It’s unsurprising (or maybe it’s very surprising, I don’t know) that I have a history of romance. This history is speckled with mediocre men whom I promoted to the status of Worthy. Only one really was worthy of me — of the me I was when I was involved with him. The rest were what a learned outsider would call a waste. Wastes of energy, of emotion, of time, of being permanently embalmed in my writing.
Modern-day me, who is far wiser and progressive than past-me, will be the first to tell you that none of these men (save the aforementioned) were worth my effort and they especially were not worth my tears. But what does the heart and romantic feelings care about silly things like common sense.
These mediocre men ravished me, some both figuratively and literally, and I have little boxes in a back closet of my mind in which their essences still live, called on only when I need specific inspiration for a short story or for an orgasm that just won’t come. In all these boxes are also songs, usually one per man but sometimes multiple, depending on how hard I fell for them and how much I let them destroy me.
For a long while after the romance ended, I couldn’t listen to the song(s) associate with these men, but after time acted as a balm — as it always does, bless it — I’m able to listen to most of them again without falling back into that disorienting, panicked state of heartbreak I was in when I shelved these songs away with the men. If I’m totally honest with myself, some of these songs still carry a sting, most of them associated with the most recent unworthy chump I allowed myself to go wildly gaga for.
But I recently thought how interesting it was, this collection of songs that so subtly yet perfectly summarize my love life and the relationship they have to modern-day me. I’ve only picked out the ones associated with the milestone men in my life — these are mostly all what a better human would call regrets but I don’t believe in having regrets. Everything happens for a reason and just because I can’t fathom the reason doesn’t automatically void its existence.
This was initially going to be one post, but when I started writing it I got lost in my own verbal diarrhea and decided that it might be better (for you, the reader, and for me, the writer who has to relive all these failed romances) to write them in parts. I was going to begin the first part with my first love, but it's been so damn long since I've revisited those feelings that it's going to take a little time to sort through what is and isn't relevant (and interesting) for to share.
So, I picked three quasi-recent (in the last 5-6 years) men I encountered to kick off what I assume will be a series.
“La Nouvelle-Orleans” by Sarah Quintana
I met a boy in New Orleans and we ended up spending my entire trips together, bar hopping, sharing Pall Mall greens, holding hands through the French Quarter, having sex and enjoying Southern comfort food, and falling in love with each other in a way.
He wore wide-brimmed hats and suspenders, and sported a ridiculous moustache, without which I now think he looks like someone other than himself. Forever scrawny but lean, and always smoking those menthol Pall Malls. When he smiles, his teeth are small and straight and he gets those little lines around his lips that I always absolutely love. I love him, more platonically though the romantic attraction is also fierce, despite our only have met twice in our lives and living a country apart.
One time when we were driving to somewhere (most likely for lunch at the Country Club, where I always have the fried green tomatoes and we somehow always end up with the same waiter each time), Blake put on this song and said he had been listening to it earlier in the day and it had made him think of me. I didn’t pay much attention and sassed him, forever scared of letting myself be vulnerable even around someone who undoubtedly was attracted to me.
When I returned home, I had hints of the song stuck in my head, so I went and downloaded it and, listening to it, I was suddenly back in the Big Easy, with the sound of street jazz in the air and smell of Cajun food inviting me around every corner and that glorious absurd monster of a river, the Mississippi, lapping against the Crescent City’s curves. And in the middle of it all I saw Blake and our time together — drinks on the carousal bar at the Monteleon, drinks at dive bars on Rampart, holding hands as we slid through throngs of tourists and locals on Frenchmen Street — it was a better way to remember my favourite North American city than the Pall Malls I had taken up for that reason.
I call Blake my NOLA boyfriend, because that is what he is. And we still occasionally chat on Facetime and flirt and call each other cute names and tell each other how much we love and miss each other. We’re no longer in that “honeymoon” phase; we’re somewhere better in my opinion. But those early days of shy romance still make me smile; when I listen to this song, I'm thrown back to our early days of courtship in my soul’s second home.
“Into White” by Cat Stevens
Oof, this one is still a healing wound.
It’s also an absurd story that’s melodramatic as fuck and unnecessarily complicated.
During my promiscuous days, I went on a date with a guy from OkCupid. He didn’t have a clear face pic or anything, which is one of my hard rules, but for some reason I let him fall through the cracks and, in a way, I'm glad I did.
His name is Orion, but on our first date he lied to me and said his name was Thomas. We met at the Imperial Pub — my fave pub and one that is now slightly bittersweet because of this fabulous first date I had there with Orion — and we sat at the bar and just talked and talked until I had to leave to ensure I caught the last subway.
So, I invited him home with me, assuming we would fuck and I would luck out and actually get to fuck someone I was attracted to (trust me, that’s extremely rare for me, and that’s saying a lot for someone with a "kill list" as long as mine). But we couldn’t fuck. And since we could fuck, we ended up staying up all night talking and occasionally making out a bit.
He never believed me, but he is the handsomest man I’ve ever met. Not traditionally handsome (he's stocky, with pock marks and thinning hair and his skin often looks perpetually sunburnt), but whenever I see him — in photos or in real life — “handsome” is the only word that seems fitting.
He worked as a landscaper, and after going trough rehab, he had dedicated himself to fitness in an attempt to stay focused and sober. His arms were tanned and freckled, he was lean yet stocky, weird-looking but so fucking beautiful.
Then he dumped me the next day, giving some bullshit excuse. I was surprisingly heartbroken, but I eventually got over it. And just as I did, he came back into my life. And then he left again and I was even more distraught than the first time. I happened to have discovered Cat Stevens’s Tea for Tillerman album and suddenly the song “Into White” reminded me of Orion.
For weeks I listened exclusively to that album and got a tightness in my chest and wetness in my eyes when “Into White” came on because it had become synonymous with everything to do with Orion — the mention of the gardens and creatures, the colours, the melancholy tune of which Orion was somehow a personification.
I recently ended things permanently with him because I finally got tired of being fucked around. I wrote him a long email explaining myself, and I haven't heard from him since. A part of me is glad for that and a smaller part of me is hurt that he didn’t bother to explain himself, to apologies for being such a selfish piece of shit, for forcing me to walk away with loose ends because I was just so fucking tired of organizing the pieces and waiting to find out how they would come together. I guess I've made them come together now, in a way.
I tried listening to this song since but haven’t been able to, which is such a pity because it’s such a beautiful, calming song. I know the tenderness is temporary and after the balm of time has had the opportunity to work it’s magic, I will once again be able to listen to this song without thoughts of and feelings toward Orion swarming up in a wave and drowning me. But right at this moment, I'd be lying if I didn't harbour a sliver of resentment toward him for (temporarily) ruining this song for me.
"Flaca" by Andres Calamaro
This song is a stretch, but there's a reason why it's associated with a man (flaca is a feminine term).
As you may or may not know, around the the time when I was officially diagnosed as depressive, one of the things I did in an attempt to feel better about myself was take Spanish classes. I was a natural at learning Spanish in high school but dropped it in my final year because it was bringing my average down (because I was one of only two non-native Spanish speakers in the class). I vowed to pick it up in university and never did, so I did it when I was about 24 or 25.
I took Spanish classes consistently for two years and am more or less fluent now (though way out of practise speaking-/listening-wise). I can read and write it fine, and I used to get a lot of practise by sexting with my Spanish lover, Juan Francisco, whom I met in Granada my first time there during my "Penis Tour of Europe."
On this trip, which I did solo, of course, I would use OkCupid and Tinder to call upon local men to entertain (and fuck) me when I felt the need for company. On my last day in Granada, I randomly messaged Juan Francisco and asked him to meet me that morning. He obliged. At first, it was very innocent and I wasn't wildly attracted to him at all. He took me, on foot, through parts of the Realejo San Matias neighbourhood and into the Alhambra gardens (which is an insufficient name for the miles and miles of sprawling greenery and parks that surround the Alhambra itself).
By then I had learned about him and found him so fascinating. When we took a rest on a bench in front of a fountain and there was a brief lull in conversation, we both instinctively just moved toward each other and started making out. I still clearly remember his face the split second before he moved forward and it gives me such a thrill.
A few weeks before, in Toronto, I was introduced to the song "Flaca" by Andres Calamaro in one of my Spanish classes. Calamaro is originally from Argentina but emigrated to Spain and is considering a big fucking deal and one of the greatest musicians in the Spanish-speaking world. Flaca/o is a slang term meaning "skinny" basically. The opposite would be gordita/o, meaning "chubby." Both are terms of endearment and not meant to be an insult, though obviously they can easily be weaponized, especially in a culture that's fatphobic (as pretty much every culture is).
Anyway, I had just learned that word and meeting Juan Francisco — who was pretty skinny at that time — I decided to call him Flaco. He laughed and tried me convince me to change my mind by saying he had started working out and wouldn't be flaco much longer, but I insisted. So, it's not unsurprising that whenever I hear this song now, I think of Juan Francisco.
In particular, I think of Juan Francisco giving me the first and only clitoral orgasm that didn't come via my own hands. It happened in the middle of the Alhambra gardens, when I lit up a cigarette and then promptly forgot about it when I felt Juan Francisco embrace me and slide a hand up my dress and down my panties. He told me to keep smoking and acting like we were just hugging so as not to draw attention, and I obliged though goddamn it was hard. But I think back on it and I find it so erotic and kinda badass.
We did fuck, later in the day (in a gazebo on the University of Granada campus), and he told me to feel the wind on my naked body then told me he liked the colour blue on me as I slipped my blue dress back on. Though we kept in touch via email and then WhatsApp, mostly flirting and sexting (god he says the most erotically filthy shit to me and it somehow sounds even better because it's in Spanish!), we never did meet again. He no longer lives in Andalusia and I seldom leave Andalusia when I visit Spain. It's for the better though, I think: I prefer keeping him as a memento. If we meet again, there's a good chance it will ruin these memories for me.
Though I'm unlikely to forget him — I genuinely fell in love with him that day for that day — when I listen to "Flaca," I'll always thinking of traipsing through the Alhambra gardens, fresh from an orgasm and consistently wet with strong, lean, erotic Juan Francisco leading me through memories I will forever cherish.