Shakira. Wikimedia Commons, Licensed Under CCO 2.0
This week, the Review is publishing a series of short reflections on love songs, broadly defined.
Romance and heartbreak are promised before they are experienced. As a child I was filled with a sort of yearning that preceded any actual object of desire. It was a desire for desire itself, one that, like many girls who grew up speaking Spanish in the late nineties and early aughts, I conjured by listening to Shakira’s 1995 album, Pies Descalzos. The first song was my favorite. “Estoy Aquí” begins with a teenage Shakira’s lilting voice over an acoustic guitar: “I know you won’t return,” she sings with quavering melancholy, and then the song explodes into a saccharine tempo unbefitting of a lovelorn person. But how would I have known that? I sang along in my room, imagining that one day I would love someone but also one day I would lose them, and that was even more thrilling. To be alive! And drowning amid “photos and notebooks and things and memories.” I could hardly wait.
In adulthood I have found that intense pleasure and intense grief are startlingly similar experiences—both ecstatic states of being, from the Greek word ekstasis: “entrancement, astonishment, insanity; any displacement or removal from the proper place.” “Estoy Aquí” articulates the specific contours of feeling left behind in a great love’s wake. But, also in adulthood and much to my disappointment, I have found that most affairs end in anticlimax. Twice I have been overcome by the obsessive conjuring of a lost lover; countless times, a budding romance has fizzled out unspectacularly. Infatuation often fails to coalesce into substance. As a child I knew no anthems for the guilt that comes with ghosting or, worse, for the blunt anxiety born of receiving text messages with decreasing frequency. I must admit I feel a little ripped off. “The letters I wrote, I never sent,” sings young Shakira, but what about the pages you leave blank because passion would be unwarranted?
I suppose it is apt that, to borrow from T.S. Eliot, “Estoy Aquí” ends not with a bang but a whimper. The song fades with no resounding note, just a watered down repetition of what has already been stated, a languid dissolution of something that started off so strong.
Ana Karina Zatarain is a writer living in Mexico City. Her debut essay collection, To and From, will be published by Knopf in 2024.
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