Some things you remember easily. The way the back of her ear tasted. Her hand balled up in yours, then spreading out to take hold of your fingers. Your pleasure at her inelegant gait. When she pulled the armrest up from between you in the theater in order to lie on your lap as she watched the movie. The way she slipped into an accent that made you laugh every time. The softness of her stomach. Sitting at the bar with your groceries piled up between you. The expression that you managed to catch a glimpse of as she watched you make her family laugh. The loud way she made fun of assholes, which was both charming and terrifying. How she sat watching television with her right hand curved toward her mouth. Her immodest self-belief, which might have been the most attractive thing about her. The way she fixed you in her eye as she lay in bed waiting for you.
Some things you remember only if you make yourself remember. The long, silent walk when she stared straight ahead for reasons you could only guess at. The contempt in her eyes when you made a stupid joke about her friends. The time she was openly disgusted with the way you kissed her. Her frustration and anger at the life of which you were a part. Her unresolved past relationship. When she stopped answering your messages and both of you pretended that it meant nothing at all. The time you spent waiting for the inevitable, convincing yourself that it was ultimately for the best. But more than anything else, your dismissiveness. Your impatience. Your neediness. Your jealousy. Your inflexible nature. And that last conversation.
Mariah Carey’s “Beautiful” depicts how we get infatuated with people. The song catalogs the details we obsess with at the beginning—what they look like, how they dress, and the narratives we construct around those features. There is also something languid and unhurried about the song that conveys the ease with which we slip into the patterns we associate with love and affection. The interplay between Carey’s and Miguel’s voices creates the final effect: love is the culmination of two people finding in each other the thing they were looking for yet did not expected to find. And love is easy, isn’t it? At least until it stops being easy. The other part, the part where things disintegrate, is treated honestly less often in commercial pop music. But in my mind heartbreak produces more compelling music, even if you hear fewer of those songs on the radio. Chavela Vargas’ rendition of “Las simples cosas” is perhaps the rawest and most forlorn recounting of heartbreak you will ever hear. She called “Las simples cosas” the most beautiful song in the world and who the fuck are any of us to disagree with her? “Linger here in the light of this midday,” she growls. “Do not leave now dreaming of your return because love is simple and all the simple things are devoured by time.” Beginnings and endings, memories you want and memories you don’t, and the inexorable working of time. In the long view, it all seems so simple.