I didn’t anticipate such a seemingly innocuous object would become the impetus of change I needed, but there I was in 2012, dodging fast food items hurled at my head at lightning speed by my inebriated (soon-to-be) ex-boyfriend, fully in acknowledgment that something had to change.
In a lot of ways, the 2010s held a lot of these utterly perplexing moments of instability. Like many of my millennial peers, I emerged from college in the spring of 2010 at the end of the worst national recession in nearly a century. Newspapers across the country were shuttering, and I was competing for entry level positions with journalists that were decades into their careers, victims of economics I couldn’t possibly yet understand as an optimistic, and exceedingly naive 22-year-old. Over 300 job applications later, reality finally set in that my journalism degree wasn’t enough.
Determined not to retreat to my hometown (and to parents who were battling potential foreclosure), I navigated a few Florida towns before settling into a minimum wage job in Gainesville, moving in with a partner I met on an online dating service before hookup apps proliferated.
It was never the right choice.
On paper, it looked like a new beginning. In practice, it was a textbook example of a toxic, emotionally (and sometimes physically) abusive relationship. I wasn’t fully out to my family just yet, and the thought of sharing this moment with my parents presented yet another minefield. It would be nearly three years before I had the courage and ability to leave. No one said loving someone, or yourself, was easy.
Music, though, always provided a safe harbor. Dismayed at the loss of my iTunes library and the freedom it provided, I was resourceful enough to find alternatives.
Playlists I haphazardly assembled on SoundCloud became my soundtracks to my shifts managing a shoe store in the Oaks Mall, the town’s only shopping center. My 50+-hour workweeks blissfully flew by with a sprinkle of remixed synth-pop. The fatalistic drive of Icona Pop’s “I Love It” and Azealia Banks take-no-prisoners “212” felt like raucous lifelines for a life in perpetual limbo. This became even more necessary when I was eventually unceremoniously canned from my job for missing two months of sales goals.
I took solace in the dark, histrionic textures of Crystal Castles, the eccentricities of Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox, the somber defiance of Perfume Genius. It didn’t matter how the songs were cloaked or coated, if there was even a modicum of vulnerability imbued, I soaked it up, thirsty for templates to rest my thoughts.
After relaying the drunken condiment meltdown (complete with the tossing of a selection of my belongings into the street), a close coworker of mine rapidly moved me out of my apartment during my partner’s weekend getaway. I slept on her apartment floor until she placed me in some student housing for a property she managed.
During that tumultuous period, I’d often go for night drives. Some drives would be quick tours around the neighborhood. Others, hours — some until the sun came up. The distant didn’t matter; each trip was a passage through my experiences where I could face harsh truths and cast pesky hang-ups aside.
I’d take moonlit cruises with the windows down US 441 through Payne’s Prairie, an open state preserve, with Waxahatchee’s Cerulean Salt or Angel Olsen’s “Unfktheworld” providing the catharsis I desperately needed. After a year, I found a job in the Bay Area in social media and jumped at the opportunity to finally leave Gainesville in my rear view.
After enduring the dissolution of a relationship and a job loss, the burdens of the first half of the decade lifted, the storm waters finally subsiding. It was the summer of 2014, Pride Weekend, my first weekend here. I’ll never forget how euphoric I felt at Hard French, sweating out the life I had left behind to 1960s soul. Everything felt foreign because it was foreign. With no family or friends, this was my brave new world.
Over the past five years, the inevitable heartbreaks, failures, and life’s fleeting ephemera has crept in. But the resiliency built during my early 20s has rendered the landscape with a hue that feels familiar, almost quaint.
We often cede control to unruly, damaging forces blindly and recklessly. But I take comfort in the infinite canvas music provides, always reminding me how much possibility is there, just beyond the dashboard with the stereo playing loud. That was true this decade, and it will probably remain true the next.
I don’t see a day where I won’t be searching any time soon, trying to find understanding. Maybe it’s the same for you, too. I know I’m turning my dial up whenever I can.