On the night my tub flooded, after I’d bailed out most of the water and ruined every towel I own, I went for a walk. It was maybe 0200, if not a little later. I’d re-bought Brandy’s Brandy a few days earlier, since it was on sale and I hadn’t heard it since the ’90s. It was part of my Recently Added playlist, but I’d thrown my iPod onto shuffle.
“I Wanna Be Down” came up around when I hit the outskirts of Japantown, and I nearly drowned in the barest hint of a memory. It messed up my pace, and I stumbled as I tried to pull the memory into focus while walking home.
All I thought about for several blocks was Brandy, “I Wanna Be Down,” and the ’90s. It took forever to think it through. Someone — maybe my cousin, maybe my aunt — had the album on a CD, but the only one of us that owned a boombox CD player was my grandmother. She was protective of it, since it was a big purchase at the time, and we had to be very careful with it.
The memory I had wasn’t a specific point in time so much as a spectrum of time. It was a collection of feelings and tactile memories. The slide of the disc coming out of the sleeve in the albums. The fat zip of the binder opening and shutting. The feel of the button that opened the CD player. (It was top-loading, and pressing a button, I think in the front and on top, lifted the lid.) The weak resistance the CD player gave up when you closed it, the quiet click when the hinge latched. The hollow hiss that signified the CD beginning to spin and the weird spiral of electronic noise that it played when you changed tracks.
There are a few other albums I consciously associate with certain places, times, or moods (Atmosphere’s God Loves Ugly and depression, Cannibal Ox’s The Cold Vein and high school, Aesop Rock’s “None Shall Pass” was my alarm clock for a couple years which makes the song nearly unlistenable now), but I can’t remember feeling anything like that before. In fact, I’ll go a step farther and say that I’ve never had that happen to me before. It was weird, simultaneously pleasurable and devastating. It felt like 1995 or 1996 or whenever it was I spent a summer listening to Brandy and swimming in a pool, but it was a hard memory to take hold of. I was maybe more open to it, more vulnerable after having had a catastrophically bad night in the middle of an incredibly frustrating year, but it stopped me dead in my tracks.