I wasn’t prepared for how hard the news of Sinead O’Connor’s death would hit me. I don’t think I have any proprietary relationship to O’Connor. I was slightly too young to understand her music during her early-‘90s heyday; I learned to like her the same way I learned to like Kate Bush, as a blueprint for all the later artists I did love. There’s no Tori Amos or Shirley Manson without Sinead O’Connor. In many ways, the whole architecture of angry ‘90s lady pop comes out of one Prince song and a torn-up photo on SNL.
But it wasn’t just the music, although — now that I’m an adult, and a better audience — I know it’s great. It wasn’t just her politics, either. It was something deeper; a projection, a shadow, a hope I didn’t realize I’d hung on her until it was too late.
It feels presumptuous to compare myself to her. We’re both survivors, we both have C-PTSD, we’re both feminists, we both care a lot about being parents, we’ve both been made fun of or vilified, but the fact is that I could play this game with any public figure. I’ve never experienced anything like the mass-scale public demonization that O’Connor faced. I don’t know what it was like for her, and I never will.
Still, I felt a kinship with her. We both spent our lives being hunted by the same beast. When you are abused at a very young age, when you are forced to carry a parent’s image of you as worthless, it can feel as if everything you do and think and say, as an adult, is an attempt to get back the human worth that was stolen from you. Every interaction has the power to prove your abuser right, or prove them wrong, and you want so, so desperately for them to be wrong, because if they’re right, you shouldn’t be here. You shouldn’t be alive.
So every day you are running from the wolf at your back, and your legs are sore, and your lungs are on fire, and it seems like no human being can keep this up forever. Everyone has to rest sometimes. But you never do. Every day, someone wants you to stop — stop and listen to them yell at you about the Pope, about your music, about your Twitter, about your hair — and none of them realizes that if you stop running, you will die. All of them think their point is the most important one anyone has ever made. All of them think you’re an asshole if you can’t stop and listen. None of them understand that you already listened to someone, and it might be the death of you; you’ve already heard the worst possible thing you could ever hear about yourself, and half the time, you believe it; if you take one more person’s advice about whether you deserve to live or not, you will not live, so you can’t stop for their feedback or their criticism or their quote-dunks or their heartfelt advice, you can’t listen, you can’t grovel, you can’t argue, you can’t plead, you just have to keep running or the wolf is going to catch up.
I wanted to believe that Sinead O’Connor could keep running forever. It had been such a long fight. We had all put her through so much. She had done the right thing, whenever she could do it; she had stood up for other children every chance she got. I wanted the world to be fair, and for her to get some mercy. Instead, her son died, and so did she.
It’s a selfish reaction. I don’t entirely like myself for having it. I fully believe that Sinead O’Connor was stronger and braver and more talented than I am, and she probably had better politics, but that’s just it — if she can’t find a way to outlast this thing, what chance have any of the rest of us got? I keep telling myself I’m getting better, that I’m healing. But has the wolf stopped chasing me, or is the hunt just taking a long time?