Sing Along If – Devin Barricklow

Jay knew about her account, and sometimes when they were lying down and scrolling together he’d kiss her head and call her his “favorite e-girl.” She frequently fantasized about marrying him, though mostly when she was bored at work. They’d move somewhere far outside of New York; she’d work as a teacher, too, and go to the farmer’s market on the weekends. She’d capture the rows of vibrant peppers and the leaves as they turned. She’d carry his child and make young mommy vlogs, hand-sew its bibs with fabric from their discarded tablecloths—she’d always been crafty—and film a tutorial for those who wanted to learn to do the same.

When her office sent everyone home, she went straight to Jay’s and stayed for three days. They went to the grocery store with scarves fashioned around their faces as makeshift masks and bought a week’s worth of supplies, made a fort out of blankets and drank wine beneath it. On the app, meme after meme circulated around about quarantine and the couples it had forced into creation. The blonde girl with feathered seventies-looking curtain bangs that she always saw joked about how annoyed she was to be stuck at home with her boyfriend, only to cut to them glued together on their brand-new-looking couch. Joke’s on you, we actually love being together! She smiled, sheepishly watching herself double-tap.

On the third day, Jay broke up with her, citing stress from the pandemic. The app changed what it showed her. Happy couples goofily attempting different dance routines quickly became high schoolers forced to quarantine with their families, which then became girls sharing their all-too-recent breakup stories, complete with images and incriminating screenshots. She scrolled through her photos in search of her own images, thinking of all she hadn’t captured—the dry-mouthed hungover mornings, the meals and routines, the time she’d cried tears of legitimate passion onto his chest after sex. How impossible it would be to sum it all up. She considered him writing him a letter or sending an email, which seemed like a mature and writerly thing to do, but after the first three paragraphs she cringed at her own clumsy phrasing and deleted the draft. On her phone, recently dumped girls stared straight into the camera for only a few seconds, attempting to flame their exes with text and whichever audio was trending. Sing along if your ex ever ACTUALLY made u cum. Straight faces, motionless lips, lifeless, perfectly decorated eyes. She sent them to Anna, who had started her breakup a month earlier, and the two of them bonded via key-smashes and 30-second bits of audio that they’d soon memorize.

One evening after work she took a clip of herself talking just to see what it would look like and deleted it immediately. She had always liked how the angles of her face showed up on screen, and even more so in motion, but hated the way her voice sounded. Too high and insincere sounding, she thought. She took off her makeup, set her alarm for 7, and slept without dreaming.

In the months leading up to the shutdown, she’d used the app as a public journal. The clip she’d posted on that early-fall day only contained a few different shots of her trip to Boston—Harvard Yard and its students in their camel coats, ivy climbing the walls of the ancient buildings that surrounded the courtyard. She set it to an indie rock song that had been popular a few years ago, one that had often been her soundtrack when she’d roamed around the campus. Zoe and Anna had helped her pick the clips and together they’d captioned it, saw some of my old haunts today. Within less than two hours she had hundreds of comments to read on the greyhound back to New York. Already 10,000 people had viewed the video—they liked the shot of her friends sitting on the lawn, the rows of records in the shop she’d frequented with her friends in college. Some identified the shop, others asked where she was only to receive a quick answer from others in the comments. They were jealous; they wanted her life. They wanted to know how to get in.

More abundance, more shots from the fall into winter: at the Renaissance Faire in Fort Tryon, Anna in her green dress tossing a beanbag into its hole. Zoe in her bed holding a glass pipe and laughing as they’d spent so many mornings doing in college. Pink light filtering through the fog at a nightclub, her friends’ heads bobbing blissfully beneath it. Another bridge-shot as she took the train home from her first date with Jay, how she’d jogged a mile to the station, gold light bouncing off of every building after he’d kissed her for the first time. Filming her twenties made her life feel boundlessly full, and even more so since moving to New York. Every train ride was romantic; every first date was a story she’d tell her daughters someday. She was in a movie every time she took the M train into Manhattan and back, a little drunk, the chorus of another perfect pop song hitting right as she went over the bridge. She filmed the golden light in 30 second increments, thinking about how it would look stitched together with the other shots—the world that those two seconds implied, cutting off just as the skyline would start to appear. She did this for herself; her life was abundant with these lush images, and to prove it to those who looked, she filmed a flock of pigeons picking at a chicken carcass on the sidewalk, too.
One Saturday morning, the week that all non-essential businesses shut down, she made a “get ready with me” video. First, her hair pulled back with a headband, fresh-faced but still healthy looking, then foundation, eyeshadow, something to fill in her already-dark eyebrows. She put on her clothes and jumped, timing the cut of the video to make it look like she’d magically switched outfits, smiling with a mock-surprised expression to make it clear that she knew what she was doing, that she knew she was cute and soliciting attention for it. She remembered all the men who had looked down on her for taking selfies when she was just beginning to learn how she looked, before the stares and swiping and constant double-edged desire. She had nearly a decade on that past-girl. Years—or at the very least, several semesters—of gender studies seminars had taught her that this was power working on her. Still, after posting it she felt strangely vulnerable—though she’d been sharing videos on the site for months, this was the first one that had only featured herself. She fantasized about picking up her phone hours later to discover a host of notifications. In a way it would make sense; she knew what type of person people loved to look at online. Maybe she knew how to play the game just right. And she would have barely even needed to try! She thought of what her peers would say, how no one would be shocked. We always knew it would be one of us. She imagined roping everyone in with her looks only to teach her teenage audience about Eileen Myles and Foucault and leave them guessing about the kinds of multitudes she contained.

She often checked the comments on her most popular dance video, which had over 100,000 views—some people were mad about the boundaries of hyperpop as a musical genre, and others were jealous of the abs she’d worked each morning to maintain, even in quarantine. A few commenters were shocked that she was single. One claimed that she was pretending to like hyperpop for attention. Someone without an icon called her a clout chaser. She found it boring to engage with anything too hateful, and so usually she didn’t, unless she could think of a witty retort. Mostly she liked feeling involved in something. She thought of all the young people conversing with each other and themselves from their bedrooms glowing LED-strip-purple and felt, then, part of a network. She created a new tradition: on Fridays, after her work’s oppressive zoom cocktail hour was finished, she’d change out of her fake-adult blouse and into going-out clothes. Her roommates would do the same—Anna was staying with them now that the dorms had shut down—and together they’d get drunk on too-sweet wine in the living room. This was their youth, she’d think, lying down rosy-cheeked on their green leather couch after the third glass or so.
Often, before emerging into the living room for these nights, she’d sit in front of the makeup mirror at her desk for a very long time drawing careful shapes around her eyes. Sometimes, she’d try on heavy goth makeup or come up with an anime-adjacent cosplay sort of look, styles that she’d have been too scared to wear out in the real world. In a way, it was freeing, and she looked forward to the day when she could compile her Fridays into one post—the range that she had, the energy and the skill. How she never missed the mark.

A Megan Thee Stallion song was trending as cases peaked, and she liked the way the choreography looked on all of the different dancers, how they all brought their fisted hands up over their heads at the very end like they’d just accomplished something significant. She remembered all the listicles and unwanted comments from her mom about the benefits of smiling, how doing so could trick her body into releasing dopamine and serotonin, and though she missed a few steps at first, she liked the way she looked doing the dance in her makeup and sweat-shorts—her hips flared out in just the right way, her hair bouncy and healthy. She looked like she had just been lounging around the house looking effortlessly beautiful (and in fact she had!) She thought about the Jon Berger piece she’d read in college, the one about how a woman sees herself twice—once as she is and once through the eyes of a man. When she played each take back for herself she wondered if she were the man, then, mediating her experience for others as she imagined—in fact, knew—they’d see it. When got the perfect take, she sensed it before even needing to watch it back: all her steps would be in order; her expression would be natural, soft, yet a little intimidating, sharp enough to hint at the intelligence beneath her sex appeal. She’d look light, at ease, as though she did this in her sleep. She’d lift her fists up and jump just like everyone else. It felt so good to finally know.