Love & How It Lingers

January 11, 2022 / Shianne Lum

Somehow, I forgot I was mine before I was ever yours.

There’s a yearning in my chest for those past selves that were warmer and more trusting. Yet the girl before me possesses a new strength, a self-assurance that comes only through loss.

Can I ever revisit those selves again? They remain caught in pictures, detached from the moving, breathing entity I am now. I’ve found that the hint of a scent or the low hum of a forgotten melody breathes life into memories that have long lain dormant.

If you tried to transpose all the versions of me with one another, we wouldn’t fit in the same mold. Bits and pieces would fall outside the lines, reminding me of not only what I’ve gained, but what I was forced to lose.

Somehow, I never thought one of those lost things would be you.

Love is this elusive prize for which we all seem to be grasping. The first time I remember feeling it hang palpably in the air between us, we were spinning slowly beneath an inky blue September sky, as the homely yellow glow of a streetlight illuminated the curve of the cul-de-sac we occupied.

“Baby, I'm dancing in the dark with you between my arms … When you said you looked a mess, I whispered underneath my breath. But you heard it, darling, you look perfect tonight.”

You hated Ed Sheeran, but I didn’t, so “Perfect” hummed out of your beat-up truck’s speakers. Skeletons of unfinished houses were our only audience as the first chill of autumn nipped at our skin and you dipped me down, an inch above the concrete.

At the end of the song, you swung down the tailgate, and we laid down atop the cool metal, gazing at the stars. The little pinpricks of light that glittered in the blanket of darkness seemed within our reach. I don’t think I’ve seen a night that clear since. I recall being entranced not only by the cosmos beyond, but by the small world of yours I’d been granted access to.

Two years ago when I went back to our hometown, I drove down that street. Nothing looked the same, and I was three years removed, but I could still remember every detail from that night. For the first time since then, I allowed the strum of the guitar and the sound of the gentle opening notes of “Perfect” to fill my car.

With every word, I was slow dancing through our memories, tears in my eyes as I remembered the damaged girl who was so lost in love that she had none for herself.

Now, that subdivision is finished, and so are we — the construction of dozens of homes traded for the demolition of an intangible one.

Since then, I’ve lost faith in others to unfailingly do and be good. I also no longer possess the naivety to think that love isn’t a breakable thing. However, I’ve gathered all the ingredients needed for self-love, something I placed no value in back then.

Still, there are a couple of songs that make my stomach drop when they come on shuffle.

“I didn't care to state the plain, kept my mouth closed. We're both so familiar, White Ferrari, good times.”

For so long, I struggled to get past the second verse of that song. Part of me would itch to turn the volume all the way up and lose myself in the sound of the synth in his voice, but the other half of me that wanted to skip it as quickly as possible would usually win out.

That song let me be who I was before you broke my heart for the last time. It allowed me to pretend for just a little while that things had never fallen apart, but after the first few lines, the bitterness of us and how we left things would creep in, forcing me to turn it off.

In an instant, I can see my feet atop your dash in the passenger seat, a place I’d sat hundreds of times over the course of our four years.

I had an unwritten claim on that spot as your reliable shotgun rider. The fizzle of a Sonic Vanilla Ocean Water atop my tongue and the warmth leaking in from the open windows reminds me of our endless drives. Sometimes, they were filled with unrestrained laughter; other times, thick with terse silence and insults designed to leave a scar.

On this particular car ride, we were zooming down some obscure road in West Texas. The heartbroken warble of “White Ferrari” rang out, masking our silence.

I remember the weight of knowing Frank Ocean’s lyrics said what we couldn’t: This would be the last time I’d be welcome in this loved and well-worn seat. As soon as we hit your driveway, we would no longer be an us.

An internal battle waged. I wished the trip could last for an eternity, but also needed it to be over, for the ball to finally drop.

I sat, clinging to the scent of your cologne, musky with a tinge of dry warmth and woodsy undercurrents. I closed my eyes, and at that moment I could picture the last time we were truly happy.

Your arms were wrapped around me and I was drinking in the sound of your laugh in your creaky old guesthouse. No one else has quite the same cadence in their laugh as you.

That scent used to be what safety smelled like. Since then, the fragrance has morphed into a warning sign, an indication to run. The first time I smelled someone wearing the cologne you used to, I stopped dead in my tracks. Even the slightest hint of it would flood my mind with memories that were too heavy to carry. 

Instead, love sounds like my best friend’s raspy laugh echoing down the highway as we speed past the city lights. Love smells like the heady scent of coffee curling under my door in the morning as my roommates chatter quietly in the living room. Love is the kiss of someone new, who tastes sweet and hopeful, like new beginnings, and never makes me feel small.

It’s smelling that musky undertone of your old cologne on a spring breeze and thinking nothing of it.

I used to hate spring — the crushing pressure of wrapping up the school year, the sporadic April showers that never seemed to clean the slate how I hoped they would. Now I look forward to it, because when the sun’s rays reach down to kiss me just right and the wind bristles across my skin, carrying the dewy, delicate scent of the first season’s blooms, I’m back in the early spring of 2020.

Just like any other day, there I was, lying on the soft grass of UT Austin’s south lawn in between classes. The sound of the burbling fountain nearby was background music to my restless mind. As I lay there, sifting through my thoughts, it struck me.

For so long, I chased little moments and whispers that reminded me of you, clung to songs and scents to try and stay stuck in something that had long ago withered.

These days, “White Ferrari” is just a song, and I could drive down that road we danced on so long ago with no qualms, just an appreciation for what we were, who I was, who you were, and most important of all, who I am today. 

While I can confidently say the bruises you left on my heart faded long ago, and I no longer search for you day to day, the presence of you lingers, in a whiff in the wind or a soft melody. In those moments, the girl I was back then murmurs a soft hello, but I finally have the strength to leave her where she lays. ■

by: Shianne Lum

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hmua: Emma Brey & Katarina Tyil

models: Chizaram Ajiwe & Nani Villalvazo

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