By Kelly Sundberg
“Oh, the wind, the wind is blowing. Through the graves, the wind is blowing. Freedom soon will come.” – “The Partisan.”
1t was 1997. I was a freshman in college. Bill Clinton was president. I had recently finished reading It Takes a Village by Hillary Clinton. She was a powerful woman, and I wanted to be a powerful woman too, but instead, harsh, painful sunlight stretched through the window of my dorm room as I huddled in bed. My first major depressive episode. In high school, the future had seemed so limitless, but suddenly, the world felt small, contained within the walls of that tiny, hot room.
The Best of Leonard Cohen album played on repeat. The world contained within those lines seemed bigger than the world of my own suffering. So melancholic.
An English professor once defined melancholy as a sadness that we enjoy.
I was not the first eighteen-year-old girl to enjoy the sadness of Leonard Cohen’s songs, not the first eighteen-year-old girl to be saved by his songs, nor the first eighteen-year-old-girl to begin making art with his songs as accompaniment.
Nearly twenty years later, I huddled on the cold, hard tile of my bathroom floor and cried because Hillary Clinton had lost the presidential election. My reaction seemed hyperbolic, but that sad, eighteen-year-old girl who still lived inside of me, again, felt the weight of a future that felt small. That sad, inner eighteen-year-old needed a Leonard Cohen to come along and save her. But he was gone, so I picked myself up off the floor, and for days, listened again to his melancholic songs.
This time, though, I didn’t enjoy the sadness; it was only grief.
And then, just before the year ended, I saw a telephone line stretched tight in my snowy hometown. Pigeons dark against the snowy sky. Sadness struck sharp in my chest. I lingered in it. Enjoyed it. I took a photo.
I whispered into the cold air, So long. You were famous. Your heart was a legend.
Kelly Sundberg's essays have been published in Guernica, Gulf Coast, Denver Quarterly, Slice, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. Her essay "It Will Look Like a Sunset" was anthologized in Best American Essays 2015, and other essays have been listed as Notables in Best American Essays. She is currently a Doctoral Candidate in Creative Nonfiction at Ohio University, and her memoir is forthcoming from HarperCollins Publishers in 2018.