It was nearly 2 am on the night of the Grammys the first time I texted my friends and said, I feel like I’m living with my heart on the outside of my body.
It sounds melodramatic, I know, but that’s kind of the point. In the hours before I sent that text, Lorde’s album Melodrama lost the highest award in music, and I curled up in a ball on my friend Joe’s couch, so overcome with what I believed was an injustice that I felt the wind get knocked out of me. I drove from Boston back to Providence that night with my head in a thick haze. As I listened to Melodrama in full on my way home, I was reminded of how validating it has been this past year to watch Lorde reclaim the negativity normally tacked onto drama and emotions and femininity. I parked my car in front of my house around midnight, pulled out my phone, and learned that two of my closest friends got to meet Lorde at the show and tell her how much we all love her album. I was still so let down by the Grammy loss but at the same time I was so happy that my friends got to tell Lorde how grateful we are to see our experiences reflected in her lyrics and melodies. By the time I got into bed I could feel my body aching all over as it struggled to process that much simultaneous disappointment and excitement. In other words, I felt like I was living with my heart on the outside of my body.
This sensation persisted throughout my days-long post-Grammy mourning period, but after Lorde seemed to have recovered from her loss and I figured I should, too, I realized that this feeling was not really caused by the results of an award show. Since I turned 22, my life has felt dangerously susceptible to dramatic shifts from joy to disappointment. This year, my hurt feels insurmountable and interminable, but then the upswings are shining, blue-sky flashes of euphoria, and I try to bask in the sun of them for as long as possible until they inevitably pass. It is exhausting to live this way, to be constantly shifting between a buzz and a crash. Before you begin to pathologize and diagnose me with a mood disorder, you should know that this ricocheting seems to be characterizing this age for nearly all of my friends.
Because there are moments: like when you are lying on the floor of an apartment in Park Slope after midnight with your best friends, laughing deliriously for two hours straight and procrastinating the morning end of your weekend reunion. Or exchanging silent side glances with them when you are the only customers in a store where every single employee is so attractive that their faces should be in a museum instead of an East Village ice cream shop. Then drinking margaritas with your college womyn friends as if no time at all has passed since graduation, wishing you could go back and promise your teenage self that she will find friends she will love unconditionally in a way she can’t yet imagine.
But then there are moments: like telling your friends that when all of your leases end this summer, you most likely will be moving to a new city entirely, and not back to New York and into cramped Brooklyn apartments with them like you planned. Sending text messages to people you shouldn’t be texting anymore, asking them to give you things they will never, ever be willing or able to give you, and feeling foolish for it. Hungover on the LIRR on a Wednesday afternoon, feeling embarrassed about your morning, worrying you disappointed someone you respect, and wondering why you make the same mistakes over and over again.
I have spent the year bouncing between moments like these, and each time something good happens I feel determined to make the happiness sustainable, to seamlessly convert the momentary joy into lasting contentment. I go for a run and make a real dinner and listen to a favorite song and call my mom, trying to dance in the light of the bliss and avoid acknowledging my fear of what’s to come. My entire existence feels like an open wound, and even the in-betweens are so absorbed by mind-numbing dissatisfaction and longing for more that the mundanity becomes as much of a burden as the sadness. Sometimes I think if I just make all of the right choices all of the time then I will be able to obtain some sense of satisfying stability. Sometimes I read my horoscope and convince myself that this will be the week that everything works itself out because I’ve paid my emotional dues and now I deserve contentment. Sometimes the sweet moments are so good and I am so grateful that I start to think the lows are really worth it as long as I can remember that there is another rush around the corner. But I am tired of waking up with an emotional hangover every other day.
Because there are moments: like receiving a late afternoon email notifying you that an old poem you wrote about an early college crush will be published in a literary magazine, and feeling excited that it has finally found a place to live outside of your MacBook Pro and your nineteen-year-old heart. A nice, cute boy telling you nice, cute things about your personality that for a little while feel like they might be able to fill in the gaps the others before him have carved. Going bowling, drunk, in Brooklyn, and spending too much money. Yelling out the chorus of the song “Sex” by The 1975 in a subway station, tasting momentary freedom (she’s got a boyfriend anyway). The copy room scene of (500) Days of Summer.
But then there are moments: like being reminded of how much an early college crush distorts your present perception of romantic relationships. Feeling trapped during a snowstorm with your sister and brother-in-law, nursing a disappointment using Prosecco and drafts of impulsive, overwrought text messages that the next morning you will be glad you didn’t send. Going bowling, sober, in Manhattan, and spending too much money. Breaking up with your therapist. The expectations vs. reality scene of (500) Days of Summer.
On a Sunday morning in February (it’s always on a Sunday, isn’t it?), I wake up to a FaceTime call from Joe. He’s upset again, the strains of having an imperfect relationship (aren’t they all?) at age 22 taking a toll on him especially this weekend. When his face shows up on my phone I see we’re both still half asleep but he needs to catch me up on whatever hurt him on Saturday night. Before he has the chance to begin, I jump in and ask, do you wanna go meet somewhere for lunch?
It’s raining hard on this particular Sunday and I know my anxious parents wouldn’t want me driving to a new place in this weather but I’m a grown up, dammit, so I go anyway. My omnipresent fear of getting in a car accident plays violently in my head as I drive, and I realize this fear always takes on the sound of my parents’ voices. The weather is just cold enough that I need to keep the heat on but when I turn it on the windshield gets completely fogged, so I slam the heat off then blast the defroster instead. Each time I feel the cold creep back through my Oxfords and into my toes I turn the heat on again but then the fog overtakes the windows within seconds. I am defeated and eventually forced to surrender to shifting back and forth the entire drive, never able to find a comfortable temperature without losing all visibility.
We pick a place somewhere in Massachusetts that should be halfway between us but is really about twenty minutes from Joe’s apartment and nearly an hour from mine, but I don’t mind because it is his turn to be sad today, and because I have plenty of songs to listen to on the drive there. Plus, I am inordinately excited to get a salad from Sweetgreen, which was my favorite place for lunch in New York last year, and this is its closest location to Providence. Joe wants buffet food from the Wegmans next door, so we end up sitting there to eat. It’s still pouring out and we can hear it and sense it inside the store as Joe scoops lo mein into a Styrofoam container and I trail behind him, salad in hand, half-smiles infiltrating our sarcastic banter. Without communicating, we both freeze, mid-conversation, and begin to tear up when we hear the first note of Billy Joel’s “Vienna” play on the store’s radio. We are breathless. We try to compose ourselves, eyes welling over the song that reminds us of our lives today and the artist that reminds us of our shared hometown, but at the same time we can't help but laugh at our own explicit vulnerability. We proceed to the checkout, where the friendly cashier makes fun of how much food Joe is buying, and we both laugh so hard that I feel like doing cartwheels right there in the aisles.
Because there are moments: like realizing that the album Taylor Swift wrote at age 22, called Red, ricochets track to track from devastating to enthralling, and feeling comforted by this as it revitalizes your respect for an album released when you were in high school. Listening to SZA’s album Ctrl and declaring it the mid-twenties counterpart to Melodrama's early-twenties narrative, cherishing how acutely your insecurities are expressed in its lyrics, then adding it to the brief list of media you are grateful to have representing you this year. Sharing these songs and secrets and brunch with a new friend who confirms how easy it is to be yourself when the person you are with is genuine and down to earth and inherently trustworthy. Meeting a favorite writer who makes you believe for a little while that maybe your own career will be full of beautiful opportunities one day, too.
But then there are moments: like realizing that the album Taylor Swift wrote at age 22, called Red, ricochets track to track from devastating to enthralling, and feeling like this year’s emotions were fated, inevitable, unfairly thrust upon you, which leaves you feeling unoriginal and predictable and unworthy of individualized attention because of how generic your experience seems to be for people your age. Covertly blotting your tears while watching SZA’s music video for her song “Drew Barrymore” in your office on a gray Friday morning, wanting to scream to everyone you know about how important its lyrics are, about how admitting insecurities feels more feminist than girl power ever has (I get so lonely I forget what I'm worth). Getting rejected from a graduate school and thinking you are handling it well until you catch yourself crying unexpectedly when “Hard Headed Woman” by Cat Stevens comes on. Then screaming at your sister, exacerbated, in the parking lot of the Cross Sound Ferry, I have a PhD in unrequited love!
Have you ever sat with your best friend at a sticky scarlet table at a grocery store in a state you don’t belong to, swapped stories back and forth, wanted to cry about all the different ways your heart is broken, wanted to run away from your life as you know it, but still felt like you were exactly where you were supposed to be? Because this age is exhausting but still, we feel important. Still, our melodrama and our red emotions and our longing for control feel worth hearing about in the music we listen to. Still, we can feel ourselves inadvertently getting tougher as we toil our way through an age that asks us to wear our hearts on the outsides of our bodies. Still, our lives feel worth writing about.