ex album

Handing over my hard earnt money, I wonder if I’m making a terrible mistake. And as I walk out of the record shop with the offending bag swinging next to me, I half laugh as I wonder how much (and for how long) this will hurt. Regardless of how this decision turns out, today will always be the day that I bought the album that sounds like my ex-boyfriend.

I think I might be a masochist.

Despite the fact I’ve been working up to this moment for over 3 months, this still feels like the dumbest idea I’ve ever given in to; my brain lurches between intense regret and release as I feebly hum the tune to the soundtrack of my latest breakup.

“Why can’t we laugh now like we did then?

How come I see you and ache instead?

How come you only look pleased in bed?

Let’s climb the cliff edge and jump again”

It’s almost funny that this song, once our favourite, is also the perfect descriptor for our break up. On the day we broke up, we were supposed to see our favourite band play in Brixton. And as we suffered through seemingly endless hours of circling the drain, I longed to be somewhere else: in the place we were supposed to be, surrounded by the music of us.

For better or worse, our time together will always be encapsulated by one album: “How to be a Human Being”. He introduced me to Glass Animals early on in our relationship, and before I’d even realised it, every song was him: from the way he’d screech song lyrics in the shower, pout in concentration as he combed his hair, or the way he’d call me his “beautiful girl”; at the height of everything, I could barely discern how I felt about him away from how I felt about the album.

All of this floods back in searing clarity as I play the record for the first time. Pulling the needle onto the vinyl, I can feel my body begin to shake with adrenaline and dread. As the first bar sounds I realise I’ve made a mistake, and by the time the chorus kicks in I’m in the midst of a panic attack at the foot of my bed. It takes a while until I can calm myself down, and when I do, I approach the record player the way I’d approach a wild animal, and quickly and quietly throw the record under the bed.

I don’t touch it again for a long time.

All of this changes however, when months later I’m confronted by “Pork Soda” half naked in the changing-rooms of Zara. One leg deep in a pair of trousers, I hear the distinctive chatter and arcade overture of the first 30 seconds, and it’s like my heart just stops. By the time Dave Bayley has even said “Pineapple”, I’ve practically dislocated a hip ripping the leg of the jeans from my body. I grab my shoes and coat, throw my own clothes back on, and run.

Crying on a bench in a shopping centre, a surprising and unexpected low, was when I realised I couldn’t live in an indefinite state of terror any longer. In that moment, I recognised a common chord that ran through my heartbreak: I was mourning all the things that I couldn’t accept, running scared from the feelings I wasn’t capable of putting into words.

In a break up, there’s always that awkward yet wholly inevitable period of returning belongings: of reuniting owners with t-shirts, giving back much loved books, and deleting shared passwords to Netflix. Often though, it’s those things that you can’t physically return that hurt the most.

As each relationship I’ve ever been in has come to a close, and all the things have been given back, that bleak sense of loss reveals itself in moments of sporadic remembrance. While there’s no accounting for the strange agony of finding an errant sock of an ex in the days following a break up, or the time sink that comes with being completely incapacitated by an inanimate object, little compares to stumbling on the specific trigger which can transport you to the spot where you first met. And for me, that catapult comes from music.

It took some time for me to realise that the music which had defined us, had also touched me. In the first few months after we ended, I found it increasingly difficult to reconcile the pain the album brought me with how much I was beginning to miss the music. Caught between forgetfulness and memory, I longed to understand how much of “us” I was missing in the songs I couldn’t hear, and how much of me I was trying to claw back.

As I sat on that bench, alone and staring at a pretzel stand, I hated myself for being controlled by emotions long since squandered, and ached for a time where I could hear “Life itself” and only hear me, not a strangled version of “us”. While I never wanted to erase my past relationship from my brain, I was aware of how important it was for me to carve meaning and identity out of a relationship I couldn’t otherwise quantify, and I was taken by surprise by how I felt compelled to reclaim Glass Animals for myself.

Returning home that day, I fished out the record from under my bed, and put it on the turntable. This time, I came armed with an arsenal of distractions that made me comfortable in my aloneness, and I clung to my books, candles and skincare like talisman. Instead of being transported back to my old life, I reasoned that I might, perhaps, be able to integrate the music into my new one. Whether it was the support of my girlfriends or the fact that I had waited until I was ready to hear it, this time the panic attack didn’t happen. I let the album play through, and for the first time in a long time, I heard the songs without hearing anyone else.

When the album was over, I got up, put the record in its sleeve and deposited back under the bed. The next day, I did the same thing.

Months later, I can now listen to Glass Animals on my commute, and feel comfort in the knowledge that I worked hard to secure my own sense of peace and identity in the music that I almost lost myself in. I’m now able to be alone with my thoughts and the music, and think about the day ahead, excited by what the future holds.

Fundamentally, my muscle memory has changed. Instead of feeling that immediate, nervous compulsion to skip over a potentially dangerous song, the rawness has subsided to the point where I barely notice what I’m listening to. I’m safe in the knowledge that nowadays whenever I hear the song that was ours, I hear less of him and more of me, and I really do feel free.

The best thing about it all though? I’ve got Pineapples in my head again.

Follow Catherine Gleave on Twitter : @CatherineGleave