The Music Diaries: Memory Playlist

“Someday” by Rob ThomasNovember 2009

I found the song on my iPod as I sat down on the carpeted floor of my bedroom to slip on my Converse. Even after I tied my shoelaces, I sat there, listening–Maybe someday, we’ll figure all this out. We’ll put an end to all our doubt. Try to find a way to just feel better now. I drank every word, internalized it, allowed it to work its way through all of my nerves, all of my knots. Ninth grade, that’s all it was.

The previous day, someone had stuck a post-it onto my back that said “LOSER.” The person behind me in Algebra II had to break the news to me, handing me the little yellow paper with pity in his eyes. I thought those kinds of pranks only happened in teen movies. This was real. I stared at the word, written sloppily in pencil, for the entire class period. I could’ve erased it. I could’ve torn it up, thrown it away.

But I kept it. For four years, I kept it in a box on my dresser.

Maybe someday we’ll live our lives out loud. We’ll be better off somehow. Someday.

“Pursuit of Happiness” cover of Kid Cudi by BarbaraSummer 2011

Minutes before one of my creative writing workshops began, my classmate, J, slid something onto my desk: it was wrapped in white college-ruled paper, onto which he’d written my full name in red Sharpie. When I unfolded the paper, I found a mix CD, which he’d titled, “The Only Way We Can Be Friends Is If You Listen to This CD.” Friends–that made me glow. Everyone wanted to be J’s friend; he had a magnetic energy, a quiet confidence that pulled people in. To catch his attention felt like an accomplishment of some sort, as silly as that sounds now. He made me a CD, and therefore, I was important, in some way. Only later did I realize how disposable I was, how disposable we all were to him.  

I listened to the CD that night, lying on my bed in a dark dorm room. The cover of  “Pursuit of Happiness” became my go-to on the mix, which I listened to repeatedly, for the sentiment more than the music. I don’t know why I liked that track so much. It wasn’t profound, nor was it a musical masterpiece. But it made me smile and, at the time, that meant something.

“You and Me” by LifehouseOctober 2011

A dimly-lit gymnasium. Musky air. Colorful strobe lights. My cheek to A’s shoulder, swaying to this song. On any other occasion, he would’ve hated this music. It wasn’t his style, wasn’t obscure enough, not gritty enough. But in that moment, I think he secretly liked it, because it gave us this opportunity, this moment to be close and quiet. In sync. Earlier that evening, we ran across the dewy football field with linked hands, laughter bubbling out of our chests, until the security guards forced us to rejoin A’s schoolmates at the Homecoming dance. This song emerged from the speakers as we walked back into the gymnasium, giddy off of our brief rebellion. That night, I finally discovered what it meant to feel infinite.

“Song for a Lover Long Ago” by Justin VernonOctober 2013

The eve of the end. I remember sitting at my desk in my apartment, listening to the song, which is itself hard to listen to. The singer wails, his voice fluctuating, cracking, fading, while strumming his guitar weakly, as if his fingers are too numb to try. Defeat. That’s what I felt. While my roommate giggled in the other room, Skyping with her boyfriend, I cried–the shoulder-shaking, hiccuping kind. I’d been anticipating our break up for a long time–the last few months felt like a gradual descent, slowly unraveling all that we’d built together. He’d been grooming me for heartbreak with neglect and disinterest. However, something about this night was different, distinct. I achieved clarity. What was once a consumptive insecurity suddenly transformed into an unwavering conviction: he would leave me, for good this time. He would do it tomorrow.

And I was right.

“Run the World (Girls)” by Beyoncé, February 2015

I stood in the first row, my reflection visible in the expansive mirror before me. My face was flushed, shining with sweat, but not in the Instagram model kind of way. The Zumba instructor adjusted her headset as the girl next to me stretched, shaking her limbs in preparation–she seemed experienced. Intimidating.

Most of the girls came with friends, with whom they giggled and exchanged looks with in between songs. I came alone, unable to laugh off my embarrassment with anyone but myself. But that was okay: I was here to challenge myself. It was normal to feel stupid and uncoordinated. That would go away.

The next song began to pump out of the speakers–Beyoncé. Everyone whooped, whistled. The instructor, grinning, began to jog in place. I followed along, maintaining a neutral, concentrated  face at first, just trying to keep up. I didn’t want to look too eager. But then I locked eyes with the instructor, and she shouted an enthusiastic “Yeah!” at me that shattered my seriousness and inspired me to smile, to pump my legs faster, to swing my arms wider. And eventually, I kicked, swung, and jumped the nervousness away, until I was only aware of my heart, my body, my breath–my smile, pressing against my jaw, stretching as far as it could. So much pride and happiness swelled within me–from within me. Because of me. I knew I had it in me. It was there all along.   




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