You used to secretly listen to Taylor Swift’s “Love Story.” You’d carry it in your pocket, sing along when it came over the loudspeakers at pharmacies or other stores. But now it’s been spoiled.
You think to yourself, how fucking ironic that they’re singing this song right fucking now. Of course.
You hate yourself for wanting to write about this moment, even as tears march in rows down your cheeks. These tears are full of purpose, they speak sadness like a mantra, even as the rest of you resists it. You’re a paradox today– the worst of both empty and full.
“But you were everything to me / I was begging you please don’t go!” Oh, Taylor. You have no idea.
You see them out of the corner of your eye– a chorus of actors bouncing up and down reciting the lyrics together. They’re giddy. You’ve been one of them before, dancing in a circle of warm-ups a thousand miles away from this moment.
You remember slipping your sunglasses out of your bag as a skinny young guy approached with a hand-drawn flyer. He was so buoyant. He was so the opposite of everything you were feeling. “Come to our show in an hour! It’s right over there and it’s free!” He pointed to an ambiguous spot beyond benches and hopped away. He may as well have been the White Rabbit.
You think you just got hit by a truck. You think you should go get some water. Not because you’re actually thirsty or need to spend $3.50 on an overpriced bottle of Starbucks water, but you want to prove to yourself that your legs still work. You think maybe if you walk away you’ll wake up.
The park now burns instead of glows, the air feels sticky where it was sweet. All the hipsters seem stupid with their idiotic “alternative” haircuts and shorty-short jean shorts with the pockets hanging out. There may as well be a dense fog overhead—the sunshine feels useless. Still, that sun looks you in the eye, ever-persistent. He’s telling you he’s there for you. He knew all along. “It was supposed to rain today, but I wouldn’t let it.” He says, unblinkingly. You are thankful but can only half-smile. He understands, but pushes himself out from behind a cloud as you walk on, regardless. You feel him trace your footsteps.
There is nothing you can do. You didn’t do anything wrong. But Taylor Swift will keep singing at every place you can buy gum. You think it’s unfair that this song that was yours belongs to her now—along with so much else.
When you return to that strange patch of balding earth, you feel your convictions burst from your chest and snake through the grass. You were wrong. You take large swigs from your bottle of water because you can. You bought it, it’s yours. It runs down your throat like whiskey and knocks you further senseless.
She speaks in a different language now, in a very low volume. You may have never understood. Subtitles would be no help—you are overwhelmed with self; the rest is just background noise. Your legs are crossed, just like a child. Suddenly you’re sitting at the corner of the sandbox—you’re eight years old again. You press the bridge of your glasses closer to your face and dig a tunnel deep into the sand. The grains hold onto your fingers, they grip for dear life and you brush them away with a few swift movements.
And now, you glide across the sidewalk like a ghost and slip into a cab. There will be traffic, midtown is a mess, says the driver. He looks annoyed. He doesn’t want to go to the airport almost as much as you don’t. But you don’t care. You’ve got to go.
For an hour you disappear into the black leather and the silent movie of Michelle Obama on Kelly, the talk show now strangely devoid of Regis. They laugh and smile on repeat.
Your arrival startles you.
You slide your credit card repeatedly. The driver is impatient to devour tourists, so he can drive more out-of-the-way routes in silence. Follow the directions on the screen, follow the directions on the screen. You ARE following the directions on the screen. You were going to give him a bigger tip. In fact, you were going to give him a ridiculous tip. You feel guilty that he had to sit through all of that traffic and listen to another passenger blubber in his back seat. You realize that sorrow makes you careless about money, but you punch a lower number into the screen to prove a point. Your face is flush, but you feel powerful.
You step through the revolving doors. A teenage girl holds an iPhone, one earbud hangs carelessly down the side of her slit t-shirt. You hear Taylor Swift. You know the song well, but it sounds different.