When I was nineteen years old, I left Denver to live in Minneapolis for a year. It was a weird year, which I rarely talk about. I guess it has always felt like an uneventful time, in a very eventful life. I worked a shitty job at a bagel shop. I got fired from that, and then got a job as a delivery driver. I worked that job from ten at night until four or five in the morning three to four days a week.
The winter was cold, the city was unfamiliar, and punk was changing for me. My young relationship was tumultuous as well. That has always sort of summed up my time in Minnesota. It was the year I tried to be an adult. I mostly spent it alone, working, trying to hold my first serious relationship together or trying to write.
I have one very clear memory of walking across the 10th Avenue Bridge in winter. The wind was freezing, and the Mississippi rushed below me. I hadn’t returned phone calls from any of my old friends in weeks now. I came to the cold realization that my perception of the world was changing and I was only twenty. So many of the ideals and relationships I had once clung to so desperately now just seemed futile and cheap.
My heart felt like a lump of ice, and my illusions shattered. That whole winter, I felt as if something in my body was changing shape. I came to realize that saying goodbye to those kids now growing into boring adults, the ones who I had held fast to in my youth, was not as hard as I always thought it would be once the drifting apart began. The phone would ring and ring, and I never picked up.
Summer came and it was time to go home. A year in Minneapolis felt like enough, even though I was just beginning to feel adjusted. I made the drive to Denver in less than a day. I packed everything I owned in a tiny car, put my cats in a carrier together in the back seat, and drove without stopping until I was back home. My exhausted eyes are filled with resignation the whole way. This isn’t the life we chose, but it’s the life we got.
I came home to Denver that summer, in 2001. It was around the time phrases like “Screamo” and “Emo Violence” were being thrown around at shows all the time. Bands like Orchid and The Blood Brothers were constantly on tour, and stopped to play Double Entendre Records regularly. All the boys had silly spock haircuts that I thought were dumb, not that my unruly mop of black hair looked any better.
I would see this boy at shows sometimes, in the back room at Double Entendre, with his handsome face, and nice hair. Tall, and muscular, he was the kind boy I wished I could look like. I’ve always had a difficult time feeling at home in my awkward skin; even more so when I was twenty and emaciated through veganism, uncomfortable and alienated almost all the time.
The sweetheart and I were reeling from a sexual assault during time spent apart. Nobody ever taught us shit about how to deal with quiet atrocities like this. I fell into the dark and spent most of that summer doing my best to crawl out of my skin. I haunted shows spaces and libraries in my dirty black carhartts, way too big for my scrawny frame, hungry, exhausted and all alone.
I wandered around Denver, and even it’s surrounding suburbs seemingly forever, reacquainting myself with the city I called home. Sometimes I would go to the suburbs to sleep in my car. I didn’t have anywhere stable to live. It wasn’t the first time, but it was the first time I was facing it as an adult, and simultaneously resisting the hardening of my heart that came along with it as much as I could.
I would see this boy, and he was the type to take his shirt off at shows. It got hot in Denver that summer. He had the words “Self-Hate” tattooed in large letters on his chest. It was a sentiment I understood intimately. I knew this boy immediately even though this we never spoke a word.
Twenty years old and hopeful, yet always teetering on the edge of the abyss, seeing the world through eyes that are both new, and weary at the same time. I tell my friends that I want the words “born dead” tattooed on my knuckles. Try as I might, I cannot remember how to feel. I reach for warmth; for where my heart was, and I swear there is a hole in my chest.
Time passes, like molasses in winter snow, time passes like lighting in a summer storm; all at once. We grew too fast. I don’t have any clear memory of seeing self-hate boy again after a Soophie Nun Squad show in the back room of Double Entendre in August of 2001. He was there, dancing with the rest of the punks, dancing with his shirt off in the desert heat. He smiled, and his teeth shone in the dim lights. Sweat glistened on his “Self-Hate” tattoos.
My favorite memory of that night, was when the police responded to a noise complaint at Double Entendre. They crept in through the back door and into a scene of utter chaos. Anyone who remembers Soophie Nun Squad can attest to the kind of show they brought with them. The back room of Double Entendre was filled to the brim with dancing punks in every sort of costume. Paul, the owner was back there too. He was too busy dancing with everyone else, in nothing but a bathing suit and snorkel as his costume to even bother hanging at the register or watching his records. It didn’t even matter. Literally everyone in the shop was just in the back room dancing anyway. There wasn’t even anyone up front to steal money or records.
The cops did their best to assert themselves in the crowd and ask who the owner was. Paul replied with “I don’t know!” and kept dancing. The band kept playing. Punks kept throwing oversized foam rubber cinder blocks and cookies at each other. Nobody was drinking due to the strict no alcohol rule at Double Entendre, so there wasn’t even anyone to bust for underage drinking. The cops stood off to the side and watched for two songs or so, shrugged their shoulders, and left back the way they came.
At the end of the show we all congregated out front, smiling, sweating and steaming in the late night heat. Too full of energy, Molly, Kim, Lauren, Ona and I decided to walk back home. We walked all the way up to Thirteenth Avenue, made a right when we got there, and then a left up Corona Street. Our house was old, and smelled weird, but we loved it. I can’t remember what the rent was. Whatever it was, it’s probably three times that now.
Poor “self-hate” kid, poor all of us really; those of us who never learned to grow, whose lights burned out to early, or could maybe never burn brightly enough to lead our out of the dark. One of my favorite punk bands from that era once said from stage “We all ended up in this room for a reason.” And it’s true. It always has been.
I think of those of us who are still punk in our Thirties. I think about those of us who stick it out, year after year despite it’s origins as a subculture for alienated youth. I’ve said this a million times before. I’ll say it again. The world doesn’t really hold a place for us, it never did. I think about all us lonely kids from broken homes, from battered bodies, from nowhere at all. The best thing we ever got was a crowded room, some fucked up noise, and lacerated vocal chords; screaming and screaming to be heard beneath skyscraper skylines and small towns alike.
If punk taught me anything, it’s to make your own place in the world, claw it out, tooth and nail. There was never any choice, any going back. Not really. The music hit like a goddamn bomb, and your home. Or your home for a while a while at least. It’s not always going to be an easy thing, making that place for yourself, and what if the place you make for yourself in the world isn’t what you wanted, or you get there, and you realize it looks like everything you tried to escape?
I don’t know if life ever got easier for self-hate boy, or for any of the youth of yesterday with our ringing ears and fading tattoos. I know the daily struggle I feel just to get out of bed and face the day most mornings. We learn to adapt. We do our best to thrive. We move, and grow, and change.
I sometimes wonder where that boy, with his self-hate tattoo is. I never saw him again after that summer. I know a thing or two about wounds that run some deep, you feel like the only thing you can do is wear them. I hope he learned to love himself. I hope the same thing for all of us. I don’t know him. I never knew him, but I like him. I don’t know you, but I like you. I love your life, your story, because you have one. Please keep telling it.