Love, Life Stories

Here’s how I hurt myself with music

I like to save songs I'm listening to so I can go back and relive those times in my life.

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There’s this song called “Fortyfive” by Bootstraps that I played a lot during high school, especially senior year. Whenever I hear it, I feel this sort of painful out-of-body experience where the past version of myself is looking at me, shaking her head in disbelief. “It’s been three years and you have somehow gotten worse,” she thinks.

I know I haven’t gotten better because I still use songs to describe my different phases and states-of-being. I still sit on Tumblr, letting that dull blue screen stare back at me for hours on end. I still feel like the world owes me something ‒ I still feel like I’m 16.

I still sit on Tumblr, letting that dull blue screen stare back at me for hours on end. Click To Tweet

But when I was 16, I thought I was just around the corner to making it. I had all this passion that was revving up in my bloodstream, and I remember listening to these same songs with a future me in my mind. This future me was always a lot prettier, a lot smarter, a lot funnier, and a lot happier. She was the kind of accomplished my dad would brag about, the kind of accomplished that could buy my mom safety from any sadness she might encounter.

Now, I can’t really explain myself without explaining how I feel when I listen to “Fortyfive.” It’s that first beat, and the way the song croons words I still can’t understand, and how I feel like I have to shut my eyes tight enough to forget that I’m three years too late, three years away from what once was, three years here.

I’m a masochist that way. Click To Tweet

I’m a masochist that way. A look at my Spotify will reveal playlists for every month of the year, dating as far back into 2013. I like to save the songs I’m listening to in that particular month so months later I can self-inflict with nostalgia. Sometimes, it’s unbearable like the months of November 2014 or December 2013. Others, like Summer 2015, bring me a sad happiness that sometimes feels worse than all the others. It’s the warm nights my sister and I overstocked on junk food and watched Shameless episodes for hours, it’s the image of my mother and my five- and three-year-old cousins dancing religiously to “Brave” by Sara Bareilles, it’s the smell of the apartment elevator I grew to relish ‒ it’s these memories that leave a warm, almost nauseating feeling in my chest when I listen to this playlist. Because I was happy, and remembering happy as something that can only exist in the past is heartbreaking.    

But this one, the one “Fortyfive” is in, this playlist hurts me the most. It was right after I got rejected from all my dream schools, and I was being pushed away from everything I had grown to love. It was filled with songs dedicated to me from my older brother and songs I felt were written for all my uncertainties and failures. It was full of the songs I listened to during every ride going and coming back from school.

I was being pushed away from everything I had grown to love. Click To Tweet

So I hear “Fortyfive”, and I see this blurred vision of the streets rushing back during the early morning as I’m heading to school. I see this kind of childish love. I can almost feel exactly what it felt like to be me, right then, at that moment. And I know, more than anything, that I would give anything to slip into the feeling this song creates.

That’s who I am now. I am the me who listens to old songs and romanticizes how it felt to exist in the past because I have no idea how to exist now. I feel I will always be stuck, right here, right in this space between the song and the memory, and I don’t know how to tell myself how to get out. But I’m trying.

Sara Al-Salem

Sara Al-Salem

Sara is a professional cat whisperer and a senior at Brown University. When she is not showing strangers photos of her cat, she enjoys making playlists on Spotify and eating rice.

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