#325: Eric Clapton, "Slowhand" (1977)

You remember the first date, the heavy metal show somewhere forty minutes away, expecting the venue to be full of mosh pits and smoke, surprised when there were only three other people theresome old man with a rattail, and a tattooed couple. But you mostly remember holding your date’s hand during band transitions. You remember standing out on a deck with him, looking up at the sky at four in the morning waiting for a meteor shower to come even though you knew it was too cloudy, and, after an hour, realizing that the kiss you both wanted wasn’t going to happen, you remember going back inside the house only to fall asleep together. You remember the first kiss. It was in your basement; you remember how your hands shook. His hands were shaking harder than yours. You remember the time you lay in bed with him and the two of you burst into “Bohemian Rhapsody” and each verse got higher pitched somehow, quickening and intensifying to the point where he headbanged over his air guitar.

And then came the long-distance, which neither of you thought would happen. You’d both agreed to just be really, really good friends who would definitely support one another going on dates with other people. After all, everybody says college is the perfect time to date around, and you’d only known him for a month. But when a girl asked him to be her dance partner, you cried. And he told you later that he’d gotten jealous when you found a guy who played ukulele just like you did. But you didn’t go for ukulele-man and he stopped going to dance classes, and you two started to text more, call more. One day you two decided to start dating. It became your favorite day of the year.

Four months of long-distance, and then it was December first and then it was Christmas and then you saw him again. You ran out of your car and jumped onto him and you kissed him, and then you just let your foreheads touch and said how much you’d missed one another. You wanted to cry, you were so happy, but you didn’t. You couldn’t do anything but smile and squeeze his hand.

He became your first ever New Year’s kiss, sitting on his friend’s couch watching Star Wars, his friend asleep. And the whole month that you were with him he was sick, and you were his bedside nurse, were the one to hold his hand at the doctor’s office, the one bringing him tea that he felt too sick to drink. Sometime that month you fell in love with him. Your very own first love, sleeping in your bed while you made lunch downstairs. Maybe it was during the trip to Baltimore that you fell in love with him, getting lost through the streets alone at midnight, trying to find NyQuil for him, and getting back to the hotel room to find him upset that he’d made you walk alone in a dark, foreign city. Or when he sat in a bookstore for four hours with you and helped you narrow down your book options from fifteen to three. Maybe you fell in love with him then.

But you really started to fall in love when you first met. A bunch of your neighbors were longboarding down your street, but he was the only one you hadn’t seen before, and he slowed behind the others. “Do you want to try?” he asked, and you nodded. He took hold of your hands for the first time and led you down a hill, running beside you as you smiled and screeched when he let go. His friends were further down the hill but he ran to you and led you back up. “No stopping this time, let yourself balance,” he said. This time he put his hands on your waist and you felt his shoulders for the first time. He ran next to you again but this time you didn’t let him go, and he smiled at you. He’s charming, you thought, but don’t get involved. Your previous boyfriend had just dumped you, but this boy on the longboard with his wide smile and Rise Against shirt made you forget about the breakup. He made you smile and laugh and you never wanted to let him go.

Now it’s a year later and you’re sitting in your bed listening to Eric Clapton’s Slowhand, playing “Wonderful Tonight” on repeat and hoping that maybe you’ll stop crying soon. It’s been eighteen hours since the breakup and, god, shouldn’t you have run out of tears by now? But the first two chords of “Wonderful Tonight” keep pushing them out, and you miss him. The breakup was for him though. So that he could figure out his life; it’s hard enough without a relationship, but you know the relationship was hurting him. No matter how much he loves you and cares about you, no matter how much he wanted to stay with you and try to fix things, you realized that he was giving too much time and emotion to you, and you were coddling him, and he just needed himself back.

Will you two be friends? Your friends say yes; last night he said he wanted to. You hope so.

Your mom comes in crying; she’s so sad for you. She says she’ll miss him, and she wanted you two to work out but sometimes you just have to let go.

Your phone dingsthe group chat you’re in with him. He’s talking about gophers and you ask a question and he replies and you take a deep breath and turn your phone off. Your very own first love, talking about gophers while you realize you’ll forever associate Eric Clapton with this breakup. You realize you need to stop listening to the music. You don’t know what else to do though.

You repeat the song one more time; you say this will be the last time you listen to it.

The song’s ending now. You hate it when things end.

—Nicole Efford