It was a classic Berkeley love story — girl gets nearly crushed by UC Berkeley’s computer science department before her lab partner sweeps her off her feet by haphazardly teaching her Python and giving in to her penitent love for Vice documentaries. It’s a Berkeley trope that’s as old as Computer Science 61A, but my Birkenstocks, my two nose piercings and I have never been too scared of tropes.
A few months later, I pass the class, and I am, thankfully, no longer the femme fatale — I’m just this guy’s girlfriend and a music reporter for The Daily Californian. I get a pitch in my email for the Kronos Quartet’s celebratory performance of Philip Glass’s work at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco. I, a lover of impressionist composers and excuses to go to the city, quickly jump on this opportunity.
I thought I’d be braving the city alone, but a few days before the show, the photographer fell through, and I found myself with a complimentary ticket for the quartet’s performance. I texted the guy I had been dating, and later that week, we were sneaking in cinnamon jawbreakers and sitting together through the nearly two-hour performance and Q&A. In retrospect, I think we were more entertained by the eccentric elderly population that made up San Francisco’s music patrons and dedicated Philip Glass followers than we were by the show.
The concert ended, and we rushed to escape the winter bay breeze that followed us into the BART station. At 11:00, we jumped onto the Pittsburg/Bay Point line and found ourselves in one of the completely renovated BART cars.
As the car rumbled through the underground tunnel connecting San Francisco to Oakland, the new fluorescents that trailed along the hallway pooled their light in the eye bags of the tired commuters, but the sterile blue cast felt warm in my memories of Philip Glass and cinnamon candies. I had someone’s hand to hold as the melody of “Clair de Lune” clunked around in my head.
Later on, we broke up. It wasn’t anything particularly tragic — things happen and people grow apart. Although it was a simple break, that fact didn’t help me avoid the few weeks after every breakup that are particularly melancholic.
I woke up the Saturday after with an alarm set for 9 p.m., reminding me that I had a Steve Aoki concert to cover that night. I brushed my hair, slid on some boots and trudged my way through the day, dreading the fact that, later that night, I’d be at this ridiculous rave alone.
I’d be in some corner with a little notebook scratching away fabricated lines about how “trippy” and “hype” the DJ’s performance was.
I’d side-eye some faded girl falling in love in the club while she was rolling out of her mind.
I’d catch the last BART home, avoid the man who’d follow me down the escalator with a soggy, half-smoked joint and search for a single seat.
I’d go home to write the same concert piece I’d written dozens of times before, crouching under a lamp at midnight.
As the hour of Aoki’s concert approached, I realized more and more how much I had dreaded being by myself at these concerts, surrounded by people who had come with friends and loved ones. As I fixated on how the night would go, I realized how much I had been scared of being alone in my life. With a significant other, there was never a moment I was truly alone — there was always someone to talk niche composers and senseless documentaries with. But I think the thing I missed the most wasn’t him — it was being OK with just being with myself.
Although things were still not easy after the breakup, I found the times I spent with myself in concerts to be some of my most cathartic moments. In May, I got a pitch to see LCD Soundsystem. Although most of my friends loved the band, it was hard to convince them to drop nearly $60 to come to the show with me. So that Saturday night before dead week, I scaled the amphitheater benches of the Hearst Greek Theatre, crawling over couples and wedging myself between middle-aged tech execs railing lines of coke before I found a little ledge in the pit to perch on.
As James Murphy wailed the lines of “New York, I love you, but you’re bringing me down,” I bumped hips with the video game designers I had just met, singing along with these strangers to this crumpled love letter of a song. Surrounded by coked-out, middle-aged people jiving with me to this breakup song, I came a little closer to being a little less alone.