The day was September 4, 2016. I remember because I drove down to Los Angeles to see a friend of mine the day before Labor Day.
On the drive back to Santa Barbara, there’s a long stretch of highway that’s sandwiched between the ocean and lush, green hills. I always feel like I’m in Hawaii on that part of the drive—something about the mountains and the pristine quality of the coastline. The orange sun adds dimension to the landscape, its heat penetrating through the front windshield and tanning arms and fingers, which are wrapped around the warm steering wheel.
On those kinds of drives, I zone out and stare into the horizon. There’s nothing I’m thinking about, really, except immersing myself into the environment. At times like these the music playing in the background can mean everything or nothing. I guess it depends on your mood.
On September 4, 2016, a random CD played in the background—a mixed compilation of music that someone had inserted into the disc drive and had forgotten to retrieve. There were several of those CDs in my car at the time and because of their randomness, I barely paid attention to them. Nevertheless, Disc 5, Track 8 started playing through my speakers: “Warning Sign” by Coldplay.
If you’ve ever heard that song before, it can plunge into the wound of remorse or it can sound like a tune trapped in the early 2000s—something not quite as good as Radiohead but not as awful as the ballads that were to follow.
For me, that song transported me back to 2003. I opened my eyes to discover that I was sitting in the driver’s seat of my rusty Jetta and my ex-boyfriend, Mike, was seated in the passenger’s seat. It was dark, a little past 9:00pm, and we were parked in front of his parent’s home.
I asked Mike to listen to the song with me. I’m fairly embarrassed to admit it now, realizing that I was scrambling to find a song that represented our pathetic breakup. Mike was the one who had cheated on me, so it really should have been him who felt the loss.
But I was young and painfully inexperienced: all I knew was that this was love, and that our relationship was the only thing that felt as big as the Universe. We continued to sit in the dark and listen to “Warning Sign” while our fingers remained enveloped. Mike gazed forward into the void. I squeezed his hand a little tighter.
If you find old pictures of Mike and me together, you’ll see two smiles pressed deeply into the folds of our skin. Our eyes are wide open, full of hope, and free of fear. At that age, everything we did was imbued with hope, believing that the world was an open space on which to make our marks.
My love for Mike was the kind of love you find in a Hawaiian sunset—warm and memorable, an escape into something bigger, and a special song that captures all of it: it was Disc 1, Track 1 of my romantic soundtrack.
All of those memories hitchhiked their way to Santa Barbara with me on September 4, 2016. And when I arrived at my destination, the phone rang.
It was Mike.