“A Year With” is a column where SAIC students reflect on the albums that got them through this past year.
It’s amazing what a long wait will do to a person. I bought Frank Ocean’s debut album, “Channel Orange,” on a day off from my job as a summer camp counselor after hearing: 1) the album was brilliant, and 2) Ocean had come out as bisexual. These are still immediately compelling criteria for my music consumption. However, this was 2012, and I was still coming into my sexuality. Frank Ocean became someone who was singing about me, for me, and that was immeasurably important.
Here are some things that happened in the four years (and change) between the release of “Channel Orange” in and its 2016 follow-up, “Blonde”: I graduated from college; I came out; I left my dream job; I fell in love; I was fired from a job I really didn’t like; I was broken up with; I came to terms with my mother’s depression; I was accepted into graduate school; I mourned a massacre of my community in my home Orlando; I moved to Chicago.
Most of that happened in the last year-and-half during my wait for “Blonde.”
So when August 20, 2016, rolled around, not only was my long wait over, it felt like a new beginning. I was waking up in my new apartment, in a new city, beat down by recent events but ready for the comfort of Ocean singing about me, for me, again.
At that time, “Blonde” was a way to remember the past year or so without letting it hurt anymore. I wept and I blushed and I listened to André 3000’s verse (“Solo (Reprise)”) several thousand times in a row — and it’s not even my favorite track on the album. I felt empathized-with to the fullest degree. I felt understood.
Here are some things that have happened since the release of “Blonde” a year ago: I finished writing a play; I made new friends; I had a reading at RhinoFest; I performed with Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble; my grandfather died; I made a playlist titled “Sad Gay” that is made up entirely of Frank Ocean songs and I listen to it when I’m feeling morose (and gay); I went through two smaller break-ups; it was revealed that my mother was only depressed because she had a massive brain tumor (which was promptly and deftly removed upon discovery); and I survived my first Chicago winter.
“Blonde” has been there for every minute of it.
I’m sitting on furniture that’s new to me: a red chair big enough to fit three people snugly. But it’s just me. I’m awake ahead of my roommate and I’m listening to Frank put weight on me that feels familiar. It’s August in Chicago, a new type of August, lighter than Florida and North Carolina. And it feels like the heat of home, Nikes melting to the pavement, standing ground, resting ground of Trayvon and Pulse. I am still healing, my community is still healing. On the Red line, I pass a sign that proclaims standing with Orlando every day until one day it’s replaced. Capitalism and the housing market’s memories don’t last longer than a year. I find myself missing the sign that someone else remembers.
Lying in bed, staring at the ceiling feeling still. I am okay, thinking about my last year. Losing control and succumbing to consequences I knew I’d suffer doesn’t make me any less myself. At one time, this was hard to recognize. But if I lie perfectly still, if I daydream back to mistakes, I let them be. I let myself be. I feel the fabric, the sunlight, the mess, and I am perfectly still in every place and time I visit. This is some semblance of self-control or self-esteem or self, period. And it finally feels good.
Driving from Chicago to D.C. to the Women’s March, it’s all brake lights and evergreens the whole way. I was supposed to meet up with my partner, but we separated and are going to D.C. separately. I am navigating the feeling of being close to a long-distance relationship without seeing her. And what if I do see her? I know we aren’t good for each other over great distances. I think I should change the song which puts me in a different time and place, on a different road. But I don’t.
In Boystown for the first time, recovering still from the recent breakup through friends. The dance floor might as well be a foreign country. Despite my best efforts, I don’t speak the language, but I keep trying. A girl smiles at me from across the room. I know I won’t talk to her tonight, but I smile back. I think, if I sing loudly enough, I’ll be just fine.
Ocean sings, “There will be mountains you won’t move.” Sapphire, North Carolina is lost to me. I will keep going back there thinking it hasn’t changed, but something else has. “You’ll look down on where you came from sometimes.” I’ll only go back to Florida for holidays thinking, “I never wanted to come back here.” Until a funeral. Until my mother has a tumor that has been growing since I started growing. Until the tumor is removed, and I can’t go back because of work.
I’m driving to my next ex’s house knowing I’m going to tell her I’m having a hard time going through hard times with her as my partner. I want this to be a moment where I’m making the right decision, but I know she won’t see it that way. My friends will agree with me when I tell them my reasoning behind the break-up; they’ll say that I am using a good metric. One friend will bring it up later, will have been thinking about it a lot; he’ll give me an indirect compliment about the way I am during death and chaos and their aftermaths. He says the way people act in hard times is indicative of who they are. I hope this means I’m good.
That rollercoaster of a year attests to the versatility of Ocean’s work. “Blonde” exemplifies the way music salves wounds past and recent. It shows how music can amplify triumphs. No matter how a day went, if it ended with “Blonde,” I was some kind of alright.