“You like Hard Girls now?”
My ex-boyfriend says this to me the last time I talked to him. It’s the winter. I convinced him to give me back a camera he borrowed from me while we were dating and now we’re sitting in a park near the apartment we used to share. He brought me a beer branded with part of the album art for PUP’s third album that a friend of his from Canada brought to The States. I made eye contact with her at The Menzingers’ show at Underground Arts the week before. She said nothing to me, he told me to talk to him like a normal person and just enjoy the show.
He spent a month living in the tiny apartment I live in now before moving out. It felt like a punishment. He told me he paid for the month and that he was going to see it though. He tells me I can leave if living in the space with the man who raped me makes me uncomfortable.
“Yeah, I really like ‘Deep Gulch.’ I listen to it, like, on repeat,” I tell him with a shrug, “I think it’s good.”
He shrugs back. I drink the beer in the park. He claims to have befriended a member of that last band we saw together. I roll my eyes internally at his obvious social climbing. Whether his friendship with that musician we both like is real or not, our final rift is solidified. You don’t think about The Why until you’re faced with someone who doesn’t make friends for the same reasons you do.
That last beer can sits in my kitchen for months. I finally throw it out tonight after my landlord knocked it over trying to fix the plumbing.
Hard Girls’ album A Thousand Surfaces becomes a pillar of the after. It’s an album that says I can love the things he liked without needing to think of them as his. I don’t have to make a joke. I can sit with this album and love it.
There are plenty of things I loved with him— things I loved because of him. There were plenty of things I loved that I didn’t need him for— Casiotone and PUP and The 1975– but A Thousand Surfaces was the thing I loved in spite of the pain he inflicted.
On bad days, I sit in my car and I scream to myself:
STEP ONE OF A PLAN, HOW DO YOU MAKE A MOUSE INTO A MAN, OH YOU DO IT WITH YOUR HANDS, MOLD A MAN OUT OF SAND AND MOVE ON WITH THE PLAN!
I scream it around Fishtown and Port Richmond and Kensington until I cry too hard to keep going. I do this on repeat until the song brings joy instead of pain.
I talk to my friends about it until it’s mine and not his. I write about it until it’s mine. I tweet about it until it’s mine. I watch live videos of Mike Huguenor playing guitar until I love music again.
I go see The Menzingers again with a new friend. I poke fun at the 30+ punks in Flatliners and Lawrence Arms shirts with all the love and affection for them that I’ll always have to cover up how scared I am the whole time. Later I’d find out he wasn't in the crowd so I wouldn’t have seen him, but I cry while I walk home anyway. I’m so happy I didn’t see the only person in Philadelphia I’m afraid of. I cry listening to “Deep Gulch” and I cry listening to “Die Slow.” I try to develop a sense of my own interests without influence and all I find is Hard Girls again.
I don’t know if that album is special, but it served me in a way nothing else did when I needed it. When you’ve spent a life developing taste around the people you love— romantically or otherwise— it’s hard to feel confident in what your interests are. Maybe that doesn’t feel like a big deal, but without my interests who am I? Why does anybody care about me if not for me plastering the internet with my opinions? Why are you reading this if everything I love goes away when a relationship dissolves? Why do I do anything?
But I can cling to Hard Girls. I tell myself I didn’t just love this thing because I loved the person who showed it to me. I tell myself it doesn’t matter. It’s mine it’s mine it’s mine.
It’s mine if I say it’s mine.
My therapist finally deemed me ready to be told I’ve been abused a couple of weeks ago and for the first time I don’t react. It feels correct. I don’t feel guilt. I feel relief.
When we get off the video call I put on A Thousand Surfaces again. I love it as much as I did when I cried in my car everyday on the way to work. I love it because it’s joyous and fun and makes me feel like I can do anything. I love it for me. It was the first thing I loved on my own. It filled the space when I needed it most. Maybe that’s all music needs to be. Something to cling to, something to reaffirm your existence alone, something to scream in your car while you learn what existence alone means.
This is the last thing I’ll write about the man that abused me. I’m sitting in my car. 12:39 AM. I’m listening to “Die Slow” by Hard Girls off their 2014 album A Thousand Surfaces.
The only thing left is that I ain’t dead yet.