Certain songs take me back to places I don’t necessarily care to return. Dusty corners of memory I’ve boarded away on purpose. Shadows I’d like to pretend aren’t lurking inside my mind. Wounds that never quite healed.
It was Jimmy Eat World that wove its way into the soundtrack of my summer after graduating high school. When Bleed American washed over me like the Georgia heat. When I was stuck between a high school dreamer and a lost college soul.
I was serving coffee in the morning and ice cream at night in the middle of suburbia with A Praise Chorus and Sweetness on repeat every second in between. Working two jobs just to occupy my mind. So it wouldn’t slip up and find its way back to you.
Now when I hear any of those eleven tracks, I can’t help but go back to that endless summer. I remember that poor, sweet 18-year-old girl.
How she felt like she was finally going to move forward, but really she was just spinning in circles around you.
When I couldn’t sleep, I’d put earphones in so those words could keep me company in the darkness. If you still care at all, don’t go tell me now. If you love me at all, don’t call.
I’d let Your House and Cautioners and Hear You Me lull me into my dreams.
I played that CD as I packed up my things at the end of August. As I drove my little cherry red Mustang to Athens for the first time. Windows down. Volume up. As I made my great escape.
I said my goodbyes. This is my sundown. I’m gonna be so much more than this.
I never managed to escape you that summer. And when I hear these songs today, I sometimes wonder if I ever did.
Chloe: What did it say?
Me: That he hasn’t stopped thinking about that day.
Chloe: Who even sends letters anymore? That’s so World War II.
Me: That he closes his eyes and it’s like he can almost get back to it. That he goes home each day and locks himself in his room. Draws in the curtains, turns off the lights. Puts “Hear You Me” on repeat on his iPod. Lays down and just dwells in the memory of it.
Chloe: He sent a letter just to tell you that?
Me: He pulls the covers around his chin and one by one, he considers every detail. The torn booth at Waffle House. A waitress with a spider tattoo behind her ear. The smell of burnt coffee and cigarettes and butter and syrup. The long drive. My feet hanging out the passenger seat window. Mustard ballet flats and Jimmy Eat World. Running out of gas around three in the morning. Sprinting hand in hand toward the nearest exit, laughing the whole way. The rain. The rain. The rain. The sting of the tall grass on our ankles. The heat rising off the wet asphalt. A red gas can and a six-pack. The long walk back to the truck. The sunrise over the ocean. The stillness of both of us in the sand. Side by side. Trying to figure out some way, any way, to keep the sun from rising. To keep the night from ending. To stay in that moment forever.
Chloe: I feel like he could have just called.
Me: He said he’s scarred from it. Marred by the flawlessness of it all. He’s terrified nothing will ever compare. That will always be the best there ever was. He doesn’t know how to move past it. He’s not sure he really wants to.
Chloe: Are you going to write back?
Me: Yeah, I guess I will.
Chloe: What are you going to say?
Me: I’ll ask which scares him more, ruining the most perfect thing that has ever happened to him or never knowing if something that great could be even better.
Chloe: That’s it?
Me: Yeah, that’s it.
Chloe: You should probably just send a text.