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The air outside was humid. Crickets chirped while I choked on my breath. I was crouched in a ball in my driveway, panting into the tops of my kneecaps, when a van pulled up outside of my house.
I had just gotten back from a run in straight lines around my suburban neighborhood. I went to the 7-Eleven, and back, 7-Eleven, and back, 7-Eleven, and back, until sweat burned my eyes. It was three o’clock in the morning.
My then boyfriend, Ryan, ran up to me once he locked his van. “Jesus, Maisie. You can’t go for a run in the middle of the night like that. You could’ve gotten kidnapped or something.”
“Yeah, but I didn’t.”
Back then, when one of us was sad, we would go for a drive. So that’s what we did.
It was the summer before I was meant to go to college, our days together were numbered. I felt uncomfortable in my skin, our relationship, my clothes, and my home. I wasn’t ready to leave. I didn’t want to stay.
We were at a different 7-Eleven, on the other side of Baltimore, when Ryan asked me if I had listened to The Life of Pablo yet. It was something I’d been meaning to do for months, something I never simultaneously had both the time and the emotional energy to immerse myself in fully.
Ryan played it for me in full. I didn’t listen to it again for months.
Weeks later, I was admitted into inpatient care at a psychiatric hospital. For seven nights straight, I would lay down on my plastic mattress, on my one pillow, with my one blanket, and think to myself, “I know he got a plan, I know I’m on your beams, one set of footsteps you was carrying me.”
At a time when it felt as if every choice I made sent me careening towards a different unknown fate, those lyrics helped it all seem like not everything in the universe was complete and utter chaos. I am not a religious person, but during those nights I felt the weight of my body in someone else’s arms. I heard someone else’s feet walking in the sand.
Back then, I thought it was Ryan. But our relationship had never felt the way that I had thought a relationship with your high school sweetheart was meant to feel. Ryan was my first boyfriend, and the long and short of it is that I didn’t know any better. When he demanded we have an open relationship I didn’t know how to argue against it, and he made me feel as if I was in the wrong for wanting something different. Our interactions, no matter how hard I tried to force myself to find love within them, left me feeling icky and unwanted. We were together for nearly a year.
“My wife said, I can’t say no to nobody, and at this rate we gon’ both die broke. Got friends that ask me for money knowin’ I’m in debt, and like my wife said, I still didn’t say no.”
In the depths of winter, when I was starting my second semester of college three hours away, Ryan would admit to cheating on me. It wasn’t technically cheating, because we had an open relationship. But it still feels like being cheated on when you never wanted to be in an open relationship in the first place. He got back together with his ex-girlfriend, while I was still in the hospital, and decided not to tell me. He broke up with me in February, because he couldn’t handle the pressure of having two girlfriends anymore.
“We don’t want no devils in the house, God (Yes, Lord). We want the lord (Yes, Jesus). And that’s it (Yes, God).”
My personal demons had a name, and a face. They sat beside me to watch TV, they asked me to dance in my kitchen, and they were my first kiss.
“You tried to play nice, everybody just took advantage. You left your fridge open, somebody just took a sandwich. I said baby what if you was clubbin', thuggin', hustlin' before you met your husband? Then I said, ‘What if Mary was in the club, ‘fore she met Joseph around hella thugs? Cover Nori in lambs' wool, we surrounded by the fuckin' wolves.’”
When I tell people that story now, I laugh about it. My friends who I didn’t know before Ryan always gasp. They tell me time and time again, I deserved better. No one should be treated like that. What a horrible person. I just smile and nod.
“I know,” I say. “he was a real asshole.” There’s no venom behind the words anymore. I don’t have energy to waste on hating him.
“Lookin’ for all my real friends, how many of us? How many of us are real friends to real friends, ‘til the reel end, ‘til the wheels fall off, ‘till the wheels don’t spin?”
I wish I could say that I don’t think about Ryan anymore, but I think about him almost every day. He fucked up really badly, and I fucked up by staying for so long. What The Life of Pablo has taught me is just how many times a person can screw themselves over when they’re trying to do the right thing. What Kanye has showed me is how you can take all of the anger, resentment, and sadness that built up inside of you from months of emotional, and psychological abuse, and turn it into art that heals. When I think about Ryan now, it’s because I’m writing. The pain he put me through is not something that I am ever going to be able to forget, and it took a long time but I’ve accepted that as something I have to live with, so I might as well put it into something useful.
What Kanye wants everyone to know, and the clearest message in The Life of Pablo, is that taking the time to self-reflect and better yourself is necessary for success. He bares all of his past mistakes, and his current shortcomings, out into the world for public consumption. It leaves him without any excuses to not work on himself. By writing a song where he acknowledges that he is an imperfect human being, he’s already begun the process. Kanye is laying out the blueprint for finally fully accepting who you are, and he wants for you to follow in his footsteps.
It’s not uncommon to hear jokes about how in love Kanye is with himself, but what no one ever talks about is how much Kanye wants for you to be in love with yourself, too. I’m not sure how I would have survived being manipulated in so many ways if I didn’t have Kanye’s music to fall back on when I was weak.
“I’ve been woken from enlightened man’s dream. Checkin’ Instagram comments to crowdsource my self-esteem. Let me not say too much, or do too much, 'cause if I’m up way too much, I’m out of touch.” … “God, I have humbled myself before the court. Drop my ego and confidence was my last resort.” … “She got the same shoes as my wife but she copped ‘em at Aldo. Modern day MJ with a off the wall flow.”