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That Smokehouse Growl
By Amy Joyce
Sometimes one can really lose their sense of self in a relationship. It all happens under the guise of love, I suppose, platonic or otherwise. I’m a people-pleaser and a nurturer, and I feel immense guilt whenever I say “no,” if I can even bring myself to do so. “Whatever you want” is my constant refrain. And most of the time, I’m genuinely pleased to carry out whatever particular want is in question. I like making other people happy, and I’ve always been that way. But after a certain point, it’s an obvious character flaw, and this “Like me, love me, please!” attitude ultimately came to define a completely awful, toxic, and thankfully ended relationship.
When I finally gathered the courage to end things with this person, an absolute surge of self-rediscovery flooded through me for months afterward: I found that I don’t like Indian food, I never have, and I doubt I’ll ever develop a taste for it now. I have a serious distaste for most kinds of anime, and I’ll never consider hiking an enjoyable pastime. And there are certain things I simply won’t tolerate in a relationship anymore, like my mental wellness being ignored and physical safety constantly being put at risk by someone who claims to ostensibly love me.
I can’t pinpoint the exact time that it occurred during those turbulent eight years, but as a random purchase at Best Buy, the music of Tom Waits is something I just happened upon. So different were the gravelly ballads on The Heart of Saturday Night than what was given to me on mix CDs given to me by this person. His wicked whimsy began to serve as a beacon for when I stupidly cared more about another person than I did myself, particularly someone who certainly didn’t deserve it.
Every once in a while, I’ll hear songs on the radio that were on these mix CDs. This particular music consisted of various genres that were never really to my taste and, ironically, love songs. Now I’ve come to see the CDs for what they really were: perfectly-timed peace offerings between the thinly veiled comments about whether or not I really should be eating that; the expectations that their plans always came first, regardless of what we’d previously decided or what I was comfortable doing; and the constant, underlying fear that I’d be pushed up against a wall during an argument again, with a grip that would leave bruises on my upper arms and me shaking for hours afterwards. Like how certain scents can trigger powerful memories, this music will do the same. Inevitably, the radio station will change with a sharp jab to the station presets and a derisive snort, and I’m usually able to go on about my day as though nothing happened.
In hindsight, some of these revelations really do seem minor, and others should maybe even be common damn sense. But each small realization signaled just how much I’d lost during the eight long years that this relationship dragged on, and the comfort I drew from Tom Waits’ music remained steadfast.
In the years since ending that relationship, I’ve found what I really enjoy on any given day: one is a glass of good whiskey, sitting on my back porch on a warm evening and relishing the stillness of the trees and honeysuckle; I’ll never turn down a chance to nestle into a pile of blankets on my couch and eat my weight in Vietnamese food, free from judgment, and watching The Long Island Medium. My current partner has long since resigned themselves to the fact that the only reason I’ll ever really watch a game of football is to see when it’s finally fucking ending, or if Beyoncé is performing during halftime. The avoidance of Indian food is actually common ground for the pair of us, though perhaps for different reasons at the core. And of course, I’ll never grow weary of listening to Tom Waits howling about magpies and hookers in that smokehouse growl.
Someone will, without fail, scoff at those barbaric yawps, including my partner. But what I hear when I listen to Tom Waits matters. It may only matter to me, but I’d spent years otherwise destroying myself for a peace of mind that never came, and the music of Tom Waits assisted me in finally getting it.
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