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Smile Though Your Heart Is Aching

Smile by Nat King Cole became my divorce anthem, in the days and months after I ended my first marriage. I sang it curled up in the corner of my bathroom, crying on the cold linoleum. I hummed it under my breath at a lunch meeting, when, mid-sentence, tears would assault my eyes in front of a stranger across the table. I wailed it at three o’clock in the morning, when everything about my life was uncertain, when my Dad had gone back home and I was still afraid to stay by myself, when I needed to hear any sound but what came screaming out of the silence.

Marrying the wrong man was not in my life plan. Okay, I’m sure most people who get divorced don’t PLAN for the whole business to last sometime less than forever, but until that point in my life, I’d never failed. At anything. Through the sheer force of my steely will, I’d always been able to make any situation turn out for me in the end.

I don’t write much about my first marriage, because I don’t like to dwell on it. But. One of the best things I’ve ever written (if I were judging my writing) is a work of fiction about the unraveling of a marriage. You can read it here.

Getting out of a bad marriage is almost routine. Lots of things can make a bad marriage. We grew apart. We wanted different things. I just wasn’t happy anymore.

I always look back on that time in my life as a survivor. I survived my first marriage. I had a friend who looked at me near the end and said, “I don’t want to see you the next time in the emergency room. Or worse. I don’t want you to become one of those statistics, the ones that come out of houses in body bags, their lives snuffed out in a few microcosmic seconds of passion.” Until that conversation, I never really believed I was That Girl. THAT happened to other women, ones with fewer choices than I had. Ones who were trapped. Ones who couldn’t find their way out of the screaming abyss of hell.

Until I realized I was in it. I found hell. Or, it found me. Somehow, we mated, and I was almost consumed by the burning heat of the flame.

In some ways, I owe my life to that song. It made me, one faltering note at a time, the survivor that I am.

Do you have a song that got you through a rough time in your life?

This post is part of the series The Soundtrack of Life. If this is your first visit to the series, please click here for the first installment, click here for the second installment, and click here for the third. MTM wrote a great guest post yesterday, which you can find here. Thanks for your contributions and insights in the comments. They always enrich this blog, especially in a series like this one.

68 Comments Post a comment
  1. This one:

    It was my self-talk.

    August 10, 2012
    • To me, Cher is an excellent choice for a self-talk, Roxanne. She’s such a tough lady herself.

      August 10, 2012
  2. Going through a divorce is a horrible experience and although one is insistent that all is OK during the process, it is only when you look back after a few years and realize how strange it was. No songs come to mind that were helpful, only time and moving on.

    August 10, 2012
    • It’s probably weird that I have a song from that time. I don’t know what I would’ve done without it, though, but still weird.

      August 10, 2012
  3. What a terrible, horrible time that must have been for you, Andra. Thank goodness your were/are strong and made it through to the other side.

    When You Wish Upon a Star. My mother, dying, in a semi-coma state, looked up when our daughter Jennifer came into the room, smiled, and sang a few lines of When You Wish Upon a Star. She died soon afterwards. It always comes to mind now in hard times, especially those of letting go.

    August 10, 2012
    • Penny, whenever I hear that song now, it will remind me of you and your mother.

      August 10, 2012
  4. Andra, I’m so glad you’re in a better place with your relationship with MTM and that was quite a powerful bit of writing you linked to. Many of us learn from the mistakes of a first marriage and hopefully bring those lessons to a much better 2nd time around.

    August 10, 2012
    • It probably takes things like that for some of us to make the right choice the second time around.

      August 10, 2012
  5. Gut wrenching. Weird but I cannot remember a song in a troubled time except for Blue October’s “Hate Me” which is a connection with my middle child and Justin (from Blue October) speaks to my dark side when I’m deep in my dark depression, but other than that, music has always been something I remember when I look back fondly. I’m finding that rather interesting.

    Andra, I’m glad you “failed” (although I do not consider it a failure – just a lesson learned), otherwise I wouldn’t know the joy of…well….Andra. :)

    August 10, 2012
    • Now, I realize it was a mistake, and life taught me lots from that mistake. At the time, I felt like a failure.

      It is interesting to learn how people process music. It’s one of the reasons I like writing about it here and there. Music is a happy thing for you, Lori. I can see that in some of the things you post.

      August 10, 2012
  6. Like Lori, I tend to associate music with happiness, lightness and laughter (although preceding Christmas, the year before Gene and I got married, I do recall singing Blue Christmas over and over ’cause he was going off to Florida for the holidays, instead of spending Christmas with my family and me — I didn’t think he took the hint, but he did drive back in time for New Years’ Eve). There ARE songs that will always move me to tears because of associations I make when I hear them, but that’s a different matter entirely.

    Also, like Lori, (although I considered it a huge FAIL at the time) I have come to decide that a divorce is sad, but nevertheless a life lesson and opportunity for growth.

    Great post!!

    August 10, 2012
    • The only way my first marriage was a failure would be if I had stayed. :)

      August 10, 2012
      • mtm #

        Lucky me that you didn’t.

        August 10, 2012
      • Awww. ain’t MTM sweet? And oh, so right.

        August 11, 2012
  7. Yes, it’s http://youtu.be/YYK39Vv8lJg

    August 10, 2012
    • The truly weird part about the music playing in MY head all day is that there are so many songs I do not like in the jukebox. Who put them in there?

      August 10, 2012
  8. There is always a sound track every day in my head. I think it’s the way a musician is wired. For years I didn’t understand that everybody else didn’t always have music playing in their mind. It accounts for why I break into song every now and again.

    I have musical snippets tucked away in my head that just auto play to certain words, situations and feelings. I truly don’t know how they got there. Many of them are from my love of church singing as a child and young adult. They are hymns or anthems that I learned in choir. OR they are bits of classical arias that break off and float to the surface as a vocalization.

    When I want through my divorce, there were many songs that I’d sing to myself in the dark morning hours as I power-walked Colonial Lake. Maybe as the day goes on, I’ll remember what they were, but all I can think of right now is “Smile.”

    August 10, 2012
    • Music is such a powerful emotional button, isn’t it? I associate so many things with songs. I’m glad we share this one, glad we both moved beyond that experience to have something perfect.

      August 10, 2012
  9. Sadly lovely writing.

    For me: music sometimes seems to be all that has helped me through bad times.
    Why this song for that time? No idea. But it was there and helped me through.
    Check out this video on YouTube:

    Sent from my iPhone

    August 10, 2012
    • Richard Thompson. Oh. Yeah.

      August 10, 2012
    • MTM told me at lunch how much he loves this one, Robert. It’s a great one.

      August 10, 2012
      • Richard Thompson is great! Yes, I have followed him since his early days with Fairport Convention. (See tomorrow’s post for my love of English folk rock.)

        Oh, and MTM should like any song with a Vincent motorcycle in it.

        August 11, 2012
  10. mtm #

    So glad you posted that one Robert…one of my favorite songs of all time, but I had never seen the video. A man, a guitar and a poem.

    August 10, 2012
  11. Andra – The Pogues Misty Morning Albert Bridge.

    August 10, 2012
  12. The Waterboys. Whole of the Moon or Fisherman’s Blues.

    August 10, 2012
    • Jessie, we have a best of Waterboys collection if you want it. MTM has been trying to sell it on Ebay, but I’ll just give it to you if you’re interested. :)

      August 10, 2012
  13. That song always gets me; so much melancholy.

    I have certainly had periods in my life when I listened to bleak music a lot but I am hesitant to talk about them because in retrospect, I was just feeling sorry for myself! Not a lot of justification for listening to Eve 6 and moping. One of my ex-bfs used to listen to Verdi’s Requiem when he was in a bad mood — drama queen!

    August 10, 2012
    • Now, that IS dramatic. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a place low enough to want to listen to Requiem.

      August 10, 2012
  14. I’m a big fan of the musical Les Mis. Just about any song will do, but I love the redemption in the overall story. A very spiritual journey. “Who am I?” is one of my favorites.

    August 10, 2012
    • I absolutely adore that show. Great choice. My fave from it below. I cry every time I hear it.

      August 10, 2012
      • Ha, I debated between that song and the one I chose. I kept going back and forth. MLB balls like a baby when she hears I Dreamed a Dream.

        August 10, 2012
  15. This song has a special place in our hearts as Katy and I reflect on the loss of our daughter to cancer 12 years ago. It is hard to listen to it without crying.

    August 10, 2012
  16. James Moffitt #

    I too went through a horrible divorce when I was in my mid 20’s. It was a painful experience that I wish I had been spared. Looking back at that time and knowing what I have now, I know I am glad that it happened. I am so blessed to be married to my best friend. I never knew how wonderful marriage could be until I met Katy. I am glad that you were able to get out of that dreadful relationship and that you and MTM are so happy together. I am happy for the both of you. :)

    August 10, 2012
    • It is always a gift when we walk through something awful and find something rich and powerful. I’m happy for you and Katy, too.

      August 10, 2012
  17. I love that Nat King Cole song (grew up on his songs, they’re the soundtrack to my childhood) but I never thought of it as a heartbreak song, I guess that’s changed for good now. I loved your post and I applaud your courage for writing about something obviously painful and personal.

    Somewhere Over the Rainbow, the remake, always makes me nostalgic but hopeful at the same time. I tend to listen to it when I need a pick-me-up.

    August 10, 2012
  18. Glad you survived . . . and that you’re wise enough not to re-live the hell by re-telling the tale.

    Me? Dream On . . . dream until your dreams come true.

    August 10, 2012
  19. Well, thank God for that song, Andra, and for the power of music which can do this for us: buoy us up in an ocean miles from any land. I’m thankful to Nat King Cole today.

    August 10, 2012
  20. I’m so glad that you got out of that hell. We slide into certain things in life. We don’t see them coming. So it can be so very easy to think certain things we’re in the middle of in life are “the norm” – whatever that is – no matter how toxic they are. Sometimes it is only a very fleeting moment that helps us glimpse what we’d look like if we were someone else looking at ourselves. And then we realise we are tolerating something that is not normal and that we don’t have to tolerate. I’m glad this song gave you strength through such a difficult time.

    This song actually has a very different resonance for me. For years, I have loved to throw my windows open in the summer and sing loudly of an evening! Last summer, one of the CDs of choice to sing along with was a Nat “King” Cole one. On it was “Smile”. My Grandfather loved that song and had my Mum track down a CD with it on for him. He happened to phone up, without me being aware, and heard me singing. He was surprised, but after that he would refer to me as “the singer”, which I found quite touching. Sadly, he died only weeks later. That song was played at his funeral and I haven’t been able to bring myself to listen to or sing it since.

    August 10, 2012
    • Smile isn’t a happy song, is it? But, it reverberates in the chasm of the soul, like the one your grandfather left. I listen to Nat all the time, and I still sing that song as a tribute to the girl who walked away from hell. I’ll now sing it to your grandfather, too, Heather.

      August 10, 2012
      • It’s great that you still like to sing that song, that it means so much to you, and that it is such a marker of your achievement. And thank you for singing it to my grandfather, too. It really touched me when you said that, and even made me want to cry a little.

        August 11, 2012
  21. As always, knowing just a few facets of someone, and long after they’ve survived, makes it seem impossible they could have been anything other than how you know them now… but this glimpse into your pain makes me hurt for that you then and jump for joy for you now.

    And then I went back and read, and I can’t believe I wasn’t here reading then. Powerful stuff, that. And terrifying.

    I drown my sorrows in different music all the time, but there’s a funny little song that made me laugh during one of the most difficult losses of my life.

    I wrote about it here: http://camerondgarriepy.com/2010/10/21/hed-totally-cheat-at-car-bingo/

    August 10, 2012
    • That song is so light and funny, Cam. Reading your post reminded me how freaking hard it is to CLIMB Mount Mansfield. I was in really good shape when I did it, and it still kicked my butt.

      People take interesting paths to become the person you see. Even I look back at that scared girl and wonder who she was sometimes.

      August 11, 2012
  22. I can’t think of a particular song. I did go through several losses about ten years ago. I could only listen to hymns and some contemporary Christian music. At that time it calmed me. If I listened to anything else I would just about fall apart. Eventually the balance returned, but I’ve never forgotten how it felt to be so shaky! Your experience as you describe the loss of your first marriage is just so raw and painful. I can hardly equate the woman you describe as the “you” today, Andra. We grow up very quickly in heartbreak.

    August 11, 2012
    • It still took me making another mistake to start to grow up, but I’m getting there. :)

      Hymns are some of the most soothing things in the world. I love many of the classic ones, something I highlighted in my Elvis gospel series in January.

      August 11, 2012
  23. Gee – thanks for getting me stuck on YouTube again. So many great songs on there. So may that mean so much to certain times of my life. So many memories come flooding back in.

    But anyway… the one that I keep coming back to is David Gray’s Babylon. Keep coming back to it on YouTube and in life.

    August 11, 2012
  24. glad you are in a much better place, Andra. many shows, Ally McBeal comes to mind, where the character has a theme song. my life has been filled with theme songs…music in general gives me strength that has nothing to do with body mass ~

    August 12, 2012
  25. “Smile” is one of my favorite songs as well, especially the line “You’ll find that life is still worthwhile if you just smile,” so thank you for sharing this with us and reminding me to Smile! Also, just wanted to let you know that I nominated you for the Reader Appreciation Award! Congrats :) http://hurdlestohappiness.wordpress.com/2012/08/13/reader-appreciation-award/

    August 13, 2012
    • Thanks, Dan. It’s great to meet you here, and I appreciate the nomination. :) Hope your week is filled with many smiles.

      August 13, 2012

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