Welcome to Formative Jukebox, a column exploring the personal relationships people have with music. Every week, I or a guest writer will tackle a song, album, show, or musical artist and their influence on our lives. Tune in every week for a brand new essay.
June 25, 2014 was the first time I listened to FKA twigs; I know this not because I have some sort of supernatural memory, but because I keep pretty good records of my listening habits on Last.fm. That day, I played through five of her songs. Four of them are great; the fifth is “Water Me.”
“Water Me” is a song about wanting to grow with a person, a partner, who doesn’t think the relationship is worth its time. Or, as twigs sings it in a strangled whisper, “I’ve set the fee / He said it’s too much in pounds.” She reaches her hand out, and he lets it fall; “He told me I was so small / I told him ‘Water me’.”
May 11, 2014 is the day I became pregnant. Or maybe it was May 12; but the act that launched the pregnancy took place on May 11, which would be insignificant on its own if it hadn’t been Mother’s Day that year. As my partner and I lied on my bedroom floor, sun streaming through the small set of bay windows in my tiny room, I thought, briefly, that something was off. But I was in love; my heart was an overflowing glass and I was drinking in the beauty of the world, of the man next to me, of my own body, which had been the source of so much anguish in my teenage years. I was nervous about graduating college and supporting myself, but I was sure that things were going to work out. I had a job; I was living with friends; I wasn’t going to be alone and unloved, for a long time at least.
Less than two months later, I walked into a Planned Parenthood with an empty stomach, having spent the past week violently expelling every crumb of food and drink from my body. The day before had been Independence Day, and while the rest of my friends had gorged on ribs at a beachside BBQ, I’d cried myself to sleep in my broken twin bed, hands clasped with my partner’s in some sort of demented prayer. Even though I didn’t say it out loud, I kept thinking of every way I had “failed.” To be a responsible person. To be a safe person. To be a smart person. To be a daughter. To be a mother.
The first meal I had, and kept down, after my abortion was ribs, which I ate lustily as the fat dripped down the length of my trembling arms.
One night a couple of months ago, I was on the verge of a panic attack, something I’ve had on and off throughout college and began to have more regularly this year. Normally, I suffer them alone, but this time I was with my partner, who took action immediately and gently. With patient motion, he turned off the lights in his bedroom and held me, my back into his chest, as “Water Me” floated out of his speakers. Before that moment, I’d mostly only listened to FKA twigs’ LP1; his choice of song wasn’t surprising (he’s a fan of twigs as well), but for the first time, I listened closely, breathing in and out every two beats. The lyrics are simple, sad without being bitter, addressing loss and acceptance at once and as one.
“I promise I can grow tall / when making love is free.”
It hit me, hard: Yes, twigs was singing about her lover and the disparate valuation of love between them, but it’s easy to take the core sentiment of a song and transpose it onto something else. In my case, my lover was right next to me, tethering me to him as I shook with sudden sobs. The thing I’d “lost” had been gone for over a year, and yet here I was, still struck with the aftershocks.
Though I thought I’d known better than to berate myself for not having “known better,” in my head, I was the inattentive gardener in twigs’ song; as soon as my body had demanded more of me, I’d let it down. I’d let me down, and despite outwardly preaching self-love and self-care and the abandoning of shame and stigma for others, I hadn’t been able to do the same for myself. Except — what had I actually done wrong? I’d left no one and nothing behind; and here I was, with my relationships intact, with my future as clear and unclouded as a pure beam of light, or perhaps a pool of peerless water.
When “Water Me” finished, I didn’t feel changed—for the most part, my feelings about the past two years, about my relationships and the things we’ve gone through together, are the same. What did feel different was my understanding of it all — the pain, the loss, the love that my partner and friends wrapped around me, swaddling me in affection and support. I am grateful that I didn’t have to do it alone, and even more grateful that I don’t have to keep it a secret or constantly explain myself. That when the stakes rose, my loved ones met them. That when I felt small, they held me together and toward the future.
In August of 2015, in an interview about her EP M3LL155X, which plays on the nature of birth and motherhood, twigs shared this: “You can get pregnant with pain and birth creativity. You can birth being yourself. . .Being humble and staying committed to being the person you want to be despite criticism, prejudice, and everything you’ve been through. Just being you.”
To be your own: It is all you could ever want.
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(Image by Ignasi Monreal via Instagram.)