Serendipity is when you find yourself in the right place at exactly the right time. It’s also an incredibly cheesy movie starring John Cusack (worth the watch, though, if you’re alone on a Friday night with pizza and a bottle of wine.)
Allow me to be equally cheesy and say that “song”-endipity is finding a song that encapsulates exactly how you feel at exactly that time. It doesn’t happen often. Oftentimes I force meaning onto a song and make it mine. But sometimes, in those rare beautiful moments, a song comes to you, catches you off guard, and surrenders itself to your soul.
I could pinpoint a few times where that’s happened to me. End of May by Michael Buble came across my earbuds when I’d had my first heartbreak at sixteen. And it was the end of May. The words “Times like these you feel like you are done with feeling, you feel you wanna stop the pain from healing, because you feel like you’re the only one who’s ever felt this way” hit my angsty teenage soul like an atomic bomb. I could talk about that song, but that would just be a lot of sixteen-year-old Audrey crying all summer long over a boy who never noticed her. And who hasn’t gone through that?
Let’s look at this serendipitous song instead:
Day Three: She Used to Be Mine – Sara Bareilles
I listened to this piano ballad for the first time my sophomore year of college, when I was trying to figure out who I was. Sophomore year wasn’t the easiest – the sophomore slump is a real thing, and my depression was hitting me hard. I felt ill-at-ease about everything – my choice of major, my friendships and relationships, everything. On top of that, my grandfather died that winter, about eight months after my other grandfather had passed. Death makes me think about legacy – who am I going to be when I’m older? What choices am I making today that will define me tomorrow?
Sara Bareilles, whose power ballads and crooning vocals have inspired women and men for a little over a decade, wrote the musical Waitress in 2014 based on the 2007 film of the same name. The show made its Broadway debut in 2016 and is going nowhere but up, thanks to Bareilles’ mixture of soulful ballads and poppy tunes. It tells the story of a young waitress, Jenna, at a pie shop. She’s married to a horribly abusive man and is pregnant with his child. (Don’t worry, the ending is a happy one, but I won’t spoil it.)
Jenna’s ballad comes when her life has all but fallen apart and her husband has left her. She sings about her life thus far – her mundane job, her unhappy relationship, and now her baby who’s about to be born. The song’s deeper meaning is that she’s lost herself – to a career, a relationship, and her circumstances.
It’s not what I asked for
Sometimes life just slips in through a back door
And carves out a person, and makes you believe it’s all true
And now I’ve got you
And you’re not what I asked for
If I’m honest I know, I would give it all back
For a chance to start over
And rewrite an ending or two
For the girl that I knew
Who’ll be reckless just enough
Who’d get hurt, but who learns how to tough it out
When she’s bruised, and gets used
By a man who can’t love
And then she’ll get stuck
And be scared of the life that’s inside her
Growing stronger each day
Til it finally reminds her
To fight just a little, to bring back the fire in her eyes
That’s been gone, but used to be mine
“The life that’s inside her” refers to the baby that she’s carrying – which is honestly something she didn’t ask for, at least not with the husband she has. The life could also be something she’s suppressed for a long time – she’s spent so much time giving herself to others that she forgot to look out for herself. Now she’s all used up.
There’s life inside each of us that we sometimes suppress. I remember a time when I gave up a lot of myself for someone. I came really close to losing sight of who I was completely. This song came to me during that time – a time when I was trying to define myself, after a long time of being used and drained. What was I going to let myself be defined by? My loneliness? My neediness? My desire to fit in? Or could I find my inner strength again and let that define me?
The chorus that Jenna sings hit me the hardest. She sings fondly of herself, as though she’s proud of both her vices and virtues. She describes the dichotomy within her that’s relatable for anyone:
She’s imperfect, but she tries
She is good, but she lies
She is hard on herself
She is broken and won’t ask for help
She is messy, but she’s kind
She is lonely most of the time
She is all of this mixed up and baked in a beautiful pie
She is gone, but she used to be mine
If this song was sung by a man, you might think he’s singing about a girl he’s lost – a girl that used to be his. Instead, that typical breakup song is turned on its head, and we’re listening to a young woman who’s lost herself in spite of herself. Jenna is mourning the fact that she’s gone, and only has herself to blame.
Going back to Audrey during her dreary sophomore year of college, I’m glad she didn’t lose herself completely, even though she got pretty darn close. I’m glad that she grew, and she rose up and away from that darkness. She’s still pretty messy now, but she’s kind.
And she’s still mine.