Blinking, Justin Timberlake stepped out into the light.
The grass was a perfect Technicolor green. The sky was blue, with nothing but the slightest wisps of clouds. A pair of starlings chased each other in the bright blue morning and then alighted in a blossoming tree nearby, happily chirping.
Finally, it was May 1.
It was no longer April. It was no longer "gonna be May." May was here! Justin was finally free.
May was here. It was beautiful.
T.S. Eliot had been right, even though he didn't live to see that meme. April is indeed the cruelest month. The cruelest, longest month. A month of gray rain, a month of trying to shrug off the impossible weight of winter. The month of that terrible, terrible meme.
Sure, it was funny the first time he saw it: the old "It's Gonna Be Me" music video, with its titular line, but misspelled to match how he pronounced it when he sang it: May. People would start posting it around mid-April, and it would work itself up into an internet crescendo by April 30.
The first time he saw it, he laughed out loud. The second time, he chuckled. The third time, he smiled. The fourth time, he admits he was a little annoyed. Five years down the road, he had resorted to locking himself in his home like Howard Hughes until May Day, the shades drawn, his modem unplugged and dark.
"It's gonna be May."
It had been 17 years since he sang that line. Seventeen years! Justin was blessed, he knew. Blessed with an undeniable talent, blessed with a long, successful and lucrative career from a young age. But fame had its challenges and its downsides. His breakups had been broadcast across the world, his struggles were exaggerated and sold to tabloids — many were fabricated altogether. But nothing had been as hard as this.
So much had changed since then too. The rise and fall of 'NSYNC, the invention of smartphones, his solo career, lots of new flavors of Hot Pockets, his acting career, Jessica, Silas. But still, the line echoed, not only in his head, but across American culture.
"It's gonna be May."
Now, shaking off the memories, Justin walked down the sidewalk and entered a small café he liked. It had been three weeks since he dared to step outside his home. April was spent inside in the dark, avoiding the meme. Now, though, he could go out into the world.
"I'd like a 16-ounce Americano, please," he said to the barista. Maybe she would ask for his autograph or maybe she would just tell him that she was a big fan.
But she didn't. Instead, she said, "May I get you anything else?" And then she started laughing at her own joke, head tossed back, utterly filled with joy.
"No! Nothing else! You've done enough!" he stammered and collected his coffee with shame.
He sat down at a table at the back of the café and turned on his phone for the first time since mid-April. He had had 370,000 Instagram notifications, over a million Facebook messages. He had shut out his friends, his loved ones, even his agents and managers, all to avoid seeing the meme. Now he could venture online, without seeing the meme, he thought.
Of course, there it was still. Not to mention spinoff memes. It was everywhere, mocking him. He threw his phone down as if it were aflame. He should have waited another day. Maybe two.
Surely he was going mad.
Why had he said "May" instead of "me"? Why?
To be fair, it was a smash hit, an international phenomenon. He was beloved. The song was beloved. The music video was beloved. The way he said "me" was beloved. Then about five years ago, the meme had come. The meme had come and everything changed. It was so relentless. It was like meme torture. And what had he been doing with his hair back then? He couldn't bare to look at it any longer.
He got up from his table, leaving his phone behind, and pushed out through the door back into the sunshine. It seemed colder than it had before. The sky seemed to have dulled.
He passed an old woman on the sidewalk. Surely this elderly woman didn't know who he was or what a meme was. He made eye contact with her, searching for a friendly face. She looked at him and gave him an impish smile.
"Happy Me Day, Justin" she said, and gave a cruel cackle as she swept by him.
His soaring heart crashed. Why had he sung May? Why? It made no sense! It was senseless!
Perhaps tomorrow would be better. May 2. Or the day after that. But even if it weren't, there was still hope. If he could just hold on, just for a few more weeks, everything would be fine. In a few weeks, he thought, it's gonna be June.