Of course I understand the song’s immense popularity. Adele’s impassioned portrait of a disconsolate lover reaching across the lonely abyss of time and regret to reconnect with a past relationship begs empathy.
However, when I hear “Hello” I also hear something else. And after listening to the lyric—-I mean really listening–I imagine myself on the other end of that correspondence.
You’ve been there: you’re having a meal or watching TV. Listening to music. Or reading. You could be out with friends or alone, walking your dog at dusk–any activity characterized as minding your own business, when you look at your cell. There it is in a text, an email or voicemail:
“Hello, it’s me . was wondering if after all these years you’d like to meet. To go over everything. They say that time’s supposed to heal ya but I ain’t done much healing….”
Your heart stops. It’s been a long time—-years—-since you heard from this person. And while old lovers can come and go like seasons, this particular tide never rolled back in. They said goodbye and then vanished. Were it not for memories, both joyful and bittersweet, it would be as if none of it ever happened.
Where were they? What were they doing? With whom? Shit, maybe they died. And then, back, yes, from outer space, here they are.
“I’m in California dreaming about who we used to be when we were younger and free. I’ve forgotten how it felt before the world fell at our feet. There’s such a difference between us, and a million miles….”
Well, I reply when I hear that verse, whatever time and space there is between us was orchestrated by you…YOU said it was best. YOU made that decision for both of us. I didn’t get a vote. And then you were gone.
“I must’ve called a thousand times to tell you I’m sorry for everything that I’ve done. But when I call you never seem to be home….”
Stop right there. You didn’t know if I was at home or not. You know how I feel about blocked numbers; I don’t answer them (even if I myself don’t always remember to unblock mine). I used to say to you over and again that my own mother could call from Heaven, and if she was dialing from a blocked number, I’d never get the call.
When we were together, your number was usually blocked. You seldom left a message. After fixing your lips to actually argue the fact, eventually you agreed that calling and not leaving a message is like not calling at all. So, if that’s what you’ve been doing those thousands of instances you say you called—-I see time has not quelled your knack for exaggeration–that’s on you.
“How are you? It’s so typical of me to talk about myself…”
I know. But it’s okay.
“I’m sorry. I hope that you’re well. Did you ever make it out of that town where nothing ever happened?”
You know, turns out something quite momentous did happen in that godforsaken town—-it was there that I learned the surest things can change.
“At least I can say that I’ve tried to tell you I’m sorry for breaking your heart.”
Not if you called and didn’t leave a message. That’s not a real call.
“But it don’t matter, it clearly doesn’t tear you apart anymore.”
Really? Okay. Listen, you did say you didn’t do much healing. I believe you. You acknowledge that we haven’t spoken in years, so you couldn’t possibly know what I’ve gone through.
But let me remind you: when we were together, you took my heart. You chained it to the back of a pick-up truck, dragged it down an unpaved road and backed over what pieces remained. Yet you have the unmitigated gall to have an attitude. Gee.
You actually sound disappointed that I still exist. Did you think I’d crumble? Did you think I’d lay down and die?
And yes, I still like to quote pop songs.
But I did more than merely survive. I got over you. Most important, I forgive you. And I forgive myself. Which is why, in response to your sarcasm-laced, passive-aggressive soliloquy of a “Hello,” I now possess the spirit and love of self to say…Goodbye.
Great song, though.
Steven Ivory, veteran journalist, essayist and author, writes about popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio, TV and the Internet. Respond to him via [email protected]