I’ve asked everyone in my life to give me closure since around puberty. This precious compulsion comes from my rotten desire to filter self-image through the lens of how others see me. If I can’t be what they need then I stop mattering, and since I traditionally hand over most of myself to everyone I love I kind of need people to stick around or else I won’t be whole. To put it in physical terms, if I was able to do this with actual body parts at this point I’d just be an eyelash fluttering in the breeze.

Loneliness has turned into a desperate thing and I don’t want to think about that now

Which is why I make mixes, or playlists. I have spent the larger part of my adult life expressing my feelings by forcing other people to listen to a song that says what I mean better than I can, and I’ve come to realize this just isn’t going to stop. I’m long-winded, prone to shutting down in the middle of conversation, exemplary at hearing other people’s experiences, and dismal at sharing my own in real time. Music has helped me with this, or it has become a crutch – either way I’ve already hit 30 and it’s too late to change it now.

I make mixes because I’m in therapy. I make mixes because since I was 13 it has helped me sort my shit out. Mixes help me feel less self-absorbed, because someone else has been exactly where I am, except the songs have overdramatic roto toms in their corner. Mixes remind me, and this goes out to everyone, you are not the star of a movie. You are most often a supporting role in someone else’s and they have other stuff to do. Sing about it in your room.

You’ve got a heart so big it could crush this town and I can’t hold out forever / even walls fall down.

Last year I manifested a crush into an almost, kind of, adjacent to something relationship. He was another writer, whose writing was so unlike my own it seemed a study in opposites. We both like a lot of the same loud, fast, sad bands but talk about them in different languages. He is incisive, ruthless, and snarky, his crunchy shell hiding an impossibly soft core. I am at my best pithy, but more often than not I am idealistic even as the world around me burns, a microwaved marshmallow on the surface and a solid mosaic of hard purple scabs underneath. He hunts for shadows, I shove my face under pinpricks of light and call it a sunny day.

We finally met up on a hot New York night in May, at a Brooklyn venue built like a labyrinth, after a year of Facebook friendship. The show was loud, droning, and emotionally ambiguous, and I was ready to bail when I saw him walk by and had to do something embarrassing – make sure it was him because we had never met in real life. I said his name quietly and realized that I couldn’t do that because the room was offensively loud, so I walked closer and projected it from my diaphragm like my theatre director in high school taught me to do.

Two hours later in a basement room that Jack Nicholson was about to burst into with an axe, surrounded by some drunk people doing karaoke, a friend of one of his friends shoved a microphone into my hand and asked me to help with a song. I took the mic because the first thing any potential boyfriend should know is that I sing karaoke poorly and often, and while my voice shook I dared to side eye him and he was looking at me with a degree of tenderness you do not reserve for your bro.

But I can only express my love when I’m fucked up or far far away / physically another continent / emotionally another headspace / mentally I’m not even here

So we dated. He lived a two hour plane ride away from me, and I was seeing other people because I wasn’t ready to commit. My heart was still hungover from a long and recently ended relationship, puking in the sink and ignoring incoming calls, and he didn’t seem eager to settle down as it was. We visited and went on camping trips. I met his friends, though he never really met mine. I became friends with his friends, which he seemed to like at first. He took me to a gin tasting on an island and we rode bikes around an old army base, buzzed and sun drunk. I could hazily see it going somewhere. I never got comfortable. I did, however, get suicidal around August and neglected to tell him, sure that the shadows he hunted for were more of a light gray than a deep black.

Still you can call this a test pattern so you don’t have to commit / so you can change any day

If anyone knows how to tell someone you’re casually dating that you no longer want to be on the planet, do slide into my DMs.

Something I refuse to absorb lest my therapist be put out of a job is that when something ends you learn that bits of yourself peeled off without your permission. That even when you hold back, your cunning avoidance did not serve you as well as you wanted and there’s stuff missing everywhere, torn edges that used to be smooth. People are powerful, even if you don’t acknowledge their gravity while you’re suspended in orbit.

I know I’m alone with or without you / but just being around you offers me another form of relief

We ended in a way that I was indignant about though I wasn’t surprised. I ran away to another continent to trick my asshole brain into wanting to be alive, without really filling him in on the details. The last time we saw each other, when I hitched a ride into his city with some friends, was stilted. I knew I was manacled to the edge of the void, and he was trying to rearrange his life. We had a drink and went to different shows. We didn’t talk about what was happening. I hugged him before I left with my friends, and it was the first long distance hug I’d ever had.

A few weeks into my cross-continental escape he let me know that his feelings were cooling. And then I asked if he still wanted to see me and he couldn’t answer.

I was in Europe, he was on the west coast. How could he? We had both protected ourselves so much, trying to quickly reorganize our lives into something resembling safety, that we had both pressed pause at the intro, the build up, refusing to even hear what the chorus was. Which is just a cute way of saying we didn’t have room to see what would happen, and hopelessly pretended we did.

Something might happen but nothing will be never ending

I came back, my suicidal ideation having retreated into a manageable sadness, and decamped at my parents’ house while I figured out what I had to figure out next. We still messaged occasionally, me having ended all other communications with men I was seeing other than a German lover who gave me speed as we explored empty Brutalist buildings in my Austrian winter home. I messaged with the west coast boy because I knew we had ended but needed the shape of the ending. It’s so impossible to map out an ending when you only had a beginning and I was sure we could fit in the middle somehow.

Life in that dream was just what it seemed / if I knew then what I know now I would not have stayed

Then one day it occurred to me he had been trying to let me down easy. He had moved on. The way this news came to me was over social media, as most bad news does these days, and I did not handle it with as much grace as I hoped to. This is kind of like saying the Hindenburg did not handle the landing with a lot of grace.

I got angry, which happens about twice a year in big short bursts. By the time it had receded, I had spooked the shit out of him, and set fire to whatever thread still attached us. It took months for me to realize that I was angry because by the time I had the space to look at what was there, it had already disappeared. Which is no one’s fault, but it’s so much nicer to have someone to blame, so much tidier and neater. I desperately needed it to be tidy. I did not want any more unfinished business.

We did not speak for months. I started dating an incredible and kind person at home and mutual friends told me he had gotten serious with someone in his city. And then we saw each other, many months later.

We’re getting older but we’re acting younger / we should be smarter / it seems we’re getting dumber / I have a picture of you and me in Brooklyn / On a porch, it was raining / hey, I remember that day

When I ran into him after a show the night was warm and he was wearing a Stereolab shirt. I was wearing my Slits shirt and I felt like I had run into a lost friend. It was sad and happy and forgotten questions piled up in my mouth as we made small talk. The burned end of our thread hung in silence in the early summer air. We made plans to get a beer as a bouncer asked us to leave, and when we did the afternoon was barely old enough for alcohol. It took ten minutes for me to realize that we had both reconstructed our lives in complex ways and no longer had the freedom of someone shoving a mic into my hands to break down those walls. That the only thing truly lost was the chance to know each other fully, that the middle and the end of whatever else was there had played out in separate states.

I wanted so badly to know more, but then I asked myself why. The real truth is that we as people truly don’t owe each other anything after an ending other than decency. I’ve noticed that so many of us believe we scripted intimacy a long time ago, even as we keep going spectacularly off-book. Then we wonder, panicked, why our stories look so different from the one we thought we had written. We are so afraid to live a story without answers, without a moral, a story couched in gray. But what those scripts, both personal and cultural, forget is that people are unknowable, but not unlovable. Bending someone into your narrative isn’t just unrealistic, it’s impossible. If you force yourself into someone’s story, or ignore the one your life is writing on the fly, you’re going to end up in a role you never wanted in the first place. You have all the answers you need inside your twisted little head, even if they’re no answers at all.

And this is all that’s left / scraping paper to document / I’ve packed a change of clothes and it’s time to move on

So instead of pushing it, I sat down and put it all in a mix. All the questions I had, all those squirmy feelings that come forward when you don’t know how someone sees you anymore. All the fears about someone hating you when they used to make you coffee. There’s a song for that. You’ll find that they don’t go away, but they do fade out.

You didn’t think I’d leave you without the actual mix, right? Of course I wouldn’t.

 

Kathleen Tarrant
Kathleen is a music writer in Seattle, Washington who believes very deeply that feelings are the worst and should be avoided at all costs but who keeps trying to play sad records during dinner parties anyway. Her writing has appeared in The Stranger, City Arts, The Denver Post, NPR, and overwrought emails to close friends at 3 AM.

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