I meet Andrea for the first time sitting six-feet apart on a wooden bench outside my apartment. There is a light, cold drizzle smacking our faces from all angles, and we must flirt from a chilly distance—somehow we make it work.
When our eyes meet, I am stunned. I stare just a little too long before looking at my hands and giggling like an idiot.
“What are you laughing at?” she asks.
“Nothing,” I tell her.
The temperature drops eight degrees over the next forty minutes and her fingers go stiff from the cold. Underdressed, she bikes away with white knuckles. Over the next few weeks, we continue our virtual game of getting-to-know-you, recommending movies to help pass the endless hours of self-isolation.
She asks if I’ve seen The End of the F***ing World. “Yeah,” I text back. “Every day from my window.”
We press play on Coffee and Cigarettes at the same time, share songs and watch each other dance at queer virtual nightclubs on Zoom, catching glimpses of each other from tiny squares in the gallery that continuously disappear. I dance wildly, alone in my apartment, stopping only to relocate her on the screen.
One day, she sends me the link to a website. I see an image of Bill Clinton sitting cross-legged on the floor. He has headphones on, surrounded by four blank squares that seem to look like records, collectively inviting me to populate them with my top four albums of all time.
“Do this,” she says. “I’m curious.”
In an instant, sheer panic courses through me. The albums I have listened to cover to cover—the ones I would bring with me to a deserted island—will betray me. They are deeply uncool.
In a former life, I required just one night of good banter on a dating app before arranging a date. We’d decide if we liked each other at the bar. The pandemic has changed the order of things: Andrea won’t be swayed by the ambience of a dimly lit bar, the candidness that comes from being a few drinks deep, the feeling of my kneecaps casually brushing against her thigh. Over the past five weeks, I’ve developed feelings from a distance, and I fear Bill Clinton could screw it all up.
“How do I pick?” I ask, to buy time. “Should they be records you listen to cover to cover, most meaningful, most played?”
She replies almost too soon: “Yeah, most loved. Or like, you’ll never skip through.”
Twenty minutes go by. I think about my defining albums. Growing up, I had the musical taste you’d expect from an early millennium tween—Christina Aguilera, Backstreet Boys, Destiny’s Child. But there was also ABBA’s Greatest Hits, a gift from my math tutor that I played until the CD wore out. Perhaps Mrs. Zippin understood long before everyone else that, in addition to being terrible at math, I was also a raging homosexual.
Another dead giveaway: The show tunes. I belted Annie, Grease, and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (oh, the irony) to no end. I poll my brother for his early defining albums, and his selections are more high-brow—Nirvana’s Nevermind, Green Day’s Dookie, the Canadian compilation album Big Shiny Tunes 2 and, strangely, Lisa Loeb. “I really liked the song ‘Stay,’” he tells me, and I wonder if he’s actually the lesbian here.
While Andrea waits for a reply, I go through my Spotify in search of another album—any album—to replace the ones I have in mind. There’s the stuff I liked in my twenties, like Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs. I swooned over all 69 of The Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs. When I moved back to Toronto, I fell into the folk music scene, where, one by one, I plucked local musicians off the Cameron House stage and dated them. Neko Case, Joel Plaskett and Bruce Springsteen provided the soundtrack. But I have to be honest: None of their albums belonged in the hands of Bill Clinton.
So I tell her the truth. My favourite record of all time is Taylor Swift’s 1989. In fact, I love all of her albums. I think of the song “Delicate” now, in which she aptly describes the vulnerability that having a crush can inspire: “Is it cool that I said all that? / Is it chill that you’re in my head? / ‘Cause I know that it’s delicate.” Taylor Swift knows what it feels like to not want to tell the girl you like that you like Taylor Swift.
“A Taylor Swift fan, eh? I can live with that,” Andrea says.
I’m reassured by her string of cute emojis, but I wonder: Will she be able to live with a Broadway musical fanatic? Will she think it’s adorable when I rap every single word of Hamilton during a long car ride, Disc One and Disc Two? I think about the song “Helpless,” where Eliza describes seeing Hamilton for the first time across a crowded ballroom, in the musical styling of Destiny’s Child: “I’m so into you / Look into your eyes and the sky’s the limit. / I’m helpless, I’m down for the count / And I’m drowning in ‘em.”
I know the feeling, to drown in someone’s eyes, even from an appropriate physical distance on a soggy wooden bench outside of the apartment I can’t responsibly leave.
She says she’ll give Hamilton a listen. “Oh, god,” I reply. “Please don’t.”
My final two favourite albums of all time are meant to be enjoyed privately, with headphones on, and certainly not advertised to the girl you like. But I regularly blast Feist’s Pleasure and Joni Mitchell’s Blue, unabashedly, at top-volume. My neighbours most certainly think I’m depressed, perpetually recovering from a breakup or, at the very least, on the constant verge of cutting my own bangs with dull kitchen scissors.
“You like your women strong,” Andrea says back. In “All I Want,” the first track off of Blue, Joni asks, “Do you want / to dance with me baby / Do you wanna take a chance / On maybe finding some sweet romance with me baby.” Later, in the song “California,” she asks: “Will you take me as I am?”
For the foreseeable future, Andrea won’t see how I order a drink, if I’m charming or awkward when she introduces me to her friends, what I reach for when I’m craving a snacky-snack. I can concoct an entire online persona, project a fantasy that’s incongruent with who I really am. And so I don’t.
“I was never going to judge you,” she says. “Thank you for sharing your favourites without hiding your true self.”
Above Bill Clinton’s face, the website tagline reads, “I did not have sexual relations, for the record.” I realize that if Hillary can accept Bill for his many indiscretions, maybe Andrea will take a chance on me, too. Possibly even find some sweet romance with me—show tunes and all.