Marlena Raines

Not even an afternoon. I quit my headphones for a walk, waiting for silence to ensue upon the world without music.

But the world was humming.

I was walking across Old Campus. Tree branches clattering, posters on the bulletin boards flapping. I was able to hear the winter breeze declaring its presence, besides typically only feeling it touch my face and comb my hair. The breeze itself didn’t have any sound or motion. It danced with whatever it touched, asking us for help, to be heard and to be seen. Notice the girl in front of me. Her hair was flying. Golden sunshine trickled through the gaps between strands of her blonde hair. Dark tree branches fulfilled the discontinuity of the blue sky.

Through LC, onto the lane between Branford and JE, against the flow of the stream of people. Hear people talk. A girl in a blue windbreaker confessed to her phone, “my relationship with Gabby is more transactional.” A girl in a white sweater and black coat, eating a sandwich, consulted her partner, “am I gross if I eat this entire thing in one bite?” Intriguing. How much had I missed out when I was wearing my headphones?

My eyes met with the man taking the sandwich from the girl — that was the moment I realized that I had emancipated not only my ears, but also my attention. When I was wearing my headphones, my mind was fully engaged with the music. Now having nothing else to attend to, I began to worry about what to do with this stranger. Should I acknowledge his existence? I didn’t wanna be rude — but we both tacitly agreed to look down. The girl took a big bite of the remaining sandwich. It fell apart, and a piece of tomato dropped onto her white sweater. I immediately looked away to my right.My eyes met with a shorter girl in a green jacket. We both silently agreed to smile at each other.

I crossed York Street and turned right. My mind wandered around until it was caught by a group of five high-schoolers uniformly brushing their blonde hair behind their ears and curving their bodies for pictures in front of the castle-like architecture of Branford. They were all wearing the same leopard pattern décolletage tops, white long pants, and black leather high heel boots. A few feet away came a group of middle-aged men holding the same navy blue folder from some conference. All were wearing the same colored suits, ties, shirts, and leather shoes.

I looked down. I was wearing a long black down jacket that covered everything above my ankle, a blue sports T-shirt, a pair of black running shorts and black tennis shoes. I zipped up my jacket — now people would only see my long jacket and my shoes. If I wasn’t heading to PWG for a workout, I could have worn nothing but the jacket and the shoes.

My relationship with New Haven strengthened. I had the freedom to wear whatever I wanted. I didn’t look as sharp as the high-schoolers or the suit-ridden men, but they had no choice. They were foreigners. For their sake of presence in New Haven, they had to look nice. But not for me. This was what it felt like to be at home. The dimension of where I would call home in New Haven had expanded, from my dorm room, to my college and now extending to a few blocks, from Broadway to Chapel, from College to York.

A sudden sense of belonging to the city. It wasn’t about how many trivia facts about Yale I knew, nor was it about how many flavors of Arethusa I’ve had. It was about how I could comfortably move around, oblivious of my self-presentation. How, when I took off my headphones, my mind could be comfortably placed anywhere, without the need of another auditory source to launch my attention to another universe.

A squirrel hopped past me from behind, marching onto the dirt on my left, then on top of some dried leaves, then some accumulated snow. The dirt hummed in a series of quiet thuds; the leaves hummed in a series of crisp clatter; the snow hummed silently, absorbing all forms of sound. The winter breeze continued to hum. I let my attention wander wherever it desired.

Tony Hao | tony.hao@yale.edu