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Mapping Grief and Trauma with SZA’s “Good Days”

In the hollow days leading up to the end of a turbulent year that wagered little certainty in the new year to come, an offering was made like a gentle hand to the back. Dropped on Christmas Day after teasing us with a snippet in the “Hit Different” music video, “Good Days” by SZA felt like the consoling human touch we all were pining for this year. Backed with glittery samples and melodies reminiscent of spending a warm day under the trees, it is nostalgic in a way that is both carefree and melancholy. It had been some time since we’d heard from SZA, and with this single she returned with yet another deeply personal ballad that made us feel like she was telling a part of our story.

Shortly before the release of “Good Days”, I lost my dog, Meeko, in a traumatic freak accident. It was widely known and felt that Meeko was more of my child than my pet, and on top of grief I felt myself going through the woes of heartbreak for what I was certain was the first time. Days seemed to fold in on each other, consisting of little to no music. In a life where I was able to find a song, or album, to pinpoint how I was feeling in any given moment, this was beginning to feel like a time that was marked by silence. It wasn’t until a week later, when I went on a brief road trip to Michigan that hearing SZA in my haunted hometown would provide leverage in breaking that silence.

Having spent my adolescence and early twenties living in southeast Michigan, the air is always thick with memories of a complicated and volatile past life whenever I return. Additionally, with the loss of my dog still fresh, coming back felt twice as eerie as this was the place where I adopted him and built our life together. I had only returned for a tattoo appointment, and I was insistent on not telling anyone else I was coming back home. However, with everyone in my immediate family no longer living there, and many severed ties it started to gradually feel like there was no one left to tell; the streets were clogged with ghosts.

As I maneuvered my triggers and my old town, having “Good Days” play on repeat acted as a kind of salve for my new and reemerging emotional wounds. Every blunt lyric brought forward an awareness of the person I had been while living in Michigan as opposed to the person I am now, and how insignificant those old wounds felt when stacked against my current tower of grief. From the opening bars Good day in my mind, safe to take a step out/Get some air now, let your edge out/ Too soon, I spoke, you be heavy in my mind/Can you get the heck out?/I need rest now, got me bummed out/You so, you so, you, baby, baby, babe I've been on my empty mind shit/, I felt seen in regards to the fragility of my mental health and having a bambi-like approach to acclimating to the world again. Beyond that, I was hooked on the notion of kicking someone out of your mind who has overstayed their welcome. To me it felt like a more realistic approach than someone offering the “just don’t think about it” card for advice, and with every listen I was picturing myself slamming the door on every source of shame I had towards my life in this place.

The ballad goes on to provide other poignant lines, such as I try to keep from losin' the rest of me/ I worry that I wasted the best of me on you, baby/You don't care, and I don’t miss no ex, I don’t miss no text/I choose not to respond/I don’t regret, just pretend shit never happened/Half of us layin’ waste to our youth, it’s in the present. As each of these lines began to sink in, they offered silhouettes of the personal casualties caused by my erratic dating history with men who I chose out of convenience, fear, and power trips. Being stuck in my hometown for two days reminded me of how I often used to fear that I was becoming a shell of a person who was incapable of letting my guard down enough to be vulnerable and fall deeply in love. However, the residual pain left from grieving Meeko showed me that even during my darkest moments, I was in fact someone who possesses a deep well of love for the few people in my life who have been brave enough to swim.

On my way out of town, I made the decision to surprise a dear friend of mine who had just opened up her own vintage store nestled in the block across from where I went to high school. I hadn’t seen her since I moved away two and a half years prior, and felt called to make it a priority before I ended my trip. A calm yet fierce presence, she has been a mirror to my soul since the day I met her. Seeing her again instilled a balance to my life that had been up in the air for the past several months. Despite being in a place that I had time stamped with deep trauma, I was anchored by the fact that there was still a sliver of good among the wreckage. I left her shop feeling inspired and eager to get home and continue to focus on the people and things that could build that sliver into a lifeboat.

While walking through the downtown streets, I felt a rush of sentimental joy much like the closing notes of “Good Days”. I found myself letting my walls down and remembering what a gift it was to grow up here. Further, I was flooded with memories of raising my dog all over this city. Whether it was long walks, or driving him around, it is an inescapable fact that we made a life here. A part of him will always reside on my old block, or by Ford lake, or in the adoration of friends and passerbys. In celebrating his life here, I could also make peace with my own.

As I continued to listen to and dissect “Good Days” on my drive home, the simple belief that joy can still be cultivated despite the past and present being marked by any long list of suffering is what really made me fall in love with this new single from SZA. In the chorus, she sings All the while, I'll await my armored fate with a smile/ Still wanna try, still believe in good days / Always inside, good day living in my mind. Used as both a song to pull me out of the sorrowful throws of mourning my dog and as flowers to place on a town that felt like my own gravesite, “Good Days” was a transcendent opening to the new year. SZA broke through an unbearable interval of quietness in my life and kept me hooked until I truly got the message. That even when I’m alone and heartbroken in a hometown full of ghosts, I’m brave enough to search for the things that make me believe in good days.

Good Days

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