Like A Song: Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own

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Like A Song[Ed. note: This is the 60th in a series of personal essays by the @U2 staff about songs and/or albums that have had great meaning or impact in our lives.]

Like almost every U2 fan, I feel that their music must have written parts of my life. No matter what the lyric is, I can always find a memory to match up with it.

How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb is my all-time favorite U2 record. It had such an effect on me right from the first listen. Nearly seven years later, every song still gives me chills and I wouldn’t be the U2 fan I am now without it. It’s definitely a record that I can pick songs from and link it to certain days gone by. One in particular is “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own.” Bono wrote the song about the relationship he had with his late father, Bob. When I first heard it, I felt like it knew me. It was raw and personal in lyric and melody. Like Bono, I saw a vision of my family in the song. It remains an important part in the musical history of my life because of its connection to past and recent events I endured.

Tough, you think you’ve got the stuff
You’re telling me and anyone
You’re hard enough
You don’t have to put up a fight
You don’t have to always be right
Let me take some of the punches for you tonight

I was mercilessly bullied when I was in the eighth grade. For a four-month period, I lived in fear. I would bolt up to my bedroom after school and stay there the rest of the night. In the video for SYCMIOYO is a scene of a frustrated Bono in a bedroom by himself. It reminded me of the days I spent locked in my room, contemplating what to do about my being bullied. When I’d come downstairs for dinner, I would collect my plate and head back up. I was also making myself sick every chance I could to avoid going to school. I had an absence every week. While my parents could have chalked this up to me being an arrogant teenager or actually being really ill, they didn’t. They were too smart for that. They would beg me to tell them what was bothering me. Whether in the car or at an unnecessary doctor’s appointment, I would either not respond or just angrily tell them to leave me alone. Even though I desperately wanted their help, I was terrified to ask for it. I was scared that once they knew about me being bullied they would call my school, my tormentors would somehow find out, and I would be bullied even more. So rather than be honest, I put up that fight and let the bullying resume. I made my mom and dad think I was tough when I clearly wasn’t. And like any good set of parents, they wanted to fight that battle for me.

Listen to me now
I need to let you know
You don’t have to go it alone

That’s what they were trying to tell me. But I was so stubborn and afraid that my secret would be found out that I pushed them away. Once it reached a breaking point, I finally told one of my teachers what was going on and she called my parents. I felt like such a coward, but relieved that they finally knew what was going on. They were beyond supportive and helped me get through it. I was no longer alone anymore, but I wished I had been brave enough to tell them myself. Over a decade after my bullying, I saw my parents face turmoil of their own.

My maternal grandmother passed away in March 2010 and my paternal grandmother followed in January of this year. There is nothing more sobering than death. There is nothing that will make you stop what you’re doing and re-evaluate your life more than the death of a beloved person in your life. Seeing my parents mourn their mothers is something I will never forget. I wanted to trade places with them. I wanted their punches of grief to beat me and not them. I wanted to tell them that it was OK to be upset, but that if they needed my help, I was there. I think deep down I wanted to make up for not telling them this when I was 13. I didn’t want them to lie to me and say they were fine when they weren’t. They didn’t have to be tough for me and put up a fight. They didn’t have to do this on their own. Both my mother and father wore brave faces at the funerals. I knew deep down they were hurting, but they didn’t have to go it alone.

I know that we don’t talk
I’m sick of it all
Can you hear me when I sing
You’re the reason I sing
You’re the reason why the opera is in me
Well, hey now
Still got to let you know
A house doesn’t make a home
Don’t leave me here alone

Even in my 20s, I still don’t tell my parents everything. I’ve lied about how many tattoos I have. I’ve kept relationships hidden from them. I regret all of that. I’m sure there were things that Bono regrets not telling his dad before he died. I see so much of myself in my parents, the way Bono saw his inner opera tenor come alive because of his dad. I get my work ethic and driven nature from my dad, who’s worked in retail for 35 years. I’m an uber-fangirl because of my mom, who has accompanied me to many Barry Manilow concerts. I am who I am because of them and I shouldn’t be ashamed to tell them anything. One day I won’t be able to. I don’t want to lose them and have things left unsaid.

And it's you when I look in the mirror
And it's you that makes it hard to let go
Sometimes you can't make it on your own
Sometimes you can't make it
Best you can do is to fake it
Sometimes you can't make it on your own

There are some days when I think about the person I was when I was bullied and compare it to who I am now. While I’ve grown a thicker skin, I’m never going to recover. I’ll forever deal with being insecure about myself. I’ll never set that torture free. It’s the same thing with the deaths of my grandmothers. My parents have moved on, but they will never really be able to let go of their mothers. Bullying leaves you scarred and death drills holes in your heart. You can try to cover the scars and fill the holes as best you can, but those bruises will still be open and visible. The only remedy is to put on a smile and go on with your life. It’s the best you can do. But when life deals you a bad card, you don’t have to play it by yourself.

In U2 By U2, Bono talked about singing SYCMIOYO at his father’s funeral, yet the song wasn’t finished. It finally came together when they were working on HTDAAB. He said, “It took years waiting on that song and then it just came together and it feels like the song always existed.” I’m so happy it exists because it’s given me a sense of closure that I have been seeking.

(C) Marino/@U2, 2011

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