Last night, I listened to an old favorite as I drove home. I smelled freshly cut grass through the air conditioning blowing in my grandma’s old cigarette-smoke car and I thought I would cry, but I didn’t. I always find this one when I need to cry, but rarely do I find it when I’m feeling okay. Last night, though, I did. I was reminding myself that work is almost over, that this was my Friday, that I can sleep and be lazy and be happy, that I’m in a good place, and then my heart broke all over again for this song — and I liked it even more. I felt whole, then.
After I listened to that, I turned on another, one that helped me through undergrad — but not really the schoolwork side of it, more the side of learning to behave badly, learning, strangely, to bend and break the rules and learning to cope with the stress, the consequences, the fears of that — because it is a learned behavior, and an important, though not always beneficial, one. After nights of blurry drinking, hookups with regrettable aftershocks, poor decision after poor decision, I’d spend days locked in bed. I’d sleep because the depression and anxiety would force my eyelids shut, and when I’d wake up, I’d relive the moment again and again. I would put this song on, tears in my throat as the words cleaned the fresh wounds despite the stinging pain, the pink flesh and drops of blood poking through a jagged edge of skin. It had to be done. It felt right and good and painful and hard. And now, in my cigarette and cut grass car, my routine and ordinary (boring?) life, my goals nearly in hand, my life still a mess sometimes but definitely in a stronger place than before, I revisited this song, and I smiled instead of cried this time.
Because I cried last time. I was on my way home from work, just a few weeks earlier, and I couldn’t breathe. I was stressed from the day, I was stressed looking ahead, I felt trapped and miserable, stuck in a hole and the only thing I could see was what was happening right at that moment. It was a late night, dark in the canyon with tons of yellow and white headlights rushing past me. My stomach was in knots. I was listening to season one of the Serial podcast, much too invested in Adnan’s story, not knowing whether to believe or not. As I rounded a sharp corner, I listened to the narrator describe something very unnerving about the main character, and nausea rolled through my stomach. I’m going to throw up, I thought. I pulled over and let the pairs of lights pass by me, loud roaring trucks and silent sports cars. I leaned against the car and stared at the stars and breathed and breathed. It passed. I got back into my car and drove, this time in silence. I popped out of the canyon and stared at ghostly spaces of farmland, houses with tiny dots of light spotting the hillsides. I breathed and breathed. I turned on the song, the undergrad-depression-wound-cleaner song, and I burst into tears. The turning stomach, the tears, the feeling of hopelessness.. I know where it came from. Sleep deprivation, not moving my body enough, eating only the worst foods, spending too much time on my summer job and not enough time on my graduate school preparation… It was the worst science fair volcano you could think of.
Except that in the rubble of the aftermath, wiping my snotty nose and parking my cold cut grass car, I felt like I had found something I had been missing. Something that had felt numb, trapped, as I continued in my ruts this summer. Something I had tried to hide after weeks of being surrounded by people whom I couldn’t connect, leaving me feeling incredibly lonely. I haven’t figured out what this something is, but I know that as much as it hurts to feel it sometimes, it feels good to have it there, too. I do know, too, that sometimes music is the most beautiful way to bring it out and to reel it back in. The night I was happy and listened to the crying song, it slipped in my brain and ran through my arms and legs and tickled my veins and whispered: it’s okay to not feel wholly sad, or wholly happy, all of the time. You have balance, and you have strength in centering those feelings. You are more than your good days, more than your bad days, more than your days that all blend together. More importantly, you have songs that remind you of each of these things, songs that help you with them.
I hope you find your songs, and I hope you hold them tightly, and I hope you remember them when you need them.