“It’s just the Civil Wars,” I tell myself as the song ticks out of my computer. “It’s just a song. Just a rhythm touching a melody.” I make my bed, folding ten year old sheets with none of their stretchiness over my college room memory foam pad, laugh at the soft hills and valleys. “It’s not anything to cry about.” I keep folding the same corner, feet glued to the ground, swaying back and forth. I put my hand to my mouth to stem the tears. “Come on, Hilary. It’s just a song!” I’m harsh with myself now, willing myself not to cry. Just a song. Just leaving. Just a wild and uncertain future. But the tears come faster, and I drop my hands, still holding the top sheet, standing in the scattered piles of books and papers and old photos of my parents’ wedding.
The song plays endlessly – I’ve left it on repeat from hours of rocking Saylor and Emmaline to sleep while their mamas work during the long afternoons. I hear the words again, and again. I wish you’d hold me when I turn my back. I wish they’d hold me, all these faces that have left. I wish they’d hold me, the gifts I forgot to hug an extra time at graduation in their billowing black robes. I wish they’d come storming into this room and catch me in their arms and remind me that this is the ache of leaving and it’s okay to stand in your home and be homesick. I don’t have a choice but I still choose you.
I still choose you. In the rhythm of the rain and the piano and the guitar. In the unmade bed and scattered shoeboxes. In the piles of letters I didn’t have the courage to write to you yet. In the small weeping.
It’s not just a song, I tell myself as I sit on the bed, smooth out a lump or two. The rain drips through the open window onto a pile of books, but I don’t hurry to fix it. The house has gone still. Outside, a car alarm begins to sound, but somehow it adds to the silence. I lace my fingers through each other, watch my knuckles turning white. I wipe the rest of my face with a corner of the sheet. It’s not just a song.