We were driving in his station wagon he called Betsy. The radio produced a tinny and scratchy sound, but I could still hear, and feel, the words. You got me wrapped around your finger. Do you have to let it linger … He did. Have me wrapped around his finger. For five years I was coiled around his whim. It was an immature love, but it was a love all the same. I later put that song on a CD for his birthday, and he picked me up and whirled me around for it. The Cranberries serenaded us on the way to a Montana ski resort, where we would ride up a T-bar together. These blissful moments of coupledom were fleeting and usually dissolved into disagreement in a few days after things got hard. But we both loved that song. “I didn’t used to like music,” he said on that ride to the mountain. And I tried to comprehend how that could be true for anyone, ever. Music, for me, was a means of processing emotion. Without it, you couldn’t ever get to the other side.
I heard Frou Frou’s Let Go through car speakers before I ever heard it on the movie that made it famous. I rode the rise and fall of the strings with the volume twisted far past reasonable. There was something about it that stirred something within me. We sat in his WRX in Boston and listened to it over and over, letting the bass rumble our seats as we leaned into the shiny woven fabric. He was the one who introduced it to me. This was when our relationship was good. Stable. Normal. I went back to that song over and over, long after he was gone, when melancholy hung over me, wrenching and pulling. Somehow the abandoned tempo and unbridled dynamics where my homemade recipe for a salve. Because there’s beauty in the breakdown.
“Why did you have to pick sad songs?” was the text I got after he left me at the Sacramento airport. I knew exactly which song he was listening to. Matt Costa’s Cold December was one that had cycled through my playlist over and over in the days before my departure to Berlin. I put it first in line on the mix I made him for the ride home after my pre-dawn drop off. That song contained my final words as I departed. I was to be gone only two months, but both of us knew it was the end for us. Our separation was a knife that cut jagged lines. I’ve been waiting, pacing the halls, ever since you left here … It’s going to be a cold December. “You should see the sunrise. Wish you were here,” were the last words he sent me before he disappeared into the music.
It dawns on me that all my defining songs seem to have men and cars in common. And ironically, all those defining moments were the beginning of an ending.