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Quarantine from the closet: A love story told through missed calls

caption: Illustrated image of two people holding hands while standing on two separate smartphone screens, with text bubbles with hearts above their heads.
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Illustrated image of two people holding hands while standing on two separate smartphone screens, with text bubbles with hearts above their heads.

A fictional story about two young people navigating their newfound distance during the pandemic, told through their voicemail messages.

Please note: This piece includes explicit language.

[RadioActive Youth Media is KUOW's radio journalism and audio storytelling program for young people. This episode was entirely youth-produced, from the writing to the audio editing.]


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KUOW / Mary Heisey

VOICEMAIL VOICE: New message from “Ally, heart emoji” on March 26, 2020.

ALLY: Hey Jo! I’ve got a second before my mom’s in with the groceries. We managed to grab some toilet paper. Woo! I’m using that cool voicemail app — the one that makes it sound like we’re in a '90s movie? You gotta do it back. I sent you a link. Um… anyway…

I can’t believe I packed clothes for four days, and I’ve been stuck at my parents’ house for four weeks! And — and I miss you. It really sucks, Jo. Somehow this distance feels different. Like, cancelling my flight back home felt so final. I don’t know how much longer I can keep pretending I’m straight —

[Door opens faintly. Phone rustles.]

ALLY: Okay, mom’s back. Later!

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KUOW / Mary Heisey

VOICEMAIL VOICE: New message from “Jo” on April 23, 2020.

JO: Hey, Al. Notice how I’m using your app? As always, Shrek says "Hi." He’s not forgetting you or anything. It takes more than a month for a cat to forget one of his parents. Wait. Actually, Shrek —

[Rustling. Jo’s farther away from the mic.]

JO: Shrek! Here, kitty! You wanna say something to your mom?

[Muffled meow.]

JO: That’s not very nice.


JO: God, I thought I taught you better.

[Quiet. The phone comes back to Jo’s ear. Jo sounds like they’re smiling still but it’s getting fainter.]

JO: Point is, your son misses you, and so does your goddamn girlfriend. A month without people sounded great until I realized you were one of them. I want you to come home so bad but with the whole immuno-suppression-if-I-see-anyone-I-will-die thing… I guess we’re in a long-distance relationship for now.

Anyway, that means I’m bored as hell, so let’s play Animal Crossing again soon, alright? I know your parents are big on the family time stuff but that’s not an excuse to skip trading fruit. Heh. Trading fruit sounds like a weird euphemism for somethi-

[Audio cuts.]

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KUOW / Mary Heisey

VOICEMAIL VOICE: New message from “Al My Girlfriend, heart pulse emoji, pink ribbon emoji, face with heart eyes emoji, crying face emoji” on June 14, 2020.

[Protest chants, car honking, footsteps on concrete.]

ALLY: Hey Joey, just wanted to let you know I’m safe and headed home from the march. At least a thousand people were there. Even though I’m sure my parents were fully aware that I wasn’t hiking today, I don’t think five hours leaves much room for plausible deniability. Plus, I left my fucking boots at home, so I’m not looking forward to that conversation.

Well, I love you, and I wish you could be out here with me, but I’m glad you’re staying safe.

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KUOW / Mary Heisey

VOICEMAIL: New message from “Jo” on Oct. 11, 2020.

JO: Al, I swear to God, if one more person invites me on a “socially-distanced walk,” I might break quarantine for the first time in seven months just to go commit a homicide.

I just feel like, almost every day I see the news and like, I’m doing my… I’m doing everything right, and literally nothing’s happened. Like, no progress, case counts are higher than ever. People are just deciding it’s over ‘cause they can. But I can’t. I — more than other people — I really can’t, so I have to keep looking out the window at other people’s “safe” walks like a fucking cloistered monk.

It… sometimes it feels like I’m gonna be in this apartment forever.

Alright, well, this has sucked and felt bad. Um. Oh, right. Al, get this. Halloween, I’m going as the boy from E.T. and Shrek is E.T. Confused? Me too. Call me back, and I’ll give you the deets.

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KUOW / Mary Heisey

VOICEMAIL: New message from “Jo” on Feb. 15, 2021.

JO: Al! Happy three years, babe. Even though you can’t talk about how much you love me, I thought I’d still give you a call so I can talk about how much I love you, and you know, when you’re home, you can take a day and get me back. Wink.

I can’t stop thinking about our first date. I still can’t believe you didn’t realize until the end that it was a date. It was literally Valentine’s Day. I know being roommates first complicates things but Al! And your face when you realized… I don’t know if I’ve admitted this to you before but, I really thought I’d have to go apartment hunting the next day, and then, when you kissed me…

I’m real fucking ready for you to come home. I love you. Goodnight.

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KUOW / Mary Heisey

VOICEMAIL VOICE: New message from “Ally Bo-Fally Me, My, Mo-Mally. Heart emoji, smiley face emoji” on April 2, 2021.

ALLY: Joey! I’m thinking: so, it’s late, and I went into the garage so hopefully my parents can’t hear me out here.

You got your big shot last week so congrats on becoming a J&J gay! Okay, no more beating around the bush. Jo. What if I just rented a car now, okay, and started driving cross-country? I know my mom’s all worried about the risk, but driving; I really think it’d be safe, and I… I don’t wanna be here anymore, pretending. I wanna tell other people about my girlfriend who I’m in love with! And the only person I’d really be risking is me ‘cause now you’re vaccinated!

So, I don’t know how this is gonna go over with them, but I think my decision is made. Actually? I’m gonna go start packing my stuff.

VOICEMAIL VOICE: Voicemail inbox empty.

[Quiet ambient, then a rush of sound. Everything is surround sound, overwhelming and visceral.]

ALLY: Okay, I’m pulling in! I got my backpack, my…

JO: Al, forget it already, I can see you from the window! Just… babe…

ALLY: Just a second, I need to put it in park!

JO: At this point you could crash the car and I’d forgive you.

[Engine shuts off. More frantic rustling.]

ALLY: You’re such a romantic.

JO: I’m coming down.

[Car door opens. Footsteps on gravel.]

ALLY: Ah, shit, I forgot my —

JO: Ally, I can see you!

ALLY: Oh my God, Jo!

[The connection cuts out but we can still hear Ally and in the distance, getting closer, their sneakered feet on concrete.]

ALLY: Jo! Holy sh—

[Impact. Awkward mic noises. We’re between two bodies. Everything is close, warm, and enveloping.]

JO: Oh my God, oh my God!

ALLY: You look so good! Oh man, are you using my shampoo?!

JO: Yeah, what about it, Al? Fuck, I love you so much…

ALLY: I can’t wait to see Shrek!

[Fade out.]

This RadioActive Youth Media podcast was produced in an advanced producers program for high school and college students. Production assistance and prepared for the web by Mary Heisey. Edited by Kelsey Kupferer.

"Ally" was voiced by Morgen White. "Jo" was voiced by Soraya Marashi.

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