Premature Melodrama

From her native New Zealand, Lorde has reached me through every era, every age, and every place I’ve been. She first found me all the way in northern Michigan, so far north there wasn’t even cell service. It was the summer before seventh grade, her album ‘Melodrama’ had just come out, and it was the first time that music clicked for me. What she wrote about — deep, distinctly early-20s themes — could not have possibly made sense to a preteen. And they didn’t, but her sound is glittery and carbonated and I wanted more than anything to understand what she meant.

Instead of finding a new path to take, I analyzed my dull middle school life like it was a novel and not something happening right in front of me. I hoped that if I examined that summer for long enough, something meaningful and pretty would appear. Looking for melodrama in all of my preteen experiences made me feel everything very deeply, something I was not ready for.

Healing is not ‘getting over’ something. I think it’s about closing cycles and taking what you’ve learned. My experience of middle school, waiting for life to begin, surrounded by suboptimal friends, was one I regretted once I made it to Community. Middle school had been 23 percent of my life, and what did I have to show for it? Caring too much about things that didn’t matter? I had not done enough with my thirteen years, and I didn’t appreciate the change that had started to take control.

I was a little older by the winter of 2020. There had been no message from Lorde in two years, after she deleted everything from her social media, but slowly, my life was taking shape. I was holding the reins, guiding the second half of my freshman year into a circle I could wrap up in June and take with me. Obviously, this was overthrown by more change than I could have comprehended a year before. After the initial shock of the pandemic, there was nothing to feel.

June came and I had been hauling heavy years of my life with no conclusion or obvious lesson. One email from Lorde’s mailing list. It opened: “Well hello there. I realised the other day it had been a minute since we chatted, and I was missing you. Do you wear your hair long or short now?”

I wanted to call her and tell her: “My hair is the shortest it’s ever been but there’s still a weight on my back and I need something to close this era of my life. It’s getting too long.”

It took her another year to respond, the summer before my junior year. With the hurt and anxiety of feeling the same way over and over, I was as restless, dense, and disordered as ever. And her offer was nothing I expected. The guide I’d trusted for so many years, whose songs I wanted so badly to fill out had changed, her new album, Solar Power, was not for me. How could I forget the tears I’d cried? My youth had still not led to anything. All it seemed like was empty years with purposeless weight. What was youth if not huge, flashy feelings?

The night that Solar Power came out, I wrote a letter and addressed it to myself the next June. It was a plea to treat my younger self with respect, to not be embarrassed. I didn’t want to end another era ashamed. I thought of healing then as a dramatic replacement, starting over and switching bad with good. Like being pushed out of a car into a new city with no instructions. If I were to heal, would I know what to do? This was terrifying as someone afraid of change. If I were to heal, where would I start?

That summer, healing meant getting closure. Opening myself up to doing new things was an uncomfortable place to start, but by the time Solar Power started to make sense to me, I realized it was the only way to grow. Youth was really just growth, sometimes it was pretty and sometimes it was embarrassing.

Many months later, just like she had before, Lorde clicked for me again, quietly. Solar Power, the full album now, by the Huron River in the middle of autumn. Standing on the bank, not far from friends, with lots more to feel and the capacity to feel it, my arms could let go of my earlier life. What I wanted had changed, and it didn’t pull a rug from under me. It was just a new place to stand.