Because it's 2017 and I've finally succumbed to streaming music (though only some of the time), I was able to put together a public Apple Music playlist of the songs I quote in this piece.* Click the "playlist" button below to listen along while you read. And welcome to the future, I guess.
I don’t remember much from before I felt like I needed to leave. But there are staccatoed pieces that come to mind from my first semester. Like a field trip to Princeton. And a phone call home sitting on a wooden bench outside the library. Then the health center. Then my dorm. Begging my mother to solve problems she couldn’t. Yelling at people for trivial things, then yelling at myself. Stomach aches. Losing trust in myself because my most important decision felt like the wrong one. Insomnia. Not getting into a party, then getting into one and wishing I hadn’t. Walking below the university's underpass with the October wind pushing hard against my back, forcing an abridgment of my campus tour before I headed home.
What is broken cannot show and less than beautiful is worse than unholy. Idolized my innocence, stole it from me in the end.
Secrets. Every piece of me wanting to leave but my unhappiness still feeling like failure. Refusing to divulge my feelings to anyone other than my best friend. Welcoming sadness as the foundation of our friendship. Letting our melancholy convince us that we discovered each other in some sort of destined, cosmic way. Using each other as the reason behind our circumstance. Continuously writing down lines of poetry and taping them to our shared dorm room walls. A lot of Plath. Choosing to sulk in unhappiness is the poorest choice, I learned during this time.
Listening to a song on repeat with a hunger that refuses to fade. Receiving a text message with bad news on a Sunday afternoon in February. I can still feel it hitting every inch of my insides individually and in succession. The sound of my roommate slamming her laptop closed to embrace me when I felt my body crumbling. Staring down into a shallow white bowl in the dining hall the following morning, feeling my tears roll uncontrollably into my uneaten breakfast. Skipping an interview, figuring out New Jersey Transit, rushing home, and suddenly being unable to listen to this song so lightly anymore.
Jacqueline was being such a big girl with her cup of tea looking out of the window. And Barbara—she looks just like my mom. Oh my god, Barbara, she looks so much like my mom.
A big white envelope with an acceptance letter hand delivered to my door by my RA. Seeing hurt in the face of the boy in my doorway but being unsure if he was saddened by my leaving or if he was just pissed he didn’t have me figured out as well as he thought he did. Assuming it was the latter.
Dog sitting with my sister in a perfect apartment with a yellow bedspread and a white couch and big, beautiful windows overlooking a body of water I wouldn’t be able to name for another year or two. Some spring sunshine. A playlist shared with me by my friend Joe playing through the nice speakers in the apartment. Delivery chinese food. Walking the dog along the water and arguing with my sister about whether or not I should transfer universities. Still carrying the burden of the last 6 months with me but feeling relieved to know I was still able to feel happy, though only in fleeting moments between bites of lo mein.
Her heart is broken but she won’t say that. Her heart is broken but she can’t go back.
A patterned crop top, a black high waisted skirt, a light cardigan, black tights, and oxfords I would wear holes into a year later. Tuesday morning shifts, a story written in an iPhone note while waiting on line for a bagel, an important confidence boost from a friend who tells me to stop discrediting my writing before sending it to her. A revolving glass door on Fulton Street and feeling hopeful about it all: the season, the style, the city, the story, the job. Wishing I could walk endlessly around with the sun shining through the revolving door and the album playing through my headphones.
And you know for me it's always you.
A fleeting but fulfilling night sitting on the floor of Taylor Swift’s living room. Stepping out into Chinatown in a haze then realizing I had no idea where I was walking. Calling everyone I knew while standing on the Jersey side of Penn Station. Visiting my former roommate and letting my description of the night fill up all the empty space in her now unshared dorm room.
Classes that were imperfect for me but necessary for the academic path I later ended up taking. A plane to Texas. The Gilmore girls. The Strand. Writing. Being inspired by the city in a cliché, indie movie type of way that can only happen when you are nineteen, previously miserable, and living on Broadway with very few responsibilities. A city bucket list. Still trying to find my footing. Thinking I was all grown up. Being painfully nineteen. Sitting in class discussing the marketing done for Beyoncé’s last album and feeling lucky but still lonely—simultaneously out of place and exactly where I belonged. Struggling to find the balance between independence and companionship. Meeting a friend on campus who made it easier. Her noticing the picture of me and Taylor Swift set as my phone background. Thinking that maybe she could make this place feel a little more like home, and being right about that.
Took our broken hearts, put them in a drawer.
Rejection. An email opened in the lobby of 41 Park Row. Stopping dead in my tracks. Realizing I would be in an additional $30,000 of debt when I left that place. Thinking it wasn’t worth its imperfections anymore. A piano class where my professor yelled at me for something I should've been able to shake off but here I am writing about it two years later. Bearing the cloak of anonymity that comes with being a new transfer student, but using it to my benefit in this moment when I cried in the Caf, eating a paper basket of chicken fingers and staring out the window with my headphones in, trying to convince myself I was valuable through empty songs that told me I was. It didn’t work.
You’re brave, yeah, you’re fearless and you’re beautiful.
The entire month of March. I hate March. My last bout of teenage angst. Deciding to stop calling home. Relating to the slush on the New York City sidewalk more than anyone around me. Cat Stevens. Thinking I should just toss my wallet directly underneath the C train. Simon & Garfunkel. Feeling my thoughts and worries cycle around and around and around on an endless loop. Getting exhausted from this and desperately begging it to stop. Wishing I had been born inside someone else’s head. Believing my own mind was damned. Feeling powerless and anxious in a way I hope to never be again. Going two full months without writing anything. A dark void in the middle of the semester. Suddenly feeling this place lose its magic. And, in a moment of panic, deciding to run away.
All my words come back to me in shades of mediocrity like emptiness in harmony. I need someone to comfort me.
A good hair day, winged black eyeliner, and a dress that felt Roman. A walk to an osteria in Florence for pasta and unlimited wine which was wasted on me because I hadn't yet started using wine to help me take up space in conversation. New faces of people who knew how to be both happy and kind. Making the wide turn around the Duomo. The most beautiful night. The tinny sound from Angela’s iPhone speaker. A disappointing new album from Selena Gomez. Wondering: was the music we listened to as kids this sexy? Noting: that’s something I should look into. Walking blissfully around the Renaissance city, wishing I could capture this moment and save it forever. Being too engrossed in the idealism of the moment to even consider stopping to take a picture.
I’m so sick of that same old love. That shit it tears me up.
Polaroid pictures and a cheers to the blonde boy at the bar with a girl on each arm. Did they know they were standing as representatives of his indiscretions? Did he know I wished he had another arm to lend to me? Knowing it would never belong to me anyway. Short and poignant weeks I can only flash back to now: a karaoke bar, a great Drake song, a weak Justin Bieber song, passive aggressive comments, building tensions, day trips, Giulia, a green couch, a drying rack, feeling like I must be doing something wrong, a grocery store chain nicknamed The Gonad, three euro panini, a ubiquitous anxiety that underscored each moment of joy.
Feeling grateful and guilty. Grateful and guilty. Grateful and guilty. Do you want to know the Latin root of the word grateful? I don't deserve to be here. Finding happiness in the small moments and disappointment in the big ones. Being confused by this. Not yet knowing I was learning something pivotal.
If you want to leave, take good care. Hope you make a lot of nice friends out there. But just remember there’s a lot of bad and beware. Oh, baby, baby, it’s a wild world. It’s hard to get by just upon a smile.
Slowly and painfully witnessing the mess that comes from having welcomed sadness as the foundation of a friendship. Making things worse in attempts to make them better. Hurting each other over and over and over again until you all realized it was better to remain silent. The grandiose steps of Santa Maria Novella around the corner and a $32 phone call home. Begging my mother to tell me I was a good person after all. A tissue and a smile given to me by a stranger. Others who stared blankly at me.
Allora. A catharsis. A big pot of vegetable soup. Beaming as each of my roommates walked through the front door. A new bit of optimism that could only be temporary.
How you love is who you are.
New York. January. Ferry rides. Feeling sad but in a different way than ever before. A sadness that was manageable. A sadness I could trace and map and comprehend. Feeling like an empty shell of who I once was but still immensely relieved to be facing a sadness I could handle. Wanting to talk about my sadness with the ones who amplified it but knowing I of course could not.
Rolling my eyes at my own attempt to buy nice Italian leather oxfords back before I stopped buying leather. Taking them out of my suitcase and seeing they were made in Cambodia with man made materials. A heel just high enough to feel like I was burning extra calories during my commute. Just high enough to feel a little vulnerable at night. Needing desperately to be the tallest one in the elevator. Instead just being the blondest.
Developing a nightly routine of lying awake and going over each and every statement I made during the day and punishing myself for anything I said that may have been stupid or annoying or unnecessary. Longing for the confidence I had before the day I cried on the steps of Santa Maria Novella. Solidifying friendships at school but questioning them constantly because of my new insecurities. Thinking everyone would get to know who I really was and then decide they were done with me. Wine nights at the Palace. Losing a lot of sleep. Leaning on my sister—my roommate—in ways that were unfair to her.
Thinking ‘bout the words you’d say to a phone that never calls. Hey, brother, we’re all learning to love again.
More ferry rides. Eating breakfast in the library with Megan every morning. Waking up extra early just to start my day with her. Texting Joe every day while he was in London. PDFs of academic journal articles. Wanting to impress someone, anyone. Thinking maybe the cockroaches in my apartment would notice my new work ethic. Compensating for my self-doubt through academics. Accidentally falling completely in love with my classes. Finally feeling awake. Suddenly feeling like the end of college was right around the corner. Feeling a shift in what I wanted. Getting angry at myself for changing my mind once again. Reading an internship description that should have been perfect but instead made me want to crawl into bed with my latest book from the Women’s Studies shelf and hide away in my roach-infested apartment forever.
Sometimes it’s a hard left turn down a road you never thought you’d see. I didn’t plan it but it’s finally something to feel.
A yellow cardigan and a walk down Fifth Avenue and a Wednesday morning in spring. A turning point on the first warm and sunny day of the year. Acoustic guitar. Tori Kelly’s early EP. Feeling somewhat whole again, though still working to get better. Feeling decades older. Having learned how to be better at being a human. Feeling grateful for my life in the moment: my job, my relationships, my university, myself. Wanting to document my progress. Deciding to get my nose pierced. Feeling like I was walking toward the other side, though of what I am not sure. Feeling like I was finally able to find happiness in the small things. Maybe it’s just the warm weather. Maybe I’ll go to graduate school in LA.
It’s been a long time since I saw you in the village playing mandolin. Something in your singing made my burdens lift, hanging on to every word to cross your lips.
I don’t remember much from before I felt like I was about to leave. Being happy. Waking up early each Wednesday morning. Feeling like the weeks were only hours long. The pages in my planner turning faster than I could comprehend but still watching the clock in my Thursday night class, anxious to meet up with Angela afterward. A seven-mile walk from 110th Street straight down the island on the last warm day in November. An orange and yellow Central Park. Manhattan dogs and missing mine. East Village ramen. A trip to Governor’s Island. Mag’s. An Ina Garten cookie recipe. A purple dress and an updo.
An Adele concert. A Regina Spektor concert. An Ingrid Michaelson concert, then another one. Putting down roots but knowing they could only be temporary. Despite my happiness, living with a fear that the contentment I took so long to reach would disappear come May. Looking for ways to stay. Fearing this was my peak. Wanting to stand on the roof of my apartment building with the Freedom Tower at my back and shout to all of New York City that I was happy in a way I never before knew was possible.
I’ll show them all how goddamn happy I am.
A silent New York City. The day after the election. Wearing all black. Eating sushi on the floor of my sister’s living room. Feeling grateful and proud to be in an environment in which it was safe to assume the people around me were trying to be good to each other. Believing even more deeply in the importance of education that teaches empathy. Running into my friends on campus in the same places every day. Knowing so many of the faces around me that it became hard to believe I was ever able to cry in the Caf without anyone noticing. No longer feeling like I needed that anonymity.
Enjoy your youth sounds like a threat but I will anyway.
Saturday night. Listen with your ears, not your brain. Ears not brain. Ears not brain. Ears not brain. Now Sunday night. Listen with your brain not ears. Brain not ears. Brain not ears. Brain not ears.
Somethin’ ‘bout you makes me feel like a dangerous woman.
Looking at the clock and seeing 1:30 am then suddenly 5:00. Laughing because of Mark Ruffalo, Patrick Swayze, and James Marsden. A box of rosé and everything from the night being colored in a light shade of pink. The hazy days between finals and graduation. Knowing I was in the right place with the right people. The sun rising. Walking Amelia up the hill two blocks east to the cab she called. The humidity of the proir record-breaking May day still tangible in the early morning air as my pajamas stuck to my skin. Feeling like I was witnessing myself live this night from some lesser moment in the future. Knowing already that it was a night worth writing about. Hearing my slippers hit the sidewalk and longing for a moment that hadn’t even ended yet.
Woman. La la la la la la la la.
The end. Ricocheting. A weekend spent brainstorming ways to stay here just a little bit longer. Craving more time. The weeks still flying by. Seeing my words in print and feeling like I had this entire university in my hand. A $7 flannel worn with a skirt and my third pair of oxfords in a laughable attempt to put together a casual outfit. Final papers far exceeding their assigned page limits. Every seat in the room for my thesis presentation being filled. Feeling full. A class and a week that made me question all of my academic abilities and future plans. Then strengthening my convictions and learning more about myself. A compliment given in passing that felt like validation after more than a year of hard work. Running out of printing money. Walking past a million restaurants I wanted but couldn’t afford to eat at. Losing my tolerance for crowded sidewalks. Feeling claustrophobic in The Strand. Coming to terms with leaving New York City. Being not only okay with but excited about the prospect of moving away, if only on the good days. Then crying in a restaurant on Stone Street after an award ceremony when I realized it was all really ending. Worrying with my roommates about what to eat on the morning of graduation to avoid being nauseous but still stay full until we got lunch with our families afterward. Realizing our ajita was not really about whether or not we ordered bagels in the morning. A last minute outfit change. A six o'clock alarm. Pictures taken. A seamless Tuesday morning graduation.
Walking to campus the first Saturday after graduation to sit in the empty courtyard at school and write this post. A chocolate chip muffin and a mango black tea lemonade. Seeing the brand new construction that has already changed the landscape of my home as I remember it. Wondering if they will ever realize my Student ID has expired when I walk past security. Hoping they will not. But knowing I will be okay if they do.
I said don’t fall in love with the moment, she said I’ve got a lot to learn.
*Unfortunately, Sara Bareilles' song "Red" isn't on Apple Music, which is especially disappointing because it is arguably the song that means the most to me on this list. In its place I've put a clip of her talking about the song/essay in her book. I'll have to hit her up and tell her to add her early releases to Apple Music ASAP. I only partially understand music streaming and also reality, clearly.