I don’t normally blog about things so soon after they happen, but sometimes a song like Rihanna’s “Work” will follow you and your homie for an entire night.
The DJ will play it multiple times at the after-party, it will come on once or twice in two different Ubers, and again at your last stop of the evening, the Plaid Pantry, where you buy Cheddar & Sour Cream Ruffles–which you have not done since your mid-twenties! But, you were out on a Saturday night, which doesn’t really happen anymore, and you and your friend Phillip are mascaraed and matching in chic black, and you’re three glasses of wine tipsy.
You probably know a thing or two about heartbreak. You also know that sitting at home with only your thoughts in a fuzzy night robe is the last thing you should do. So you get dolled up (sort of). You line up a few events for the night. As the evening progresses, Rihanna’s nasally “work, work, work, work, work” plays enough times that it starts to feel like it was made exclusively for you and your homie; the auditory landscape of your emotional lives. This, of course, is not true. Because songs like “Work” get played and played-out over the course of months, and this coincidence is just an example of pop-culture’s insipid power. So. Sang it, Rihanna:
Work, work, work, work, work, work He said me haffi Work, work, work, work, work, work! He see me do me Dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt! So me put in Work, work, work, work, work, work When you ah gon' Learn, learn, learn, learn, learn Meh nuh care if him Hurt, hurt, hurt, hurt, hurting
What did it all mean? And I don’t just mean the song lyrics that I pulled off the A to Z Lyrics website. According to Jacquelyn Gray from Romper.com, Rihanna’s hit “Work” is about these things:
Feeling like you’ve been used
It’s hard to let go
Taking it slow
Needing to talk about it
Nothing earth-shattering. A catchy chorus, something emotionally buzzy and relateable. When you listen to the song, the lyrics could be up for interpretation (for phonetic-translation go to Metro Lyrics), but then again, isn’t music just sound anyways? Isn’t babel full of the potential of meaning? Isn’t life?
In the first draft of this piece, I walked through the evening’s details, chronologically. With creative license and hyperbole, I infused meaning into plain moments: like how I told my friend, Elaine, about my breakup at the water cooler, filling tiny dixie cups one after the other – thirsty – in the 80 degree heat.
None, none, of these details did anything to communicate what was really happening. What is true, is that I love someone. The break up was sudden. I’m still in love with him. There are reasonable reasons why we shouldn’t be together. I repeat his words, “...we’re just at different points in our lives…” And I know, objectively, that my relationship was victim to love’s ultimate nemesis: timing.
What I can write about, is how life is often unromantically, un-poetically synced. How much work (cue Rihanna) it is to carry heartbreak around with you as you move about the world, when you catch-up with friends, or you work to retain your charm with acquaintances and the new people you meet. People carry the weight of heartbreak in all kinds of ways: a severed mother/daughter relationship as Mother’s Day fast approaches, a divorce, a death, trying to make a long-distant relationship work, a parent who is kept from their kids, kids who are kept from their father, friendships that just grow apart, a love that is no longer.
Love alone does not heal all wounds. Love and work (cue Rihanna) might be able to, and sometimes even with work (cue Rihanna) and talking through (preach Rihanna), it still doesn’t pan out.
I’ve been talking about the breakup in rational, even tones – I did all my private sobbing, and my silent, lip-trembling, public-crying the first week and a half. When I tell people, I say, “I still love him, I’m really sad...but I think he’s right. We’re at different points in our lives.” It’s a script we’ve all heard. And because it’s so common, it’s easy to repeat like a mantra–and there is in fact an objective truth to the reason why we ended. We had a lot of things stacked against us–an improbable relationship to begin with. I list the reasons why it didn’t work with feigned certainty, “we’re just in different places,” I repeat again and again, this work (cue Rihanna) of convincing myself that the reasons are greater than the sum of my feelings.
But objective truth isn’t one’s emotional truth.
Objective truths work if you’re driven only by intellect. It’s analytical, crunching numbers, data sheets; it’s for logistical and technical things. My heart is made up of something entirely different. It’s made up of missing him. Of exploring the Columbia Gorge through all the sunny, windy, and rainy days. Of fishing for the first time, and feeling tickled by the whole catch and release thing, yet regretful and guilty because I don’t know if Kurt Cobain was right about fish not having any feelings (reference to the Nirvana song “Something in the Way”). Of getting over my own insecurities about everyone else’s assumptions about our “May-December” relationship. Of the way we argued, which I found to be productive. How I still want him, despite his life’s current mess. It’s made up of our conversations, of the things I’ve learned from him that still influence my work. Of him being wickedly smart and humble. How his yoga practice encouraged me to also breathe deeper, be more present in life and in our times together. Of him trying to convince me to watch movies from the 80s and 90s. Of missing him too much. Of how his face lights up when he finds something fascinating or absurd. How he’ll sometimes nibble the side of his pointer finger quickly before he speaks. And the openness with which he listens to someone’s story before he shares his own experiences, which are vast and incredible; meeting Mother Theresa, fishing boats in Alaska, a motorcycle trip through Central America. His confidence without the bravado. His handsome face. Even the way I hate/loved the way he said “fo sho,” which sounded like “fuh shur” because it brought up images of a girl with bleached yellow hair in booty shorts.
My heart is made up mostly of the stuff I can’t rationalize, the things that don’t fit neatly into categories, like the dull feeling of missing him, missing him, and missing him. It’s in knowing that I was not suppose to fall in love with him. The data points, the objective facts, made it improbable. But, I did anyways. And here I am.
Rihanna’s “Work” came on five to six different times over the course of the evening, and Phillip and I had our indie-flick moment: nearing 2 am, we waited for our Uber as I ate cheddar & sour cream chips in the parking lot of the Plaid Pantry. When the car arrived, the song was playing yet again on the radio. I said, “I think it’s following us around, Phillip.” And he replied, “I think you’re right.”
The truth is, our patterning minds will make meaning out of anything, and maybe the only thing that makes any sense right now are these lines sung by Rihanna:
I hope that you see this through I hope that you see this true What can I say? Please recognize I'm tryin', babe! I have to