November 10, 2013

Big Broken Hearts: Love & Life Lessons from Norah Jones.

Norah Jones, a Friendship Divorce & Me

My then-roommates Amanda and Jane had both gone to school with Norah Jones in the Dallas area, so the night she made her debut on The Tonight Show in 2001, we tuned in.

I saw a pretty, petite gal with long, wavy hair whose hands and voice shook ever so slightly as she played the piano and sang her soon-to-be hit, “Don’t Know Why.”

Next thing we knew, she’d sold a trillion copies of her first album and won an armful of Grammy awards.

Jane and Norah were roommates in college, until the latter dropped out, moved to New York City and became the most famous singer/songwriter of our generation. I crossed paths with her a few times when she would come through Austin on tour. I was completely star struck but tried to act cool.

Jane told me that when Norah was little, she’d received a trinket from a friend of her dad (the renowned Indian sitarist Ravi Shankar). That friend was George Harrison and the gift was a small statue of a Hindu deity. I could scarcely believe that I was just three degrees of separation away from one of my musical idols—an actual Beatle.

In 2005, I had an epic manic episode that resulted in a severely burned bridge with Jane. After some months, we repaired the rift and gradually became even closer friends. We were both single, both elementary school teachers and both content to hang out, smoke a bowl, drink wine and watch Curb Your Enthusiasm DVDs, as we were in our late twenties and fed up with the bar scene.

In March of 2009, Jane and I fled Austin during the five-day hipster mayhem that is SXSW Music Festival—for Manhattan, of all places. We stayed at Norah’s penthouse apartment!

I won’t reveal any personal facts about my celeb-acquaintance out of respect for her privacy. Suffice to say, she’s totally down-to-earth, funny and friendly. She does not flaunt her celebrity by parading around with an entourage. She was a gracious hostess and didn’t make too much fun of Jane and me when we were too exhausted to go out on Saturday night after having our asses kicked at a yoga class taught by Dharma Mittra.

Six months later, I relocated to Guatemala. When I came home to Austin for the holidays, Jane and I had another mania-fueled falling out. This time, the re-burned bridge was demolished for good, other than exchanging brief condolence emails when we heard that each others’ dogs had died.

It is best described as a friendship divorce. Since we have many mutual friends, I’m still vaguely aware of her major life events and I assume she is of mine, as well.

I have always cherished friendships and am naturally inclined to keep in touch with people. I earnestly tried to make amends—to no avail. At last, I gave up, but I still couldn’t let go of my ill will toward Jane for breaking my big, warm heart. Our split hurt more than most of my romantic breakups.

I heard by proxy that Jane met someone. They got engaged and married and then, when I was pregnant, I learned that Jane, too, was expecting her first child.

Then I heard that her husband had had a severe manic episode during which he drained all the funds from their joint account and she subsequently kicked him out. (One common symptom of mania is having grandiose ideas, which often leads to irrational and excessive spending.)

When I heard this story, I felt genuine compassion. Pregnancy makes you hormonal, exhausted and overwhelmed all by itself. To have your partner go crazy and threaten the marriage/relationship would be incredibly stressful, to say the least.

Yet, after the initial surge of compassion, I will admit that some feelings of vengeance crept in. After all, she’d ultimately ended our friendship because I was bipolar and she didn’t want to be friends unless I was medicated.

It seemed like poetic justice  to the red devil on my right shoulder and, simultaneously, terribly tragic and heartbreaking to the kind angel hovering over my left. Regardless, Jane and her husband reconciled and had a baby boy who is just a few months younger than my daughter.

Recently, I bought Norah’s latest album, Little Broken Hearts. The whole thing is clearly and unapologetically about how she dealt when her boyfriend dumped her for a 22 year old named Miriam.

Norah’s songs are a testament to the beauty that can emerge from a broken open heart. Often, when I hear her music, I can’t help but think of Jane and our long-lost friendship. With the passage of time, I feel gratitude for the happy and fun times we shared and wish her nothing but goodness.




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Editor: Bryonie Wise

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