I walked through the door with you, the air was cold. Sitting at the red grand piano, on stage in front of a sold-out crowd at Toronto’s Rogers Centre, I sing the opening line of “All Too Well,” and look out at the audience. Just like every other night on the Red Tour, this song already feels like it will be the most emotional one for me. My fingers run across the keys, playing the melody from deeply ingrained memory, and the lyrics pour out of me. The song is now like the memories and heartbreak I wrote it about — I remember it all too well.

We’re singing in the car, getting lost upstate. Even now, despite knowing this story doesn’t have a happy ending, I smile at the memory as I sing. This song came pouring out of me, and was, like, five times as long on first draft, and after Liz Rose helped me craft it into the finished version, it shaped what my album became, in so many ways. I’ve always written about the people in my life and the things that really affect me, but this song captured a million different things all at once. Wind in my hair, I was there, I remember it all too well. 

I press down on the piano’s pedal with my black boots, and I’ve forgotten that there’s a cameraman filming my every expression, blown up on the screen behind me so even the fans way at the back can see. I can hear the passion in the audience’s voices as they sing along with me — they get it. The hurt of having what you just know is the perfect love story and being powerless to stop it from falling apart. Being left with beautiful memories, and missing out on what might have been. The song builds, and I get lost in the music, flinging back my hair and the crowd roars. And maybe this thing was a masterpiece til you tore it all up.

***

It was the middle of the night and the house was dark, but we were both starving and a little bit giddy. I stood in front of the refrigerator, looking to see what Jake had that was late-night snack worthy. 

“How about pancakes?” Jake came up to stand behind me, resting his chin on my shoulder. “I have that real maple syrup from the apple orchard place we went to.”

I grinned, and turned around to face him, wrapping my arms around him. “You know maple is the way to my heart.”

On one of our first dates he’d taken me to his favorite cafe in Park Slope, Gorilla Coffee, for maple lattes. The drink was as sweet and intoxicating as him. We’d wandered the streets of Brooklyn, I snuggled into him more because I wanted to be close to him (but I’d blamed it on the crisp autumn air and my tendency to run cold, like one of those little dogs that always needs a sweater). Sometimes we just holed up in his apartment, listening to music while I baked (and once burned!) pumpkin bread. That Thanksgiving was perfect — I didn’t even mind losing my favorite scarf — and everything had been so magical and romantic since. Especially when we alone together, like now. Jake didn’t like crowds, or fans asking for autographs, or heaven forbid paparazzi snapping our photo and selling it to the highest bidder. I got his point: that it wasn’t cool for someone to profit off our private lives, but all I wanted to do was scream from the rooftops about how in love I was.

I looked into his smiling blue eyes, and before I could ask him where his pancake mix was, he spun me around and around. Suddenly we were dancing, and I was laughing, and the light from the refrigerator mostly kept us from bumping into things. He slowed us down and held me closer, brushing the hair from my face and his expression became more intense. My heartbeat raced as I felt tonight would be the night that things changed for us, got more serious than carefree days of apple-picking and turkey dinners and singing along in the car on road trips.

“I love you, Taylor,” he whispered, for the first time.

***

After plaid shirt days and nights when you made me your own. Now you mail back my things and I walk home alone. I pause, remembering the loneliness of that realization that no matter what I did, he was gone from my life. I push my hair back from my face and look out at the crowd. Having caught my breath,I continue singing — But you keep my old scarf… — and finish the last part of “All Too Well,” tears shining in my eyes. As the fans roar their approval and the piano starts its descent under the stage, I smile to myself for a moment: One day, I’ll have to give them the 10-minute version!

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