer out of my head. The fog was painting a love song evolving around this space and time in my head during my morning walk. I clear it completely when I order, “Can I get an asiago bagel with cream cheese and latte, please?”. 

© ariannairwin.com June 2022

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