The One That Loves You
It’s 1:00 am on a Wednesday morning when I get the distinct feeling that I’m crawling up a mountain of wet sand. I’m riding down the Atlanta highway with my best friend; we’re eating donuts, Bon Iver’s playing on the radio, and college is almost over. I’ve been living in this paranoid spell all semester, not quite gone but not quite here either. Inside my friend’s car we twist around unlit corners and that crawling, wet sand feeling tells me that I am going to try to write about this moment one day, like most moments, and that I won’t do a very good job of it. I will fail to conjure the daydreams, the October rain, and the stale donuts ever again.
We’ve been juniors for exactly three months and something has changed, but I can’t put my finger on it. We drink less and worry more. Between us, my friends and I, we call this the Junior Jump, the diametric opposite of last year’s Sophomore Slump. We have internships now. We’re out of our teen years. We coined the phrase Junior Jump at the beginning of the school year, an aspirational phrase, and now the entire year feels embedded with that secret meaning. Every laugh, every dumb reckless thing, is tapered with the knowledge that our world is ending. In exactly a year and six months we won’t be in college anymore, and anything that could possibly happen after that is fuzzy in my head, graphics slowly fading like we’re at the edge of the village in a video game. There’s nothing.
But I leave it all in November. School is out for Thanksgiving break, so I go home to my parents’ house and spend a quiet, headphoned week away from the city. My hometown is dreary and friendless; it drizzles all week and I spend my vacation days alone in my bedroom, listening to music and sucking on hazelnut coffee.
It is a strange thing to love a place so hard and then be removed from it. Although it’s only seven days, I still ache for our creaky bunk beds, the tolling of the bell tower, the faint sound of our upstairs neighbor belting operatic arias every night as she showers. I’m mean with missing during Thanksgiving break, and this is when I first discover Maggie Rogers.
In her song “Dog Years” from the 2017 EP Now That The Light is Fading, Maggie sings:
I count my time in dog years
swimming in sevens, slow dancing in seconds
oh, and I'm the one that loves you
oh, and I'm the one that loves you
In the music video, girls in dark blue ponchos march under the gauze-blue sky of Alaska, holding up canoe paddles while Maggie follows closely behind with her blue jeans and microphone. Maggie and the girls march through abandoned tennis courts and wet forests, and the whole thing reeks of the summer camp bonds of childhood. It would be easy to assume that Maggie is singing to a lover, but there is something about the spoon sounds of the music, the clinking of jars and rustling of birds and the warmth of it all, that tells she is singing about a different kind of romance—that of friendship. The kind that can swim, the kind that is leaving her.
Maggie goes on to sing about bad weeks and getting jaded, but in the end she croons,
we will be alright (dog years, dog years)
we will be alright
we will be alright
In an interview with Genius, Maggie says,
This song is about graduating college. I started to think of graduation as the after-life … “Dog Years” is a thank you note. “Dog Years” is about change, about loving and leaving and still loving, about trusting yourself, about trusting the universe, about being a good friend and never having enough time.
Alone in my bedroom, missing my friends and bitten all over with the terror of what it will feel like when we scatter for good—every one of us headed off to schools and jobs and houses in different corners of the country and the world—I saw my own anxieties reflected back at me in “Dog Years.” In the time I have left in college, I don’t think I will ever stop asking myself why can’t I stay here forever, pound my fists into the hardwood like a baby over it. I don’t want to leave the busy sun, all the people who see me and still love me, everything in my life that has ever made sound.
Discovering “Dog Years” hasn’t ended my anxious daydreams or soothed my fears about post-college life, but my love for this song has taught me that it can all be beautiful if I just let it be beautiful. That childishly possessive love I feel for my friends—the best I’ve ever known—the refusal to leave them, and then the leaving that comes anyway. It really is never going to exist again, and there are so many people who have lived college and who have known this type of friendship without ever taking a snapshot of it, without ever having written an embarrassingly long testimony of it. Just because something leaves you doesn’t mean you didn’t have it once, doesn’t mean you don’t have it right now.
So when the late night is over and I pull up to my dorm room in my best friend’s car, I let the music play, let the donuts sit sweet and thick on my tongue, and I know that I’ll write about this one day but it will be different. As Maggie sings,
we will be alright in the afterlife
I cave in on my own happiness. Keep it here in this place forever. I look at the wet sand and walk away.