Even now, I spend half my time sugarcoating — or at least, working hard to keep the darkest parts of my experience and self just far enough beneath the surface of my writing that they don’t frighten anybody away. As someone with a deeply unhealthy share of violence in my life, I admire art which holds its wounds close, which refuses to hand over its darkness. Which can also just be a beautiful story. A good one. The first forty times I heard “I Can Lift a Car” by Walk the Moon, I didn’t realize there was any darkness at all, and that made me love it even more.
Then the realization started. As small and simple as the lyrics, the ache in my chest which blossomed chanting, screaming along on the five, weaving between sun-stained evergreens in my violently purple Volkswagen Jetta:
I won’t lose it I won’t lose it I won’t lose it I won’t lose it I won’t lose it
Hold it steady hold it steady hold it steady hold it steady hold it steady
I was facing what felt impossible: settling into a new home, new state, new self after college. Twenty-three years old and already two men with clenched fists in the rearview. The ridiculous paradox of still being in love with someone who once made me fear for my life. The reconciliation of intimate detail, beauty, and loss, wondering which memories, which present-day experiences, were real, and which were the product of gaslighting and post-traumatic stress.
When I come home, when I come home, oh, I hear you washing in the shower
Mirages of you, mirages of you, even steam pouring through the crack at the floor
That unspoken: I miss _______.
Person after person kept calling me strong. And people love to tell you that when you’ve been through something they can’t fathom, something they don’t want to talk about: you’re not only strong but brave. A survivor. Invincible. When all I wanted was to name the implicit contradiction, I was simultaneously desperate to embody the praise. I wanted to believe myself as tough as I kept being told I was, because if I could do that, be a superhero, a survivor, maybe I wouldn’t lose it. Maybe I could hold steady long enough to actually heal. I’d find myself taking the longest-possible way home, singing:
I CAN LIFT A CAR! I CAN LIFT A CAR! I CAN LIFT A CAR! UP! ALL BY MYSELF!
I can live through the thing.
I can life a car UP! I can lift a car UP!
Because of course I can. Like the narrator of this song which hides its wounds but bleeds and bleeds and bleeds if given the chance.
I felt like I could lift a car, too, because I could fill my hurt body with sound, blast that song till my speakers fuzzed out, scream. Remember my deep, desperate sadness. My fear. My weak. My confused. My, still, love.
In my infinite, total, unstoppable badass. I lived.