Track 2: Red

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I picked up my pen and scribbled in the answer to 13-across — at least this was a crossword with right answers, I joked to myself. It was an easy one, which made me feel super clever, and the perfect way to start a morning in my own place in Nashville. The break between Texas shows wasn’t long, but after the excitement of the Billboard Awards and the nonstop schedule of touring even just one morning waking up in my own bed restored me in ways I hadn’t known I needed. Meredith padded over from her water bowl to brush against my bare leg; I took the last gulp of my smoothie and scooped Mer up into my arms. She seemed happy to be home too. Though it was a little hard to tell: she was always pretty chill with her weird and wily cat ways.

“How did I manage before you?” I cooed to her, as I walked into the living room. I’d woken up with a fragment of a snippet of a bit of a maybe new song in my head, and I knew I should stop doodling lyrics around that crossword and get writing.

I walked over to the floor-to-ceiling windows that revealed a view of Nashville that took my breath away each time I saw it. I spied my old lyric notebook on a bookshelf beside the window. That dog-eared notebook looked a little worse for wear, but it held so many memories, so many scratched out and rewritten lyrics that ultimately became Red. I felt a wave of nostalgia hit me. Remembering him comes in flashbacks and echoes…  

Meredith squirmed, eager for freedom, and I put her down. But she just looked up at me, mystifying as always, as I reached for the notebook unable to resist the pull of reliving those intense emotions. I opened it up, randomly, and there it was: line after line, simile after simile — I had struggled to write “Red,” to get it right, and now? It was the title of my album, the name of my tour, the color my fans wore to shows, red was everywhere. It was so many wondrous, overwhelming beautiful things. But it was still all the rest of it too: hope, the passion, the hurt.

*** 

Love is like… driving a new Maserati down a dead-end street. I paused from writing furiously. If he ever hears this song, I thought, he better know that line is just for him. I hopped down the page, realizing I needed to begin and end the song with that image, with that so un-Taylor image. I couldn’t care less about fancy fast cars, but he did and it expressed exactly what I was feeling. It had been a collision course with him — in all the best ways and all the worst ways too. I felt tears well up in my eyes. This page of my notebook was already all bumpy, betraying the fact that I had been crying when I last worked on this song. I ran my hand across the page, as if I could smooth all the hurt away, and looked up.

The sun was starting to set over Nashville — I hadn’t realized how long I’d been sitting here on the floor, leaned up against my antique couch, gripping my pen in my own particular way… the way he used to think was kooky and charming. Did he even remember now? Did he remember all the millions of tiny moments that I just couldn’t forget? Forgetting him was like… trying to know somebody you never met.

I took a deep breath, and blinked back my tears. I needed to focus and do what I’d been doing since I was 12: write a song. Work through all these complicated emotions. I knew, even as I felt so gutted, that this would be a turning point for me, that feeling this intensely, this passionately, would change me. It would help me figure out who I was now and who I wanted to be. There was nothing beige about what I was going through, I laughed to myself. Our love had burned bright. It still burned bright, for me. It was red.

Red. I wrote it down on my page. I felt that familiar stirring of excitement when I knew I was onto something. These feelings had a color — loving Jake was red.

It was like I had solved the puzzle of the song! Ideas flew through my head and I scrambled to get them all down onto the page, as snippets of melodies came to me. Like the colors in autumn — he’ll get that reference too, I knew he would — so bright just before they lose it all.

My iPhone beeped, and I glanced up from my notebook. Before I could even look at who the text was from, I saw that the sky had lit up in a blaze of beautiful colors — pinks and purples, oranges and reds. A sign this color thing was the right direction. I picked up my phone and snapped a pic, before checking the text. It was from Claire: Checking up on you. Dress-up party at my place soon? xo I texted back, Best idea ever and sent her the photo of the sky. No explanation required. There was nothing like having friends who just got you.

Almost grateful for the interruption that had broken the spell of writing, I skimmed over what I had so far. I was nowhere near done the song, but I just knew that a change had come — for this song, for the album that would eventually come out of all these songs I’d been filling up this notebook with.

It was times like this that I knew that as hard as I had fallen, I had been right to choose love, to live a little recklessly when it came to romance. The life I had imagined with him wasn’t meant to be — I knew that now — but there was so much I had learned in the breaking, the burning, the ending.

Tell myself it’s time now, gotta let go.

***

I closed my old notebook, put it back on the shelf, and pulled a crisp new one from beside it. It was funny how time changed things: that song meant so much more to me now. It contained everything I had felt while writing it, but a hundred new memories as well. Recording it. Playing it for Scott. For my mom for the first time. Deciding it would be the title track of the album. Seeing it everywhere. Even meticulously putting on my red lipstick every day. And now, on tour, standing in front of a crowd every night, with my sparkly red guitar — proudly emblazoned with a 13 and a heart — and Paul beside me rocking out, my dancers waving red flags behind me, and best of all my dear Swifties singing along with me and showing me so much love. Each night was a new memory. A celebration of having so many feelings, a validation that I could write about love as much as I wanted to.

Today the song I would write wouldn’t be about a mysterious “him,” it would be for them. 

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