The Eternal Sunshine of Westchester Country

Don’t forgot the songs that make your cry, and the ones that saved your life

The Summer of 2015 was one marked with both bliss and severe emotional instability. Fresh out of high school, it was a summer of profound uncertainty before starting college, and one that I devoted to spending every waking hour with my friends, much to my family’s dismay. Growing up in Southern Westchester, I was blessed with an extremely close core group of friends. We did all the things kids growing up in suburbia were supposed to do; we spent summer countless hours loitering in our local 24-hour diner, having bonfires in backyards, and driving around aimlessly listening to mainstream top 100 music that I pretended to hate but actually loved.

The thought of being away from my best friends felt more unbearable each day, as they began to pack bags and make travel arrangements that would take them away from our hometown to transplant them to big cities like DC, College Park, Philadelphia, and Allentown. During the many giddy hours we spent together in the summer heat, we often talked about our myriad anxieties; How could we stay in touch while in college? What if we couldn’t find new friends on campus? What if we all returned for Thanksgiving break as changed people, people who no longer enjoyed diner food and creating dance routines at 2am? We speculated on the ways in which each of us would change and prophesied the bitter end of our friendship, one that would rival the breakup of The Eagles.

My friend Lea, the designated driver of our friend group, had curated a playlist for that summer. Her playlist was made up of many tear-jerking songs about youth and loss that would make the rest of us loudly groan because of its intense sentimentality. We would ride around in her Dodge Charger screaming melodramatic lyrics like “This could be the last night of our lives…Gives us just one perfect night/To say ‘oh, what a beautiful life,’” savoring every moment of our friendship and anxiously joking that this might be our last summer as friends, saying “see you never!” every time we discussed leaving for school. Anytime I hear any of the songs from the playlist, I’m instantly transported to that deeply uncertain time in my life, when I tried to savor every second of normalcy and routine out of the fear that everything I’d grown to love might be completely different in a few short months.

The summer slipped by, and culminated in a “farewell” sleepover in mid-August, right before the first of our group left to move into her dorm in DC. While we often spent nights falling asleep in each other’s living rooms, watching horror movies and eating oreos, a sense of drama underscored this “last night,” as emotions and anxieties were running fast and furious. That night, the five of us stayed up to ungodly hours, drank whisky, contemplated the meaning of life and death, and sat on Lea’s porch during the cool night watching a fortuitously-timed meteor shower. It was, as the song said, “just one perfect night.”

After an amount of time spent sleeping that was so short it could hardly quality as a nap, we were awakened by a blaring alarm sound. We groaned, and complained about our choice to set an alarm for 5:30am, yet dutifully and sluggishly filed into Lea’s car. We were headed to Manor Park, a beautiful, rocky area about 15 minutes away from us that overlooks the Long Island Sound. We had all gone to watch the sunrise at the park the day after our graduation, and we were headed back to do the same, symbolically closing out our summer.

On the ride to Manor Park, we listened to the playlist that we had heard all summer, but each song seemed a little more somber. The moment that struck me most, however, was when the song “Daylight” by Maroon 5 began.

The song starts with the lyrics,

“Here I am waiting, I’ll have to leave soon

Why am I holding on?

We knew this would come, we knew it all along

How did it come so fast?

This is our last night but it’s late

And I’m trying not to sleep

Cause I know, when I wake

I will have to slip away

And when the daylight comes I’ll have to go

But tonight I’m gonna hold you so close.”

It hits a sweet, and longing crescendo as Adam Levine’s smooth voice details the pain of savoring what you believe to be your last moment with someone you love. These lyrics seemed so eerily fitting for the way in which we had all tried to hold on to the summer before barrelling headfirst into the uncertainty that came with semi-adulthood. Tears sprung to my eyes, and I felt a oneness with the other people in the car. I felt as if the moment froze in time, as the emotion coursed through me.

Today, this song still means a lot to me because of my friends, the summer of 2015, the first time I cried in front of my best friend (an event that occurred about a week later after all my other friends had left for college), and that morning on the way to the sunrise. I wish I could go back and tell my 17 year old self that it would all be okay, and that three years later, all the friends in the car that morning would remain not only my best friends, but my chosen family, and that there would be many many more early morning trips to Manor Park to view the sunrise.

This summer, being the creatures of habit we are, my friends and I recreated our sunrise ritual. Sitting in the passenger seat of the car, I had the honor of being the DJ, and I queued up “Daylight” on Spotify. When the song played, I once again felt that beautiful synchronicity with my friends, and was once again moved to tears. After the song ended, my friend told me bashfully that she, too, had started to cry when the song began playing and soon, everyone in the car fessed up to feeling the overpowering emotion. “Daylight” may be just a mainstream pop song, much like the ones I used to delight in mocking, however it will also forever remind me of the people who have shaped me into the person I am today, the vibrant summers I got to spend with them, and the idea that even though life throws curveballs and constantly brings about new adventures, there is still beauty and consistency in the people you call home.