Brandi Carlile, ‘What Can I Say’
The Story, Part 1:
You showed up at my studio, half drunk, missing my company. For two years we had been lovers, friends, travel companions. I didn’t listen to your words, instead I wrote the story of your actions. I wanted to be near you so I didn’t ever really leave, and you didn’t ask me to. I lived in your house, though I never moved anything over, never unpacked the pack that contained my clothes. I seem to remember hauling a laundry basket that would sit in the corner of your room. I think I may have hung a coat up in the hall closet. I took care not to place my things on your shelves, not to have a drawer or clothes in your closet. You didn’t want a relationship. I didn’t want to believe that. On the few occasions I went to my “house”, the place I paid rent, you usually showed up in the middle of the night to sleep with me. I wrote that as a relationship into the story I created about us. I decided definitions couldn’t define us.
I can’t say I was entirely surprised, though I was devastated on the evening we had gotten dressed up to go to an awards ceremony for my work. On the drive over you told me you had met a girl and you wanted to ask her out. Maybe you had already kissed her, I can’t remember the details anymore. I just know that I left. I moved out. It was pretty easy, though by then I do recall having more than just the laundry basket at your house.
I got a studio above my friends’ house. I painted it and hung artwork and I made it my own, my safe place to fall apart in. It was small, and it felt like those close walls couldn’t hold the pieces of me that had shattered. Then one night, a couple months later I think, you showed up. I can’t recall what was said, though I know I wanted to touch you, and I know I wanted to be strong. Then you asked me if I had heard the song. I had, you know I love her music. You told me you had been learning it on guitar and every time you played it you thought of me. It cut me down and put me back together all at once to know. We finally had a song. A broken hearted love song. A why would you choose someone else if that’s how you feel song. An I love you so strong I can’t even breathe song.
The Story, Part 2:
I guess it’s been eight years now since we split up. It could be nine, you know I’ve never been good with time. We accomplished the impossible, or at least the not at all recommended by our friends. We supported each other through the break up. Ok, that’s not fair. You supported me. You really took it on, in that serious way you have when you make up your mind. It couldn’t have been easy for you, having me push and test and ask the same questions over and over, hoping for a different answer. Yet we were resolved to having each other in our lives, damn the trials it would take to do it. For years that song would trigger in me emotions that lived so deeply they must have been petrified in my soul. Hearing it would send me into fits of despair, where I would end up calling you since hey, you agreed to support me through all this, and again ask you why. I don’t think I ever acknowledged that I must have smothered you. Both in our…relationship…and probably after as well. I didn’t really know it until I had someone who wouldn’t give me the space to breathe. Until I saw how hard it was to ask for that.
Well, that song doesn’t get much airplay anymore and for some reason when I put my music on shuffle, it doesn’t usually come up. I heard it the other day for the first time in a long time. I will always think of you when I do. Only now we live thousands of miles apart, you don’t show up on my doorstep anymore. I believe you are in love and I really like her, and knowing that does nothing but make my heart shine with happiness for you both. Now, when I hear the song, I don’t wonder why it wasn’t me. I am not broken by it anymore. I let it drift through the cracks I’ve mended and fill me up. I remind myself that long ago, that song was you loving me. I know. We always will. And I don’t regret a second of it.