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One More Listen For Kim, One More Chance

Written by Nick Leitzke

‘Boxer’ may have been the single most overrated album of the Twenty-first century’s first decade, and the National may have been the single most overrated band. I gave up trying to like ‘Boxer’ because it wasn’t going to happen, and I wasn’t going to kid myself. I formed my opinion, and yes it is a negative opinion, but no one can say I didn’t give ‘Boxer’ a chance. I’m fair, but I’m also honest.

The words we say, be they the casual happenstance of every day conversation or the semi-formal declarations we feel entitled to make on the internet, are meaningless. It is impossible to see the future or to even comprehend the paths weaving concurrently to our own that will one day intersect us. Chance encounters in which we reiterate opinions posted elsewhere have nothing to do with what happens a week later. Even if they do, there is no way for us to know. We say what we say because of what unfolds immediately before us. In a future moment you look back and wonder what a past moment, if directed differently, could have yielded. There is no correct answer, just as there is no blame to shoulder and absolutely no dignified fulfillment to ‘what might have been.’ The suddenness of reality bears down once this fact becomes vivid, and when faced with the overwhelming shadow of truth all you can do is cry on the bathroom floor.

I last saw my friend Kim on May 15. I pulled into the parking lot of the coffee shop that employs me and saw a green Hyundai. ‘That looks like Kim’s car,’ I mused to myself, and I parked next to it, engaged in my typical prework ritual of listening to music until I’ve unwound enough to face another day. Sunset Rubdown was playing, and I settled into the driver’s seat, closed my eyes, and heard a knock on my passenger side window. ‘Oh, it was Kim’s car.’ I rolled down the window as Kim waved, and after I said hello the first thing out of her mouth was, “Do you know why you don’t like the National? Because their lyrics suck.”

What followed was a lengthy but casual conversation about the new National album, ‘High Violet,’ and how we felt it compared to their earlier work. I repeated my opinion from the review I wrote a few weeks ago, that ‘High Violet’ was a grower, that it wasn’t going to ignite until somewhere in the middle of the album, and that I like that so much more than ‘Boxer.’ Kim’s stance was firm, though. She told me she never liked Matt Berninger’s lyrics, that “I’m going to eat your brains” is one of the lamest phrases she’s ever heard, that she has no time for something so flimsy. All of this seemed odd to me since I remembered her deeply in love with ‘Boxer.’ I kept talking about ‘Boxer,’ and I believe my exact words were, “I stopped kidding myself. You know? It wasn’t going to happen. It was just one of those things. Time to move on.”

We kept talking, and I got Kim thinking about “I came to Ohio on a swarm of bees.” Maybe I made some headway for her to like ‘High Violet.’ We parted ways a little bit later as I went into work and Kim went to meet another friend of ours. I worked my shift that day and five other shifts the following week, and I thought about Kim a lot. I thought about how sporadically I see her, and I thought about how I love seeing her because we have conversations just like that when we do run into each other, be it at a party or out somewhere unexpected. It was just a part of life, that conversation and all the other conversations we have. I lived and I worked as I always do.

A week later, a week to the day and maybe even the hour, I got a call from the friend who Kim went to meet after our parking lot encounter. Kim killed herself on May 21. The days following that phone call were numb. Everyone talks about numbness when facing shock. I had no idea what it felt like until I experienced it. The only word to describe it is numb, and nothing more can be said to further illustrate it. Just know that you don’t want to feel it. Yesterday afternoon I had my first honest to God cry over this mess, and while the ship is starting to right itself I don’t think it will ever be on a perfectly even keel again. Everything I saw and experienced last week has guaranteed that nothing will ever be the same. Wherever Kim is now, no matter how much I want to go after her, I can’t. It’s a bitch, that barrier between the now and the nether, but both halves are equally real and equally intangible. And we all have our place.

Wednesday evening last week we were together at Kim’s mother’s house, talking about Kim, remembering Kim, laughing and crying when we needed to. It was late, and I had to work early the next morning, but just being there and listening to these stories, chiming in when I had to, it was the first good time I’d had in four days. Smiling and laughing again when I hadn’t cried at all, not yet anyway. I thought I could face this thing and get over it. Then the conversation went from one thing to another, and suddenly I’m hearing Kim’s sister say, “The last song she listened to was ‘Start a War’ by the National.” My brain passed through a black hole. I was everywhere and nowhere and I needed to be somewhere else, so I ran. We were actually talking about this. We were talking about the last song Kim listened to. Not only that, but the last song Kim listened to was directly related to the last conversation I ever had with Kim.

I am not an idiot. I don’t think anything I said that afternoon had any bearing on the choices Kim made. Nor do I think anything I could have said would have made things happen differently. The paths were already weaving just beyond our comprehension, and while I also don’t believe in predestination I also know there was nothing I could do. But the topic of our last conversation was the last band that Kim ever listened to. That’s just haunting to me. All of these unanswered questions – was she already thinking about this when we were talking? Did the National mean that much to her? I can’t answer these questions and I don’t want to. But where does that leave me? I’m stuck with the memory of dry May heat on a Saturday afternoon, sitting in my black car with sticky hot black upholstery sucking up hot air crawling through the open passenger window, my air conditioner spilling cold air on my knees, Sunset Rubdown whispering while I lean over to talk to Kim who knocked on my passenger window, and we’re talking about how much she thinks the lyrics on ‘High Violet’ suck. Nothing I did or said made this happen, but the memory still lingers. The memory lingers and my arms wish I had hugged Kim that afternoon before I went to work.

One of the things we talked about last Wednesday was how much music we associate with Kim and how much music we can’t listen to anymore. Something about the chain of events and the happenstance of casual conversation made me wonder. I wondered if I could face another listen. Call me masochistic, but I needed to face this thing head on. Pull ‘Boxer’ from the shelf. Give it another listen. Wait until track eight and see how it makes you feel. The strange thing is that track eight was always the place where I would glance irritably at the back cover and think to myself, ‘There are still four more freaking songs to go on this thing.’ This time around here comes “Start a War,” here come the goosebumps, and I’m with her. I’m listening to ‘Boxer’ and I see it. Maybe in some way I see Kim through it. Maybe that’s overly poetic drivel. But I’m listening to ‘Boxer’ again right now. It was not my symbolic chosen music while I wrote this. Rather it is simply the third disc in tonight’s rotation. I understand that I am probably including ‘Boxer’ in current CD rotations as a tribute to Kim, but so what? ‘Boxer’ is on my iTunes again well over a year after I removed it. I will listen to it in album shuffle. I will hear “Start a War” and I will not skip it in irritation. I will wish for something better than before. I will wish for something more, and I will remember a chance encounter with Kim on a Saturday afternoon. After all the grieving and knowing there’s still more to come, the only thing I wish for right now is a chance to tell Kim how much she made me love the National last week. Somehow, though, something tells me Kim already knows this. That makes me happy.

Kimberly Swartz

Posted by admin   @   5 June 2010
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Jun 21, 2010
6:06 pm
#1 lucia :

hey. I don’t know you, but we both knew Kim. went by her facebook page today and saw the link to this. she and I were very close in another life, when I lived in roanoke in 1999. when I last saw kim this past november, she reminded me how we used to always drive around roanoke together at night back in 1999, listening to Blur’s song “Caramel” at top volume and smoking cigarettes. I’ve been listening to that song, and album a lot lately. it hurts at the same time it soothes. I wasn’t able to come to the viewing, and I had to grieve alone where I live in North Carolina. It was really nice to read this and feel like I had, and have, company. Thanks.

Author Jul 10, 2010
2:25 pm
#2 admin :

I didn’t actually know Kim at all. Nick was obviously close enough to her to have felt an emotional impact. I’ve lost friends too in the past, not necessarily through the same means, but still lost. I can say that it’s a bittersweet experience. The friend we had becomes a series of fond memories, which in a way sparks magic in our life. Nick is not only an excellent writer, but I know him as a great person. Kim would feel ecstatic to know that she has great friends like you and Nick.

Jul 20, 2010
3:19 pm
#3 Jennifer :

Lucia – This is Jennifer, Kim’s sister. I’m glad/sad to hear you found out about Kim. Where are you living in North Carolina? My husband, toddler, and I just moved to Greensboro.

Jul 20, 2010
3:20 pm
#4 Jennifer :

ps Nick, I still think High Violet is a better album. We’re going to see them in Raleigh in October.

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