Growing pains and old playlists

Graphic by Emma Li

When I am listening to this song, I am 16 again.

It is fall, and I do not want to go to school. I feel awkward in my body — partially because I am 16 and all 16-year-old girls feel awkward in their bodies, but also because I had just spent the last hour staring at myself in front of the mirror, trying on different outfits, wondering how I could morph myself into being good enough for someone to want to touch.

I feel the song as I walk to school, the tempo of the bass guitar hitting me just as the autumn wind does; the chorus had become so deeply entwined in my identity that when Lucy Dacus sang, “I don’t wanna be funny anymore. I got a too short skirt, maybe I can be the cute one,” I simply nodded along.

I had become one with the song; I was 16 and it was fall and all I wanted was to be beautiful to someone, and awkward to no one.

Or take this song — when it pops up on shuffle, I find myself stuck in a bright red bathing suit at my friend’s beach house; my boyfriend had just broken up with me outside of her pool.

I am 17 and have now locked myself in her room; my eyes are tomato red from a mix of chlorine and tears. I am so angsty and melodramatic that I don’t even flinch as Conor Oberst sings:

“I don’t want to eat or get out of bed, try to recall what the therapist said. Ego and Id, the Essential Self, you are who you are and you are someone else.”

In that moment, as my mascara spread across my face, I felt his sadness. I embodied it.

Play me the right song and I find myself in my older brother’s car as we drive down the West Side Highway. It’s the summer before college. We are blasting Vampire Weekend and I am laughing as he turns the volume up.

Or I am standing in the park the night before my friend’s 18th birthday. We are dancing and listening to Dancing Queen as many times as we can before the clock strikes midnight. We are attempting to pack in every ounce of 17 before it leaves.

Or I am running alongside the new Lorde album.

Or I am doing homework, Neutral Milk Hotel humming along in the background.

Or I am getting ready for prom, playing the song “BAD GIRLS” by M.I.A. — at first ironically and then as some kind of power anthem.

I care about music because it is a time in space. It is an etch of who you were, it’s how you constructed yourself, how you walked through the world until you got sick of that tempo, or that voice, or that song. It’s the lens you viewed everything through until you grew, or changed, or wanted to see things differently.

I have just come back to New York after spending seven weeks in California. I listen to Noname now; I have a friend with blue hair; I’ve made out with someone new, and the gridded streets of my childhood feel old somehow.

It is as if I am walking through the past, each street corner causing me to remember a version of myself I only vaguely know. Being back feels like running into an old best friend from middle school, like awkward distance, like jogged memory. I feel nostalgia at the supermarket, I feel nostalgia in the lobby of my building, I feel nostalgia in my old high school, at my favorite diner, at the greek place, at the MET.

I am tired and sitting on steps with my headphones in. It is cold, and I have just gotten my flu shot from my pediatrician, which provides the perfect symbolism for my particular angst.

I text my best friend, “I miss having a curfew.”

She texts me back: “Have you been listening to your old music again?”

Anna Koppelman is a first-year at Pitzer. You can either find her reading poetry, hanging out with friends, or ranting about how long it’s taken for Vampire Weekend to release a new album.

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