When Your Memories Are Just a Playlist Away

While working one recent day, I had a lot of tasks to finish, so I put my headphones on and decided to shuffle my entire music library to help pass the time. Aside from showcasing just how schizophrenic my taste in music can be, the songs transported me. I soon found that I got more company than I had bargained for.

I traveled through time.

I didn’t know when or where I would be next, but every few minutes I found myself at a different moment in my past, feeling all the same feelings and thinking all the same thoughts that I did years prior. The emotions were just as raw and the fears just as real. But unlike the first time I lived through them, I didn’t have to wait out the moment to see what would come next. On this occasion I was merely visiting.

It all started with an Alanis Morissette song from Flavors of Entanglement, the album I had bought after a bad breakup seven years before. There I was again, winding up Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles in my Toyota, singing loudly to drown out the anger I had for my slimy, cheating ex-boyfriend. I held back the tears so my vision wouldn’t blur as I made one sharp turn after another toward Studio City. From one minute to the next, I vacillated between missing him fiercely and feeling completely liberated now that our two and a half years together were finally over. We were never meant to be, but I had forgotten how to be alone. And the betrayal hurt the most. Before I could even reach Ventura Boulevard, We Are Scientists whisked me away. I had listened to their album heavily right before moving to Los Angeles.

Suddenly, I was sitting with one of my best friends in a bar in Hoboken, New Jersey, doing shots before the band’s set at Maxwell’s. It was the night before my 26th birthday, and I was worried that my impending big move to the West Coast was coming too late in life. I feared that I was getting too old for such a thing. Was 26 too old to break into Hollywood? Was I talented enough? Would I miss everyone back East? One more shot, and we should go find a spot close to the stage. I hopped off my barstool and back one year into 2005. A song sung by another ex, this one a musician, shuffled into my ears. The end of our brief, yet intense relationship ignited the fire within me to get the hell out of New York and move to LA. Had things worked out with him, I would have never left. But I never liked this particular one (the song, not the guy) – skip.

Image courtesy Shutterstock

Image courtesy Shutterstock

Everlast’s “What It’s Like” took me to the summer when I was 18 and feeling a type of freedom I had never known. It was warm, I was tan. I had a new boyfriend, I was going off to college shortly, and I had my new driver’s license. I was also recently cancer-free, and I was invincible. I drove around Long Beach Island on the Jersey shore, looking forward. Literally. My whole life was waiting and I was vibrating with anticipation for the next thing. I drove by the miniature golf course where I had played every summer for 12 years. I drove by the small amusement park, and by an old house my family had once rented. My childhood summers were summed up in a quick tour of the seaside town. The sun was bright that day, and my left arm was getting hot from leaning on the window when Craig David’s “7 Days” accompanied me to one of the rainiest years Paris had ever seen. Fall 2000.

Ouch. I would have never bought that single had I not been living in France at the time. I clung to any songs in English that came on the radio in a desperate hope to connect to America, in a determined attempt to overcome my homesickness and seasonal affective disorder after countless rainy and gray months in the City of Lights. I roamed around the city – one of my favorites in the world – as I studied there for a year. I wore a heaviness on my face that could be attributed more to melancholy than the calories associated with a bread and cheese diet. It turns out that incessant bad weather really can bring you down, no matter how perfectly the tower pierces the sky, and no matter how exquisite every single piece of Camembert is. Just as the dreariness was almost too much to bear, I found myself dancing with my friend on her bed.

I was eight years old and George Michael’s “Faith” had me in my Catholic school uniform – shirt untucked, thick pilled tights sagging slightly at the crotch – acting out every phrase of the song. We had just finished playing Mike Tyson’s “Punch Out!” on Nintendo, but decided that we needed a mini dance party. Loudly singing “before you throw my heart back on the floor,” we grabbed at our chests and thrust our imaginary hearts onto the unmade bed. We were working up a sweat, thrashing about when Amy Winehouse’s voice swept me into 2007.

I was 27 and getting ready to perform a scene in my LA acting class. I was convinced I was on the right path, and feeling creative and alive, but also broke and terrified of failure. It was the big contradiction that defined that part of my life. I paced the courtyard outside my acting school in full costume, running the lines over and over in my head, and careful not to touch my freshly made-up face. With Amy on my iPod, I was feeling sexy and confident – ready to perform. My scene partner and I got the cue from the stage manager that our scene was next, when I found myself back on the East Coast.

Bright Eyes’ “First Day of My Life” – that pretty song with the distinct acoustic guitar in the beginning, instilling hope in a sad 25-year-old living in SoHo in New York City, unsure of what to do next. Quarter-life-crisis in full swing. Every day felt rainy, yet every day held promise. Lonely and tired, mustering the courage to turn it all around and make something happen. At least until Alanis joined me one last time.

Another song from that breakup album. But this song brings me to a different place. That breakup seven years before had been followed shortly by my first date with my now husband. It was a confusing time, but it was exciting. Butterflies about someone new. A magnetic connection between two friends. I remember how my skin felt alive with him. It would take years to become anything solid and serious. But it was the beginning of life as I currently know it. The reason I am married to a beautiful and giving man. The reason I have an incredible, willful little boy.

In some ways, my disjointed music made me nostalgic for all of those places and times again. While they were bittersweet, they were most certainly more bitter. Even today I am still searching, still looking for who I am and who I will be around the next corner. But there is a quiet, settled feeling to my current playlist that wasn’t there before. I still have more in me to find, but this is right. Right here and right now. “Yours is the first face that I saw. I think I was blind before I met you. Now I don’t know where I am, don’t know where I’ve been, but I know where I want to go.”