In my defence, the sun was singing against the sidewalk when I met her in person for the first time. Afternoon air smoked golden & bright-stained at its edges, & I’d taken a 22-hour plane ride, & she’d been on a train for six hours & finally, there we were, together, throats full of the gentlest notes. In my defence, there were so many gardens in her laugh. I should clarify: when I say garden I mean flower, & when I say flower I mean blooming, & when I say blooming I mean letters reread over & over, I mean hands that fit perfectly into one another, even when they didn’t. I mean god, you’re a sap & only for you, my love. I mean “Come On Eileen” & “Baby I’m Yours”, I mean wandering down the street sharing earphones, trading jabs about each other’s music taste, the kind of smile that never learned how to sting. I mean I think it’s all going to be okay, & by “okay” I mean no matter what happens I’ll be with you in the end.
When I say blooming I mean six texts from her waiting on my phone when I got off the plane & I’m so sorry I missed you & laughter, a blurry photo of her train ticket & travel shoes, & don’t worry. We have all the time in the world.
All the time in the world. When I say blooming, I mean that thought. That impossible shivering song.
Honestly, I couldn’t tell you how I first knew I was falling for her. I’d just gotten out of a relationship that I was only now beginning to understand had drained me bare, & I had books to write, I had work to do, I had silences to bandage. I wasn’t looking for a person to call my own. Especially not long distance. Especially not someone who didn’t share my taste in music.
But that’s how love happens, isn’t it? One moment she’s sending you photographs of her dogs & her lipstick, she’s telling you how proud she is of her best friend & how worried she is about her father, she’s unfollowing you on Twitter because your following number right now is a bad one for your OCD, she’s ditching class to call & talk you down from a panic attack, & the next it’s today I imagined what it would be like to wake up next to you & I’m going to let that thought sustain me for the day, it’s how long will this go on before we admit we’re in love with each other?
In my defence, she listened to acoustic songs because of me, & I listened to hip-hop because of her. In my defence, open windows. Open skies. Open arms.
That first afternoon we walked through the city & talked about race & beat poetry, we drank in each other’s presence, we took photographs in front of department store pride month displays, & it wasn’t love at first sight, it wasn’t all okay the moment I saw her face, but in my defence, it was something close. In my defence, my playlist for her was 70 songs long, & hers for me was carefully pruned of any songs that might make my hyperacusis act up. In my defence, she could tell at a glance when I was anxious & I could tell at a glance when she hadn’t eaten. Every delicate thing, glass-soaked & leaning towards the light.
We hadn’t discussed exchanging gifts beforehand, but had each secretly brought one for the other anyway. Sitting on a park bench outside an art museum, when I opened her gift I wanted so badly to kiss her & knew I wouldn’t have the courage, until she clipped my shoulder, said, sunlit & off-key, are we going to do this or what? We were giggling against each other’s lips when it happened, & it wasn’t urgent, it wasn’t remembering how to breathe. It was limitless, soft. It was all definitions of enough.
I wanted to plant a garden with her, but her winter was my spring & none of the days moved slowly enough to catch. Sometimes two girls love loud enough to move continents, but sometimes the girls are only human, & Skype will have to do instead. Sometimes, she finds you on a city sidewalk & you see the way light slows as it passes through her fingers, yearns to stay just a moment longer, & for the first time, you can almost forgive the world for spinning.
Or, put more harmoniously: “Everything Has Changed”, “Fire & the Flood”, “The Woman”, “I Wanna Be Yours”, “Can’t Help Falling In Love”, “Celeste”, “Transatlanticism”. Or, put more tenderly: I can track our relationship in music, the songs we spun across the oceans to hold each other close, every part of ourselves we couldn’t give to each other & instead gave to the music. Or, put more truthfully: this is a bright part of my life, not one I have to walk on eggshells for. Or, put more simply: don’t worry. We have all the time in the world.
In my defence, when I fell for her, it wasn’t forte-piano, but gradual decrescendo. It wasn’t remembering, but forgetting. It wasn’t a light switch, but the first strains of dawn. Soundless echo. Spring equinox. Pale morning. Breath tasting its own newness.
So, yes, love turns us into drunken golden fools. & I had books to write, work to do, silences, to bandage. I had no time to fall in love with girls who lived oceans away, & even less to fly across those oceans to see them. So my longest playlist shouldn’t have been named after her. The warmest space in my chest shouldn’t have been carved for her. She shouldn’t have made me feel safer than song. I know this. Do you think I don’t know this?
But in my defence, her hands. Every bud would unfurl, every silence would hum, every winter would melt for those hands.
Before she left on that last day in the city, I kissed her & meant it, maybe more than I’d ever meant anything else. All hazy feathered ache-filled things. In my defence, I still hadn’t realised how many songs & skies & summers ended before they ended, how she was the exception every time. I still didn’t understand how much of love was in horizonline, was in hating each other’s music taste & memorising each other’s favourite songs anyway. How much of it was dreaming of more gardens than we’d ever be able to plant. In my defence, love was the fullest thing I ever did, the brightest thing I ever created, & for four days in the city with a girl I wasn’t supposed to fall for, that was enough.
& in my defence, the sunlit quiet, the cherries & wonder. In my defence, when we kissed, nothing hurt. Nothing remembered how to freeze. In my defence, Frank Ocean, Marika Hackman, Cigarettes After Sex. It’s late & I’m allowed to love you, so there. Dancing slow, hands intertwined like the treble clef kisses its staff. In my defence, all the time in the world. No emergency in her touch. In my defence, her softest playlist was for me & my loudest was for her. In my defence, the garden, the flowers, the blooming. In my defence, when she laughed, there were no more shoulds. There was only song.
(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 two more columns by the HM team & many more pieces by contributors, is published in Half Mystic Journal’s Issue IV: Grazioso. The grazioso issue is full of the rare kind of light that never drowned anything, the kind of light that knows only song. It is available for pre-order now.)