I couldn’t take Pandora if I had to deal with the ads, so I listen to it through Anesidora. This ad-free experience gives me more radio patience than I might otherwise have, and this leads to giving songs I know, know too well, or don’t particularly want to listen to, another chance. Such was the case with Coldplay’s Yellow. Specifically, the live version of it heard here. I recognized the voice of the lead singer right off, and I’m not much of a Coldplay fangirl (I think I can name, what, four of their songs?), but I wondered what they’d be playing and let myself be led on by the goofy crowd-talk. Then I kept listening because as many people as I am frustrated by, I’m deeply moved by earnest huge groups, and the image of everyone standing in anticipation of this song (whatever it was going to be) was entrancing. Then they started playing, and I realized the last time I’d really listened to that song was many, many years ago.
I did not go to parties in high school. I just didn’t. Once you became too old for sleepovers (the kind your parents would let you have), your options (in this particular town among kids of this particular economic class) were either binge-drinking stupors or some sort of orgy. I had no interest in either of these. So I have no idea why I went to this particular party. I didn’t even know the girl that well, though I recall her mother was Persian and her father was a diplomat. But she made the specific effort to ask me to come, and maybe I was touched by that. Maybe I had mentioned the party in passing to my parents and they, ever concerned about my sociability, convinced me to go. I don’t remember. I do remember the long lecture I received as my mother drove me up the [ridiculously long and curving and statue-lined] drive, containing the assurance that if I “felt I had to leave,” for whatever reason, all I had to do was call, and she’d show up and ask no questions. I understood that this was to keep me from dying in the kind of drunk driving accidents kids die from all the time. I found her conviction that I wouldn’t be able to resist whatever was on offer at this party (because I really, truly wanted no part in anything shady) slightly hurtful, but then, the idea of my mother barreling through the night in her minivan to save me from certain death was also kind of comforting. So out I went, into what amounted to the courtyard of a small castle. The diplomat, clearly, was rather well thought-of in his home country.
Night fell, the volume rose, and the carved fish fountains (I will likely never be in so opulent a backyard ever again) tinkled onto auto-timed floating lily lights. There must have been a hundred or so people there, stalking between tables laden with catered (catered!) food, or dancing in that awkward teenage way to Top 40 hits blasted out of speakers the size of small sportscars. I assume there was alcohol somewhere on the premises, being chugged on the sly, but I didn’t seek it out and didn’t want to. The girl’s mother appeared less and less often outside the house as it got dark, and after a while she disappeared altogether, but still—I didn’t know any of these people by anything more than their names (if that). Even if I had had some latent desire to imbibe, I wouldn’t have thrown my lot in with these strangers.
As the night wore on it became clearer and clearer that that’s who all these people were: strangers. I’d attended school with some of them since sixth grade, sure, but I was close to none of them. At one point two girls whose close friendship I envied (my best friend was about to abandon me for her first boyfriend, whose casual suggestion that I relieve my ugly duckling loneliness with his horny male boxer dog would not endear him to me much) cornered me and demanded to know who I “liked.” I couldn’t believe I was being asked this. Of all the inane questions. As if we were living in a sitcom or something. But I was aware you have to have an answer to this question, even though I liked no one in the way they expected me to. So I said the first name that popped into my head—that of the asshole who would later abscond with my friend, causing untold fuss with these two girls who sauntered off with the ridiculous idea that I cared for this guy beforehand, and that I was hurt by his later lovelife—and they, satiated, left me alone. I leaned against the cobblestone wall of the place for a long time, bathed in the light of a lamp post made to look as cute and delicate as if it were shining down on the Champs-Élysées rather than a suburban backyard. But after a while guys started coming over to me and being idiots—in retrospect, this might have been the surely-present-somewhere alcohol showing its effect, but I wouldn’t have known to be aware of it at the time—so I moved out of the light into the fountain at the farthest end of the backyard, out where the land made a sudden heave toward forested hills and where a silvery lattice pylon held up powerlines for the whole neighborhood. Maybe it was the distance from the house, or some misfortune of the previous winter, but this farthest-out fish fountain was empty, and I crawled into it.
The speakers’ sound bounced off the hill, right back at me, and Yellow came on. And I can remember being so hurt and angry with myself for ever having come to that stupid party, listening to that song. “Look at the stars,” he says, and there I was in a dumb fountain at some rich girl’s party full of people I didn’t connect with at all, shivering because I didn’t want to know what they were doing inside and hiding because I didn’t want to be part of something that might start outside. And there were plenty of stars up there, sure, but fat lot of good they did me. There was no one for me to show off my much-prized constellation knowledge (gleaned from my dad’s Wolf Scout handbook discovered in the garage) to and there wasn’t about to be anyone anytime soon. The song had hit it big a few months ago, back when it was colder, and like any teenage girl I had imagined—could remember, there in the fountain, imagining—having someone care about me enough to say dumb shit like that to me. To write me songs and tell me I was loved and that, present lumpyness notwithstanding, I might still “turn into something beautiful”—all that crap. Because huddling out there it felt like all that crap. I couldn’t believe I’d allowed myself those ridiculous fantasies, when that song came out, because it was pretty clear to me, to get “all that crap” you had to put up with all this—sappy music, guys smelling weird, sticking their meaty hands everywhere, girls squealing as if they liked it, as if they knew what the hell they were doing at this castle-in-the-suburbs. And I wanted none of this. The clownish makeup or the tinselly giggles or the pick-up lines or the oh-so-subtle drag to the bushes. I hated all of it, the people and the place, and I hated Coldplay and especially their song Yellow, which put the wrong ideas in your head right from the start, and really, I thought, should just be straight-up banned for misinformation. Then idiots like me, who thought themselves foolproof against that kind of sap, wouldn’t fall for it—and as for everybody else who already was falling for it, well, they clearly didn’t need any more encouragement, so no skin off their noses.
I made it as far into the house as the kitchen, and called my mom. Who promptly came barreling through the night to rescue me, no questions asked.
And I’m sure I must’ve heard the song between then and now, but I only recognized it as Yellow the way you recognize vroom as the sound of a car. It didn’t register.
Tonight, though, that song popped up on Pandora to a version of me that is loved, and loved so much I married the person doing the loving. I’m over 500 miles from that miserable garden, I have no clue what any of the people at that party have gone on to pursue, and I don’t care. Because someone values me enough to tell me “all that crap” and I don’t have to go through the fakery that surrounded it then—the pre-fabricated phrases, the stuffed bras, the desperately-feigned suavity. And I like Yellow. It makes me feel good. Because it wasn’t a total lie. People can tell you that stuff and mean it, without dragging you through the bushes or slamming you up against a stranger’s decorative lamp post. I never, ever would have believed it, sitting in that fountain. I’m glad I do now.