I am walking to the grocery store when I open Spotify and scroll to a downloaded playlist of “liked” songs. The first song is slow. Familiar. A love song. It is a song that I once would have called ours.
My finger hovers over skip. It’s been a lovely day. Perhaps now isn’t the time to engage with this melody. But I hear the familiar piano tune and I freeze.
I expect to feel melancholy. I wonder if I might cry on Amsterdam Avenue. I expect to go through a rapid fire range of emotions and a part of me wonders if this will color the contents of my evening.
But then the soft rasp of the singer comes in and I realize that this song never belonged to us.
And there isn’t melancholy. Or anger. Or emptiness.
There’s just a love song. A love song that I love. A love song that reminds me of someone I loved.
I’m standing in the produce section of the grocery store now, willing my glasses to defog and the 80s pop music blaring over the intercom to quiet a bit so I can think about this. So I can pick a stalk of celery.
When my best friend got married, she chose a specific song for each of her bridesmaids to dance (flail) to as we entered the reception. On the way to the venue, I was trying to guess which song might be mine. I came to one that felt like it could have been an obvious choice. “I thought about it,” she said when I asked, “but that’s not particularly a ‘you and me’ song. That’s a ‘you and everyone’ song. That’s just a you song.”
It had never occurred to me that I could love a thing regardless of its association. I thought of another wedding where the newlyweds danced to another song that I attach to the first person I ever loved. I thought about how strange it might feel to some day dance to that song with someone else.
I’m now putting the almond milk in my canvas bag, a sturdy hand-me-down with stitching of a fish fossil and the word CARLSBAD on the side, nuzzling it between two essay anthologies—one about food and one about love. I don’t remember when this bag became mine.
There is a place I used to hate because of the memories attached to it. A beautiful, wild, thrilling place that didn’t fit my narrative. There is a musical group I stopped listening to because of the person who introduced them. A talented, lovely, right-up-my-alley group that didn’t fit my narrative. There is a song I almost skipped tonight—a song that I love—that didn’t fit my narrative.
Because I wasn’t sure I could love it on my own.
There are narratives that we cling to. There are narratives that we all fervently, wholeheartedly, in good faith believe in. Not all of them are serving us.
Listen to the song. Not to erase what came before. But because you are allowed to create your own narrative. Go there. Not because it breaks your heart. But because you are able to love completely.