I first heard Camila Cabello’s song “Never Be the Same” while scrolling through my Facebook feed. I was taking a break from my graduate thesis project. The project has been a major part of my life for the past 13 months. Centered around the concept of body memory, it’s a collection of personal essays focused on the power of touch. The inspiration came from a desire to recover. The ghosts of my past had haunted me for over a decade. I was tired of using my past as an excuse to run away from potential lovers. Recuperating from a history of sexual assault, risky sexual behavior, attempted suicide and bipolar disorder is not easy, but my thesis is proof that you can.
Writing about my darkest moments comes with a weight that is sometimes too difficult to reread and edit over and over in a short period of time. I’m reliving the incidents whenever I do. It’s like taking a plunge into a deep, chilling ocean. Diving over and over strengthens your lungs and you’re able to stay under the current longer each time; however, you’re a human, not a fish, and you will always need air. It’s exercise, so you need to rest afterward.
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In those restful moments away from my thesis, I listen to love songs – self-love, erotic love, romantic love, but lately I’ve been mostly into songs about erotic love. These songs are my reward for overcoming my past. They hype my body up for the next phase in life. When I graduate in May, I’m graduating into a secondary adulthood. I will be ready to date once again.
I must be sending out positive vibes, because lately the dating apps on my iPhone have had more visitors and messages in the past couple of weeks than it has in the past few years.
The message that got my attention was from a handsome bear (guys of the thicker, sometimes hairier variety) named Brandon. I was wooed by his photo, a well-groomed beard, a smile that made me smile, and deep, chocolate eyes. He was confident and straightforward – two qualities that I appreciate in a man. He asked me if we could hang out that night.
I hesitated for a moment. I had just left work (10:30 pm, I close the student store located below the student apartments where I live). It was raining. I didn’t feel like freshening up. The excuses began to pile up, but I stopped them. They were a sign of an emotional relapse. How was I going to recover if I started to give into these little excuses? I turned on my erotic love playlist, took a breath and made plans to hang out.
Forty minutes later, parked on the side of the road in a nearby suburban area, I babbled on and on about the concept of body memory, the power of music, and how cute and kissable Brandon’s face looked. Earlier I’d found out that he was greatly involved in the gay community in our area, having recently come back from a national gay pageant, placing in the top ten. His answers to my questions were always so smooth without a whiff of anxiety. I did catch him off guard when I asked him if he could sing for me because he sings in the pageant contests. He shied away and it felt like a win, but only a minor win. It was obvious from his chocolate colored bedroom eyes that he was feeling me and it made me feel sexy but feeling sexy felt strange. I held his hand and babbled more and more and I couldn’t, for the life of me, wonder how a guy so composed could find my theoretical rambles a turn on.
“You said you wanted to kiss me,” he said, bedroom eyes growing more intense.
“I, yeah, I did,” I said and looked away. Damn those bedroom eyes.
“Why haven’t you?” He asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. I was tongue-tied. The hardest part about dating after you’ve recovered from sexual assault is explaining the nervousness to your date. I was nervous, but not uncomfortable. There is a big difference between the two. You want to explain it to them but once you label yourself an assault survivor, they’re scared to touch you. I wanted him to touch me and more. Somewhere in all the rambling, I just shut up. I didn’t have to explain myself to him. It was okay to be nervous. My heartbeat slowed down a moment later and I stared back into his eyes and kissed him. He smelled like a mix of lavender and spice.
That was when Camila’s song came on the radio.
The song smolders into existence with a light buildup. It had potential to make it onto my erotic love playlist, but prior to my kiss with Brandon, it lacked context. Prospective songs are shelved in my mind until days, months, even years later, I hear it and something has changed. A memory has attached itself to the notes and it’s in that moment that I need to own the song. Owning it is far more intimate than streaming it. It’s special and will be a song you revisit years later.
The R&B pulses of the composition were in sync with the rhythm of our kisses; desire passed into the bloodstream and his hand on my midsection imprinted a new body memory. The stereo system in his car accentuated the thunderous drums and I closed my eyes as the echoed effects of the chorus ricocheted off the windshield, against the windows, in between our lips and wrapped themselves around our bodies.
“Never Be the Same” is a love-is-pain ballad, using the familiar love-is-like-a-drug metaphor.
“It’s you, babe/ And I’m a sucker for the way that you move, babe/ And I could try to run, but it would be useless/ You’re to blame/ Just one hit of you, I knew I’ll never, ever, ever be the same.”
We talked a little more after kissing, kissing, and kissing some more but he had to be at work in the morning and it was close to midnight.
It was still drizzling when I got out of his car. He stepped out too and walked over to my side, grabbed my hand and kissed me in the parking lot of my apartment. This wasn’t the first time I kissed another guy in public but it was the first time I didn’t shrink away, especially when he pulled me in again and kissed me two more times.
I said goodbye and we made plans to hang out in a week, after I turned in my next thesis draft.
The day after the kiss, I was at the gym with my friend, the two of us riding ellipticals.
“You found your context,” she said. She knew about me and the song.
“You’re right,” I said. I hoped the radio overhead in the gym would conveniently play the song but it didn’t.
Last night, I lay down and I tapped the “BUY” button and enjoyed replaying “Never Be the Same” again and again.
Last modified: March 20, 2019