I used to hate Sunday. For most of my early twenties, Sunday was a 24 hour period I spent recovering from the last 8 hours at The Grand while responding to emails I had casually ignored for the previous twelve. Sunday was basically filler.
But over the last four years I had grown to love Sundays for one reason: waking up next to her.
Her bed was always better than mine. She disagreed; mine was stiff and uncompromising, which is ultimately what she wanted. Hers was soft, warm, and on Sundays was my favorite place in the world.
She never knew that I always woke up before her. We frequently got into arguments where she lamented how I always “woke up so much later” than her. But sometime before the sun would come up (or right after) I always found myself cracking open one eye to look at her as a ray of light would cascade through her broken blinds.
Strangely, despite tossing in her sleep, her hair was always perfect. When she slept it neatly parted like a dark river that fell in a silent waterfall across her face. And as the sun rose in the sky and the light traced up her face, it looked like someone carrying a torch through the night to highlight the edges in her sleeping smile.
Sometimes — very rarely — she would wake up to see me looking at her. The reaction was always the same: she’d smile. She would betray a quick smirk, sometimes even putting her hand on my head. Before turning away to return to the land of slumber, she’d softly mumble back to me.
“Go back to sleep, Andy. I’ll see you in the morning.”
I like to write for two reasons: to tell stories I think matter and should be told, and to reflect on my own experiences and try and learn something lasting from what I see and hear. Frequently this means that the Drafts folder of my Medium is filled with a lot of half-completed posts — scribbles and pithy notes on ephemera and events I saw then that resonated with me.
One of them was a post about her: a half completed collection of words that I intended to write about getting engaged that I started scribbling in the early hours of a Sunday morning eight months ago when I decided to buy a ring.
The post began with a story about waking up next to her on Sundays, and how I transitioned from a (possibly infamous) partier to someone who enjoyed waking up early Sunday morning next to his girlfriend. It was supposed to talk about how in a storm of chaos surrounding my mid twenties that I found my rock — my calm eye in the middle of the storm.
I would have then gone on to talk about how she became what I was fighting for: the person that inspired me to be better, the reason I wanted to “grow up” to become someone great one day. All I wanted to do was protect her — to build a life around us both and build a future where she didn’t have to work anymore and kill herself in her stressful job.
I toyed with this being somehow integrated into the title, a field I had purposely left blank until I bought the ring and was ready to actually propose. The ring arrived right as I went to EDC, and I secretly logged into Medium on my phone to play with titles based off of the music and experiences I had with my friends.
I found my inspiration on the third night of EDC at the Dreamstate Stage. During Gareth Emery’s set, the beat cut out from his typical 138 bpm+ slamming progressive trance into a slower but still festive broken beat. Gareth live mixed a song that was on his most recent album.
I used to skip over this song. When I first heard this track on his album I felt it was too “pop”-y. But I realized, sitting around my friends searching for the words to describe how I felt, that this song exactly described how I felt.
The track is I Could Be Stronger Only For You, and the core of the chorus (which I wanted to harken to in my post) went something like this:
I could be better
I could be stronger
But only for you
Sooner or later
I will be someone
But only for you
At the time I only heard the beginning of the chorus. And I was elated — this was it. This was the perfect hook to talk about how I felt, and how I knew that this was someone I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.
I plugged the title into my post, saved it, and left it in Drafts to finish when the deed was done and we were together.
I used to hate Sunday. Right now, I kind of still want to.
In my room here in Vegas, the lights and sounds of the show that my friends and I have seen have long died down. The sun is crawling out from behind the mountains over McCarran, and instead of sleeping I find myself writing.
She’s gone. The details of our breakup are functionally irrelevant. We simply weren’t the ones for each other. She tried. I tried. We weren’t going to work. Nobody won. Everybody lost.
I’ve spent the night at Omnia with some friends, drowning myself in as many lights and sounds as I can while trying to avoid coming to this moment. The music was great. Our squad who attended was even better.
It was a wonderful brand of escapism that I desperately needed at a time like this. But like everything else, it ended.
I’m still up though. Despite leaving my melatonin at home, I decided to drink enough Red Bull to euthanize a small horse. I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep before my flight. It was a bad decision, but right now I’m all about those kinds of decisions.
In my caffeinated non-sleep, I decided to browse through my old medium posts and let Spotify play its AI-generated playlist of random trance. Two Markus Schulz songs and a Wolfgang Gartner remix later, Spotify’s recommendation engine decides to go into Gareth Emery.
The album is 100 Reasons to Live. The song is something Spotify realizes I haven’t really played that much, but matches up algorithmically to my tastes: Gareth’s I Could Be Stronger Only For You.
I found the similarly titled draft in my Medium, still carrying the name I wrote down at EDC on my phone while the world exploded around me. I reread the first paragraph and began to feel the memories I had been trying to blot out with booming electro house and a seemingly endless amount of Sugar-Free Red Bull / Vodkas:
Waking up next to her as dawn peaked out. Her ribbons of dark black hair that fell across her face perfectly in a waterfall of shadow. Her sleep smile. Her mumbling that I should go back to sleep. Her unspoken promise that she’d be there when I woke up.
That memory hurts. It hurts worse than almost anything I’ve ever felt in my life. Remembering the contours of her face and the geometry of her sleep-smile hurt is torturous. Everything about her is fucking agony.
But I realized I needed to feel it. It was time I stopped running away from the ghost of her memory and start dealing with it. I let the song play. I read what I’ve written so far. I closed my eyes and anguished in the pain of her memory.
And I started writing.
Overcoming hard times has defined me as a person.
Growing up broken made me hungry to build a better life. Watching one of my best friends die made me realize how important life is and never taking advantage of the time I have with the people I care about. Seeing my grandmother pass away taught me never to forget where I came from, and proudly bear my imperfections and the unfashionable parts of who I am with pride because that’s the stuff that makes you real and human.
These are all horrible, terrible things. Each of these trials felt like they would end me. But I survived them, and others.
You make steel by heating iron ore and scourging out carbon with a hammer or a blast furnace. I feel the same way about my life. Every time I’m forced to deal with something that makes me want to quit, I imagine I’m just being forced to pound out the carbon. If I can weather the heat and the beating, I turn into steel.
I get better. I get stronger.
Gareth’s song continues and the chorus strikes: “I could be better, I could be stronger, but only for you.”
He’s right. I can be better. I can be stronger. But maybe the “you” isn’t her.
Maybe the “you” is me.
I’m too close to the blast zone to really understand the whole affair. But there are still lessons to be learned right now. Tracing through painful memories like Sunday mornings at her place hurt. But even with cursory analysis they show me that I’ve changed: that I’ve improved over the course of our relationship.
Even if she wasn’t the one, I learned that I could settle down. I found out I could love someone so much that all I wanted to do was make them happy. I discovered that I had the capacity to care about someone so much that I wanted to change my life and who I was to help them find that happiness.
It turns out I really can be better. I really can be stronger. One day I’ll still be someone, and I’ll find someone else that’s worth loving as much as I loved her.
But the person I’ll be when I find them won’t be better because of anyone around me: it’ll be because I wanted to be better. I’ll be stronger because I wanted to be stronger. I’ll be someone because I chose to be that someone.
Until then, I have the dawn.
And I still have Sunday.