“Fragile” by Tech N9ne and others is interestingly of two minds. On the one hand, the song, like its title implies, suggests emotional vulnerability. The chorus is emotive and delicate, made for lovers to whisper to each other at night and to be embarrassed about in the morning. But the tone of the verses by Tech N9ne and Kendrick Lamar is aggressive and hyper-masculine. The lyrics by both rappers are about performance and art but, seemingly defensive about categories that are often gendered feminine in the popular imagination, the words are delivered in a muscular flow meant to confront the listener. Combative and emotional, wanting to reveal a kind of precious interiority and threatened by that possibility at the same time, “Fragile” is hard to reconcile as one song. So I choose to think of it in terms of the chorus. It’s the part that speaks to me the most and not just because I’m pathetically sentimental—who am I kidding, that’s probably why. But for reals, I think it hails me mainly because it reminds me of discovering for the first time exactly how fragile I could be. “I never thought I’d be so fragile,” sings a woman in this song and it struck me as the motherfucking truth when I heard it.
When I was 12 I fell into feelings with this girl called Janet. Who knows if she was cute or smart or pleasant, it was a long time ago and all I remember are the feelings. We hung out in the yard of our middle school in a small group, and I was so full of her that I never noticed that she might not dig me at all. Which was the case. I found out that she was into my friend Ramon when I saw them making out next to me in the movie theater at the Beverly Center. Ghostbusters, I’ll never forgive you. Seeing them cut me to the bone, as they say. I mean, I’m not sure what those words mean exactly but I do remember how much my stomach hurt and how dizzy I felt when I saw them kissing. Nonetheless, I kept it together. After their romance ran its natural course—a few weeks in my middle school world—I tried again to get her attention. This time it worked. She was the first girl I kissed, no shame in getting Ramon’s slobbery seconds. I even touched the front of her bra once. I was over the moon or something. A couple of weeks into our relationship, I managed to get permission to spend a whole Saturday with Janet by doing extra chores around the house. Within 5 minutes of getting to her parent’s place, Janet told me she didn’t want to “go around” (our technical term for relationships at that time and place) with me anymore. I kid you not, as soon as I felt the period in her sentence I burst into wailing. I cried instantly and inconsolably. I was beside myself in tears and snot, a real mess. It probably took her like an hour to calm me down enough to show me the door. That’s what I thought of when I heard “Fragile” for the first time. After some time had passed, I, too, was surprised to find out how fragile I could be when it came to affection and its aftermath.
And I’m not sure all of the experiences I’ve had since then have toughened me up much. Less than a year ago, I started talking again to a girl who had broken up with me before but that I had not gotten over. We started talking on the internet because as accidents would have it we had both started reading Moby Dick around the same time. First we talked about Moby Dick. Then we talked about other things. Then we talked about each other. I kept reading Moby Dick during the whole time. I’ve read it many times before, so I was in no hurry to find out what happened next and thus read it at a slow pace. As things progressed, I began to relate the book to the relationship, ending one might mean ending the other, so I slowed my reading to an even more measured pace. I still have two chapters left to read in Moby Dick but I don’t anticipate I’ll finish them anytime soon. I know how fragile I really am.