by Angelica Esquivel
For there to be an ending, there must first be a beginning. Ours was nothing much—we met during undergrad at the University of Michigan. Julian majored in religion and I majored in women’s and gender studies, which should tell you plenty about each of us.
Julian lived in the same co-op as my friend Yu-mi, but he was so reclusive that I didn’t meet him until months into the semester, when the co-op held an open mic night. Julian was the first performer. I noticed him then, as he stood in the center of the living room, with his downcast eyes, wavy black hair, deep Cupid’s bow. He later told me that he’d gone first so that if he bombed, the following performances could help the crowd forget. The audience was made up of our peers, all of whom were eager to have an experience. Some were there to watch the acts, but most attended for the free beer and weed, of which there was plenty.
If I’m being honest, I don’t remember much of Julian’s performance. It was probably good, but not spectacular. His emotional folk songs didn’t become masterpieces until after college, when we were no longer together. I took this as both a compliment and an insult. He named his first album—the one that received three Grammy nominations, though he didn’t win one until his sophomore effort—after me: Winter Without Sol.
As he gained a following, I gained an understanding of the almost criminal power held by celebrities—they can push you into the public eye simply due to your proximity to them, even if this proximity took place years before they became famous. I deleted my social media accounts because his fans found me and left comments under my photos like, “This is the girl that broke Julian’s heart? She’s a five at best.”
That was the worst part—Julian had written songs like “Scavenger,” in which I was likened to a vulture picking at his dead bones, “Sink Stone,” in which visions of me cheating weighed on him, even though I’d never cheated, and “Vermontana,” which was about the cabin we stayed in over one Christmas break. In his music, I was mythologized as some beautiful, ruthless goddess. I was none of these things.
He did reach out once before his first album dropped to give me a warning. After half a year of no contact, I almost dropped my phone when I saw his name pop up.
“Hello, Julian,” I said as calmly as I could. I sounded like a creep.
“Hi Soledad. How are you?” he asked, using my full first name.
“I’m doing alright. You?” Small talk. Excruciating.
“I’m doing great, actually,” he said, “I got a record deal.”
“That’s amazing! So do you have an album coming out or what?”
“Yeah, that’s why I’m calling. I wanted to let you know that I mention you in my album. Not a lot, but some.”
Not a lot. He’d named the entire album after me, but he failed to mention this during our call. I didn’t find out until months later. By that time, I’d already said, “Oh. That’s okay. It’s your music, so you can write about whatever you want. But thank you for letting me know.”
I meant what I said when I said it, but that was before I knew that he was going around lying about me. I tried to put it out of my mind, but people from our past started reaching out to me, messaging me to let me know that Julian had laid our relationship bare in his album, as if I didn’t already know.
My mother bought his CD and played it for me in the car while we drove to my grandparents’ house. “Why did you break up with him? He’s so talented.”
“You always thought he was a lazy hipster.”
“No, I didn’t. Also, I didn’t know you cheated on him. Honey, sometimes our men are going to go through stuff. Sometimes they can’t perform, but that’s no excuse to cheat.”
“I didn’t cheat! That’s it—I’m going to call him.” I’d deleted his phone number when we broke up, but then when he called to tell me about the album, somehow his number got saved again.
As the phone rang, I fumed at my mother, “He has got some explaining to do.” As soon as he answered, I said, “Why did you make songs about me cheating on you? Because we both know that’s not true.”
“Hey, Sol, I’m sorry. Most of those songs aren’t about you but I can see how you would think they are, so I’m sorry for the misunderstanding.”
“If the songs aren’t about me then who are they about?”
“I mean, some of our relationship is in there, but most of the songs are about depression.”
I went quiet. His depression was one of the reasons we split up. He slept the days away while we were together, missing class, deadlines, and getting put on academic probation. He made plans with me and then backed out at the last moment. I tried to make him better; he tried to make me make him better. I cleaned his bedroom, did his homework, encouraged him to go to therapy, and he just kept saying, “If it gets worse, I’ll get help,” but never followed through. I dealt with it as long as I could, but after a certain point, I had to get out for my own well-being.
Had I abandoned him? Had I had any other choice?
“So, the whole thing was just a metaphor?”
“I’m so sorry for the confusion. I’ll put out a statement to clarify if that helps.”
“That would be nice.”
After our conversation, I stared out the car window, watching the fields as we drove past. My mother patted me on the hand, “I always knew you were a good person.” I wished I could agree.
Photo via Pexels by Matthias Groeneveld