Liner Notes, Part II: Sweet Remembrancer.
The following is actually my version of a playlist assignment given in a friend’s class. He asked me to participate and I felt like I could rise to the occasion. The assignment requires that there be an articulated, uniting theme to the playlist, and for me it is the past several—six or so—months. It’s a catalog of what I was listening to, and the chronology of events behind the feelings and moments captured therein. In some way, I would also like this to be a companion or response to last year’s seasonal depression mix.
“Red Guitar” by David Sylvian
Perhaps I should be more forthcoming. I have never been good at breaking up in the summer. The breaking up has so seldom been my idea. “There is a certain difficulty of being that I know, too.” There was such a disconnect in my private life and my public one, and with time it wasn’t like I handled this schism any better, I can simply see it better now, ripe and obvious in hindsight. It would bleed into my classroom conduct, the short fuse of dwindling patience I had with children. I knew I was wrong, of course, and would admit so. But I had no idea how to fix it. I justified it by telling myself the story that I was preternaturally of an ill temper, my disposition was fixed as this outsider-other; my husband could never understand this roiling inside me, my friends couldn’t, there was just a dark place of loneliness I’d go to, unreachable, the phone knocked off the hook.
“World That’s Not Real” by Gloria Ann Taylor
Early on in the summer, exhausted. Driving six hours to fulfill a promise, a wifely obligation. A normal level of road trip bickering feels like particular torture. We pull over, we change drivers, we smolder in bitterness. At one point, I scream from the pit of fire in my guts, foot weighing on the gas pedal, as lucid as day. I make a silent vow to myself. It’s done.
“Crow” by Forest Swords
The register I go to when I don’t want to feel it. I’m a driver, I’m just a part of this car, the beat and the synth thrum isn’t something separate from me, it’s within me. There’s an electronic fuel that keeps me from crying on the way to work, that keeps me still while I summon the composure to perform regular tasks while my life is suspended into the half-world of cheap wine, living out of cardboard boxes, wondering if I have a home, wondering if I am such a fool to do this now, with only $500 in my savings account, my entire future an uncertain fog I lean forward and attempt to peer through.
“Broken Finger Blues” by Richard Swift
He was the soundtrack to a boy once. A mix that boy made me, his sound as full as Phil Spector and tinged with the same corrupting mortality. After he passed, all his songs feel like frank accounts of the kind of desperation it’s not socially acceptable to admit. It’s like the friend you can be your messiest in front of, but who assures you that you’ll be all right, because they know so much worse.
“Love” by Art of Noise
All of the early encounters are so cinematic it’s painful to recollect. I promise myself I’ll invite him to lunch if I see him, knowing he isn’t keen on spending time with the rest of the group. When I exit the building, there he is, his back to me, sitting on a park bench, directly in my path. There’s no excuse not to try, so I ask, trembling with nerves, raking my fingers through my hair to put it in a bun, feigning nonchalance, scowling as I pretend to look across the street. On the way there, I get so flummoxed talking to him I take him four blocks off course. He doesn’t mind, but directs us the rest of the way. The next day, during a break, we sit on the floor at the end of a hallway and I tell him my life story, unprompted.
One day I weep in front of him during a structured conversation activity. Earlier that same day, in a rare moment of intuition, I look up and see him staring at me from across a room of forty seated people. Later that day, I take my time, jarred and lost in my thoughts, and wander out of the building, sad and dreamily. I look up at the exact moment he drives past, head turned, noticing.
There are nights after the house is staged for sale, I put headphones on and stand on the back porch, looking into the night sky, playing this song over and over again, spinning slightly. Everywhere I move in that house I have to clean up after myself, like living in fishbowl. There is something in the slices of black sky through tree branches that suggests a possibility.
“You’ve Got A Woman” by Lion
We start seeing each other. Normal things, like movies and dinner. I drink white wine from a tumbler on the lawn outside of his apartment, both of us barefoot, while he smokes a cigar. On our first date, he takes me to a divey seafood place with cerulean-blue painted paneling and dusty beer bottles on display. We eat a couple dozen oysters. We kiss with inappropriate depth in the outdoor food court at the nearby mall. I stay over, and he makes my dinner, he brings me an artichoke quiche from the farmer’s market. We listen only to records, mostly his favorite jazz, Lee Morgan and Ornette Coleman. I stare at his bookshelves. It is so natural we don’t have to think. One day after school I read him “Patriotism” by Yukio Mishima aloud while we sprawl in the lawn, his head on my thigh. He waits politely until the end of the story to tell me he’s read it before.
“Savoir Faire” by CHIC
Most often, I turn to disco for escape. But here is the languidness of self-indulgence, something I am relearning for the first time in a while. It was the compensatory indulgence of crisis, the “self care” we are socially justified for taking when adjusting to some big life change. The fall is strolling long to a close, almost every night I tell myself or someone near me that I love my little place, I love my little life.
“Cool Cat” by Queen
Here, a teenage impulse to envy, the small obsession of a crush that focuses pointedly into breathlessness. Looking at someone new and beholding them like they are some kind of celebrity.
“Day Dreaming” by Aretha Franklin
There’s a weekend in October when he’s going out of pocket in the Hill Country. I’ve just gotten my favorite Aretha record on vinyl—the one with the Bacharach cover. It was one of the benchmark purchases I promised myself when I was single again. The day we say goodbye it’s raining softly. I spread out on the sofa and weep a little.
On Christmas night he comes into the living room; he can’t find me. Behind the sofa, under the Christmas tree, like a child, cross-legged performing a present post-mortem, I’m reading the Michael Phalen liner notes to the vinyl copy of Aja he gave me. Earlier that day, I opened the cover of Robert Caro’s first LBJ book with the most romantic inscription I’ve ever seen. My breath catches; eyes brim. Christmas is usually the time I mask my sadness in the jovial indulgence. But this isn’t that.
A few nights later we win trivia with friends, I proclaim early on it’s going to be a three-destination type of evening. After witnessing college major–level Phantom of the Opera renditions at the karaoke bar down the street from my apartment, we have some kind of misunderstanding. It’s civil, but he doesn’t feel like he can stay over. I explain, I apologize, I cry out of helplessness. He assures me it’s going to be okay, but leaves. The moment he’s gone, I call my best friend and begin to rationalize with a steeliness women learn from hardship. I say to myself: I could maybe go back. But I immediately know I can’t go back. The moment I’ve calmed down, I hear a knock on my door. It’s so late at night. I tell her that it’s him and I’ve got to go. I answer the door and he rushes in, saying he couldn’t sleep. He wonders why I call him my Byronic hero.
“Don’t You Know” by Jan Hammer Group
Days can be normal, typical shifts of momentary stress, early bedtimes, adult restraint. I’ve returned to routines abandoned in summer and neglected further by protracted pain. There isn’t that pain or a restlessness of spirit like there was before; there are fewer, if any recognizable, moments of personal darkness. I feel reflective sometimes, sure. I feel triggers from old habits and exchanges that thwart the fluidity of a comfortable love. But it is that—comfortable. He says to me one day that with me he is never lonely, perhaps for the first time in his life. I, a frightened child inside, encased by a flamboyant and stentorian woman’s accoutrements that serve as some kind of empty distraction, understand entirely what he means. For the first time in love I feel truly seen.