I haven’t lived a long life. But so far, I’ve concluded that there exists nothing more serene than decompressing at a day’s end with my favorite band. Change my mind.
During the fifth grade, I went to an outdoor snow camp and unwittingly streamed Ed Sheeran to fall asleep to each night. Now, whenever I hear his poetic words, I ruminate over how much I absolutely love and hate the cold. As an immature 12 year old, I brazenly danced to the Killers and channeled my 2013 angst like any preteen rightfully should: with the Fray and Blink-182. Upon entering middle school, I streamed the Cab and Simple Plan religiously, ultimately kick-starting my coming-of-age punk phase.
With this, I uncover the link between memories and music, my personalized finer thing in life that fills my heart unlike anything. Simply put, music was — and still is — everything to me. I trusted that it was untouchable.
Alas, this was a dream never reached. The tricky navigation of nested human relationships proved to me that music has its own set of unseen blemishes. I’ve always understood that some people I cross paths with are destined to be my future bridesmaids and others are just temporarily stopping by. And that’s okay. The idealistic realist in me knows this well. But I never fathomed how music could painfully intertwine with the cycle of people entering and exiting so easily in my life — until it did.
I’ll write as if it happened to us.
Without fail, my autopilot icebreaker when I first meet you is asking what kind of music you listen to. I pine on the hope that you will share some overlap with me, but usually this doesn’t happen. No matter. Normally, this is my cue to recommend the current track I have on repeat or the EP that dropped the other day. If I’m not lucky, I’ll get a pitiful head nod. But if I am, the conversation evolves. So, in this musical exchange, a connection of unlikely margins is forged.
Bit by bit, my sharing and shuffling of playlists start to align with you and the things we do together. There is something magical about how timeless music can be and how even our mundanity oh-so-subtly attaches to it. This process happens seamlessly, and I’m unable to precisely pinpoint the moment when you went from a harmless acquaintance to a song.
You see, my music is now undoubtedly tied to you. Years down the line, if I replay a certain song, it will remind me of you. This isn’t always a bad thing, especially if our songs bring back delicate, fond memories that invariably lift my spirits. In fact, this is the reason why I revisit Kina Grannis or 5 Seconds of Summer when my mind meanders in a nostalgia abyss. But, if over time we have ended up as nothing more than strangers again, those songs sting like no other.
Never did I think music could grow so bitter. Music is my peacemaker, my medicine to invisible wounds, my shuttle to inner balance. But, with an unwelcome memory tethered to a certain melody, I retract. Every harmony cuts deeper, as if the music is mocking me of my misery. These songs sculpt an honest timeline of who I laughed with, who I considered close and who I loved and lost.
So, I purge my playlists to erase any last trace of you.
But erasing you also meant erasing the 1975. It meant severing my loyalty to Khai Dreams and Jeff Bernat. I tread in shame for succumbing to my heartache and allowing it to ruin the one thing I treasure most. It really shouldn’t be this way. I don’t want it to be this way.
For now, I’ll release myself to spiral in sadness and spontaneously spill into a bucket of tears. A healthy cry is deserved, as well as a few extra days where I drown myself in dirty laundry and unmade beds. But later, whenever that may be, I hope to heal and recycle those shriveled up playlists. Instead of gravitating away from them, I’ll stay and listen. I’ll promise myself it won’t hurt like it used to. I’ll think of you and I’ll hope you’re well.
It’s not that I have managed to fully erode away you and your empty space with some more casual streams and a transformed outlook. Rather, these songs that were once sorely reminiscent are reborn. I once believed that they belonged to only you and that to dust them off meant sabotaging myself further. But, you don’t haunt the lyrics, the instruments and my headspace when I press play anymore. That’s when I know I can listen on. I’m eager to see where my favorite band is going next. And where I’ll be when they get there, even if it’s without you and our song latched between us.
Ashley Tsai writes the Monday A&E column on art bridging the internal and the external. Contact her at [email protected].