I’ve always felt like there is a chaos in people who aren’t touched by music. I’ve never understood why they don’t just lie about it — say music is great, rattle off the title of a Beatles’ song and call it a day. I am a terrible liar, but even I try and make the effort to tell soft, socially palatable lies when necessary. When I was in second grade, I made a fortuneteller tell my friend Ethan that he would be rich. In reality, the fortuneteller said he would be alone forever. When I was in high school, I told my first boyfriend that I wanted to break up because I was getting bad grades. In reality, my grades were fine; the problem was that it was inconvenient to admit I couldn’t imagine ever falling in love with him.
All this is to say that I happen to have a great deal of respect for liars. Not having a strong tendency for falsification, I can only admire those who do. But perhaps I am not giving myself enough credit. I have, after all, told one or two truly terrible lies.
One, for example, was that my first love and I were going to get married.
We met during my first week at Berkeley at Caffè Strada, when it was still warm enough to sit on the patio at night, the trees wreathed in string lights. He had orange juice and I had green tea. We sat at a little round table and talked for hours as a cold summer fog settled around the city. We went for a walk around Doe Memorial Library, stopping to perch on a ledge that looked out on the warm, beacon-like lights of Moffitt Library. I can’t remember what we talked about; I just remember thinking that he was handsome and daring and that Moffitt was a terribly depressing sight to underscore the evening.
He walked me home and before we got back to Unit 3, we told each other our full names. The fog was devouring the streetlights up and down Telegraph Avenue and I realized that I was in love with him.
We dated for almost nine months, during which time I never once thought about us getting married. Never once imagined what sort of father he would make.
But in the months and weeks after we broke up, I found myself haunted by a phantasmagoria of things that could never have been possible. Us buying a house together, for example. Horrible images of us making ricotta cheese pancakes together in the kitchen, wearing each other’s clothes to work because our closets were inseparable. I had dreams of us starting a vegetable garden, adopting a dog from the pound, building a twin bed together and putting it in a nursery.
Is this the grief of a 20-year-old man? For months I felt like I was losing my mind, like I had opened Pandora’s mythological jug and all that was left inside was a vain, demeaning hope.
And the terrible truth is that I haven’t loved another man since. The phantasmagoria fades, the heartbreak dulls, even the way I lionized him dimmed like the string lights around Caffè Strada after midnight. But the hope remains. Hope for what exactly? During the time that he and I were together, I could have never brought myself to answer that question. But it costs me nothing to admit it now.
I want to know what our song would have been. Would it have been jazz or would it have been 2000s pop? Would it have been Billie Holiday or Ariana Grande? I can imagine us swing dancing to Holiday’s “Blue Moon” in matching satin tuxedos. I can imagine us getting down to Grande’s “Into You” at a swanky reception party on the roof of a hotel in downtown Los Angeles. But neither of those songs feels like us.
Perhaps the problem is that my first love never really liked music. But then again, he wasn’t completely impervious. There is a tune that I would have described as “our song” while we were together, but it is entirely inappropriate for a wedding. “Weight in Gold” by Gallant — the Brasstracks remix. It isn’t a love song. If anything, it’s about self-reliance and independence.
But what makes it special is that it is the only song I ever heard him sing. He would hum it to himself in the late afternoon when we were walking home from a party or doing the dishes after lunch. I can still hear his voice — tender, like a creeping vine, murmuring the words to himself. When I think about those moments, I’m not sure which lie is worse. That deep down I wanted us to get married or that deep down the music that brought us together had nothing to do with love.