This essay was selected as an honorable mention submission from Street's Love Issue personal narrative contest. Read some of our other favorite pieces here and look out for new pieces as we publish them throughout the week!
In many ways, I am a stereotype. My hair is long and shaggy, barely tamed. I wear sneakers every day, always worn down and flecked with dirt, salt, and other types of damage. Now that winter has come, I’ve donned my fingerless gray gloves and the leather jacket with a few patched holes and a new rip on the sleeve, beaten by years of brutal weather. I play the guitar, a blue Ibanez with scratches on the pickguard and discolored strings from the oil on my fingertips. If I were a man, and this was a movie, I would be the bad boy with hidden depths, who the protagonist realizes is right for her when he plays her a song she wrote.
This is not a movie, and I am a girl, and when I play and sing it is about anything other than love.
I attach myself to music. Every morning before I leave for class, I put in my earbuds and turn on “White Crosses,” walking Locust as Laura Jane Grace sings about making her way down San Marco Avenue. When I hear the opening riff of “True North,” my foot flexes to hit an imaginary gas pedal, remembering how I left that album on repeat for three months after getting my license. I never listen to “The Most Cursed of Hands” unless I have six and a half uninterrupted minutes to appreciate it. I have a playlist for everything, from going five miles over the speed limit to pretending I’m the protagonist in an indie coming–of–age film, yet the one I pass over the most is simply titled “actual love songs."
My avoidance cannot be chalked up to the quality of the music: “Melpomene” and “The Way I Tend to Be” are enough to make anyone wistful, and that’s why I never play them. The more music weasels its way into my life, the more it ties itself to the people I know, and after a matter of months or years, whenever the person sours, I can never listen to that song again. It’s safer to stick to the impersonal, the odes to intoxication or indictments of the government. Yet, no matter how hard I may try, each person gets a song.
There was “Kristina She Don’t Know I Exist,” the girl who existed in a sphere opposite mine, never becoming a Venn diagram. There was “Careless,” the one I should have gotten over months before I did, but I was a stupid teenager hanging on to a hope that was never there. There was “Misplaced Devotion,” where I should have known better. They could not be more different, but there is one thing unifying them: a critical failure to communicate. A red–faced confession two weeks before I moved across the country, a hasty rambling note completed just before graduation, a conversation that has happened only in my head. Rather than speak for myself, I let Tomas Kalnoky, Mike Kerr, and Casey Crescenzo speak for me.
When I pick up the Ibanez and idly play, waiting for inspiration, the words that come to me are not about them. They are not reflections on what could have been, or scathing damnations of the kinds of people they ended up being. If I wanted to sing of them, I couldn’t. Prose alone has proved near impossible. Once I set my mind to it, I can forget, at least until the right chord or lyric comes along.
These last few months, I have avoided adding another song to the list. Some months or years down the line, it may become clear: I’ll hear something new that fits, or an old favorite will be applicable to my life. Then, many years later, I will know the woman I marry by the song that makes me think of her. It won’t be traditional, no ukulele and “ba ba ba” bouncing chorus. It will be slightly off, Belle & Sebastian begging Ms. Private to elope, or John Darnielle coming back, blood in his mouth, if it’s the last thing he does. Only then will I pick up my beaten blue guitar, pluck a melancholy chord progression, and find the words for a song about love.
Melannie Jay is a freshman from Philadelphia, PA.