The summer before my senior year of college, I went through a music transformation. All through college I had been consumed by EDM. That’s what I listened to while sprawled on the floor surrounded by textbooks. But in 2011, I began to fall for a hipster, and I also began to listen to her music. These were separate changes, but they certainly converged—and maybe became intertwined.
The Lumineers had just stepped onto the stage. Pandora stilled trumped Spotify. We all kept iTunes libraries. I regularly converted YouTube videos into MP3s. And she sat behind me in biology class.
I fell in love with her between Sea Wolf lyrics, over Shins beats, behind Mumford chords, and promises of outdoor concerts in places that seemed far away then like Baltimore and Bonnaroo. Okay, love is a strong verb for what I felt, and probably inaccurate, but infatuation is easy when every mood feels written by Vampire Weekend and every night reminds you We Are Young.
That summer, she played me new songs, sent me new music, and even gave me a flash drive of her favorite bands. So did a lot of my friends. But it was her music that meant the most.
She told me to listen to Vance Joy. I remember. She texted out of the blue: “You would like him.” I didn’t like whatever I listened to, at least not then, and I didn’t recall this anecdote until months later when “Riptide” was the song I could belt at any moment at any party. How had she known?
As all crushes do, this one became archived. We went different ways. We lived in different cities. Our social circles became less overlapped. Sporadic likes on Instagram posts is what kept us in memory.
We were, as they say, unrequited. Or I was.
All this happened six years ago. Last week I discovered a new artist who only has 1,400 followers on Facebook. I immediately thought of her. She would like them; I should share it.
I pulled up Facebook messenger. I began to type, “Hey, I just discovered this artist and thought you would like them.” The cursor blinked. I exited the window.
What seemed so casual in 2011 felt wrapped in shards of false hope and romantic anguish in 2017. I recalled seeing her at a concert months back. We exchanged pleasantries and said we should get coffee when I was in her town. I floated on clouds for the next two days. I plotted in my mind the eventual coffee. I never asked her to coffee—because I knew it was all fantasies and projections and false hope. We never worked then; we weren’t going to work now. And why did I even think about it that way? I was over her, wasn’t I? I didn’t think about her until these moments when she was there, in front of me or dredged up by some artist that recalled my alternative music awakening.
I thought of other “almost lovers” (a term I read once on Thought Catalog) and how they’re almost “always lovers” because I will run into them, and for a few hours (or a few days) I will relive what we had, why we could have it again, or why it didn’t work then and will work now, and it’s like the many months since our last entanglement is erased. I will find out so-and-so is in town, we will consider seeing each other, and maybe we do, and nothing does happen, or maybe we don’t, and that’s worse. But then, two days later, they return to the mind’s attic, boxed away until next spring.
“It shouldn’t come as a surprise what I’m feeling now,” Vance Joy sings.
In movies and literature, there’s often this scene where a character’s significant other voices concern over their past significant others. Typically, the audience is meant to view these concerns as paranoia, mistrust, and controlling. But maybe we shouldn’t. They’re valid. Fantasies never die. What-if’s live forever. They threaten our sanity.
Former dalliances are like wounds from the past. Love, lust, or some combination of those two will always cut deep or long. Sometimes both. Once the episode concludes, the wound heals. We forget its existence. Until we’re asked to run our hands over the scar, its raised surface, the length of its contour, and we recall how we endured the injury. Every lover is just a healed wound. Never really gone. Just closed. And sometimes when you fall, you can reopen an old wound, but it’s always best to find a Band Aid. You shouldn’t let it bleed for too long.
Once, I followed her into the Dead Sea speaking new slang wrapped in piano strings, hoping for an intervention while the ocean breathed salty and I drank cough syrup. And now I follow her into the dark where memories and myths best stay.