How Taylor Swift gave me the courage for a radical life change

My sister got engaged the same week I joined a farm. At least our parents could rest assured that one of us was normal. My decision was probably more spontaneous than her engagement. I’d been living in New York City for 5 years when I got the itch to go to Texas. Did I mention I knew nothing about farm life?

The sudden itch to transition from city life to country life was exactly as crazy as it sounds. I grabbed at the opportunity to travel, learn new skills, and move on from a freshly broken relationship. Being surrounded by awesome livestock was just another perk. Two weeks into my new life, I’d already poured learned how to clip duck wings and gotten pecked by chickens while picking eggs — all while listening to Taylor Swift.

It’s funny how songs get tied to moments in our memories. I went in to Austin on my first day off from the farm. On the bus ride there, I listened to Enchanted. Back in New York, I had once made a boy I was falling for listen to the same song. We were in his room after a long night out and I’d hijacked his Spotify. I jokingly apologizing for forcing him to listen to Taylor Swift, but he told me he didn’t mind, which is a pretty touching thing for a guy to say. Of course, halfway through the song he had to break the mood. At the best part, when Taylor sings please don’t be in love with someone else, he turned to me and said, “I’m not.” I laughed at his ego at the time, yet here I was, wishing things had gone differently back then, while rolling through Texas.

My friend Mo was the person who originally made me love that song. He’d put Enchanted on at least once a day at work, constantly reminding everyone that he’d cried to the song while driving through a snow storm. There’s a fine line between corny and beautiful, and he somehow managed to tow that line and make me love it, all at once.

Maybe there’s something about being in a moving vehicle that makes a person melodramatic, but staring out the window at the giant succulents lining the Texas highway, I kept thinking about that night in bed listening to Enchanted. I had been so in love with my boyfriend and my friends. So full of love like never before. Even better, there was a mutuality to this love. The moment was one of those rare perfect fragments of life, complete with the soundtrack of Taylor Swift wistfully singing this night is sparkling, don’t you let it go.

But then, I did let it go. Or maybe it let me go, and I’m still trying to learn how to let go of the memories that still haunt me. Who knows. Fast forward two years, and while I’m not on bad terms with either Mo or my ex, we don’t talk much anymore — it’s hard not to want to reach out to them when I hear a song that is so tied to our time together. The song is like a time warp; the notes are the same, and I am the same as well, technically. It’s just that everything else has changed. At the time, I believed that those relationships were forever. It turned out, they weren’t. Our lives split in different directions. The only variable that turned out to be eternal was the sound of Taylor Swift’s voice.

At Christmas dinner, my sister spun her shiny Tiffany ring around her finger while I picked at the bandaid wrapped around mine. At the farm, I’d gotten a cute splinter that turned into an even cuter infection. Earlier that day, when giving me the bandaid, my mom asked if I thought my sister was too young to get married. I admitted that when my sister told me the news, I panicked. Not for her, but for me. No, not in the way that you’re thinking. I was scared because suddenly the idea of something lifelong, something like vows, was so close to home. I support my sister, but her life is the opposite of mine. Her fiancé is her first real boyfriend. I’ve been getting my heart broken regularly since 16.

Heartbreak changes people. As a Taylor Swift fan, heartbreak is one of my favorite topics. At the end of the Out of the Woods music video, the screen goes black. White writing over the darkness reads: she lost him but found herself and somehow that was everything. Heartbreak has that power. Heartbreak makes being solo a lot less scary. It allows for transformation.

The instant answer is no. I could go without the grief, but the lesson behind heartbreak gave me the courage to travel the country by myself. Who cares if things did not go happily-ever-after in New York. Now I’m scheduled to farm in New Orleans and Alaska. According to the song, Taylor Swift’s year of miserable and magical was 22. The same was true for me. Now, I am 23 and free.

Laurel Marie Shimasaki is a writer and farmer, currently traveling the country trying to Figure It Out. Fan of cats, caffeine, and conversations with strangers.