My Letter to You

Friday September 1, 2023 is a day that I dreamed of during Covid lockdown. A day that I wasn’t sure would even come. A day that I’ve been anticipating since being blessed by the Ticketmaster gods with a code and a (very expensive) guarantee that I would get to see the Patron Saint of Freehold, NJ in person. A concert that was not a concert at all but a promise that we are truly alive. I am sure that the purists have a lot to say – concerts are shorter than in the past, the setlist predictable and a lot less Bruce-isms breaking up the time between songs. I simply don’t care of about of that.

It is not dramatic to state that on multiple occasions Springsteen has saved my life. Everyone who lives in this great Country of NJ has a tale or a one-upped example of how they love him more than anyone else. I’m not special and I’m not unique – I know what he means collectively to us as residents of the Garden State.

I was born in New Brunswick, NJ in 1983, coincidentally a year before my favorite album came out. Jokes were always made that I knew the words to Born in the USA before I actually learned how to speak as a child. I remember the times in my home that my parents would blast the album across the living room and my dad would swing me around like a rag doll, full of glee and shrieking to my favorite songs. I don’t have many imprinted memories from being that young, but that album is one I have hung onto for these forty years. We were fist pumping to his music before the Jersey Shore and before being from NJ was cool, although in my mind there is no place cooler.

Growing up in my household was not easy. His music was always an immediate escape and a reminder that life was tough for so many, not just me. There was a comradery in knowing the stories of struggle he told and that I wasn’t alone.

As a child, my father was my best friend, my hero and my savior. He spent 25 years as a Police Officer in New Brunswick, not only working patrol but establishing the Domestic Violence unit in town, something that didn’t exist prior. I related so much to Bruce’s stories on Broadway about his dad. It was like he was talking about my Dad. The lyrics of “My Hometown” echo the car rides down Livingston Avenue when my dad would scream out the open car window “These are my people!” I think about that every time I hear the song. He was a simple man from a simple city and so proud of his roots, as am I.

Life was uprooted immediately on September 11, 2001. Three hours after the second tower went down, my father was packed and getting ready to take the Staten Island Ferry into Lower Manhattan. I begged him not to go. I met him in New Brunswick where he was managing a crowd of Rutgers students who had lined the streets to give blood. I asked again and again, why he would go into the City after what had occurred. He simply responded with “I have to go help.” That was it. No further discussion. I watched my father and other First Responders from Middlesex County fade down George Street and leave me to wonder if I would ever see my dad again.

My father never took a sick day. He was 6’2”, healthy as a horse and strong. I don’t remember as a child even seeing him sick. That changed three days later when he came back. He didn’t talk a lot about his experience, just enough where I understood. The thing that I recall hitting him the hardest was pulling stuffed animals out of the rubble. The thought of kids having been affected by this is more than he could take.

Over the next 17 years I became my father’s caretaker. He went from the picture of health to near death emergencies every six months, loss of liver and kidney function, skin disorders, blood disorders and heart problems. I felt like every day was a crap shoot as to whether or not he would feel like a human. But you’d never find a day when that man complained. He always had a smile and said he was doing great. I felt like my quality of life (and obviously his) was taken away.

I remember when The Rising came out. As hard as it was to get through, my dad loved it. From “Empty Sky” to “My City of Ruins,” I felt like finally, someone was telling my dad’s story. That album always made him smile. Even years later, Bruce continued to be a musical conduit between my father and me, bringing us the joy that only his music can in a much different way than “Born in the USA” did. He gave me that child-like happiness again and again and brought a moment for us to escape life’s agony and just listen and sing.

We lost my father on February 7, 2019 to 9/11 related illnesses. He fought as hard as he could and I did everything I thought of to keep him with us. We almost lost him previously in November after he had emergency surgery and the irony of something so unexpected leading to his death was not lost on me. Four years later, I still don’t understand.

In 2020 when Covid hit and I found myself alone, I worried excessively about how I would maintain my mental health. I missed my Dad and went from feeling alone from his loss to being alone in every way possible. I didn’t know what to do. I did not want to live in a world without my dad and I certainly did not want to live in the world of 2020. One morning I went on YouTube and saw a suggestion of a Bruce concert in Rome. I hadn’t listened to his music in a while because I just didn’t have the heart to. I clicked on it and my mouth dropped when heard what song it was. My house filled immediately with the haunting vocals of Land of Hope and Dreams. It was as if Bruce and the E Street Band had given me a direct line to talk to my dad – in that moment, I knew he was there with me. So I listened and I sang until I was screaming and crying. Then I played another song. And another. Before I knew it, I was having my own Bruce dance party in my house in Lambertville, much to the abject horror of my poor dogs who were non-consensually watching me.

I started walking. I bought ear buds. I kept listening and kept walking. It felt like church. I don’t know how I would have survived Covid without Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. They kept my dad here and present and made me feel like someone was always with me. And hey – they even gave us an amazing new album to listen to! I made dinner every night alone, and it always started with “Thunder Road” no exception and ended with “Dancing in the Dark.”

Fast forward to 2023 – the year I remember fantasizing about since Covid. The year Springsteen promised we would pack the stadium in New Jersey and he would play to the roar of 50,000 fans.  The minute I saw the “Welcome Home to New Jersey” signs at Metlife I broke down. Bruce was in the building. My surrogate dad was going to play live the music that brings my Dad to me.

For almost three hours they held church. I cried through many of the songs that reminded me of my father. I screamed either “New Jersey” or “Jersey” back at him 1.2 million times. It still wasn’t enough. I love this State and I love this man. I will never be able to put into words what the experience meant to me. I had the three most important people in my life with me and I got to witness their first time at a Bruce concert. You can’t imagine what it looks like to see the eyes of someone watching them perform for the first time – nothing like it.

I will never be able to say thank you enough to Bruce. I will never have the full words to explain what he has meant to me. It is a week before 9/11 and this man brought my dad back to me in a way that no one else could on a looming day that is typically torment and agony. It will most likely be those two things, but being with him in East Rutherford, NJ for the night of Friday September 1 has brought me more solace than anything on this Earth could bring me. I don’t care what anyone has to say about it – you can critique all you want, nit-pick performance choices and complain you didn’t “get your song,” but at the end of the day we got to hear the sound of angels through the mouth of a man who has meant so much to us here. I will be forever grateful that I got to spend time with the Man, the Myth and the Legend, as my Dad called him, right before a time that is so difficult. Thank you Mr. Springsteen and the E Street Band. Because of you I know how to find him.



 A Nice Italian Girl from Middlesex County, NJ.

January 14, 2023 — Stacy Sabo