My memory works best when it can associate times and places with the music played. Like how I remember the first time I danced with a boy because the song that played was ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ and Tiffanie became embedded in my brain alongside the awkwardness of having my arms wrapped around the neck of a boy who was a good six inches taller than me at the time.

That’s a good memory, even if the song isn’t necessarily in my top ten of awesomeness. There are others, however, that ruin the music they belong to – just because.

*

I was eighteen and a recent high school graduate when I told a man that I loved him for the first time. The house band was warming up without him – he was their bass player – and the strains of jazz being practiced and tuned drifted up the stairs behind us. I remember it was a mixed up version of something from Dave Brubeck.

It was New Year’s Eve and I remember the cramped space we were standing in and the look on his face when I said those three words. I remember feeling the acid of my confession burning across my cheeks when he said I was a nice girl but he didn’t feel the same way. It stung like he’d slapped me.

I put up walls, a strong fortress of protection built around my heart, and I promised myself, as I ran from him and wept in the frigid cold while I drove home to an empty house at a speed no person who lives in the backwoods should ever achieve in the dark, that I wouldn’t say it first ever again. I’d wait.

Forever, if that’s what it took.

*

He was tall and gangly, like the nerdy guys I’d always had crushes on in college, and he smiled at me sometimes like I was the only person in the room. Those frigid walls I’d built up over the years slowly melted as our friendship grew. I laughed more and, eventually, I let him in.

He stumbled around like a bull in the china shop of my broken heart and there were pieces left behind of a failed romance, a destroyed friendship, reminders of things we’d said and done that refused to come up from the carpet.

The Black Keys were an overture to the time we spent together, their two man blues wrapping around us when he kissed me for the first time. I heard Ray Lamontagne sing about weariness when I realized I loved him. Then, months later, Snow Patrol played softly in the kitchen while he broke my heart and bit back on those three terrifying words I’d never said to him, words I would have willingly given to him without a second thought if only he’d let me.

I broke the Snow Patrol CD in half in a fit of childish rage, threw the pieces in the trash to be taken away in the morning. It seemed fitting.

*

I was almost twenty-eight when I met a man who introduced me to the music of Sufjan Stevens. The melodies and mellow lyrics would often greet me when I walked into his apartment for evenings of homecooked food and lessons on all things beer.

I told myself in the beginning that it was fun, without attachment, and it was. I never loved him like I had the man before, but I liked him. It seemed the best I could hope for, especially with my track record, and I allowed myself to feel something.

Then he disappeared into the ether of scared men. Came back. Told me things I couldn’t reconcile. Asked me questions I refused to say ‘yes’ to and then disappeared again. I was sad, not heartbroken, and, to be honest, a little thankful.

I’d never really liked Sufjan Stevens all that much.

*

I sleep alone, in the middle of my bed, with my limbs splayed out and taking up all the space they can. I do this not just for comfort, but because it makes me feel less lonely. I reason, with my arms and legs touching the sides, that the bed is barely big enough for me and therefore I should feel less sad about the emptiness of it.

Sometimes it works. Sometimes…most times…it doesn’t.

I have days when I wrap myself in the lyrics and chords of Iron & Wine, Ray Lamontagne, Bon Iver, and Van Morrison because the beautiful melancholy lays across my shoulders with the comforting heaviness of a wool blanket. And as depressing as that may sound, it isn’t. It’s exercise for my chilly heart – it keeps it beating and reminds me that even through the sad moments and the excruciating pains of hearbreak, I can still feel. Despite those walls, despite that cold exterior, there’s blood pumping through my veins and I’m alive.

And someday, when my heart is big and strong again, I’ll stop hogging my bed and start clearing out space in my life for something more permanent than a passing glimpse of happiness.

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Putting aside her commitment to the National Ninja Association, this young, bright and talented author has finally come out of hiding. She currently exhausts her brain capacity working for government, but spends many afternoons dreaming up new ideas for her incredibly blasphemous novel, The Absolutely, Positively, True Adventures of a Religious Prophet, while keeping her typing fingers limber. She can be reached here on the comment board or over at her blog, The Unbelievable Adventures of Claire Elizabeth Rogers.

29 responses to “Musical Reminders of Past Heartbreaks are the Trappings of a Memory 
Pack Rat”

  1. Mo says:

    Thanks for sharing this post, Meghan. You’re absolutely right… That’s one of the awesome-powerful things about music, that it can transport us to a different place, a set of memories, and also one of the terrible things. More than once I’ve had to turn off the radio, just because at the time, I couldn’t deal with the significance of the song.

    But then, there are other songs that come on the radio that lift me up until I’m belting out the lyrics at the top of my lungs in the car (hopefully alone). It’s good to focus on those songs.

    Moral of the story: Only listen to crappy music with any man in your life. 😉

    • The man with the home cooked food and beer lessons told me that it’s always best to choose a song you don’t love to be your wedding song when you get married, just in case it all goes to shit in the end. I should have probably realized at that point where things were headed.

      😉

  2. jmblaine says:

    Dearest, I send this with
    great love & good intentions
    & because you need it so very
    very badly right now.
    I know these things.
    You can trust me.
    Take it like elixir
    like good medicine
    like potion & cure.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-QoDSq28Kw

  3. Jess says:

    Meg-han… I’d hug you right now if my arms could reach across a massive parking lot and two counties. Music and smell have the powerful ability to tether memories to them… Sometimes good, sometimes bad.

  4. jillian says:

    Beautiful. I did tear up a bit…of course you know why.

    jmblaine may be my hero of the week for that comment/link.

  5. Gloria says:

    Beautiful and sad. And beautiful.

    I tried to love Sufjan Stevens, too. I appreciate him, but I just can’t love him.

    I want to share something with you offline. 🙂

    • There’s a whiny quality to his voice that I can’t get over. And yet, I like Rufus Wainwright…strange.

      • Gloria says:

        Oh, you and Becky could be BFFs. I, on the other hand, have tried to like RW and just can’t. Though I very much like his covers of Hallelujah and Across the Universe.

        • Meg says:

          I kind of like “What Are You Doin’ New Year’s Eve” and one of the stations down here plays it pretty much once a day. Across the Universe is grand, but nothing beats the original – for sure. 😀

          Thanks for the e-mail, by the way. It was awesome!!

  6. This is wonderful! The story of you telling that boy you love him is completely heart breaking.

    In what capacity do you exhaust your brain capacity in law enforcement?

  7. Reno j. Romero says:

    Meghan:

    This was beautiful, M. Very reflective and honest. Material like this is hard to write about for some. But not you. You nailed it. Ray, huh? I love his first album:

    “…to see me shut down slow as though it was an easy thing to do.”

    That line sums the last year of my marriage.

    Yikes.

    Well, Meghan, like your bio says you’re young and talented. And since I know you personally I can say you’re damn smart and damn charming. Let the music play.

    Shelter,
    Reno

    • Meg says:

      I promised myself when things went to hell with the nerdy guy that I wouldn’t let it ruin either The Black Keys or Ray for me. I gave up Snow Patrol in the “divorce” willingly. I still cry when I hear “Be Here Now” – it’s almost instantaneous how the chords start and my eyes well up and I have to excuse myself if I’m with people.

      And your comment left me weepy as well…seems to be a theme this week. 🙂

      <3

  8. New Orleans Lady says:

    I love honest pieces like this.
    You’re not afraid to share yourself with us and I am grateful.
    I wish you love and happiness in your future.

  9. Sam Everett says:

    Everything in this is so true! I sometimes regret that there’s no woman on the planet who could ever appreciate my taste in music. But as you and some other posters have pointed out, it’s best not to link your favorite bands to a relationship, since they’ll be tainted if/when that relationship goes south. Just recently listened to Vampire Weekend for the first time since a “break up” and I can already tell it’s going to take a few more listens to exorcise that person’s imprint from those songs. You can mess me up, but don’t touch my Vampire Weekend! : D

    The imagery of you going out of your way to take up all the space in your bed was especially strong. Great job! Yeah, once you’ve shared a bed with someone, sleeping alone is never the same.

    Look forward to more stuff from you in the future!

    • Meg says:

      Yeah, Vampire Weekend was another casualty of the Snow Patrol relationship, but I’ve learned to like them again. Same with Snow Patrol, actually, but only very specific songs.

      Thanks for commenting!!! 🙂

  10. mom says:

    You write like other people breath, with passion and life! I can’t give you a hug until next week, but until then, I wish you better memories in the future…

  11. Slade Ham says:

    I wrote something a long time ago about something similar, though not confined to just relationships. There are a handful of songs that immediately transport me back to certain places. It is instant. Music is quite powerful that way, and anchors itself to more concretely to particular moments than should ever be possible.

    The most recent of which is a song called Candleburn by Dishwalla. So powerful in fact that I had to take it off my iPod in the off chance that it ever turned up while I had the thing on shuffle.

    I’ve learned to keep my favorite songs private now so that they don’t ever get twisted and attached somehow to a bad memory, hahaha. Selfish for sure, but it keeps my music mine forever.

    • Meg says:

      I’ve made it a policy now to not share my favorite music with the guys I date. Just because. Maybe it’s pessimistic of me, but I’ve lost too many amazing bands that way. I’d rather just keep them close to the vest so they’ll be around later on if I need them.

      And it isn’t selfish…it’s self-preserving. There’s a difference. 😉

  12. In the wake of (yet another) gruesome break-up, I am being mighty careful about what songs I ruin by listening to this week.

    : )

    • Meg says:

      I read your piece and I’m so very sorry. I’m sending hugs (and imaginary pastry tools) your way in the hope your playlists do not crumble to dust under the weight of that break up.

      🙂

  13. Dana says:

    “It’s exercise for my chilly heart – it keeps it beating and reminds me that even through the sad moments and the excruciating pains of heartbreak, I can still feel.”

    So beautiful, Meghan!

    I’m convinced that the real reason I can’t stomach Led Zeppelin is because at the 8th grade dance I was being nice, and I danced a slow dance to Stairway to Heaven with an unusually tall boy with exceptionally bad body odor. My nose was at armpit level. Oy.

    Two of my best friends got together through shared love of a certain band. sigh. They still love the band. But it’s tainted of course. How could it not be?

    • Meg says:

      Thank you, Dana! I can’t stomach Led Zeppelin, either, but it’s because I was friends with a large population of stoners in college and they only listened to two bands: Led and Pink Floyd. The former was ruined for me, while I can still stomach some of the latter.

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