I recently had occasion to reorganize my music collection. Since it is digital, I’m not shuffling around boxes of CDs and LPs or selling off anything, which I am thankful for. My parents’ music collections were always heavy and cumbersome to deal with. Modern music, though, has it’s own annoyances. I needed to transfer all of my songs, making sure my collections mirrored each other in a sort of “no song left behind” effort as I bailed from one service to another. This meant evaluating roughly 15,000 songs, downloading them from one place and uploading to another.
It took awhile. The good news is I knew that a majority of the songs had transferred already, so I could skip over certain sections. After some searching, the only thing I really needed to worry about were songs I’d purchased over the last three years or so.
Woven into this list of songs I purchased were a lot of classics like Nat King Cole and James Taylor. Then there was the pop stuff, Kesha and LMFAO. Movie soundtracks. Talking Heads. Ok Go. Thelonious Monk. Sia, before Chandelier was a thing. Phoenix and Metric. On and on.
There was a grouping of songs purchased over the course of one specific year: the year my husband and I were apart. Not separated, but living apart until he could be transferred to Michigan. A long distance relationship. That was a really sad and lonely year. I relocated to a place where I didn’t know many people and didn’t know when my best friend was coming home to me. I still don’t know that I could say I’ve really processed it.
To fill the hours, I drove in my car a lot and listened to music. I haven’t thought of these songs much since that time. I had them grouped together in a playlist called, “Hits Too Close To Home”, only rediscovered with the moving of my music. A mixtape for myself.
This song has a cheeriness as it talks about the bleak reality of having to chip away at a job that keeps you from the person you love. It’s a bitterness I frequently felt as I spent hours working my ass off in my 20s. I had grown to accept it as just part of being an adult as the years rolled on, but revisited the sentiment during this time apart. I was working overtime because I had no one to go home to and not much else to do but wait. At one point, a tactless coworker asked me if I thought my relocation was a mistake (because it sounded like a mistake); a question I was too raw to give any answer to other than breaking down in tears in my cubicle. What an ass.
There’s nothing like realizing you’re listening to breakup songs, you really get it, and then that you live in this painful paradox. They apply to you… but they don’t. A unique conundrum. A complicated situation that makes you feel like a husk, emotionally drained and wrung out. But you can tap your foot to it.
I try to stay busy
I do the dishes, I mow the lawn
I try to keep myself occupied
Even though I know you’re not coming home
This might have been a bit on the nose.
In the movie version of this story, there’s a montage of a camera panning over half eaten containers of Trader Joe’s snacks before landing on me, laying on the floor, staring off into space. Then there’s a shot of me marking days off a calendar with frowny faces instead of Xs. It cuts to me leaving the house in his sweatshirt, driving in the dark with my windows down, singing at the top of my lungs.
He would come to visit on occasion and I would serenade him with this little ditty, until he had to leave again and it soured with my bitterness. The “AHHH AHHH AHHH” at the end of the song would be very cathartic.
Let It Be Me – Nina Simone
Okay, this one needs some context. In 2012, radio show and podcast This American Life did a live show in movie theaters called Invisible Made Visible that was just wonderful and is easily one of my favorite things This American Life has produced. It has some truly touching moments, including one of the last appearances of David Rakoff (one of my favorite authors) before he passed away. There’s a story of the man who discovered a hidden treasure trove of the photography of Vivian Maier, which is remarkable. The show features dancing from Monica Bill Barnes & Co. to this tune from Nina Simone.
I wish, WISH I could share the video with you. It was so beautiful and so spoke to my emotional state at the time. I’m rewatching it now so I can accurately explain.
Anna Bass, the dancer, is elegant and graceful. She is fluidity as she does her routine, with a little showmanship and jazz hands. There’s a moment where she’s arching her back and then someone offstage abruptly hurls a giant box at her chest. THUD. She catches it. There’s a beat before she walks it to the corner of the stage. She goes to center stage and resets with a pained look, showing a little leg and with her arm extended.
She does her best to keep up the enthusiasm, once again getting her rhythm and her wits about her as she dances. The next box comes and she takes it and sets it aside, trying her best not to acknowledge the interruption. Now her dance isn’t as loose. It feels more like she’s going through the motions, hurky jerky, building to more frantic movements, bigger movements, and soon box after box after box. She makes a stack of three boxes, seemingly organizing her issue when an entire row of boxes deploy from the ceiling onto the stage behind her.
She accepts things for what they are and then creates a stack of seven boxes, standing behind them, entirely hidden. With a laugh from Nina Simone, the final flourish of the song plays with a little leg and her arm sticking out from behind the stack. The petite dancer picks up the ten foot tall stack and without dropping a box she slowly slides off the stage.
I was reduced to tears. Everything about that sequence so perfectly encapsulated what I was feeling. I’m sure the other theatergoers were like ‘why is that woman crying?!’ But I couldn’t help myself.
Let it be me? That dance and that song and that memory were me. I heard Nina Simone sing and I remembered that no matter how many boxes were going to get thrown at me, no matter how hard it was to hear the lyrics, “So never leave me lonely/Tell me you’ll love me only/And that you’ll always let it be me”… I was going to be alright. This was just a balancing act. He already let it be me and we would be together again. I just needed to hang in there until it came to a close.
And it did, eventually. He got his transfer and moved back in with me and it was like we didn’t miss a beat. We were still crazy in love with each other. Sure, I learned a lot about being independent and how to be alone. And I’m sure that was good for Lauren the Adult. But it sucked a lot and I don’t recommend it to anyone.
But if it happens to you, hang in there. You’re gunna be fine.