It’s a wonderful and mysterious thing, how a single song can have so many different meanings, and bring you back to more than one memory or feeling.
For most, Spring is known as the time of renewal and things coming back to life, but for me, that time of year is Autumn. I wait all year for the leaves to change color (and the privilege to buy a Pumpkin Spice Latte…save your collective sighs and eye-rolls for later), for the trees to ditch their green hues and exchange them for a palette of yellows, reds, and oranges. Not only is the rest of the world coming back to life, but so am I. Once fall arrives, I snap out of the sleepy, lazy trance that loomed over me all summer and everything around me becomes so vivid. But every year I get increasingly nostalgic, and tend to view the world and who I used to be through rose-colored glasses. I find myself yearning for a younger version of me, one so naive and unaware of what was coming her way.
All it takes is one song, the process of me methodically unraveling the cord attached to my headphones from my deep purple iPod Nano, my fingertips grazing the circular menu in a clockwise fashion until I gently press down and hear the distinctive sharp click that sends the first few chords of Taylor Swift’s “All Too Well” traveling up to my ears and making its way to the rest of me, pulling me away to a world where suddenly I’m a seventeen-year-old high school senior and I’m in the passenger seat of a boy’s car, and I’m smiling ear to ear as golden rays of late afternoon sun peek through trees and find their way to the windows and everything feels so beautiful and bittersweet.
Oh, your sweet disposition and my wide-eyed gaze.
We’re singing in the car, getting lost upstate.
The Autumn leaves falling down like pieces into place,
And I can picture it after all these days.
I was, as the kids say, young and in love. I was in love with the boy with the car, I was in love with the world I was living in that consisted of going to football games and leaving at halftime only to flee to my favorite coffee shop and talk excitedly about what colleges I was applying to, curling my hair for homecoming and finding myself in a diner at midnight eating french fries with the boy and his friends……not knowing that in a matter of months everything would come crashing down. I didn’t know that I would fuck up a crucial admissions requirement on the application for the college I’d been planning on going to since I was fourteen and have my mother berate me for it at every chance she got, I didn’t know that I would get my heart broken and have the love and excitement I’d felt that autumn be ripped from me all at once.
Suddenly the tempo of the song speeds up and Taylor is singing about the love she lost and I want to bang my fist on the nearest hard surface. Maybe we got lost in translation, maybe I asked for too much, and maybe this thing was a masterpiece ’til you tore it all up. I remember listening to the song that following winter, post-break up and all, and how different the song made me feel then compared to Autumn. Every time it came on shuffle I would get a lump in my throat, tears stinging the corners of my eyes, frustrated at myself and how everything had changed so quickly.
Even though the months that followed were hard and I was sad and self-destructive at times, I healed. I got better, I got closure. And best of all, I got a fresh start.
The next time “All Too Well” would put me in a nostalgic, melancholic trance would be a seasonably warm day in October 2015. I’m at college, not the one I mentioned before, but a different one. I’m sitting cross-legged on the quad in front of the library, my backpack and striped pencil case emblazoned with the Strand Bookstore logo sprawled out next to me. I’m fiddling with my pen cap, eyebrows furrowed, headphones in, Moleskine journal opened on my lap to the next blank page. I’m taking everything in. Students are walking back and forth on the concrete paths separating each academic building, talking, laughing, or looking down at their phone, holding a smoothie or coffee or swinging their keys carelessly from a lanyard. Even with Taylor Swift’s voice streaming through me I can still hear the cacophony of chatter and sounds of shoes hitting the pavement. I smile. Everything is so beautiful and bittersweet, but in a completely different way. I find myself in love with the world I’m living in, but so many factors are different. For one thing, there’s a different boy – one that came into my life when I least expected him to, one that challenges me and loves me the same way I love him. And I’m not in Ohio, I’m in New York – not the city but a town four hours north of it, a town so mysterious and enchanting to me that I blink to make sure that everything is real. I don’t want to miss any of it.
Autumn doesn’t only mean a change in scenery, it means a chance to begin again.
Obviously things are a lot different for me this year, and I’m not that seventeen year old in the passenger seat of that boy’s car, or the bright-eyed college freshman in Ithaca writing on the quad anymore- although those parts of me are still in tact, and a soft smile appears on my face when “All Too Well” starts playing on my iPod – I catch glimpses of my one golden autumn and the love I didn’t want to lose, and the autumn that signified a new sense of independence and strength. And none of that takes away from who I am now, and who I want to be.