So U2 has been my favorite band since I was about eight years old which may sound strange to anyone who doesn’t know me very well. Most people my age didn’t “find” them until The Joshua Tree was released in 1987, but I remember hearing Sunday Bloody Sunday and New Year’s Day for the first time thinking they were awesome. I was drawn to the music, but also drawn to the message their music held – even at the young age of eight. It seems weird to me now that as an eight year old I would appreciate such controversial, almost militaristic music – but I come from a home that was rife with violence, alcoholism and chaos so I don’t think I was ever truly a normal eight year old. The year I first heard their songs was the same year my parents finally split up and divorced, my Grandma Estee (actually my great-grandmother) passed away and my Papa (Grandfather) passed away, too, making it easier for my father to abandon me to my dysfunction alcoholic of a mother permanently – so maybe a lifetime of witnessing the destructive behavior of my parents and a year of extreme upheaval just naturally coalesced into the unusual listening habits of an odd eight year old.
The year I turned nine the band released The Unforgettable Fire , and by this time I had started clipping and taping to my bedroom wall every news article I found in the paper about the religious and political struggles in Ireland – I knew everything the IRA was doing (everything that made the World Section of Lake-Sumter Sentinel or the Orlando Sentinel of course) and had read as many library books on the various revolutions taking place in Ireland as I could get my hands on in a rural southern school library. I identified, strangely, with the struggles and wants of both sides – which probably just points to the fact that my inability to choose sides goes back many, many years – but most of all I was disturbed by the loss of life that I kept reading about. I would read the newspapers at the school library, and I was probably the only nine or ten year old in Sumter County who knew or even cared what a Contra or Sandinista was, let alone who the Irish Liberation Army was, or that there was unrest in South Africa. The librarians probably thought I was cute or weird – most people thought I was weird at that time (cultivating weirdness is a coping mechanism many children from abusive homes develop) – my English teachers likely thought I was overly dramatic, if not maudlin, in the assignments I turned in, and most of my classmates basically tolerated my oddness and eccentricity.
Going into my teenage years, The Joshua Tree came out and my love of U2 became apparent to anyone who knew me as my fandom started to morph from simply a love of the music to a love of the band itself – I guess the long hair Edge and Bono sported just appealed to the rebel side of my personality – so that when my grandmother and aunt gave me my very first CD player and my very own copy of The Joshua Tree I was in heaven. Every night for months and months I would fall asleep listening to One Tree Hill or With or Without You or Running to Stand Still. The years between Joshua Tree and Rattle and Hum were rough for me as my mother and then step-father were spiraling more and more out of control by the minute and I was left to care for my three year old sister and new baby brother, to handle the entire household and to try to maintain my grades in school while dealing with the fighting, screaming and physical violence from my parents. It was a dark period for me.
I would sneak out of the house every night after my parents had passed out from their boozed fueled evening, climbing out my bedroom window and dropping the eight or nine feet to the ground as quietly as I could, then walking up our driveway beside the marsh creeped out the whole time as I had never really gotten used to the sounds of the frogs and crickets at night. I’d wander the streets of Wildwood through the roughest neighborhood on the wrong side of the tracks slowly winding my way to the police department where I would sit for hours with the dispatchers until it was morning and time to go home again. I think they knew how bad things were at our house, but back then no one really knew how to handle child abuse – and lord knows my parents were a bloody nightmare if you tangled with them. So I think the dispatchers and patrol basically kept watch over me as best they could from a distance until I was old enough to make a stand on my own. I was evolving on the inside during this period of my life – I was learning to hold in secrets and to hide what was happening at home, but I was also furious that no one would do anything about it. How do you, at thirteen or fourteen or fifteen, convince adults that you need help? That someone needs to step in and make what’s happening stop?
I was lucky that my dad’s side of the family had finally figured out a way to weasel me away from my mother by offering to let her keep the child support my father paid each month yet having me come to them and them support me, freeing my mother up to continue in her dysfunctional spiral. The first year I went to Darlington was the first time in my life that I had any consistency or normalcy – but I had no idea how to function in consistency. I had no idea how to be normal. My freshman year at Darlington was rough as a result. Fitting in with a whole slew of new kids while learning how to fend for myself in a college-like setting almost threw me into a tailspin. But it didn’t. I figured things out and settled into a decent routine of going to classes and participating in eighth period after school activities. I had several faculty “adopt” me and start mentoring me in how to be a normal teen – I don’t even think they knew how much their actions helped me because I didn’t know how to tell them then and even now have a hard time thanking people for what they did for me then. By my junior year, Achtung Baby released and was basically the theme CD for that entire year – I still can’t hear Mysterious Ways without thinking of Kari Nelson.
Flash forward to this morning on my commute to work – I’m blasting Invisible and Beautiful Day at high volume driving down the Crawfordville Highway thinking just how much my life has changed in so little time. I am still that odd eight year old in my head some days. I read too many articles about the horrible things we do to each other and I’ve seen, first hand, what we do to our children and generations of children, and I wonder what the soundtrack of their lives would be. I was lucky that my ears found pleasure in a band whose idea was to protest through music and advocate for change and peace through words and monetary policy. The soundtrack of my life has been peppered by the suggestion of action and work and advocacy and hope and love. But what happens for the children whose soundtrack is not so plucky? We have to move forward as a society and change their soundtracks to change their destinies. Who’s willing to change the station today?