December 16, 2010
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.