“Crush” by Jimmy Eat World

147. Song No. 2,218: “Crush,” Jimmy Eat World
Clarity, 1999

Like pretty much everyone else, hubs and I have embraced the pandemic as a challenge to reach the end of every streaming service we have. We’ve finished shows we’d never been able to get through in previous attempts, finally got around to watching ones we’ve never seen and shamelessly started rewatching old favorites for the millionth time as soon as the series finale faded to silence, always delighting in how young everyone is in the pilot. We’ve watched an awful lot of movies and documentaries, too, but episodic television provides a low-effort, high-return approach to decision-making that’s an awful lot like, say… I dunno, listening to your music library in alphabetical order.

Some shows are solo watches (I’m pretty sure I nudged myself into Morning Person Land by getting up early to solitarily devour the Baby-Sitters Club series with neither interruptions nor witnesses to the unabashed weepies it gave me; he used my time away to dive into Breaking Bad again, which I have tried so hard to watch but am entirely too stressed out by); others are absent from our binges entirely.

A few years ago, when I was starting to identify more as a leftist, I whipped out my reliable DVD copies of The West Wing for a routine rewatch. And it only took a handful episodes until I started yelling about its milquetoast liberal bullshit, which pained me like a personal betrayal. Aaron Sorkin is why I’m a writer and I will forever be indebted to both TWW and Sports Night for their combined influence, but sometimes you just have to kill your darlings. Or at least recognize that maybe your old favorites need to be retired and put away on a metaphorical shelf especially for preserving those things you’ve outgrown but still feel an intimately significant attachment to and don’t want to spoil by experiencing them through a new and wholly incompatible perspective.

I kind of feel like that about Clarity. I’ve said plenty about the best album not only Jimmy Eat World but also second-wave emo ever made without really saying all that much about it because I was kind of saving my load for “12.23.95”—that’s song 12,629 of 12,700, by the way, and I’m still in the 2,200s. One constant vision I did have for this blog was figuring that’ll be a bruiser of a swan song to go out on in however many years from now.

Almost everyone has that former flame who just sticks with you for one reason or another: For me, this is guilt. Guilt and probably a lack of closure, too, I guess, because even my young, inexperienced and unfathomably capricious heart knew that the relationship was a rare one and I’d at least had the good luck to be smitten with a fundamentally good person, then proceeded to fuck it all up anyway. And I never knew how to apologize for that, or if that time had long since passed anyway: My lungs were already so numb from holding back that it just kind of became some kind of existential background noise, the present but bearable buzz of relative penance.

Some people are meant to be your sad story and, like toxic jobs and miserable childhoods, those god-awful heartbreaks that never really heal right are lessons and growth opportunities in their own right. What I learned, how I matured and then stumbling my way into the romance that was finally the right person at the right time was the bounty I ultimately walked away with after two years of dragging out an ill-fitting rebound relationship to punish myself for fucking up what I thought would be the best thing that ever happened to me; if the consequence of those slowly sown seeds of self-awareness is a surplus of guilt quietly but assertively resurfacing every now and then for the rest of my eternity, then I really can’t complain too much. I still got off light and managed to find my person in the process.

Clarity was so intrinsically intertwined with that relationship that I couldn’t face the album for years. Literal, actual years: Hubs and I got married at the end of 2009 and I still couldn’t muster up the courage to give Clarity a listen from 2004 until 2011, exactly one select song in 2010 notwithstanding. And of course it wasn’t as bad or as painful or dramatically leveling as I feared it would be. I’ve listened to it a few more times and, like anything else, gentle reintroduction and re-exposure heal what time can’t.

I want to say Clarity and I are on better terms but maybe we’re really just going out on a high note. There are albums that I haven’t necessarily outgrown so much as diverged from and Clarity, what was once my desert-island favorite album and such a palpable, living relic from a relationship I took for granted, has kind of receded from its place of reverent distinction as its identifying emotions lose their uniquely discernible edges. Some part of me still can’t believe an album that felt like an extension of what was once so important is just another diminishing wave, but sometimes that’s just its story and you have to honor that fleeting importance rather than unnaturally preserve or divert it.

I am grateful this song led me to Clarity when it did, and just in time. The guilt I’d carried around naturally invoked memories of my ex, and I incidentally thought about him more than I was comfortable with. And then out of nowhere, on one of the occasions my Twitter account was public, came the needle-in-a-haystack moment when I made some throwaway comment somewhere that he liked. But that was it: No acknowledgment that he recognized my virtual persona and no indication he wanted to connect. Either explanation stung more than I expected.

Having spent some time with an increasingly innocuous Clarity absolutely kept me honest in assessing my reaction. The disappointment was a shock—we haven’t talked in years! we’ve both found more compatible parters! I think he’s one of the most wickedly brilliant people I have ever met but certainly hasn’t been immune some some of that infuriating milquetoast liberal bullshit over the years! why am I making this into a thing!?—but actually registering and honoring it made it pass quickly and without incident. And it kind of made me realize how overdue letting this go is.

The most significant realizations can ride in on the most inconsequential moments and in the strangest combinations: Realizing that I’ve become just another face in the virtual crowd to the same person I have been beating myself up on behalf of for years over the hurt I’ve unduly dealt them was jarring, but also the wake-up call I didn’t know I’ve been needing. When guilt gets to be such a familiar passenger, you stop feeling it after a while. A little push to say you’ve carried it long enough goes a long way when it, like anything else, comes from the right place at the right time.

Walk close to the fence
Feel it hit your clothes
Turn and smile nice
Smile, say goodnight,
Say goodnight…