In the first days of the pandemic, we started our band, Dusty Kevin. None of us really know how to play our instruments: I strum my ukulele without knowing any chords; another friend clangs a tambourine to keep the beat; there’s a harmonica and a guitar involved too.
I don’t quite remember how we came up with the name Dusty Kevin, but it had something to do with mispronouncing Dostoyevsky while making enough pierogies to feed an army.
Chaos Lillie suggested that we begin our musical careers with a reunion tour, having never played any real music together. Every show would be different, and we could have a blast and become rich enough to pay off our student loans.
Looking back, I can point to the exact day I first met Chaos Lillie: March 15, 2020.
Having just learned that the rest of my senior year was cancelled, having taken a close friend to be admitted as a suicide-risk inpatient for the fourth time in as many months, and coping with the new reality of a deadly global pandemic, something in my brain just…snapped.
It was a Sunday, and my cramped college house was full of my four housemates and a handful of other friends who couldn’t stand being alone just yet. We made a beautiful potluck breakfast with waffles and banana bread, OJ and fruit and laughter, and we sang along to what turned out to be the first of many online worship services.
The world was falling apart before our eyes, and that second week of March we were scrambling for some semblance of control. So, in a vain attempt to exercise our (admittedly limited) power, we decided to dye our hair.
For twenty-one years I had avoided anything so drastic with excuses like “It seems too permanent” or “I like my hair the way it is,” thinly veiled disguises of the truth: “That seems incredibly chaotic, and I prefer order and predictability to change and spontaneity.”
But at that point, nothing seemed to matter. So we tramped to Meijer and bought boxed hair dye, and I blindly let my friends bleach my hair. It didn’t turn out too bad—in fact, I sort of like it. I watch the passage of time as my roots grow out, and I get to remember that weird, unexpected time with a house full of laughter and the competing smells of soup, bleach, and friendship.
For a few months there, I saw Chaos Lillie more and more: I made crafts from scrap paper in my house, emptied of housemates returned to their parents; I neglected my homework and sat for hours watching bees come and go from the hive on campus; I took a trip to visit one of my friends in Virginia. On the way back, I pulled off the highway in Ohio for an unplanned visit to another friend’s childhood home without her, chatting with her parents for a few hours and not returning home to my own bed until well past my normal bedtime.
But the pandemic wore on, my friends moved away, and I was people-starved, unemployed, and trying desperately to keep myself from spiraling out of control. Even when I finally did get a job, I moved to a lonely new state, as much afraid of what I might find as excited.
After four years trying (and failing as much as succeeding) to lighten up, I was afraid that the little bit of spontaneity and goofiness that I had stumbled upon would dry up. I was afraid that Silly Lillie would cease to exist and leave only Stressed Lillie behind, living constantly and nervously in the shadow of Productive Lillie, who so easily dominates my activity.
Chaos Lillie was new. She was what I needed: I was delighted to know her and afraid to lose her.
After a period of…hibernation? last winter, I think I’m seeing Chaos Lillie again. I caught a glimpse of her when I adopted a dog three days after I met him, and again when I bought myself flowers because I just thought they were pretty. When I learn the names of trees, stop and stare at a caterpillar crossing the road, or research what kayak to buy, she’s there, egging me on. When I go all-in playing poker on the same day I learned to play poker, make my middle-aged-man coworker crank up the radio for a sing along as we drive to a job site, or buy my dog a shark costume for Halloween, I get glimpses of the giddy, reckless delight Chaos Lillie brings.
Chaos Lillie is an instigator, a trait which always catches me by surprise. She is all the goofy, spontaneous, absurd parts of me that I thought had died. She stays up past my usually-strict 10 p.m. bedtime, makes bad puns, and gets a little tipsy at virtual happy hour. Chaos Lillie wonders at the beauty of fallen leaves, rolls her eyes when Productive Lillie says do more things, and finds joy in the nonsense.
With Chaos Lillie, anything can happen. No idea is too outrageous to entertain, even though my “outrageous” is still relatively benign.
Regular Lillie has come to relish the unexpected and absurd along with Chaos Lillie; without her, I would be bored and boring.
We’re planning the Dusty Kevin reunion tour for 2027.
Photo: This low-fi picture from our first jam session became the concept art for Dusty Kevin’s future album (photo credit Bethany Williams).
Lillie grew up on a forty-acre hay farm in Central Oregon, making the trek to Michigan to study mechanical engineering and sustainability. After graduating in 2020, she moved to Rochester, NY, where her day job as an engineer for the local gas utility funds her outdoor adventures, love of books, various craft projects, and investment in her new community.