Nineteen: A Discography
by Abigail Oswald
That summer I lived in an apartment complex right by a traffic light. Sometimes the red stretched so long I swear a whole song could go by while you waited for the light to change. I looked out of windows a lot, soaked in the vastness of the sky. It felt like a metaphor for the future, but back then everything did. I was nineteen and still convinced I could be anything, anyone; certain songs made me feel like this was true. I had a theory that I could hack my memory: If I listened to the same song over and over in the wake of a significant moment, I could auditorily mark certain periods of my life through sheer force of will. Then, when I heard that particular song in the future, I’d be transported to that day, that feeling, that moment. Like time travel planned in advance. I liked the idea that I was creating these tunnels through time and space for my future self. I think I wanted a way to always be nineteen.
That summer I decided to listen to all of the band’s albums in chronological order. I could hum along with their radio hits, but over twenty years of other tracks were waiting and I wanted to know them all. I was nineteen and in between futures and didn’t feel like I had much to call my own—all I knew was that listening to the band made them mine. CDs were on their way out but my car was an early aughts model that hadn’t gotten the memo; the middle console of my beloved four-door was stuffed with plastic jewel cases. Everyone was making accounts on the popular streaming platform, slotting aux cords into iPhones, boxing up old discs for Goodwill. But I didn’t want to let go yet. That summer I returned to my favorite secondhand bookstore over and over to purchase the band’s albums one at a time. The cases were often cracked, but the liner notes always glistened pristinely just inside—sacred texts for nonbelievers. It was hot that summer, but it was hot every summer in my city. You could burn yourself touching the windshield of a car. I’d slip the new disc in and lean back as the A/C whirred feebly, and then I’d wonder what would happen to me over the course of this album. Back then it was a way of seeing my future without having the details yet. Whatever happened next, at least I knew what I’d be listening to.
That summer I got behind the wheel and cried; I got behind the wheel and laughed; I got behind the wheel and felt numb, felt empty, felt nothing at all. So often I felt raw and new, like I was missing the protective membrane that everybody else around me seemed to have been born with—the one that diluted the overarching experience of life, kept it from being too much. Every time I felt this way, I hit repeat. Told myself to memorize that feeling. Sometimes the feeling was a lesson; sometimes it was a warning; sometimes, a promise. I hit repeat, and every time I said, You’re going to remember this forever, and I did. I do.
A year later, the band came to my city to headline a popular music festival: a privately celebrated synchronicity, now that I knew all their songs. I spent the whole weekend volunteering so I could see them for free on the final night. The band performed their setlist of my joys and heartbreak; I was standing in a crowd of hundreds but I felt like the only one. These are the best songs, after all—the ones that tell your story, too.
Even as I’m writing this, all I have to do is press play, and just like that I’m back in the car, driving down a dusty road in the thick unfiltered heat of summer, and I’m wearing my favorite dress with my hair tied up to keep it out of my eyes, off my neck, and I’m seeing the world through an old pair of sunglasses that I once thought I’d lost, and as I roll the window down my hand drifts out of its own accord and my fingers ride the warm currents of air and the light is green, bright green—I’m nineteen and I can be anyone, anything. My life is just beginning.
Abigail Oswald is a writer whose work predominantly examines themes of celebrity, crime, and girlhood. Her writing has appeared in Best Microfiction, Wigleaf, DIAGRAM, Split Lip, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College, lives in Connecticut, and can be found at the movie theater in at least one parallel universe at any given time.