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"Bad": Wide Awake

MM was beautiful, in the thin, tan, confident way that California beach towns brew.  He was on the water polo team.  And surfed.   And was funny. 

I was new at the high school that prom night, so while MM and my prom date excused themselves to go into a bedroom at the pre-prom party, I waited awkwardly for them to return.  And when they came out a bit later, they were excitable and happy, which someone confirmed for me later was a result of the cocaine they’d been snorting.  It was 1985; MM was seventeen.

Two years later, I saw MM at the Pacific Garden Mall in downtown Santa Cruz.  And he wasn’t making sense, high on some psychedelic—acid?  mushrooms?—but was still gorgeous.  He recognized me too so wasn’t totally out there.  But it worried me.  With overprivilege like his, he should have been on his way to bigger and better; blazing a clear trail with money, charisma and good looks. 

But that’s not what ended up happening. 

 

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I thought that U2’s "Bad" was a love song.  Because that’s just where my brain naturally goes.  Plus, it has always seemed too slow and beautiful to be a song about a heroin overdose. 

 

Bad (by U2)

If you twist and turn away,

If you tear yourself in two again.

If I could, yes I would,

If I could, I would,

Let it go.

Surrender.  Dislocate.

 

But Bono had once lived in the shadows of Ballymun Flats, where social isolation and boredom drove people into grief and adrenaline, until they found themselves in a harsh world of self-loathing and addiction that—over time—could only be eased with even more heroin. 

Or death.  

So when Bono gives “the Bono talk” to up-and-coming musicians, he does so using the dark backdrop of his own frustration at not being able to help his friend(s)--one who OD’d on his 21st birthday; another more slowly, inspiring the lyrics to “Running to Stand Still”--out of the hole of shame-filled addiction that they found themselves in.

Because most drug addicts were once just like you and me.   Like sweet Cory Monteith.  With promise.  With family.  And people who love them.  And resources, of one form or another.   They are (or were) gorgeous and beautiful, and charming, and full of life. 

And they wanted something different for themselves too.

So when someone like Bono sees a junkie, he sees not just what they are but what they were and what they could be. 

 

“If I could throw this
Lifeless lifeline to the wind
Leave this heart of clay
See you walk, walk away
Into the night
And through the rain
Into the half-light
And through the flame

If I could, you know I would

If I could, I would 
Let it go...

This desperation
Dislocation
Separation
Condemnation
Revelation
In temptation
Isolation
Desolation
Let it go”

 

And what he has so painfully learned, he shares.  Through song.  Through lectures.  Through “the Bono talk.”  And he keeps trying, even if only some will listen.  Even if musical ears are too despondent or arrogant to hear him.  Even if Kurt Cobain’s embarrassment means Bono is turned away.

He keeps trying--giving his fatherly advice, trying to prevent them from crashing over the edge of fame--because trying feels so much better than giving up.    And, it seems like, for him, pushing people to love themselves as much as he loves them comes naturally, perhaps because he knows sorrow so well.  

Which I guess means I was right all along. 

It really is a love song.

 

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About why he never got into heroin, Bono says that to survive in life, “You have to know when you’re dealing with something that’s bigger than you.”

And heroin is bigger than one person; it’s bigger than whole families.   It’s bigger than schools and nations. 

And the worst thing anyone—any person, any parent (including me)--can do is to believe that it can’t happen to them.  Or ignore the hell of the family of an addict.  Or the lyrics of a man who has changed the world with his philanthropy but couldn’t do a damn thing to save his friends.    

The worst we can do is ignore the two mugshots on Google images of that gorgeous boy from high school:  in the older mugshot, MM's hair is darker but he's still handsome, with trimmed goutee and bright eyes; in the newer one, he is gaunt, pale, with long stringy hair and a dead look in his eyes.   The “before” and “after” of drug addiction:  a chilling metamorphosis.

When I hear Bono’s lyrics—and U2’s song--I’m with Bono in hell.  As MM’s parents. And Cory Monteith's parents.  With them all in the hell of not being able to help someone you love out of the most suffocating of holes. 

And I shed tears.  And get that sick feeling in my gut that life sometimes feels like it’s cutting way too deeply with it’s razor’s edge.  Because the agony of losing your child, over and over again—with each injection, and each relapse, and then, God-forbid, each overdose-- is almost too much for me to contemplate.  

But I make myself go there.  I make myself face it.  I watch the specials, and I read the stories.  I spend mornings Googling Ross McDonnell photoessays, and Youtube videos on Ballymun. 

Because it is awful, but I don’t want to end up “high” myself on the false belief that--unlike MM's parents--it could never happen to my own children.     

Because "the Bono talk" is for us all.

And, like him, we should be "wide awake," facing the harsh realities of the things that worry us, and soothed by vigilance and loving this world too much to let the sorrow of the past make us give up on the hope of "trying."

 

 

Comments
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Amy, Heartbreaking to read,

Amy,

Heartbreaking to read, yet filled with the hope that by reaching out, perhaps another soul can be saved. I met a lovely woman at work who cares for her elderly mother and is always smiling and upbeat. The other day she looked whipped and I asked if her mom was ok.  It wasn't her mother, but her daughter who has an addiction problem and has cleaned up and fallen back into drugs over and over again. 

My heart aches, as a mother too, feeling so helpless and yet wondering if there was something that she is missing, something that would finally turn the key to "fixing this."

Thanks for sharing Bono's story. I have an even greater appreciation for his music.

Annette

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It is heartbreaking. And so

It is heartbreaking. And so many souls are lost.

But people do come back from it.

I just think the key is what he says about never assuming you're bigger than the drug. Because it tricks you into thinking you are. But it's all deception.

Thank you, Annette. You seem to have a tender heart with a strong core. Let's both send out prayers that her daughter fights it with all she's got.

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Annette, I went back to edit

Annette, I went back to edit that last comment but it messes up the formatting so I'll just leave what I wanted to add here:

I know that there is no forumulaic addiction process--some might be self-medicating because of undiagnosed/untreated mental illness; some are unaware of how addictive things can be; some are just caught in a bad crowd--and I do not blame parents for a process which even social scientists are unable to reliably predict.

BUT that pre-prom party I spoke of was at a house where no parents were even home.  

Maybe they wanted to be the "cool" parents.  Or maybe they were too involved in their own deal to pay attention to their 17 year old doing drugs in the back bedroom.  But that's a huge issue in this.

Also, what actually prompted me to write this post, was an article I came across while researching places that I might want to eventually move to in California; I wanted to see if drugs were still a risk factor in that area.  And I found an article about my high school that stated that this year they were going to be bringing in drug sniffing dogs to the school; so administrators and parents know about the problem, but the problem--in this wealthy, privileged area--is framed around the issue being the $25,000 in lost attendance revenue that results when students are suspended for drug infractions.  And, I thought:  They think THAT'S the problem?!

Nowhere is future potential for addiction mentioned.  It was crazy.

 

 

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Amy, Interesting analysis,

Amy,

Interesting analysis, and I've found that most of the time the middle/upper class think that drugs and addiction problems aren't happening at their schools- but they are everywhere. My oldest son attended a private catholic high school- drugs were an issue. They were in people's cars, the kids were drinking heavily and smoking pot, popping mom and dad's prescription meds, and doing the sniffing of aerosols. Mom and Dad, it seems, were too busy with their own lives.

You are correct. Sometimes, no matter how good and diligent the parents, a kid has an addictive personality and will get involved with drugs no matter what. But, I've noticed that kids whose parents were not parenting (in their lives asking questions, knowing who they are out with etc..), parents who did not build trust with their kids ( letting the kid feel comfortable coming to them with a problem), kids with no sense of self-reliance, those are the kids more willing to try drugs and drink themselves silly.

Kids with healthy relationships with their parents, and a good sense of themselves, are more likely to withstand the peer pressure.

I just pray my kids continue to trust me, and use their own good sense.

Annette

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I tend to echo Annette's

I tend to echo Annette's words, Amy. If the parents are not there, cast the child out of their lives at whim well what can one expect? It is sad and what a waste of a fine life for MM. Apart from that your blog is so well constructed - I like the way you draw in the threads of lyrics throughout. Have you considered submitting it somewhere? mx

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Hi Mary. Yes, I definitely

Hi Mary. Yes, I definitely hear you both on this. As I mentioned above, there can be mysteries to how these things get started, like undiagnosed/untreated mental illness, for instance. But there can also just be plain and simple lackadaisical parenting. MM had access to money and no parenting and, for a teen boy possibly feeling neglected, it certainly wouldn't take much more to push him towards checking drugs out.

Thank you for reading and commenting, Mary. And for appreciating the efforts at integrating the lyrics into the other parts of the story. The blogs when I use music are usually my very favorites.

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Well, it's a job well done,

Well, it's a job well done, Amy. You have talent and it shows. mx

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Well drawn ~

But I've seen the slide happen with and without parents' presence or knowledge. 

Going back to Bono's comments, people need to recognize when something is bigger than them.  More, when recognizing it, as I think many do, they need the courage to walk away.  With peer pressure and warped expectations, it makes it appear as though the brave are the ones who try escalating experience through drugs.  Or too many, like the shy, insecure and desperate who yearn to belong, are too willing to take the risk.  Too many do not trust enough in themselves to walk away. Perhaps that's where the lack of parenting shows, in the lack of strength or the lack of someone to lean on and guide them away.

Powerful piece, Amy.  Loved how the lyrics were incorporated.  The Joshua Tree is one of my favorite albums, certainly on the top five list from that era.

Namaste

 

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Thank you for commenting,

Thank you for commenting, Michael.  These are very precarious times and a complicated issue because sometimes it seems like the choice whether to do them or not is based on complete dis/misinformation.  

In my view, schools need to be armed with before/after pictures, and with information from real former addicts telling them about the depths they themselves fell to and how horrible it was to come off the drug.  That way kids can go into it with a more complete mental picture of what drugs can do and therefore get a clearer vision of what exactly they're saying "No" to.

They're saying "no" to a mountain of future misery.

 

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Thank you for this, Amy. It's

Thank you for this, Amy. It's everything I've been thinking about these last couple of weeks. I just read an article in the NYTimes about how heroin has become such a huge problem in the northeast, small towns in Maine and Vermont, multiple deaths weekly. It's so scary and such a slippery slope. We will talk about this again today in my house and I will share with my kids this post about MM and Bono.

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That's wonderful that you're

That's wonderful that you're so proactive about this.  It is dangerous to underestimate the power of an unknown elixir, especially when potentially in the hands of a teen/young adult who is not yet experienced enough with life to have had to face their own limitations.

Obviously, I did not put his full name in this post for a reason, but, considering your personal circumstances--if you'd like--you could email me and I could send you MM's before and after pics to show your kids.  It is haunting.  

Thanks for commenting, Eva.  Best to you and your kids, who are so fortunate to have you.