art above by Sal

Before I begin, I have to be clear: this article is not meant to ask for forgiveness, it is not meant to place blame, incur wrath, or inflict pain.  It is also not meant to take itself too seriously :).  There is a time in my life I look back on with bitterness.  One of few times I think that if I could go back and change something, I would.  This has to do with my relationship with an individual I met in college.

Because of what I studied and what I do (counseling), I kind of have this cold, clinical perspective on what happened to me/us during the two and a half years we spent in each other’s orbits.  When people are in a relationship, they become conditioned to expect certain things, like affection, support, etc. When it ends, those expectations stop being met and the mind and body go into what anyone who has been through a bad breakup can accurately describe as withdrawal.

I met this individual while I was experiencing such a withdrawal, and this may be a cruel analogy, but it was like treating someone with morphine dependency with cocaine (which was once an acceptable practice). Essentially what happens when you do this is the individual you are trying to treat becomes addicted to both morphine and cocaine.  So there we were, in a decidedly unhealthy relationship exacerbated by baggage and pathologies that we both carried with us.  Both of us lied and cheated our way through those years, sometimes it seemed like we were deliberately trying to lay each other to waste.  At one point I was like a morphine addict who was addicted to cocaine who decided to see if heroin could help him kick the habit(s).  Anyway, I shall recount parts of the tale the only way I know how:

Neil Young – Harvest Moon

I don’t know what it is about this song, it just feels like a cold autumn night.  And in Iowa there’s always a cornfield a stone’s throw from where you are so you might as well be in one of those too.  The brilliance of this song doesn’t come from what it does or says but from what it doesn’t do or has left out.  Is it a love song?  I’m not sure.  Nothing in the song explicitly says that the singer is with somebody, just in love with someone.  Notice that he says “I’m still in love with you” and “I want to see you dance again,” seems like if this were strictly a love song Neil would have said:  “I’m in love with you and also your dancing too.”  Something like that anyway.

Coxcomb Red – Songs: Ohia

I don’t know if I can think of someone who sounds quite as tortured as Jason Molina when he sings.  Maybe your Johnny Cashes and your Townes Van Zandts but its a thin crowd.  I don’t know about this song, is it about ThePietà?  You know, that statue by Michelangelo where Mary is holding Christ?  Listen to the song and you’ll hear it.  But that’s not why I put this song on the list.  Actually its because I think it conveys the same attitude that we had while we were in our destructive relationship.  In the song he says: “every love is your best love and every love is your last love.”  While we were together, for some pathological reason, we did everything we could to preserve our relationship even though it was falling apart, almost as though we thought we would never love again, should it end.

Mistaken for Strangers – The National

This song represents the worst part of that whole experience.  Maybe you’ve had a friend who doesn’t spend any time with you anymore because they spend every waking minute with their boy/girlfriend who you dislike.  And when you try to talk to them about it, they get mad.  And then they spend even less time with you.   I’ve eaten from both sides of that cake  (is that a saying?).  Anyway, what I mean is that I’ve both had that friend, and been that person. I feel like I have lost some very important people in my life because of that time.  Maybe not lost, but at least changed forever / not as close as we once were, kinds of things.  I literally treated them like strangers, people who took care of my when I was at my very worst (crying in the shower type of stuff) and that’s something I have to live with for the rest of my life.

Studying Stones – Ani DiFranco

This was me, internally.  I love the lyrics to this song, Ani really nailed it.  “I am out there studying stones, trying to learn to be less alive.”  This is exactly how I felt day to day: spending every waking moment trying to figure out ways to soften the blows, to dull the wounds inflicted upon me by my lover.  This was achieved by becoming more stoic and stone-like, until I was reduced to a sort of unfeeling carcass capable of inflicting a whole new level of emotional carnage on unsuspecting lovers.  And that’s another thing I have to live with.

Gagging Order – Radiohead

The first line basically sums up this pick for me: “I know what you’re thinking / but I’m not your property.” The rest of the song follows with the theme of drug addiction I used in the intro and sort of becoming complacent in your pain.  In addition to that, this just happens to be a lovely song, the guitars sound great and Thom Yorke really shines.  Radiohead’s gotten a lot of hype over the years but some of their b-sides are their best.  Also, it is interesting to note that one time my ex-girlfriend asked me if this song reminded me of her.  I hadn’t really thought about it at the time but I guess everyone who reads this will know the answer.

It Ought to Be Easier – Lyle Lovett (Listen HERE)

My dad listened to a lot of Lyle Lovett when I was a kid.  So a lot of his songs are ingrained deep within my brain and for a long time, I didn’t even know it.  Then, one day, a professor of mine in New York City gave me Joshua Judges Ruth.  I listened to it several times, put it on the shelf for probably a year and a half until suddenly I had a Lyle Lovett awakening.  I bought The Road to Ensenada and realized that I knew all the words to every song on the album.  The song in question really stuck out to me, it revealed to me that it really should be easier, and why doesn’t she just hold me?  It’s a little embarrassing to admit the amount of power this song had over some of the choices I made.  But hey, I once had to read “Norwegian Wood” by Haruki Murakami to realize that I wasn’t actually in love with the person I was with.   And it is because I give so much power to literature that I probably will end up alone, but that’s okay because it will probably spare a lot of women a lot of bad dates.