Last week was the five year anniversary of my dad’s death. While I was able to visit my mum’s family in Cambridge, this year was my first time living away from them on his anniversary. I returned to Norwich after a two-hour train and bus journey, music blaring from my earphones as I entered the empty house I was about to move out of. Normally I would find myself reminiscing on our memories, listening to our favourite songs and nibbling on dad’s favourite chocolate. I indulged in these traditions, but I also found myself craving a comfort found in abundance throughout this pandemic.
Sam, Emily and I were close even before lockdown. We had a group chat to share gossip, plan late-night McDonalds adventures and other fun filled nights out in the city. We saw each other every day before term came to an earlier than expected halt. UEA announced Easter Break would begin a week early as a result of Covid-19.
With that, Emily travelled home to Dorset, Sam to Edinburgh, and I went travelling thousands of miles away to the U.S. All of a sudden, we were undergoing a collective trauma of a devastating pandemic, riddled with isolation and loneliness. In light of this challenging new reality, we began using the group chat to plan trips in September, foolishly believing Coronavirus restrictions would be well and truly over by then.
We reminisced over drunken memories, mistakes and hungover regrets. We planned a zoom call once a week while the occasional pub quiz helped to recharge our love for each other’s company. But we soon realised this would not just be three weeks of lockdown.
Eventually, weekly calls dropped off as we began to accept this ‘new normal’. Video calls became wholly unnecessary after discovering a new medium for communication; voice notes.
Initially, these minute-long audio clips were intended to ease the frustration of explaining complex situations over text. But they would soon replace text altogether with threads spanning hours.
I found myself playing voice notes as I cooked, loaded laundry, and did my makeup. I would listen to Emily vent about her experiences as a key worker, or Sam attempt to explain Animal Crossing (with little success). I would sit and tie my shoes, ranting about how The Sims franchise had become ‘way too interested in making money’ or explaining dramas on Youtube Sam and Emily never engaged in.
What I loved most was that they actually listened, and even cared. We had suddenly left university – a place of ample social opportunity and engagement with friends – to live with our parents for the first time in a very long time. My brother is nonverbal, and though we communicated in other ways, I mainly spoke to my mum and stepdad. Sam and Emily have told me of their similar experience of finding refuge through voice notes.
Months passed but our friendship only strengthened. As the new Editor-in-Chief of Concrete, Sam recorded dozens of audio clips detailing his plans for the newspaper, as I did for Livewire as new Station Manager. Emily began to flourish as she continued her role as a key worker, as well as being vice president of Politics Society and head of marketing for Livewire. We did not watch each other succeed but listened instead, recording ourselves crying on occasion with emotional exhaustion caused by the pandemic. We connected more than ever before despite being thousands of miles apart.
I listened to the Beatles last night, shedding a few tears and snuggling up with some of my Dad’s t-shirts. I then opened my phone and typed out a message. “I’m sitting outside, drinking Drambuie and Diet Coke in honour of my Dad, and I’ve never been more certain about my life and the people I want to share it with. He would have loved you both.”
Emily and Sam replied within minutes, recording their own messages to soothe my nerves. Despite our literal distance, all three of us have found comfort in the sounds of each other’s voices.