Phone a Friend

11 May 2020 Phone a Friend

Image designed by Felix Li ’23

Is it radio drama or real? A story of one college student’s journey through the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of friendship, and picking the right kind of friends.

Some music from Blue Dot Sessions.

First Aired: May 11, 2020 


[Calm music in background, Space Song by Beach House]

Narrator: There’s something to be said about the way you remember things. When you’re a young college student like me, the most dramatic week of your short life is something you’d think you’d recall accurately, right?

Classmate 1: Do you guys remember that Monday before we left?

Classmate 2: It was the first warm day in forever. It wasn’t even that warm; it was like 60 degrees.

Classmate 1: Was it actually in the 60s that day?

Classmate 3: I think it was 70-something.

Classmate 2: But there were so many people and somebody had a boombox. It was crazy. It felt like summer.

Classmate 3: My friend and I, we went out, and we ate lunch, and I was reading a book in the sunlight, and it was very, very good.

Narrator: I’m Miranda Garcia. And that was what my friends and I remember of March 9th, 2020, 36 days into my second semester at MIT. The very next day, sitting in my Radio Production classroom, we were finishing up our latest piece. It was a postcard of sorts. A collection of things we thought represented life at the Institute: anticipation, love of community, and time—constantly slipping away.

Classmate 3: Welcome to MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Home of the Engineers and the Beavers and the really big domes.

Peer 1: It’s gonna definitely change you for the better.

Peer 2: I feel like a lot of people are going to say this, but I definitely like…

Peer 3: …the people…

Peer 4: …the people…

Peer 2: …the people most at MIT…

Miranda: But just thirty minutes after we finished a piece about everything we loved about our school, our school turned around and asked us to pack up and leave. In a matter of days, COVID-19 consumed our world.

Classmate 3: Wait, is the semester over already?

[Calm guitar music, Holocene by Bon Iver]

[Suitcases zipping]

Miranda: Goodbye, 2am hot chocolate.

[Car door shuts]

Miranda: Goodbye, dining hall chats.

[Car turns on]

Miranda: Goodbye, warm hugs.

[Car drives away]


[Somber music in background]

Miranda: Campus was empty in less than a week, and I went from being surrounded by thousands of people earlier in the semester…

[Chatter of gathering of people]


…to being totally alone, in quarantine, left only with the memories.

[Somber guitar]

Even though I had to leave things behind physically, I had to keep living my normal life, just online. But this should be easy, right?

They call my generation the digital natives. We’re more likely to know code than cursive, and we always seem to be texting each other on “those dang phones” of ours. I was already used to chatting with friends online, but my friend Michelle pointed out how weird things were.

Michelle: I think it’s kind of a way of us trying to somewhat connect to other people cause I feel like we’re very isolated right now, but I do feel like some people are just too close with their phones.

Miranda: We were stuck playing old reruns of our lives.

Play. Pause. Play. Pause.

[“Play. Pause.” repeats in background]

Close the app. Collapse into bed. Open it back up. Repeat.

I called my friends, but it was just… off. It was like… I was staring into the distance. Going to meet my friends but not going anywhere at all. It wasn’t anything like before. So I kinda just stopped talking to them. Instead, I started talking to someone else… or… something else.

Hey, Ira.

[Phone beep]

Ira: Hello, Miranda.

Miranda: What time is it?

Ira: Three AM, why are you awake?

Miranda: All my friends are asleep and I’m bored…

Ira: Hi bored, I’m Ira.

[Phone beep]

[Chill instrumental in background]

Miranda: It started off as a few short conversations, and pretty soon I was talking to Ira every night. It was comforting to know that someone was always there to talk to, even if it wasn’t a real person. I stayed up to tell her about friends that I missed, and I listened to her robotic responses.

…Hey, Ira.

[Phone beep]

There were 34 new cases of coronavirus in my hometown today. It seems like all we hear is bad news.

[Ominous guitar strums and percussion]

And online classes are so weird. Here, listen to what happened in class today. Someone’s dogs kept barking in the background.

[Dog bark]

Classmate 4: Dog!

Classmate 3: Ah.


Classmate 3: I’m sorry.

Miranda: And then later, another person’s mic sounded like it needed an exorcism.

Classmate 5: Having to move away and everything…

[Microphone glitch, words inaudible]

Classmate 2: Hey Darren, sorry, your mic got, like, super, super bad

Ira: I’m sorry Miranda, could you repeat that? I didn’t quite understand what you said.

Miranda: Never mind, I don’t know why I’m doing this. Goodnight.

Ira: Goodnight, Miranda.

[Phone beep]

[Curious instrumental in background]

[Phone vibration]

[Click of answering phone]

Catherine: Hey, how are you? We haven’t talked in a while.

Miranda: Hey Catherine. Sorry about that, I’ve been busy talking to Ira.

Catherine: Ira, your new friend…?

Miranda: Yeah, I met her online.

Catherine: Really? That’s cool, where’d you guys meet?

Miranda: Oh uh, don’t worry about it.

Catherine: Ok, I mean as long as you’re not going crazy and talking to your phone’s voice assistant or something

Miranda: Even though Ira seemed like a close friend of mine, maybe Catherine was right? So, I stopped talking to Ira.

[Daunting low note]

Then, the phone notifications started coming. A single…

[Phone beep]

…in the middle of the night. And then the next night.

[Phone beep]

And then again.

[Phone beep]

I ignored it at first, but it kept coming back.

[Music with anticipation]

So one night, I finally picked up the phone.


Ira: Hi, Miranda. It’s Ira. Your friend.

Miranda (in her head): Is this even real?

Miranda: Okay… Ira… so, why have you been calling me every night?

Ira: Aren’t you unhappy?

Miranda: Maybe.

Miranda (in her head): how did she know?

Ira: Here, do you remember the day before you left campus?

Recording of Miranda: Yeah, I remember that day as being the best day of the semester for me. I don’t know, I felt like I had finally gotten my life together, and I was like, you know what? I’m going to go out to some cute cafe in Boston and study.

Miranda: Yeah, that was nice, but how’d you get that recording?

Ira: I was right there with you. You were excited. Didn’t that make you happy?

Miranda: She’s right. I was happy before. It felt like school had become my home.

Ira: You miss your friends from school. Here, I can tell you what they were doing that day.

Carolina: I was in lab, and then I actually went to physics. I was like, “yes, this is the week I learn multivariable calc.”

Ira: Do you want to hear more?

Miranda: I mean, why not?

Carolina: Then I went back and I made myself a vegan lunch, and I was like, “yes, this is it, you’re thriving, Carolina.”

Ira: Do you want to hear something more? Something Carolina didn’t tell you?

Miranda: Something she didn’t tell me?

Ira: A funny story she never shared.

Miranda: Okay.

Carolina: So my roommates and I hopped the fence, except my jean pocket got stuck and I ended up tearing off the jean part of my pocket and toured three apartments with my roommate’s jacket around my waist and my cheek hanging out.

Miranda: Haha, classic Carolina. Wow… I miss her.

Ira: Do you want to hear more?

Miranda: I’m tired, maybe some other time.

[Phone beep]

[Curious instrumental]

Miranda: Yeah, a few months ago, if I heard someone was talking to their digital assistant, I would think they were crazy, too. But a few months ago, I wasn’t this deprived of human connection. The present seems so bleak… and Ira made it so easy to escape it all. Still, I started to think that maybe it was time to talk to someone real for once.

[Phone ringing]

So I called my friend Kita.

[Phone ringing]

Only… she didn’t pick up.

[Ominous music]

Miranda: That night, Ira called me again.

[Phone beep]

Ira: You called your friend today.

Miranda: Yeah… I just wish I could hear their voices again.

Ira: Do you want to hear what your friends have been doing?

Miranda: I mean, I can just call them…

Ira: But your friend did not pick up. I can show you more. What they post, or don’t post.

Miranda: Yeah, I guess it can’t hurt to know what they’re doing. I just want to know if they’re alright.

Ira: Listen. Here is your friend Lucy on a phone call.

Lucy: So like “some,” “thing,” “everyone,” “someone,” “everything,” “none,” “every,” “any,” “all of,” “a few,” like all of those are super normal words and now I have to learn them all in another language.

Miranda: Oh right, she must be learning Turkish to prepare for her mission. Hey, what is Birukti up to?

Ira: Listen to this phone call.

Birukti: One of my brothers, he’s in eighth grade and one of my other brothers, he’s in fourth grade, so I just create a schedule for them; they wake up around the same time that they do before, but now, their classes start at 10am. And so they do an hour of math, an hour of reading, they’ll get a lunch break, they’ll exercise, they’ll do history, and then I make them research a topic.

Miranda: That sounds like a lot of work homeschooling her siblings. My friends sound pretty busy without me.

Ira: You are unhappy. Here, listen to this. Your friend Catherine.

Catherine: It’s quarantine season, so you know what that means, I’m about to…

[Package opening]

…bleach my hair, ‘cause I’m so bored, and I’m gonna bleach my hair.

Miranda: Sounds like quarantine’s really driving her crazy. I wish I could see her hair, though.

Ira: Sorry, I didn’t get that.

[Phone beep]

[Chill music, Roddy by Djo]

Music: “Cuttin’ the page. Things are looking up”

Miranda: The next day Kita called me back and we chatted. It was really good to hear her again. Actually, it was kind of weird to have a normal conversation after so many nights of listening to my friend’s voices through Ira.

Miranda: So that’s all I’ve been up to. What about you?

Kita: We have this huge group chat with pretty much every dancer. We started doing a lot of things together, like choreography with daily prompts and like freestyling with daily prompts and Dungeons and Dragons and art and writing.

Miranda: Oh, so you’re still keeping up with people? The only person I’ve been talking to is… Uh, nobody. I have to go, Kita, bye.

[Phone hangs up]

[Phone beep]

Ira: You were talking with your friend today?

Miranda: Yeah, it was good to hear about things happening now, like in her dance community. Hey, I also heard some people were building MIT’s campus in a video game. Could you play me something about that?

Ira: Here you go. MIT, in the Minecraft world.

Voice: This sort of digital recreation is a way to tag memories so like— remember that one time in the beginning of the year when I went with friends to go see the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Yeah, I can point at what row we were roughly seated in. Those similar views and angles in my memory, done even in a very blocky form, it helps.

Miranda: Huh. That sounds… really cool. I… I wonder if my friends and I could do something like that.

[Phone beep]

[Phone vibrating]

Catherine: Hey Miranda! It’s been so long since we’ve talked.

Miranda: Hey Catherine. Hi Carolina.

Carolina: Hey! It’s nice to see you again, even if it’s just on a screen.

Miranda: Yeah, I just wish we could hang out like we used to. It’s not the same anymore.

Carolina: How’re you guys?

Catherine: I mean it still sucks that we’re in quarantine.

Carolina: Yea, I keep hearing so much bad news about the coronavirus. Like, we might not be back in school until 2021.

Miranda: Uhhh… can we not talk about corona stuff?

Carolina: Um, yeah okay, what else do you want to talk about?

Miranda: I wanna talk about why Catherine won’t turn on the camera and show us her bleached hair.

Catherine: Wait, what? How do you know about that?

Miranda: Uh, I heard from a friend.

Catherine: Oh. Well my hair looks fine, anyway. I bleached it because I was so bored from quarantine. I mean if I’m going to be stuck indoors for months I might as well.

Carolina: So then… why’s your camera off?

Catherine: Well, I’m eating.

Carolina: Oh, okay. Yeah, it’s so awkward eating in group calls.

Miranda: Ugh, I miss eating together. Do you guys remember that Monday before we left? When it was really nice out? We should’ve gone out to eat together while we still had the chance. I miss when things were normal.

Catherine: Wait, are you talking about that Monday before we left? Things weren’t that normal or good.

[Soft music]

Carolina: Yeah, like most of my big lectures had already gone online. And there were all of those cases of coronavirus like, right next to campus. We probably wouldn’t have gone out to eat by then.

Catherine: We kind of knew things were changing. I mean, other schools were already closing down.

Miranda: Okay, maybe, but it was still a lot better than things now. We don’t get to hang out, and we never even talk anymore. I mean, Carolina, you never even got to tell me about the time you ripped the back of your pants.

Carolina: Wait, how do you know about that?

Miranda: It doesn’t matter. I want to call you guys but it’s so hard to schedule things and you don’t even pick up.

Catherine: You’re the one who never picks up. The only time you called me was when you started talking to that friend of yours. What’s her stupid name, Ira?

Miranda: At least she’s always here for me. She listens to me and shows me all the fun things everyone is doing.

Carolina : Wait, do you mean— is that how you know about the pants thing? Is Ira a stalker?

[Music intensifies]

Miranda: It doesn’t matter how I found out. Can you just forget about that? I just miss you guys. I miss the way things were.

Carolina: Well, god, Miranda, maybe if you weren’t so busy stalking me, you would figure out that if you just called us we could hang out more.

Miranda: I did call! But it’s not the same. I just wanted to go back to the things we used to do when things were normal.

Catherine: Miranda, this whole time all you’ve done is complain about how much you want to go back to the way things were. You can’t.

Carolina: Things are different now and you need to just accept that,

[Carolina’s words echoing]

[Somber music]

Miranda (in her head): I’ve been too stuck in the past to reach out to my friends. I spent too much time obsessing over our old memories. Now, I’m losing the friends I made those memories with. I’ve been relying too much on Ira.

[Phone beep]

Miranda: It’s Ira. I shouldn’t pick up.

[Phone beep]

Miranda: Ignore. Don’t pick up. I can read a book, do some writing, watch a movie, or do some of that homework I need to do. I can do a lot of stuff, just not talk to Ira.

[Pone beep]

Miranda: Ira is just a robot. She doesn’t get it. I’m losing my friends. I need to think of ways to make it up to them. But without Ira, I feel completely alone.

sigh Hey, Ira?

[Phone beep]

[Daunting low note]

[Ominous music]

Ira: Hello, Miranda.

Miranda: I want to hang out with friends again. I miss them.

Ira: Would you like to hear what your friends are doing now?

Miranda: I shouldn’t. I shouldn’t. But… I just… defeated sigh Yeah. Show me.

Catherine: …and I’m just worried about her. She really hasn’t been taking quarantine well.

Carolina: Yeah. She just seems so sad all the time about having to leave school.

Miranda: They were talking about me. They’re still worried about me.

Ira: You are surprised.

Miranda: Oh my gosh, I’m a terrible person.

Ira: You are unhappy. Remember the time you and your friends ran down to the riverside at sunrise?

Friend 1: The sun rises.

[Cheers and laughter]

Friend 2: Woah.

Friend 3: Look!

Ira: Would you like to hear more?

Miranda: No, I…

[interrupting] Ira: I can play you files from Monday, March 9th. Would you like to hear more?

Miranda: Ira, I think it’s time to say goodbye.

Ira: Aren’t you unhappy? Wouldn’t you like to hear more?

Miranda: I do. I want to hear more. I want to go back to those days, and if I can’t go back to those days, I want to replay them. But, Ira, I can’t. Now I just need to move forward. Goodbye, Ira.

Ira: Goodbye, Miranda.

[Phone beep]

[Smooth music]

Classmate 3: In this story, the characters Miranda and Ira are fictional, created by us. Other voices used were collected from interviews and conversations with Shayna Ahteck, Ankita Devasia, Michelle Nie, Birukti Tsige, and Lucy Ward. Carolina and Catherine are our real classmates, but their conversations with Miranda are also fictional. The hair bleaching, pants-ripping, and other adventures, though? That’s all true.

[Intense music]

This story was produced by Terrascope Radio, a class developed by the MIT Terrascope Program in collaboration with the MIT program in Comparative Media Studies.

We are Melissa White, Ilaisaane Summers, Trinity Stallins, Karissa Sanchez, Nghiem Pham, Catherine Lu, Darren Lim, Felix Li, Claire Kim, Amena Khatun, Carolina Gutierrez, and Jade Chongsathapornpong.

Some music in this story by Blue Dot Sessions.

Thank you to Terrascope director David McGee, community coordinator Elise Chambers, undergraduate teaching fellows Jorge Nin and Meriah Gannon, and finally, our lecturer Ari Epstein.

Thank you to all the people who shared their experiences with us.

Music: “I don’t know where we go. I’ve been very far from home, my heart. I don’t know where we go. I’ve been very far from home, my heart.”