When You Become Madame Butterfly: My Experience With Trauma and Music

E uscito dalla folla cittadina,
un uomo, un picciol punto
s’avvia per la collina.
Chi sarà? chi sarà?
E come sarà giunto,
che dirà? che dirà?
Chiamerà Butterfly dalla lontana.
Io senza dar risposta
me ne starò nascosta.

And leaving from the crowded city,

A man, a little speck climbing the hill.

Who is it? Who is it?

And as he arrives,

What will he say? What will he say?

He will call ‘Butterfly’ from the distance.

I without answering

Stay hidden.

G.Puccini, “Un Bel di Vedremo” from Madame Butterfly

~ ~ ~

So, we should probably establish from the get-go that beginning a long-distance affair with a married man who is also your professor is not the most brilliant of ideas — especially if you’re also married. Like many women who embark upon such an ‘adventure’, though, you probably didn’t actually think of it as an ‘affair’. You (poor deluded soul) probably decided that you were in love, as was he, and that everything would somehow magically work out. Of course, it didn’t — it rarely does. So, let us just fast-forward to the ‘trauma’ part of the story.

In a very short timeframe, you go from imagining that your love is perfectly represented by Vaughan Williams’ “The Lark Ascending” to snarling out Alannis Morisette’s “You Oughta Know” with your foot a little too firmly on the accelerator:

Did you forget about me, Mr Duplicity? I hate to bug you in the middle of dinner …

If you’re particularly self-flagellating, you’ve probably even made a break-up playlist that includes both.

The thing about a long-distance relationship is that it includes a lot of music swapping, and even more late-night frantic typing. It’s beyond soft — but in the absence of actually being able to hold their hand it’s comforting to know that you’re listening to the same song and thinking of each other. Dire Straits’ “So Far Away” was an obvious favourite of our doomed lovers. In this case, it was no metaphor. Six hundred kilometres is a fair stretch of land and sky between two people.

Every couple since the birth of recorded music probably has an album about their relationship, don’t you think? A unique and personally reflective collection that gives us a snapshot into the scene’s players, and even the relationship’s progression. Indeed, one of the greatest losses at the end of a relationship is the love of certain pieces of music — purely because of a now negative association. You can be sailing along in the relatively calm post-breakup waters and that damned song will be playing in a restaurant, or when you’re in the underwear section at Kmart. Instant tears and a lightning-flash reversal of time. You’re back there. Back in love. All the work you’ve done on yourself, all the marriage-fixing, all the endless one-step-forward-two-steps-back affair recovery just disappears in a two-bar snippet of Alexi Murdoch’s “Breathe”:

In the quiet of a shadow, in the corner of a room, darkness moves upon you, like a cloud across the moon …

Some of the musical memories are as perfect as chipotle married to dark chocolate: slow dancing in the dark to Otis Redding’s “These Arms of Mine”; a fire-lit room, Guesch Patti’s “Blonde”, and kisses so perfect that your soul literally floated up into the inky black sky like feathers. You loved that music once. Now you can’t hear it without wanting to go outside and scream at the dispassionate moon.

You used to play the piano for him. Now you can’t touch it. It sits there balefully and collects dust on its beautifully curved, polished wood. The sheet music for the theme song from John Barry’s “Somewhere in Time” flaps in a cross-breeze. The edges are curling now, and the paper yellowing. You’re still “Cinderella” on a swing, singing:

I can’t forget the melody, although our song is through. The love we shared, the dream we dared, was just a prayer that can’t come true …”

But there’s no fairy godmother here. There’s Ute Lemper and “The Case Continues” instead:

The motive is a mystery I’ll never understand … Oh tell me that there’s still a little love left in you … the case continues …

The heartening thing is that while people come and go, music remains. He could call “Butterfly” from the distance. But he won’t. The music we loved, the music of a storm, the music of our memory, and the melodies in the words remain the only tools we have to tell others of our journey. The dreaded ‘other woman’ feels too. She feels in music.