Silver-Tipped Swallow: “Brief Hazardous Encounters”

I am not a person who gets angry often.

Generally this means that all of my fury builds up soda-can style in my throat, bass guitar crescendo, shivers and hisses and begs to be released. Until the drums come. When the drums come, this is when I am angry enough to believe what I know to be true.

There was a boy I loved who told me that this kind of explosion was a mark of a really good soul. I never knew what he meant until one day I saw a mother yelling profane things at her child in the shopping mall, and I marched over and yelled profane things at her. Then I looked back and saw him, gazing at me with eyes all soft.

There are some people who look at me like harmony when my mind is all kinds of cacophonous, and this is how I know that I love them.


I am fond of the idea that my life in love is marked by music. I am always the girl who will turn up the radio, sing you a lullaby, offer an earbud. I am always the girl who will pull you into a coffee shop slow dance when our song comes over the speakers.

There are some loves that croon Elvis, whisper Mozart, hiss alt-J—but his landscape was classic rock, heavy metal. On the days when my anger overflowed, when I yearned to break myself like a bone or a bad habit, he passed me the iPod. I never learned to fall in love with my own fury until Led Zeppelin drew me up a stairway to heaven, until AC/DC pushed me across a highway to hell.

On my good days, I always laughed at his air guitar, changed the radio station whenever he left the room. On the good days, there was no slow dancing. He moved too fast for that, pulled me headfirst until I did not know acoustic from electric.

He was short fuse and firework, staccato drums and fumble-fast. His laugh was sun and his fury was lightning, and each came as easily as the other.

How I longed to be like that. No matter which way you looked at him, he always lit up the dark.


I asked him once why he saw everything as a war, and he told me that it was only a war until the time came to run.

So when it is time to run? I asked.

When your own singing sounds like howling.

And when is it time to stop? I asked.

When you can’t hear the music anymore.


I have never met anyone who knew bite, claw, devour as well as he did. Sometimes I wonder, looking back on it now, how a soul as gossamer-soft as mine could ever fit so perfectly into one as ferocious-sharp as his. Nowadays I listen to Guns n' Roses on repeat, keep Metallica on the tip of my tongue. Nowadays when I rage, it is in tones of Def Leppard, all natural disaster.

If love is a transformative force, does it matter if destruction comes with the deal?

Before him, I knew of love as breathy female vocalists and one kitchen light on to peek at the slow dance. But he owned his fury just as wholly on the good days and the bad, and this was the difference between him and I: his anger followed him around like a second shadow, and mine was the whole night sky. The dark that feels natural until you realise how many places there are for monsters to hide.


He greatly enjoyed pushing my buttons. Provoking the rolling drums, little jabs here and there until I was scarlet deafening, anger overflowing. Before him I was a girl sitting on the fire escape and wondering how it might feel to fall—but he loved me best as the house fire. All alarm bell and concert with too many drunken teenagers.

His anger was a concert in itself. I never needed to go too far to watch it come out, loom above me like a god I didn’t know how to pray to. Gone as quick as it came, but I couldn’t help but believe in it while it lasted.

I wanted the slow dance, and instead I got AC/DC learned by heart, a boy with a smile only as bright as his rage, my own softness torn up and pieced into something I could not recognise and fell in love with anyway.

I wanted a forgetting that felt so much like remembering, and instead I got a beat-up lie that felt so much like something real.


When he left, I lost the love, but not the playlist. Not the knowledge of how to sprint with shattering metal in my ears, with bass guitar in my lungs, with outstretched arms and a profanity that never needed to be soft. I clutched that to my chest, breathed it in like the song on the radio I claimed to hate but could not bring myself to turn off.

This one was not his. It was mine.


Today I read in the newspaper of a volcanic eruption on a small, uninhabited island, the kind of place with no sinew to burn, with no one to watch the trees catch fire. Imagine if there were people on that island, the article said. Imagine what that would do to them.

I turned up my iPod and thought of him.


(Silver-Tipped Swallow is a Half Mystic column about the ways in which music intertwines with our experiences in loving, losing, & lingering on what remains. This column, along with another column by the HM team & many more pieces by contributors, is published in Half Mystic's Issue I: Allegro. It is available for order now.)