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Cavoli Riscaldati

I made my ex-husband a playlist.

Music has always been a huge part of our relationship. I met him (see the photo above) when he was on tour with his rock band of more than a decade, Marah. Our first conversation that sultry summer night involved, among dozens of other discussions, an exchange of musical tastes that were similar but different enough to make the conversation exciting without the soul-destroying horror of learning this sexy human before you deeply appreciates all things Celine Dion.

August 11, 2004. Technically, the 11th had probably dissolved into the 12th as the gig he had just ceremoniously finished by writhing on the floor with his guitar—to my great delight—had stretched well into the steamy Salt Lake City night.

We had begun the first of hundreds of exhilarating conversations while sitting at the bar after the show. It was an intense meeting and if there is such a thing as love at first sight (there isn’t), it happened to us. Instantaneous fireworks, electricity crackling around us as we talked and the world receded.

Several hours later we found ourselves parked at his hotel, ensconced in the cocoon of my forest green Dodge Durango, discussing all things large and small, important and silly, while shy fingers flirted. Twining and untwining nervously as we laid ourselves bare.

Eventually the usual musical conversation all new acquaintances find themselves engaged in at the dawn of the relationship (ours took place at the actual dawn of a hot August morning) took shape: What kind of music do you like? What’s your favorite song right now? What was your favorite song when you were 16? I remember asking him if he could choose just one album to define himself, an album that means the most to him or helped shape who he is as a musician and a person, which one would he pick?

Without hesitation, he said Springsteen’s "Darkness on the Edge of Town." He went on to explain why and then requested the same information of me. "Wilco. 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,'" I replied. It was and still is a defining album for me, which is retrospectively ironic considering the course our marriage would eventually take.

"Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" is a legendary album, gorgeously summarized by Spencer Kornhaber for The Atlantic as a collection of songs about “how hard it is to communicate honestly with self-conscious, afraid-to-be-honest evasiveness.” About lead singer Jeff Tweedy; “He holds affection, but is too shy, vulnerable, or drugged out to communicate it. So he signals. It comes out all wrong. And the distance between himself and the person he loves just gets wider.”

A tragically beautiful description that could, no doubt, double as a stunningly accurate account of the demise of our marriage. The first track is fittingly called "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart" and contains lyrics like, “I'd always thought that if I held you tightly, you'd always love me like you did back then.”

The day after we met, Serge rolled out beneath the hot noon sun and continued his tour with his band. Seattle was the next city he texted me from.

“What does a girl do on a lazy summer Saturday in Salt Lake City?” He wanted to know.

“She buys 'Darkness on the Edge of Town' and takes a long drive with her dog, Max, so they can listen to the entire album,” I replied.

And I did. I listened hard to the album several times, even pulling over among the breathtaking beauty of the Utah mountains so I could focus on certain songs in my fevered attempt to discover within the music and lyrics the heart and mind of the man who had captured my heart and mind in one night.

It was the start of our relationship. Now, at what appears to be the end, we are once again sharing music. In the wake of our separation and eventual divorce, Serge has often written or talked about his long drives in the Pennsylvania countryside while listening to music. He’s no luddite but has yet to get around to discovering the joy of music streaming sites like Spotify or Rhapsody. He still endearingly carts around ten or so of his favorite CDs that slide and rattle around annoyingly in his console and door panel. He drives with one hand and jams them in and out of the CD player with the other, Nineties-style, as his mood dictates.

We’d had a rough couple of days discussing the shape our post-divorce relationship would take and I had gone to work, my head in a fog. He sent me a text saying he was thinking of going for a walk in the woods. “Do it,” I replied. “But wait! Before you do, call me.” An idea was forming in my mind.

I created a Spotify account in his name and, just as I did for boyfriends during my teens with a dollar store boom box and a couple cassette tapes, began to create a playlist for a boy who has my brain and heart turned upside down and inside out.

Just as it did in the early Nineties, this playlist took hours, but not because I was anxiously hovering around the radio waiting for the DJ to play the right song but because this playlist had to be just right—a work of art. It needed to convey what I am apparently unable to say on my own and it needed to do that with songs from our shared history, the soundtrack of our marriage, by artists we both love who wrote lyrics that drive home what I want him to know. Not only that but any mixed tape artist worth the cost of a premium subscription to Spotify knows sequencing is essentially everything. Each song needs to dissolve seamlessly into the next in a way that has you subtly mourning the end of one song while simultaneously rejoicing as the familiar notes of the next jam float into your head.

I chose some Wilco songs, some songs from "Darkness on the Edge of Town," of course, a few other Springsteen songs I know have special meaning for him. The Cure is also a major musical player in Serge’s world. Badly Drawn Boy. I tossed in some recent discoveries of mine that I knew he’d dig and then spent at least an hour making sure the sequence was just right before sending it to him. I called it “Songbirds” after a song he wrote about us for his band some years ago.

I didn’t hear anything for a while and began to feel silly. Told myself he was only listening to humor me and was figuring out a way to say thanks without hurting my feelings.

The next day he informed me he was blown away and had spent a good chunk of his day creating a playlist for me. He called it "Cavoli Riscaldati."

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