“Don’t listen to sad music.”
My mom tells me this the day after I inform her of the breakup. I’d told her about it the day of, though three hours after it had happened — I didn’t want her to dissuade me from attending my Genius Bar appointment that night. When I scheduled it, I didn’t realize my relationship of three and a half years would end immediately before.
In my mind, I could only allow one thing to be broken. I chose my heart, rather than my laptop.
I then got in a bath like Demi Moore in 1995’s “The Scarlet Letter,” frantically pulling up Al Green’s “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” and Bruno Mars’ “Grenade” and any other overdramatic sad song I could remember. With all due respect to my boyfriend of one month from the ninth grade, I knew nothing about how to recover from a breakup. All I knew came from the groan-inducing scene of every “Bridget Jones” movie, where Renée Zellweger and her bad British accent listen to “All By Myself” and eat ice cream from the tub.
Completely misconstruing my mom’s words as an insensitive, implicit suggestion to solely listen to girl power anthems by the Spice Girls and Fifth Harmony, I said OK and then went to my room to listen to sad music. I’d seen “Call Me By Your Name” — with my ex, yikes. Michael Stuhlbarg told me to not rip out any piece of myself after heartbreak. He told me to wallow in my sadness, and by God, I was going to wallow.
Yet the more time I spent with the melodramatic heartbreak melodies, I realized there were more than two genres of breakup music. There are, of course, the over-the-top, ridiculously sad, hopeless tunes, and there are the girl-power, “who needs a man” hits — technically inapplicable in my case, but their sentiment stands.
But then there’s the in-between, the songs that encapsulate loss, love and moving on. The music that’s too uptempo to be sad, too somber in lyrics to be happy. There’s Fleetwood Mac’s entire discography. There’s Lorde and SZA and hits by nearly any artist because my situation — though it’s felt utterly unparalleled by the scope of human existence for an entire month — isn’t really that unique.
Friends and acquaintances tell me of their first loves and divorces and heartbreaks and long-distance relationships and experiences with cheating. I call my mom every other day and tell her which Fleetwood Mac song is getting me through the next 24 hours. I’m given breakup playlists, and I go to see “I, Tonya” for the third time.
I listen to the “I, Tonya” soundtrack on repeat and begin to instinctively skip “How Can You Mend.” I instead put Dire Straits’ “Romeo and Juliet” on my January playlist because it reminds me, “It was just that the time was wrong.” My mom encourages me to listen to songs from their other albums. I play “Romeo and Juliet” again.
When Stevie Nicks sings, “If you don’t love me now, you can never love me again,” on “The Chain,” I physically feel its lyrical punch. I’d already known the song, but any fondness was more of a passive appreciation of its rhythms. “The Chain” becomes what I need to hear to heal my heart, to move on — the No. 1 hit on my heartbreak radio. It becomes my armor, and I play it at full volume through my headphones on days when I miss her. It reminds me that she wasn’t my “missing half,” or however the cliché goes. It reminds me that I’m whole on my own.
And when I can only remember the happy moments, Lorde reminds me the girl I loved in those memories isn’t the same girl who broke my heart. My ex-girlfriend isn’t carrying me over the threshold of her first apartment, that gorgeous pink building with roses climbing its sides. I’m not running out on Valentine’s Day to get us coffee before she wakes up. That’s not us today. That’s not who she is today. I realize I’m just watching a supercut — though I always skipped that song when I first played Melodrama.
My friend Chyna takes me to the roller rink where I’d last gone with my ex-girlfriend — where my ex had ditched me for the entire night because I was hopelessly terrible at skating. I get really, really good at roller skating, because Chyna doesn’t let go of my hand for the entire night. We go faster and faster, and I feel like Tonya Harding landing a triple axel while going 5 mph around the rink.
I call my mom the next day to tell her about the roller rink. My song of the day is Fleetwood Mac’s “Hollywood (Some Other Kind of Town).” It’s about finding joy in unexpected hardships, about moving on no matter the stakes. It’s not sad, but it’s not happy either. It’s exactly where I am today, where I’ve been, where I’m going.
Without Al Green’s help, I learn how to mend my broken heart.
“Cutting Room Floor” columns are one-off, arts-oriented pieces written by Daily Cal staff members.
Caroline Smith is the assistant arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected].