Imagine, for a second, a dusty record sitting out of reach on a high shelf. It has clearly not been taken out of its cardboard sleeve for a very long time. The corners of the sleeve are worn down from ages and ages of handling. It’s so high up that you’d almost miss it if you weren’t looking for it.
I remember dancing to that record with my first love. We would dance all night sometimes. It was a long record, but eventually it’d end, and we’d hear that gentle “pop! slide… pop! slide…” of a finished record sitting in its player until we either started it over or put it away for a while. (Editor’s note: I read once that that “pop! slide…” is called ‘riding the label,’ which is often what we would do when our relationship became stagnant and we were reluctant to move on.)
We listened to that record all the time. It had all our favorite songs, plus some that we just had to sit through. But we loved it.
I was always so careful with it. Whenever we took it out, I’d gingerly place it on the player, worried that I’d break it. On the other hand, if I didn’t get to the shelf in time, I often had to “think fast!” and catch the disk as it came flying towards me accompanied by an untroubled laugh. I was always the careful one.
One day, we were listening to that record together. We weren’t dancing like we usually did. We were just sitting together on the couch, existing together in our love for each other.
I heard the last song about to end, so I ran to start the record over. I caught it just in time. As the album recommenced and we sat comfortably in each others’ arms, two magical things happened in startling succession.
“Did you hear that?” I said.
“Yes,” my love replied.
“That bass…” “Those strings…”
we said at the same time.
Each of us was hearing a new element, a sound that the other had heard time and time again. Those sounds had always been there—maybe we were learning to listen in a different way. We smiled. I could have lived in that smile forever. This was the first magical thing.
And as quickly as that moment was born, it passed.
One smile turned slowly to concern. One lover explained to the other something that we had both known all along. Or maybe we had never known it. Maybe it was only in that moment that we learned, for the first time, an ancient truth.
This truth was the second magical thing: our record could not be played on repeat forever. Now that we had heard these sounds for the first time, now that we had realized how incredibly special this record was, we knew that it had to be protected. As much as we loved hearing those songs, neither of us wanted to live in a world where hearing them again wasn’t an option.
And so, that night, we made the most magical, heart-breaking series of decisions.
We listened to the whole record from start to finish.
We danced and we laughed and we lived a lifetime in that record.
And then it ended. The moment before the first “pop!” I gently picked up the needle. My love held my hand as we slowly removed the record from the player.
We put the record away.
And this time, for the first time, it was different. We did it silently. Reluctantly. We were resigned. We did it with the whispered agreement that we would never play the record again.
So much sweeter was it, in our minds, to have performed that last ritual than to ever dance to our record again.
It brings me happiness and heartache to know that that record still sits on that shelf, just out of reach, with plenty of extraordinary plays left.
Dust has begun to settle on our record. The first time I first saw the dust, I was tempted to wipe it off. To take it out, call my love, and beg for one more dance. But then I remembered that magical night. That magical, melancholy, magnificent night. I remembered our last dance. I remembered those new sounds. And I smiled.
How beautiful it is to remember. I know my first love remembers it too. I don’t think we’ll ever play that record again. It will continue to gather dust. I do still sometimes hum the melodies of my favorite tracks, although I’ve begun to get some wrong.
Imagine that dusty record—our record—tucked carefully away on our highest shelf. Now imagine, for just a moment, playing it with our old abandon.
Imagine how beautiful it would sound.