We’ve known each other forever, though we’ve never actually met.
The closest I ever got to you was when I stalked The Edge and his family for a few minutes on the Santa Monica walking streets, dying to procure an autograph. But my inner groupie choked. I was certain he’d be a wholly justified asshole, dismissing me and my sycophantic grovel with a curt shake of his head and I’d never be able to listen to U2’s music again.
But you would never do that. You’re too good. Well, that’s your name, right? Not Paul Hewson, but “Bonovox”, which is Latin for “good voice”, —which you later shortened to “Bono”, which just means “good”, one extra “O” away from God. I always thought this was way cool. I grew up in the era of one-names—Cher, Madonna, Prince—but my name shortened (“Hen”) does not possess the glamorous mystery of your moniker, which sounds cinematic—like the title of a major motion picture: “Bono: The Light Side of the Force.” Mine is just a female chicken.
In the mornings, I’d jump out of bed, never hitting snooze, and dress my 13-year old, flat-chested frame for our morning sermon—(“Gloria”: “Gloria, in te domine”—Psalms 30). I could never get close enough to you. I would mash my Walkman’s headphones flush to my ears, underneath my chapeau-en-vogue—usually my John-Taylor-from-Duran-Duran fedora. It would act as rebar, securing the headphones to my head, all the better to vibrate with you. Your groan was so intimate, your wail so vulnerable. Your confessions sustained me on the laborious, claustrophobic hour-long subway ride to high school. I couldn’t hear the plebian mutterings around me as I navigated the bleary-eyed masses; I heard only your testimonies of love—(“Pride”: “One man come he to justify.”—Isaiah 53:11). Your passion was infectious, evangelical. It felt like a religious ecstasy I couldn’t yet possibly understand. I forgot about the pubescent under-the-blouse-over-the-panty fantasies scribbled in my journals; silly stories always climaxing with the words, “And I came.” A sophomoric intellectualization since I had no clue how sex finished off. You were so much more satisfying.
Your call to arms was to follow and I did—(“I Will Follow”: “If you walk away, walk away.” —Ruth 1:16). I was only too happy to become one of your disciples. My glossy, metallic-purple teenage lips had no filter (still don’t), but yours didn’t either. You were always kicking and screaming about Apartheid or Greenpeace or some other 80’s cause au courant. You wore your heart on your sleeve, so I decided to sew mine there too, along with rock band patches like “Rush” and “The Police” and bedazzling, plastic jewels. Who needed religion, when I had your words? You sampled from The Bible, you did all the theologizing for me. So I rejected religion before it could reject me. All I had to do was slip on my headphones and turn the dial to 10.
You were the soundtrack playing in my head, in his room, when glassine thoughts of what we would do to each other hardened into the delicious reality of loving and licking; long, lovely make out sessions after school, before high school sweethearts turned sour. (“With or Without You”: “See the thorn twist in your side.”—2 Corinthians 12:7) You were wailing as we found deep rhythms in your rhyme. You must have heard me wailing too, as I finally realized what the women were talking about in those Nancy Friday books my mother would slide far beneath her bed. And in the flushed silence afterwards, we’d lie entwined, in the giggly, googly-eyed reverent awe first love dares to offer and you would croon of our bliss.
I loved your private performances, but it was in the pit where I could truly worship you, arms swaying, stretched high above my head, palms spread flat to the glory of the enlightened stage—(“The Fly”: “Love we shine like a burning star.”—Luke 10:18). Oh, and thank you, thank you, thank you, for the black leather cat suit. That’s a classic. I keep that image locked deep in the vault, perfect for days when I run a little dry for material. If you know what I mean.
BTW, I’m sorry I couldn’t invite you to my wedding. I’m sorry I had to answer in bold letters on the DJ’s questionnaire: “What kind of music do you NOT want to hear?”—NO U2 or HEAVY METAL or RAP. It’s unseemly to think about another man on your wedding night, right?
Don’t hate me, but I did tune you out for a few years. Your voice thrummed like white noise as the sound of my life overwhelmed me—kidney transplant, marriage, Hollywood. And what was with that video? I didn’t understand why you were all dressed like the Village People. But it was more than your cringe-inducing costumes. In the past, your message of love had anchored me to the clear vision I had for my life; a windshield free of the slimy smear of bad choices that were beginning to collect like dead insects, insects like “The Fly” you personified when you first donned your now iconic shades, never to remove them again. Is that why couldn’t I hear you anymore? Had you become a caricature? Or an iconic seeker?
When I finally made it to Joshua Tree National Park, I was certain it would change my life. You promised. You said it had changed yours when you recorded the seminal album, The Joshua Tree”. But the silence in the desert was terrifying; it was beyond quiet. It hurt. All I could hear was the wild-rapid rush of questions in my head—doubt, expectation, fear. My bones felt burdened by the oppressive heat, unable to hold my head up and see the vulnerable starkness that might inspire. I drove slowly, winding our car through a path of the spiked succulents, their crooked fingers pointing heavenward. And when I couldn’t take the sound of silence anymore, I turned you on—not to hear your voice, but to drown out my own—while praying that my sleeping husband in the back seat wouldn’t wake up.
My life began to spiral. But you knew that. You wrote my theme song—(“Vertigo”: “The jungle is your head”.) Nothing in my life made sense anymore—rejection, disease, death—all of it screeching like feedback, distortion impossible to equalize. So, I followed your mission around the world—distraction by exaltation. I brought friends! Alcohol! Drugs! We were believers! (“Wild Honey”: “You were my shelter and my shade.”—Isaiah 25:4). Through the shantytowns of Mexico City we followed you. We endured the crass, commercial strip of Kalakaua Drive in Honolulu and its cigarette-littered beaches, knowing I’d hear The Word that night. My insides were shrinking at the same rate my addictions were growing—quickly, fervently. With every song, with every swill of every pill I’d ratchet your homily higher.
In my California King bed at home, I lay next to love, true and loyal, willing to follow me anywhere, but I only wanted to follow you. Lost in my life, you were my compass: Self, Drugs and Rock ‘n Roll—(“Running to Stand Still”: “Sweet the sin, bitter the taste in my mouth.”—Revelations 10:10).
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
I’ll never forget the first time I saw you. On heavy rotation on MTV, you strode masterfully across the flame-lit stage of Red Rocks, Colorado, fearlessly brandishing a white flag of surrender. You were brave, careless with your passion. And I fell in love—with your magic and your mullet—and joined your crusade.
But, you are no longer the incendiary front man. Your spiritual search no longer ignites, for your faith now smolders constant, burning steady like well-tended coals. Did you have the answers to faith all along? Clutched in your hands, the white flag as avatar of the simplest and most powerful of all life’s tools? Surrender. I surrender and I become empowered? Can it really be that easy? And did you know all along, but just decide to take me on a raunchy, raucous, soul-searching ride? Because I’ve loved every goddamn minute of it.
Your voice still stirs my soul, but gently now, like a soft gust that bounces a frothy bloom on its branch. Your gravelly groan reminds me of a time when I didn’t care that I was lost. But now I care. I’m not breaking up with you, I swear—(“Who’s gonna ride your wild horses?”: “Baby, can we still be friends?”). It’s just, I need to turn you down for a while, so I can listen to the silence I’ve evaded all my life.
And find what I’m looking for.