My Sadboi Songs

My boyfriend, AJ, and I wandered into the venue an hour and a half before the concert started to ensure we got a good view. There were no seats, so it was either the balcony or the floor. We stood towards the back of the balcony, since it was the highest up. We weren’t the closest, but we could see. We didn’t go for the first two acts, bands whose names I don’t even remember; we were there for Rise Against. Early on into our relationship, I’d told AJ how much I loved them, more than just a basic enjoyment of their music. When he asked a year later if I wanted to go to one of their concerts, I didn’t even hesitate to request that day off work. 

When Rise Against came onto the stage, something in me stopped as memories flooded back. Memories of the high school cafeteria – memories of long nights and a wet pillow – memories of why to this day I can’t keep toothpicks at my place. 

A 2008 study found that “hearing music associated with our past often evokes a strong ‘feeling of knowing’,” and that it is “associated with emotional and semantic information,” or memory (1).

I was a junior in high school. I sat with a newer friend. A girl I’d met the year prior, as we had a few mutual friends, on the first day of school— I figured she’d agree to sit with me. We sat across from each other, munching into our sandwiches like hamsters as we talked about the coming year; however, come the next day, I waited at the table for her. I began to eat when I spotted her walking in and towards my direction. The lunchroom had two “levels,” divided up with maybe four steps going down and a dark-but-not-quite-navy blue concrete fencing encasing the lower level. There was a table right before one pair of steps, which she stopped at. Instead of continuing down them to our spot, she turned to the right and sat with a table of others. I recognized them. They were her other friends, the ones she was closer to, who I mingled with during classes but if I’m being honest, I barely actually knew. I watched her sit with them, but she never saw me. I’d pass the table of better friends each lunch period, hoping to myself that maybe they’d invite me to sit too. But no. I walked past and to my own table, which was slowly being overtaken by a group of seniors. I ate, plugged my earbuds in, and sat in silence. I’d hear Rise Against exclaiming I don’t want to be here anymore, that there’s nothing left worth staying for. I agreed, but not in the correct sense. At that concert, I wondered if I’d get some sort of phantom sensation on my scars across my arms and thighs. That worry was soon waived at the lead singer’s words right before signing that same song: this song is about being in a state that you don’t want to be in anymore— and having the strength to get out of it.  

I didn’t hear the song as I did in high school. I heard the harmonies of hope, the pleas to be free of something. My heart stopped racing. My eyes teared up like the black teen on the bridge in the music video for Make It Stop, the one I’d watch over and over on the family desktop after school. Before jumping onto the busy highway, images flashed before the boy: of a successful job. Like him, images flashed across my brain: of getting a college degree, of AJ, of having a quaint family. I’d realized I stepped down from that bridge years ago, but I’d never really realized this until that sweaty night. 

In addition to not having many solid friends, that December I’d found out I was transgender, but I didn’t tell my parents yet. From December 2014-July 2015, I’d strive to look as male as I could within the female parameters my parents knew me in. I’d been a tomboy all my life, so I already wore long t-shirts and baggy sweatpants to school, but once I began to stop shaving my legs and wearing exclusively sports bras to minimize my cleavage, my parents began to try and force me back into what I was previously. I wasn’t allowed to leave the house unless my legs were clean shaven or unless I wore pants (even in the Summer), and I remember my mom and I going through the clothes and me telling her to dump all my bras: 

these are very expensive you know

I know

I remember one high school Christmas, a time that is supposed to be one of love and joy, in particular— my mom came in to say goodnight to my sister and me. My uncle and aunt were staying in my room, and since my sister has a bunk bed, I slept in the top bunk for a week or so. My mom hoisted herself up on the side of the bed to kiss me goodnight when she noticed my arms, hacked at by a single toothpick, even on Christmas Eve.

What happened to your arms?

Cat got them. 

Hold on— she went into the bathroom then came back, slathering plenty of Neosporin onto every cut. She gave me one last kiss before leaving and turning the light off. I immediately wiped the cream off on my bed sheets. I couldn’t let them heal, I wouldn’t. I couldn’t, still can’t, understand why, but I just wouldn’t. 

Then, a flash of my senior prom; of me standing amongst a group of people, all smiling and hugging someone else, their “dates.” I stood out. I hadn’t come with anyone, I didn’t know maybe half of these people in the group, and my mom wasn’t there to take pictures. My only connection was that girl from junior year, the one who eventually sat with her better friends rather than me. I had to invite myself into the group so I at least sort of had people to go with. But I wasn’t invited to the dinner beforehand, and once at prom, everyone dissipated, and I was left alone. I wandered around the venue, watching everyone. I’d come home and my mom would ask how it all went. 

Okay was all I told her. 

My mom once told me the power music holds over our memories, over moments in our lives— we cruised down the two-way street in her Kia Sedona, the radio set to one of her favorite stations, 70s on 7. She also paid to listen to 80s on 8 and 90s on 9, but she preferred this one. I’d grown to love a lot of the songs throughout my childhood, since my parents played them on their custom CDs before Satellite Radio existed. Hotel California started to play, and my mom sang along with a hint of a smile. This was the first of many times she’d tell me about her connection to this particular song: this was my high school graduation song. She sung a few more verses. This song reminds me of that time so clearly. 

The previously mentioned study also claims that when an experiment was done to figure out if music brought about emotions, “30% of the presented songs evoked autobiographical memories. (2)” 

The memories came back again months later, at another concert. AJ and I managed to get tickets to the third leg of the Trinity of Terror tour, which featured Black Veil Brides, Motionless in White, and Ice Nine Kills. While we waited in line, bundled up to stand in the twenty-degree weather, there were two people with signs, pamphlets, and a megaphone, telling the 7,000 concert goers we were going to Hell, but also that God loves us, which sounded contradictory to me, but whatever. I paid neither of them any attention as AJ and I meandered in with the crowd. But when Black Veil Brides began their set, I thought back to that man— more specifically to God— more specifically to whatever force sets our lives into motion. I grew up in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, but I’m not too big on God and religion. But this night at the concert, I decided that something was out there, and it was reminding me how far I’ve come since those lonely lunch days in high school. As the lead singer flaunted across the stage, my eyes began to tear up. I sang along: 

One final fight, for this tonight

With knives and pens, we made our plight

I can’t go on, without this love you lost, you never held on

We tried our best, turn out the lights. 

After the concert, as we sat in the car as it warmed up, I realized that this song was a song that triggered those memories, just like Rise Against’s music, but I had forgotten about it. As the band sung the chorus, I froze like I did at the other concert. I didn’t full-on burst into tears, but I couldn’t move. After their set, AJ stood from his seat and gave me a hug. 

Back in high school, when I heard this music, a clear image came up of me standing on the edge of a bridge we’d always pass on the way to church on Sundays. I teetered on the edge, arms stretched out like Jesus on the cross to the train tracks below. 

My body would freeze when songs from what I call my “sadboi years” popped up in my recommended on YouTube too, when I’d listen to them just once, for the heck of it. Bands like Our Last Night, Three Days Grace, and even obscure bands I’d stumbled upon those years ago such as Trading Yesterday— they all inevitably send me back to that lunchroom. As my mom told me in that minivan: this song reminds me of that time so clearly

– Yet I find myself turning back to these songs nearly ten years later. I download Bring Me The Horizon’s music one day, giving myself the comfortable space to listen to those words. On the way to work, at six in the morning, I listen to Drown; this song’s meaning, too, was twisted in my head back in high school— Who will fix me now? / Dive in when I’m down? / Save me from myself? / Don’t let me drown / Who will make me fight? / Drag me out alive? / Save me from myself? / Don’t let me drown. As the sun rises around me, I begin to mouth the words to myself, to the car, to the little pink $1 hippo my boyfriend bought me from IKEA. I mouth to everyone and everything around me because I can. I can mouth the words because I’m not on that bridge above the highway like I felt I was before, now I am driving on the highway, to my job, then to my second job, then to class, and then to my boyfriend’s place. Maybe one day I’ll be able to sing those songs again, because now they’re unknotted in my mind. They’re just songs now.

  1. Jäncke L. Music, memory and emotion. J Biol. 2008 Aug 8;7(6):21. doi: 10.1186/jbiol82. PMID: 18710596; PMCID: PMC2776393.
  2.  Jäncke L. Music, memory and emotion. J Biol. 2008 Aug 8;7(6):21. doi: 10.1186/jbiol82. PMID: 18710596; PMCID: PMC2776393.

Aarron Sholar’s works have been nominated for The Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. He is a transgender writer who has pieces forthcoming and published in The McNeese Review, The Under Review, Thin Air Online, Sunspot Lit (awarded the Quarterly Editor’s Prize), Broadkill Review, and others. He holds a BA from Salisbury University and is an MFA candidate in CNF at MNSU, Mankato, where he is Head CNF Editor of Blue Earth Review.

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