learning love songs

est. 2008




“Didn’t I tell you that I could hear you running out?
Didn’t I find you when I knew you were hiding out?
Didn’t I see you when you thought you’d never stand out?
Didn’t I find you?”

~When You Thought You’d Never Stand Out
Copeland, Eat, Sleep, Repeat

Probably one of Copeland’s best uses of the string section, little trills and arpeggios opening up early on before diving into a full-on orchestral fall. Something about this song is eternally stunning and stilling. The piano helps. So do the carefully woven vocal parts. Though I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the return of Copeland via “Ixora,” and while I’m deeply sorry their tour won’t be possible for me to see this summer, I find myself very much soothed and invigorated by their past catalog, today and forever after, as ever I was.

Some songs don’t get old. They don’t get tired. They just reveal themselves, new again, and deeper than before, steeped in warm memories but fresh again in the light of the still-cold present.


So I’m sitting here alone on New Year’s Day trying to finish writing about my favorite albums of 2014, and I’m trying to care about these little moments I can remember with these songs and why they matter and why I liked them, and I keep stopping myself, thinking what is the point? What does a list like this even mean? Especially when published on a blog no one reads?

At the moment, I guess it is something to do with my hands. But I also know the importance of reflection, of finding meaning in our memories. I am so attached to my music. I am so inspired by it and connected to it, it sorts the feelings into boxes and puts them where they need to be. I am never alone when I have songs in my ears, in my head, or my heart, and this is a lifesaver, in no uncertain terms. If that sounds insipid or overdramatic to you, then you have never wrestled with emotions so intense you can’t breathe, so overwhelming you cannot think, only to be brought back down to earth by something other than yourself – for me, that something is most often music. I may be struggling today but I won’t be struggling forever, at least, not anymore than I always was or ever would be, and sitting here typing, replaying my favorite songs of the year, might be the best way to stay grounded tonight. So here goes, here’s what I loved in 2014, with the best reflection my tired, tragic memory can provide:

This Wild Life – Clouded
So emo, so angsty, and still so pretty. This was an evening record, mostly, or a Saturday afternoon jam. These songs are little stories you can wrap your head around, and harmonies you can sing along with, easy chords to strum. These songs lash out with some serious spiteful lines, but they’re so gentle in their own way.  Just a lovely little record worthy of attention, especially in sadness.

“And I just need a day, to shed this dead weight, and to get my head straight
I just want to let go, I just want to be left alone.”

Coldplay – Ghost Stories 
Chris Martin at his most maudlin gave me so much solace this year. I don’t care of the critics panned it. I thought “Ghost Stories” was beautiful, and sad, and strange and even trendy, at times. It didn’t try too hard, its muted drums and elegant little trills are so soft and rich. This record is the middle of the night and early in the morning, it is the hours no one else needs to see.

“Call it magic, cut me into two
And with all your magic, I disappear from view
And I can’t get over, can’t get over you
Still, I call it magic, such a precious truth”

Have Mercy – A Place of Our Own
Please keep pulling my heart strings, Brian Swindle. I sang-screamed so much to this record and it felt so good every time. I love how this band manages a scene-appropriate aggression with poignant, intelligent metaphors and lyrics. They’re so dramatic. I love the way they toy with dynamics, not afraid to get too loud or too soft in anticipation of what’s to come. “The Earth Pushed Back” has its own relevance in 2014 but this new release gave me something to hold onto. Expecting to play this more in 2015, starting tomorrow, probably.

“I’m the pawn and you’re the rook, 
And you played me like a crook, 
I never wanted it to end this way.”

Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams
Some people are just born gifted. Ryan Adams is one of those people. No matter how long he stays away he comes back with something brilliant and beautiful, like it just pours right out of his soul to play excellent guitar and write heartfelt, resonating songs. “Gimme Something Good” was an anthem of sorts, as was “Feels like Fire,” but its the slower, very songwriter-y moments that make up the meat of Adams’ self-titled,  and he shines in this kind of arrangement. He is troubled and sad, he is older and wiser, but I will never tire of the lessons Ryan Adams has to offer, from the structure of a pre-chorus to the capacity to live with regret.

“Just so you know, you will always be the hardest thing I will let go 
Driving past your church and all the houses in a row, feeling in my chest is fire.” 

Taylor Swift – 1989
It’s so good. It’s so, so good. Of course it is. She’s something of a generational icon at this point, I’d say, and I’m not going to join the ranks of the eye-rolling haters who are probably just jealous there’s someone talented and beautiful out there. I’ve never heard a Taylor Swift record I didn’t like and “1989” is full of so many excellent, smart, full-feeling moments that prove what a great songwriter she is. This album is vulnerable and mature, but also quite hopeful, and for that I’ve found it a pretty reliable listen in most moods.  It is also draped all over my last quarter of 2014. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to listen to this album and not remember the feel of a hand in mine, singing to someone who seemed not mind listening, the way the hillsides along the Ohio River shone in the afternoon sun.

“So it’s gonna be forever
Or it’s gonna go down in flames
You can tell me when it’s over
If the high was worth the pain.”

The Hotelier- Home, Like No Place There Is
What a fantastic find this band was….I am hooked on their tenor and tones, I am floored by their words, and I am wishing that I had more to say about this record that I’ve listened to so many times. I hope we hear more this band, because I think they’re onto something with the big-time choruses, and the drawn-out melodies, and the scathing honesty of pain and promise and self-destruction that lurks all over this record. I’m glad young, scrappy bands like The Hotelier are still out there making excellent indie rock music. I’m glad they give off something dark and just a little tormented, unashamed to be equal parts fragile and aggressive, which is really something of a combination, when you get down to it.

“I called in sick from your funeral 
The sight your family made me feel responsible.”

The Menzingers – Rented World
If I were in a band, I’d want it to be like The Menzingers. I fell hard for this band in 2013, in Pennsylvania, their home state, and I’ve only grown more attached to them. “Rented World” felt heavy and dark compared to their past productions, and maybe it was a little more serious than the pop-punk, mosh-prone crowds of their youthful fan base could handle, but I took it to heart, I embraced it fully. Really hope this band continues to tour, continues to write, continues to wow me with their mastery of the pop punk song, although their sound transcends, mostly through vocals and the hint of jams, into something a little more broad sometimes. “Rented World” is a jaded record, it is over everything, and I fucking love everything about it, because that is the kind of company that is  hard to find in a world where faking it is so damn profitable, so damn easy, so damn common.

“I’ve tried running, I’ve tried hiding, I’ve tried everything but dying
Damn the days we took for granted, never again will I let alone close to me.
Yeah, me and the rodent in the wall have more in common after all.”
The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream
Sprawling, echoing and gorgeous, how could anyone listen to this and not fall in love? What I love most about this record is how contemplative it is, but with a layer of lonely discovery somewhere close to the foundation. It never loses its cool but dips into darkness, exploring all sorts of strange sonic places yet unheard by modern audience. There’s influences aplenty, but the sound is something of its own creation – it is so damn difficult to make something this effortless. This is easily one of the most acclaimed records of the year, but I will love it always for other reasons, too, for the wistful state its mere mention, let alone a listen, inflicts on my mind.

“Love’s the key to the things that we see
And don’t mind chasing
Leave the light on in the yard for me”

Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties – We Don’t Have Each Other
For when you heart is at your knees. For when your head is in dark places. For when inspiration can’t be found. In a critical sense, Dan Campbell’s side project is an incredible display of passion, intensity, talent and literary guise; from a personal standpoint, this album is a friend in depression, a companion for constant sadness. The scenes of New York and cars and bars are so vivid to me, and there’s something cinematic about the narrator’s desolation that I find quite a familiar story. I won’t ever forget meeting Campbell at the Four Chords Music Fest this year, and telling him how great I thought this album was. “Thank you,” he said, nodding slightly, and an hour later he’d go on to tear it the fuck up fronting The Wonder Years. I might not work in the business, I might not surround myself with musicians and bands the way I once did, but I do know a true talent when I see it. This guy’s got it.

“If I lay here long enough, maybe the bugs will eat me whole.
If I stay here long enough, maybe the night would take me home.”

Copeland – Ixora
It’s difficult for me to explain how much I’ve loved this album in the latter of this year. I can’t think of any other record that came out in 2014 that was so closely intertwined with my mornings, my nights, my thoughts and feelings. It is sad, it is sweet, it is symphonic, it is oddly experimental and it is strength is subtle. There’s no question this is my favorite album of the year, because no other has been as much a comfort. This album is hearts too heavy to sleep and knees to weak to stand, it is compassion and kindness found in the most unlikely places, it is desire mixed with perspective, which is such a strange, beautiful combination. I love how serene even the most heightened of moments are. I am so happy this band came back, especially now, at this time, when the sound of something familiar and fresh is so necessary, and also because time has only made their accomplishments more pronounced and produced. The tapestry of strings, guitars and drumskins is balanced so perfectly. You hear so much of the room on this record. I smile to think of all the studio hours spent pouring over this, because to me, that is dedication to perfection and striving to make your work shine the brightest it can, and I am inspired by that. I am in love with the love poured into this record, and its story of sensual struggle. Can’t wait to get it on vinyl. I hope to get lost in “Ixora” over and over again, hope to feel comforted by it and feel satisfied by it. Something tells me, reflecting on the moments I’ve spent with it so far, that might be the soundest start to this next year I can hope for.
“You’re still a breeze upon my skin, close my eyes, breathe you in.
I’m still the shadows in your night, taking over, until I fade into your light.
But you won’t erase me.
Heaven or hell will have to wait.
You won’t erase me.
So you just color me from grey.”

Honorable Mentions

Modern Baseball
I saw this band three times in 2014. The only other bands I’ve seen that many times are Brand New and Jimmy Eat World, which are my favorite bands ever, which is funny to me, but they tour like animals and their songs are fun as heck. Definitely a standout act of the year.

Angels & Airwaves
I am so hooked on The Wolfpack but haven’t gotten my hands on a copy of the album. Just glad they’re back, as I will never tire of this band’s spacey, delay-fueled aesthetic.

Ingrid Michaelson
“Lights Out” has some really excellent moments.  That hook in “Girls Chase Boys” is some kind of earworm. She continues to a preeminent songwriter.

I’ll never forget the look of Jason Alan Butler dropping rose petals from his hands around the mic, and when he climbed up the speakers to the balcony at Altar Bar, latching onto the base only to shimmey across with a mic cord around his neck, then crowdsurf back to the stage. More shows like this in 2015, please.

Brand New
I saw Brand New at Stage AE in Pittsburgh this year. They continue to amaze.They continue to toy with their fanbase in these miserable little ways, teasing recordings and studio time and old-new tracks. Brand New is going to put out an album next year Actually, they probably won’t. But they could. They should. They will. I think.

Here’s to all there will be to listen to in 2015, and all the hope, comfort and companionship those albums, too, will provide.


I won’t ever feel better than I do when I hear the perfect song at the perfect time. Or, at least, I don’t think I will, not when it is the ultimate comfort and satisfaction, the blissful calm in the middle of a perfect storm.

This morning I awoke to the new Copeland track and found it incredibly perfect. The slowness, the stillness, the build. This much piano is a delight, a refreshing classic delight, adorned with muted-before-spotlit rhythm, delicate falsetto and the swells of carefully strummed electric guitars. I’ve said “Ixora” is one of my most anticipated albums of this year and this track, “Erase,” delivers nothing I could have imagined and everything I hoped to hear.

The first time I heard Copeland, I was in the passenger seat next to a boy I liked. I was a sophomore in high school. He was wonderful. So was “Beneath Medicine Tree,” and its expounding emotion in heartbreakers like “Brightest” and “California,” and assertive pleas like “There Cannot Be a Close Second.” In a time and scene where this thoughtful sound fulfilled a softer side, I knew this band showcased talent of raw ability but I did not realize what potential there was to come.

Each of their full-lengths holds a special space in my musical memory. “In Motion” was a proper follow, hitting the same highs and extending past, then “Eat, Sleep, Repeat” tread further down the path of introspection. Then “You are My Sunshine” delivered their most masterful musical performance yet, a full-out tapestry of shades and tones and trills in the most serene, composed way. I’ve generally thought the mark of a true artist is one who can always grow, the one who is the effortless, endless ivy climbing up the wall, not the bold, bright petunias that will die with the coming season.

The more I listen to “Erase,” the more I notice its brilliant little choices. How there isn’t really any standard structure, but there is melody that carries and travels and comes to confluence with something like a refrain. How deploying the kick and the string section so close together creates a beautiful kind of crescendo, worthy of a symphony stage. How the spark of inspiration that roused these words is the stark scene of a singular, complex feeling, a feeling of melancholy, ache and tragic realism, a feeling that is love without mention of the cursed and capitalized word.

In this state, with this hope, I’m so looking forward to Nov. 24. I’m so looking forward to hearing more and getting lost. I missed out on the “Ixora” pre-order that comes with the one-week-early release, which was silly of me. That’s alright, as I believe this one will be worth trying to hunt down in record stores rather than clicking through for it on iTunes. This one I want to hold onto. This one I want to study from all sides.

When I hear songs like this, when I listen to the soft honesty of pretty words and take in the brimming strings that serve as curtain to the patient epic grandeur, I cannot help but be inspired for something more to come. The music we hear that comes to mean something in our lives can come from so many places, and it can see us through so many more. Who can know how any art or life or love will grow?

“Sweetest taste, your armor
I can never know
Feeling, hold you’re honor
Bright as falling snow
Now your heaven keeps me honest
But you can see my grey has faded
And you can’t erase it

Never, I know you’re waiting
Listening to your heart
No one seems to notice
That all my broken parts get mended

But I feel alone
And you can’t erase it again

From my words your will was broken
Knowing I’ll never get it back

Feeling all your worries, I can never know
Bleeding for your kindness, I cannot control
Heaven or your Hell when
I have nothing to offer you now
When you feel alone
But you can’t erase it again

You’re still a breeze upon my skin
Close my eyes, breathe you in
I’m still the shadows in your night
Taking over until I fade into your light
But you won’t erase me
Heaven or hell will have to wait
You won’t erase me
So you just colored me from grey

Oh, through the grey
I thought I saw your face
In there I was searching
And I saw these days
When you didn’t know my name, oh
I can’t help this awful feeling
That I can’t erase you.”

Copeland, Ixora


Mysterious, moody, symphonic and subtle, Copeland songs get under my skin something fierce. Whenever I listen to them, I obsess indefinitely, because they have this way of sinking my heart and lifting my spirits at the same time. 
Here, in this song, it’s in the strings, it’s in the falsetto, it’s in their ever-immaculate ability to hold a silence before sweeping in with something grand and beautiful. I love the delay on the first guitar line in this song, how it echoes like a memory. Earlier Copeland sounds a lot more like their indie alt-rock counterparts of the early 2000s, with guitar solos and distortion as prominent as the piano that was something of their trademark, but since then, their composition skills easily outshined their peers beyond a full-band sound, embracing varied instruments and atmosphere. They’ve honed in on the cerebral. 
Everything about their music is highly self-aware. Copeland excels musically and lyrically, I think, because of precise, note-by-note layering and equally precise introspection. But those thoughts are present, and poetic, offering thoughts and observations along with the spilling of guts. So it never feels that sad, it never feels that vulnerable, as an element of reason counterbalances all that feeling. For a listener such as me, what a gift. Even in their more depressing narratives, such as this, defeat is skewed with a slight, desperate promise of hanging on and getting lost in songs. 

The next Copeland album, the first since the magnificent “You are My Sunshine” in 2008 and their subsequent hiatus, comes out this October. I cannot wait. With the many events and experiences I know I have on the horizon, and the thoughts and feelings swimming about, I’ll know I’ll want something deep and meaningful to cling to, and a much-anticipated reunion release from a band that’s consistently blown me in away could be exactly the right fit.

“You see the night is all I have to make me feel,
And all I want is just a love to make it hurt.
Cause all I need is something fine to make me lose.
Now it’s a funny way I find myself with you.

Because this song is all I have to make me feel,
And all it takes is just a love to make it hurt.
And every sound arranged in time can make me lose.
Now it’s a funny way I find myself with you.

But now there’s nothing left to do but waste my time.
I never knew where to move on.
I never knew what to rely upon.
And now there’s nothing left to say to change your mind.
And if you’re are unhappy still,
I will be hanging on your line should you return.
Should you return, should you return.

Because the night is all I have to make me feel,
And all I want is just a dream to make it worthwhile.
Cause all I need is someone close to make me lose.
Now it’s a funny way I find myself with you.

But now there’s nothing left to do but waste my time.
I never knew where to move on.
I never knew what to rely upon.

But now there’s nothing left to say to change your mind.
And if you’re unhappy still,
I will be hanging on your line.

But now there’s nothing left to do to draw you eyes.
I never knew where to move on.
I never knew what to rely upon.
But now there’s nothing left to say to change your mind.
And if you’re just sinking down,
I will pulling on your line.

But now there’s nothing left to do but waste my time.
I never knew where to move on.
I never knew what to rely upon.
But now there’s nothing left to say to change your mind
And if you’re unhappy still,

I will be hanging on your line should you return.
Should you return, should you return.

~Should You Return
Copeland, You Are My Sunshine


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Copeland is some of the best morning music around, and their last gorgeous LP fits that title among the best of it.

At one point I may have called this something of a sleeper track, as I’ve always been instantly struck by the captivating sound and spot-on stories of of “Good Morning Fire Eater” and “Strange and Unprepared.” But today, the little toy piano, and the tension-fueled, just-so-distorted delay of the lead guitar caught my ear. A fresh sound is hard one to find, but Copeland seemed to always succeed in finding one. And how hard to ignore that refrain delicately layered over a drum-fueled, measured pace and smart, heart-swelling harmonics, driven by all the longing in the world….this is one of those songs that creeps up on you  a bit, that sinks in and settles at all the right moments. While I’ve always loved the Copeland catalog, and the early chapters are incredibly meaningful, this album is probably the one I play most often these days, because it starts off the days just right.

“In the moments before time starts moving backward,
I will feel her hand in the palm of mine.

And the cities will return to the field of flowers,
And every step we took tracing back in line.
And in disarray, you just want to live one more day.

Cause you just want to be happy now.
To be happy now.

To be happy now.

Longing and sorrow,
Well they will find you where we are,
Smiling down the avenue.
And the children getting younger as we pass,
They couldn’t make you turn back.

Cause you just want to be happy now.
To be happy now.
To be happy now.

When every fire we sparked was just another blinking out,
They’re glowing like an ember in the dark.

Cause you just want to be happy now.
To be happy now.
To be happy now.”

~To Be Happy Now
Copeland, You Are My Sunshine


I have a secret theory a lot of Copeland songs would sound really amazing arranged for an orchestra. One that performs somewhere outside at night, under stars, with amphitheater-style staging and crowds scattered on the lawn.

A decent amount of their songs, especially on the last two albums, have quite varied instrumentation, but I think this would translate well, too. S’all in my head.

Lately I’ve been tearing songs apart and listening to everything as best I can, then trying to pluck out solos even if I know they are too hard for me to pull off, stretching tendons and forcing precision in the meantime. It is pretty much the only thing I can do lately that really distracts me from the rest of my life, the rest of the world and these ridiculous people I find in it that I no longer know what to say to anymore. Music = better option.

“Go if you want
Make your way straight to the door
I hope that you look back before you go
Because grace looks perfect before it starts to leave

It’s a fight between my heart and mind
No one really wins this time
No one really wins this time…”

~No One Really Wins This Time
Copeland, In Motion


For the first time in seven years, no one will be at the hill to light a candle.

This is very sad to me, but we knew this day would come. We talked about it, wondering how long we’d all be close enough – regionally and emotionally – to get together, commemorate, cry, wonder. But seven years went by, and here it is.

“There we stand about to fly/Peeking down over land/Parachute behind/What was that moment for which we lived?/Without a parachute, about to dive?” ~Parachute – Guster, Parachute

We started the tradition shortly after Lizzie’s funeral, which felt formal and social and unbelievably sad. I don’t remember crying during the church service; I do remember eating a turkey sandwich in the vestibule that tasted like cardboard, the first bites of real food I’d had in days. I remember the lines of people, classmates and community members, wrapping around the church, and wondering why some of these people were here and giving me hugs, and then I remember Tim grabbing me by the shoulders with tears in his eyes when it was clear that neither of us was processing what was going on around us.

Shortly after, a group of us brought candles to the hill where we’d spent many summer nights, the one at my elementary school down the street from my house, and the one I’d walked to from my grandmother’s for years on end. It became the de facto central spot of Tim, Liz, Dan and I for sneaking out, meeting up and making out. We’d call out meet-ups “snizzling,” why exactly I do not remember, but the invented verb worked. “Hey, what time do you want to snizzle?” That was the best summer. You could see the whole school from the top of the hill, the baseball diamond and the soccer field, and the trees obscured extending suburbia. It felt peaceful, private, ours.

“But right now/Everything is turning blue/And right now/The sun is trying to kill the moon/And right now/I wish I could follow you/To the shores/Of freedom/Where no one lives” ~Honey and the Moon – Joseph Arthur, Redemption’s Son

One year later, we sat at the hill again, feeling lost, missing a limb. The hospital felt lightyears away though it had only been a week or so…the timeline was as fuzzy then as it is for me today. We lit candles, talked, cried and laughed then sat in silence, played Guster on our iPods, and let the candles burn as we walked away.

I think of her all the time. Less now, then I used to maybe, and that is a shameful reality, but the thoughts come on with the same wistful intensity. But the heart-heavying truth that someone so beautiful could die at 16…that means more to me now than it did then. One of the last phone calls we had was about how excited we were for college, how we wanted senior year to hurry up and leave so we could go somewhere new. She was thinking about going to school for art, or maybe English, possibly at this one private school near Albany. I wanted to go to Boston or New York, somewhere glamorous. We’d definitely go shopping together for dorm room furnishings, though, and we’d totally visit on the weekends. I remember Liz used to say that, when she decided to start drinking alcohol, she’d never want a screwdriver, because liquor would taint the purity of her beloved orange juice. Somewhat ironically, I am drinking a mimosa as I write this, thinking maybe she would’ve come around.

She was better than me, better than most, in so many ways.

Finding out about what happened was surreal, fate and my worst nightmares converged. I was sitting on my couch in the plant-filled, window-paneled Florida room with Tim’s older brother, feeling flirty and happy and thrilled he wanted to hang out with me. His dad called and I instantly knew something was wrong. His hands started shaking and  then he told me what happened. We rushed to the hospital, and I kept saying “Maybe it’s not that bad, maybe she’ll be OK.” I remember him saying something about possible brain damage.

I remember the first night at the hospital, sitting in a chair outside her room, my friends scattered around. A nurse gave me one of those flimsy hospital blankets and told me usually, they don’t let this many people in the ICU overnight, but they’d make an exception. I half-slept, hearing gray words and seeing whispered feelings of the nurses and Liz’s family, “Can you believe they’re all staying?,” “This is so sad,” “Do they think she’ll wake up?”

Seeing Liz’s dad Mike was the hardest. You could tell he was trying to be strong, but a man can only take so much loss and this was his only little girl. I remember how he’d gather us all for updates after such-and-such test or scan. They had to wait for her brain swelling to go down some before they’d know how bad the damage was and if she could wake up, something like that. The medical version of what was happening to my friend was beyond me, at that point, I just wanted to know if she’d ever be her again.

“I’ve gotta bust you outta here somehow/I’ve never seen your heart this tired/I’ve never seen your spirit held down/I know that you say/This is what you get/For being a bad child/But I know this will be your reward/In just a little while/In just a little while/It’s testing the strong ones/Scarring the beautiful ones/It’s holding the loved ones/One last time” ~ Testing the Strong Ones – Copeland, Beneath Medicine Tree

She was so small in that hospital bed, she was a tiny girl as it was. But a spunky tiny, you noticed Lizzie in a room. Her arrival at Eastridge was not uncontroversial. Who was this adorable girl with the short hair and Snapples and why was she befriending all our crushes? We became friends when I found out she liked Brand New, and we were pretty inseparable from that point on, the beginning of a social circle that exists, on some level, to this day. Here, in the hospital, the looming monitors and tubes in her mouth made Lizzie seem so small, and weak, contrary to everything I knew her to be. Her eyes were shut, but clearly swollen with fluid. Her dark curly pixie cut was matted back against her bandaged skull, her toes were polished.

We made playlists, full of Elliott Smith and Guster and Jimmy Eat World, songs we knew she’d love. We drew pictures, so many of my friends are amazingly talented artists. We bought journals to circulate, making sure they had the right looks to them (“Circles, not squares”), and wrote our feelings out, messages to Lizzie and God. We sat next to her bed and held her hand, I remember telling the nurse when I saw blood coming out of her left ear. I remember her telling me that can happen in situations like this, don’t worry, and all I could think was how fucking unbelievable this was. I still don’t know what happened in that car.

Crisis friendships formed, even one between Tim and Liz’s new boyfriend Greg who went to a different school. They’d met at Alexandria Bay — Lizzie loved the water, and the long drive there, too, so she could read and write and think. Dan and I began talking again, whatever we were fighting about instantly became irrelevant when faced with the loss of this mutual cornerstone to our existence. Liz had so many friends, some we’d never met from her past school and from the bay, and we shared our stories and memories to pass the time. We kept talismans close — the friendship bracelets she made, the notes, the decorated song lyrics, the mix CDs. Everything that was her favorite became a lifeline.

“When I was younger and thought of myself/I never dreamed I’d become like this/A snap of your fingers/An end to the argument/Anything for you, love” ~Ramona – Guster, Keep it Together

Six days in the hospital, living in this haze, going home to shower and fake sleep and going right back. My parents asked me if I wanted to sleep at home one night. No, I told them. No, because if this is the last time I get to see her, I need to be there. Where else would I be?

I remember not knowing what to say most of the time. I remember crying lots, then being unable to cry. I remember throwing up in hospital bathrooms. I remember us dragging a couch from one lounge into the other so we’d have more room to hang out. I remember laughter feeling awkward but necessary, as we distracted ourselves between updates.

That Saturday, doctors told Mike what was happening. She wouldn’t be able to breathe on her own. She had limited brain activity. Nothing else we can do, doctors said. At least, this is how I remember it. All I knew was that my friend was going to die. This wonderful girl I’d spent so much time with, shared so much with, was not going to make it.

They brought in some therapist to talk to us. We sat in a big circle in a conference room. No one really had anything to say. Dan and I made jokes about each other, feigning normalcy in the face of something so horrible. We were such kids, who thought we’d knew it all and felt it all, only to realize none of us can ever know anything for certain.

I said goodbye to Liz that night, holding her tiny, tiny hand in both of mine and saying “I’ll see you someday.” I didn’t want to go home, so I called a couple trusted girlfriends to pick me up and drive me to the pier. The water was so, so stormy, and the sky was thick with black clouds, stars invisible. The world was menacing and awful and I screamed and screamed and screamed, mostly nonsense but a lot of “whys.” I think we went to the diner after, and I ordered black coffee.

“So what would you think of me now?/So lucky, so strong, so proud?” ~Hear You Me – Jimmy Eat World, Bleed American

Senior year started shortly thereafter, and I was a shell of who I was the year before. I left campus when I wasn’t supposed to, smoked cigarettes outside the courtyard window. I became very ill in October, stayed home for a month with mono and slept through most of it. Back at school, none of us wanted to be there, but we made the most of it, I think. We didn’t talk about her much — Tim least of all — and we pretended we were into what we were doing. I re-started the school newspaper to help pass time, taught extra hours at the dance studio on the weekends. Every now and then one of us would reach out to one another to cry, to remember her, or to pontificate on the meaning of life and death. We knew none of us would ever be the same, but we were stronger. We were prepared. Nothing would ever hurt this much again, we knew.

The following summer, before we left for college, we still lit candles at the hill even though it wasn’t the exact anniversary. We were going our separate ways, but we’d be back, we told each other. We’d always be back. Through the years the attendance has varied depending on who is in town. I’ve missed two of these events myself, though I made sure to call and find out when it was, made sure they’d remember me there, too. Mostly, lately,  we talk about how fast life seems to be changing, how we’re growing up. And we’ve talked about how our memories of her still live somewhere in the back of our minds, but it’s harder to see her than it was the year before.

I cling to the details I have, of her gorgeous brown eyes and tiny hands, the shirts she always wore and the purse she often slung across her shoulder. The way she’d rub your nose when you were sad, and it was weird, but it helped calm you down and made you smile. How she volunteered at summer Bible camps. The incredible sculptures she could make out of clay, ceramics, Snapple caps, whatever you gave her to transform. The amazing things she could do with Sharpies. The way we made fun of our pre-calc teacher in class and pretended we didn’t care but always tried to ace the tests. Her poetry. The times she talked me off the ledge. The depth of the darkness she had herself and tried to hide, and the strength she’d always seem to find.

She would’ve been amazing. She would’ve graduated, gone on to school, gotten rid of so much that was bringing her down. She would’ve been the coolest indie chick on campus. Her talents as an artist, a writer, a thinker, would’ve become even more obvious. They would’ve gotten her far. She would’ve been brilliant. She already was.

“Heaven’s not a place that you go when you die/It’s that moment in life when you actually feel alive/so live for the moment/And take this advice live by every word/Love is just a hoax so forget everything that you’ve heard/And live for the moment now” ~The Tide – The Spill Canvas, Sunsets and Car Crashes

Seven years. When you’re 17 you don’t know what it feels like to look back yet, you’re too busy focused on the present. High school is a bubble, these people are your world and the future is so far away. But now? On this side of perspective? If you told me that I am who I am, that I’ve done what I’ve done, I never would’ve dreamed life could be like this. But then again, at 17 I didn’t have much of an idea of what it was to be out in the world… I wonder if I would’ve made different choices if Liz hadn’t died.

Sometimes I think that her death gave us all a better shot at this life, in some cruel backwards way. We were talented but tortured and I wonder if the reality we were faced with at such an impressionable age gave us a perspective that no matter how hard life became, you’d be able to find your way out of it. Those were some of the darkest days, that week and the months thereafter, I’ve ever felt…by comparison, depression became a selfish endeavor and I think of all this when I begin to feel sorry for myself, when goddammit I am still alive aren’t I? I’ve made it this far, right? No point in giving up now.

Your identity shapeshifts after loss, you adapt to a new world minus this person who previously helped define it…but being able to remember her with others is a gift. Her 16, nearly 17, years on this earth were a gift, and we were lucky enough to receive it, blessed enough to learn from her. In the years since Liz’s death I’ve been so grateful to still be able to hold onto others who felt the same. Seven years and I still love them, respect them, wish them all the best in the world. I think this might be the start, though, of paths truly diverging. Where to, exactly, I don’t know, but I do know we’re not together lighting candles at the hill this weekend. That says enough…but I know, I have to know, that they wish we were all together as much as I do.

“You say go slow/But something’s right behind me/Can run away for so long/It will not stop/I will come down, oh no/Let me find way/I’ll take you the edge/Go across that window/And I’ll carry you there/Oh when nothing goes right/Oh when days don’t come to night/Oh when all I see is the error of my own enemy” ~Window – Guster, Parachute

“Will I still laugh with you 
Or has the damage been done 
I knew it couldn’t last forever 
But why’d it have to end so soon
Of course I will still see you 
It just won’t ever be the same 
Nothing really matters now that 
Forever has an end”
~Liz Williams


I never stop feeling strange
cause you never know if you really change
you can never tell if you’re center stage
is thin as glass, and never meant a thing
and you never feel good or bad only strange and unprepared
cause I never see you coming or you leaving
now we’ll always never know
now we’ll always
now we’ll always never know
now we’ll always

-Strange and Unprepared
Copeland, You Are My Sunshine


“You have my attention
Like you’ve had all the while
Since that first day when you made my heart smile
With loving eyes and tired sighs that flow
You have my attention
Like a shout through an empty sanctuary
Speak but a whisper
I’ll hear a sermon”
~You Have My Attention
Copeland, In Motion

Blog at

Up ↑