Hello! I’ve been mostly posting poetry here lately. The winter gloom has fucking worn me down, and a few lines at a time have mostly been what I could focus on for the past month or two. I managed to make some progress on a as yet untitled book I’ve been working on about rural punks in the nineties for the past year this weekend, and I’m going to post a segment of it here. I’m not sure if this will make the final draft, but I’m pretty proud of it regardless. Some names were changed to protect the anonymity of those involved in this story.
Thank you for your time.
Thank you for reading.
Take care of yourselves, take care of one another. ❤
We sold weed sometimes too. Weed was never a huge part of my life. I had had a brief infatuation with it that previous winter, but it cooled quickly when some of the kids I smoked up with moved onto shooting dope. Dylan and James smoked it when they could. Skinhead Jimmy smoked sometimes, but mostly liked to drink. I had been sober since spring, taking the lyrics of that Minor Threat cassette Forrest loaned me to heart. I just had no interest in, (and far too many opinionated teenage judgements about) drugs. However, I had no qualms whatsoever about selling weed to Kenny, who lived down the street.
Kenny was one of those dudes who was born to spend his life in Southern York County, loud, entitled, and dumb as all hell. He was the kind of douche who made those “Looney Tunes wearing generic hip hop clothing” t-shirts so popular in small towns in the early 90’s. We had been friends a few years back; back before my dad died, but that might as well have been a lifetime ago. We’d have sleepovers and late night wrestling matches often went on just a tad too long, and ended up with him pushing his ass back against me and breathing heavily until it got awkward. We would never talk about it in the morning. We drifted apart before middle school was even over. The irony of his referring to me as “faggot” when he passed in the hall once we hit ninth grade was secretly delicious.
Faggots or not, we still wanted his money. He would show up at the front door of Dylan’s dad’s house and start pounding on it.
“Dylan! Open up! I wanna buy weed!”
Dylan and I would share a look.
Fucking idiot. He’s going to get us all goddamn busted. Luckily Kenny was never dumb enough to show up knocking the door down on a night when Dylan wasn’t home. The presence of Dylan’s not conspicuous at all Chrysler Cordoba was telling like that.
This particular night, it was just Dylan, Skinhead Jimmy and I watching some long forgotten zombie movie in the living room, waiting for Dylan senior to drink enough cheap wine to pass out. We’d hit the streets and wreak whatever havoc we could after that.
BAM! BAM! BAM!
It was Kenny and his neighbor. They were drunk on rum they had stolen from Kenny’s parents and swaying. They wanted to buy enough weed to go smoke a joint on the baseball field. Kenny shot me a look through the door. I did my best to shoot one back that said: “You talk tough now, motherfucker. I know how much you wanted my cock in your ass just a few short years ago.” I don’t know if it translated. Dylan told them to wait outside and he would go see what he had.
Dylan, Jimmy and I practically raced one another to the kitchen. The act of summoning dimbebag out of kitchen spices to sell to Kenny and his friends was a tried and true routine between Dylan and Jimmy, and one I took much delight in observing. Dylan stepped into his room, and returned with a baggie full of green leaf and some Elmer’s glue, the exact same kind I used to spike up my ‘hawk. Jimmy rifled through the spice cabinet. There it was. Oregano. This would be hilarious. Since time immemorial, many a burnout in this town were known to shuffle through the halls of our high school selling dimebags or oregano. We were not original in this endeavor.
I liked to imagine that none of them took as much malicious amusement in selling bogus weed as we did though. The vein that bulged in the shape of an X in Dylan’s forehead when he laughed was practically jumping out of his skull as he sprinkled some weed on the counter to mix with the oregano in Jimmy’s hand. Jimmy in turn, was giggling viciously and muttering under his breath.
“Fucking idiot. I can’t believe he keeps coming back.” Jimmy said.
I had to cover my mouth for fear of Kenny hearing my laughter outside. I watched with amusement that bordered on amazement as Dylan and Jimmy poured some shake into a baggie and then poured oregano in after it. My amazement turned to sheer awe as I watched them roll some oregano and shake together with Elmer’s Glue, and then jab a stem into the whole semi dried mess in order to make a fairly convincing bud.
Kenny was known to brag to anyone who would listen how fucked up the weed he bought from us always got him. I didn’t know the chemical make up of Elmer’s Glue, but I wondered if he wasn’t getting at least a little buzzed from smoking it. I imagined sticky brown residue filling his lungs and killing his brain cells all at once. I couldn’t convince myself to feel particularly guilty either way. He was after all, such a little asshole.
Dylan and Jimmy took their crafted dimebag back to the front door where Kenny and is friend were waiting eagerly. Kenny was leaning against a post on the front porch for support, eyes half closed and grinning. I hated him in that moment. I hated him for the ease with which he walked the through the world, like it owed him something. I hated him because of the stories I had heard about how he acted around girls at parties. I hated his douchebag swagger, and the way he tried to make his voice sound deeper than it was when he spoke. I hated him for convincingly playing the part of mommy and daddy’s good little Christian boy and then being such a piece of shit as soon as he was out of their sight.
Dylan palmed him the bag of mostly fake weed.
“Ten bucks” He said flatly.
Kenny laughed easily and pulled out his wallet.
“Here you are, my man. My dude here and I sure do appreciate it.” Kenny slurred.
“This shit got me so fucked up last time. Goddamn.”
Kenny’s friend did his best to look hard. I wondered if it was his first drug deal, and he was going off what he had seen in the movies or some shit. I mean, I guess Jimmy with his shaved head, boots and braces was an intimidating sight, but we weren’t in one of those movies these sheltered ass small town white kids were always emulating to try and act hard. That reality would have eaten them alive.
Whatever. We took their money and sent them to smoke their dirt weed, oregano and glue combo at the baseball field. Ten bucks would mostly fill up the Cordoba and we had the satisfaction of ripping off someone we all thought was an asshole. The three of us busted out laughing almost as soon as Dylan shut the door behind him.
The ten dollars we made from poor Kenny took us no farther than driving aimless circles around Shrewsbury all night. It was enough. Dylan and Jimmy in the front seat, and me stretched out in the back. The windows rolled all the way down and the AM summer air mixing with a tape of Subhumans Time Flies, But Aeroplanes Crash EP playing on the stereo. The speakers sounded just fucking awful and perfect all at once.
I thought about Kenny, all those years ago writhing beneath me in his underwear, neither of us ever quite brave enough for what came next. I thought about my boys in the front seat. I loved them both as bravely as I knew how. I loved them both in a way Kenny in all his stumble, swagger and posturing would never understand. Jimmy and Dylan were both laughing freely. Jimmy launched an empty glass bottle carelessly out the window to hear the sound of it smashing on country blacktop receding in the distance.
I imagined all the lights that small town streetlights flickering to the south of us. I imagined those lights leading our way to everywhere else, giving way to the lights of all the cities I couldn’t wait to see. Five miles to the south of us lay the Pennsylvania state line. Another forty miles of rural highway and you were in Baltimore County. Those exit routes counted for something. In that moment I knew all of us would make it out of this place and might even have a chance of growing into the people we always wanted to be.
This tiny, shitty world we were stuck in for at least another few years may cater to Kenny and all the other thoughtless Neanderthals just like him, but tonight we had gotten his money and converted it to just enough gas for a brief respite. With the music and our laughter cascading out the windows and into the summer air, we knew some things they would never know. We went south on main, towards the Getty to turn right on constitution and creep the long way home through New Freedom, the threat of boredom and entropy vanquished for another night.
The things you think of, late at night when the hours have stretched long past the point of no return. You are just trying to calm your mind down You just want to let it all go and surrender to the mercy of sleep.
First and foremost: You are absolutely certain that there have been roughly seven thousand, seven hundred and sixty nights that you have spent just like you are spending this one. That’s twenty-one years. Twenty-one years of sleeplessness and dread coming for you at night. Twenty-one years of late night hours passing in crawling flesh.
If your feel like being honest, or melodramatic (you can’t always tell the difference.) you could call it an even ten thousand. Ten thousand, nine hundred and fifty-seven point twenty-seven. That’s roughly thirty years. You did the math. You remember being six years old watching the crack of light from the hallway in your childhood room, waiting for the radio to lull you to sleep.
“This is Power 96! Greater Miami’s party station giving you greater South Florida’s dance hits all night long.”
The red lights on the clock radio change almost imperceptibly. 2:27, 2:28. It’s a school night, even. You wonder how you will pay attention to you lessons tomorrow. You wonder how all the other people up this late at night are occupying their time. You wonder what the streets of quiet neighborhood are like this late at night. You get a sinking feeling that the clock might as well read 2:28 AM for the rest of your goddamn life.
You think of all the time passed since your childhood room. You think of all the nights, in all the rooms that led to this one. Childhood, childhood’s end, and adolescence and onto the rigors and ruins of adulthood. Each year, you swear is gonna be different. Each year you find yourself right here; in another empty feeling room, late at night holding court with your own ruined nerves.
You think about them. Oh, how you hate thinking about them. Really, you just hate thinking about love. You loathe thinking about anyone you’ve ever thought you loved, or said you loved, convinced yourself you loved. You convince yourself that love is just some bullshit word lesser humans say. Something we say to justify our appetites, or fill our cavernous voids. The thought of being vulnerable right now makes you shudder.
The hours crawl, and you convince yourself you’re so above it all. You find a certain sickness in being soft. You hate yourself only a little bit for letting them in. You marvel at how we reach into each other and sink our teeth into the most tender parts. We get a taste of forever. We sate those hungers. We come and go.
The minutes pass like pouring rain flooding gutters outside the window. You are absolutely sure now, that you have never been loved, and have maybe never loved anyone in return. You know you have been everyone’s favorite maladjusted mutant since the day you rode your skateboard to the cemetery in eighth grade. Rumbling wheels rolling past crumbling civil war graves, she’s standing there beneath the graveyard trees. You make out in the summer breeze. Her mouth tastes like cigarettes and lip smackers. You finish kissing. She makes a joke about your dick, and you skate home.
“My friends will never know.”
“Oh, I know.”
You laugh to yourself as you skate home, because it’s all so fucking hysterical. It’s all so fucking cheap.
You wonder what that girl grew up to be. While you’re at it, you wonder about the boy who called you a faggot every day, but then asked you to suck his dick in the locker room when no one was around. You wonder if they grew up bruised and without hope just like you. You could look them up on facebook if you wanted and make fun of their ugly kids and shitty tattoos. It’s not that late. You remind yourself that you don’t actually care, and when was the last time you went to Pennsylvania anyway? You certainly fucking write about it enough though. Six years in a place that felt like it was too small raised by people who wouldn’t let you stand tall, and motherfuckers wonder how you got so hostile.
Like you could ever stop. You know some things they’ll never know.
The hours crawl behind four walls. You’re spiraling now, remembering it all. You remember every last step and misstep, stumble and fall, all the time hard spent with so little to show at all. You are absolutely sure that the world you knew is gone, and everyone else has moved on. You are absolutely sure that you are still staring out through alien eyes and the world never actually had a place for you at all. The hour is late now, and no one is going to call.
You have now convinced yourself you can’t breathe, even though you can. You worry you might just die in your sleep. This is a familiar and funny dance you’ve danced before. You think of it as a well-known, and much loved song. Coughing black mold out of your lungs and clutching at a lover’s sheets for a bummer of a summer. There’s no lover-comfort offered tonight. You wouldn’t want it anyway. You are alone and you ask for no quarter.
You smile. Finding glory in the rasping pain of being alive. A moment’s certainty creeps in. Maybe death is still stalking you, but you are pretty sure it’s neither heaven or oblivion waiting for you in the sky above. You thank your blessed and still breathing body for pushing through the night. You give thanks for all the nights before this one that could never hope to swallow you whole.
You think about your reckless and not so reckless youth rusted and left long behind. In the morning the light will creep ever so slightly through the blinds. You think about your excuses. You think about your failure to thrive. You think about your failure. You still worry there might be no future, even though you’re living in it. You still think dying young is stupid. You still feel too obstinate to do anything other than die of old age. So you push through, like always. Most of all; you soften and think about love, and how you are luck to have loved and been loved so much.
Or if we truly are in the end times, you could at least go home and die with your friends when the hammer fucking drops and it’s lights out on the world one last time. That doesn’t sound like the worst option either. You always had a feeling you and your one friend were going to die in a hail of bullets together anyway.
You think about the hidden and holy world you inhabit. The world of fucked up noise filling crowded rooms made by mutants bruised and never quite broken, just like you. You decide there’s time for one more song. One more song to calm your nerves before the mercy of sleep, better make it a good one. You flip the record over. In the silenced that fills the air, you wonder if you’ve ever been home at all. The needle drops and a hiss, and the spirit of sound rushing to fill the void.
Of course. You don’t know where else you ever would have gone.
Hello! I haven’t updated this thing in a while. I’ve been busy working on a project I’m super excited about. I’m going to share a piece of it publicly here for the first time. I’d love feedback if you have time.
The following related stories are from a larger piece I’m working on detailing my time as a miscreant, maladjusted punk rocker in Rural Pennsylvania twenty years ago. I completed this chapter today. This is a first draft. I have done little to no editing work. All names have been redacted to protect the guilty who are no doubt all grown up and embarrassed by what I remember. Enjoy!
Drug Story One:
I can’t remember when the decision to stop smoking weed and drinking was. I think it had been a gradual process as spring bloomed into being that year. We had dabbled that winter, and I had a hard time saying no to things, but over time I think I just discovered straight edge and lost interest. The last sip of alcohol I had was some warm beer we had found stashed in the trunk of the Cordoba the day _____ bought it.
There had been some funny times though. Like when _____’s parents and my mom had all gone out of town on separate trips Valentine’s Day weekend, essentially leaving teenage lunatics in charge of the asylum. ______, ____, ___ and I had spent Friday night mixing “just a bit” from each liquor bottle in my mom’s liquor cabinet getting wasted and talking to my dead dad with a Ouija board, and then _____and ____ had stolen _____’s dad’s car to pick me up and cruise on Saturday night.
I was already drunk when they picked me up. Saturday had just emptily crawled by, filled with nothing much but an early winter sunset and long night to look forward to. _____ had come over to hang out. We decided to get drunk almost as soon as it was dark. We would spend the night at _____’s parent’s house. _____ and _____ planned to stay up all night on acid. I was afraid of doing acid, but they assured me there was more alcohol to be had over there. Good. I was worried about my mom noticing how much we had stolen Friday anyway.
The weekend culminated in us staying up all night on Saturday, all fucked up and laughing at nothing in particular in an empty bathtub. _____ and _____ dropped their acid. I drank southern comfort from straight from the bottle. We listened to The Misfits Collection I all night. Somewhere in the empty wastes of a Southern York County landfill, a video tape of our night may or may not exist. _____had found a camcorder somewhere, and wanted to document our misdeeds for the night.
Near four AM, I crawled down to ____’s basement room to pass out. I was awoken a few hours later by hysterical laughter and moaning. In my stupor, I could not figure out the source of the moaning. When I had fallen asleep, only ____ and ____ were present in the house. How the fuck had an orgy been initiated in the few hours I had been unconscious? I was so confused.
I had passed out with my boots on and everything. I groggily stomped up the stairs to see a hilarious sight: ____ and ____ had raided ____’s parent’s room and found his dad’s VHS collection of pornography. They had a movie on the TV in the living room. The actors were vigorously penetrating one another and moaning fakely for the cameras.
In the neon nocturnal glow of the television, there were ____ and ____, high as shit on acid, and laughing. They were sitting two feet away from the television tops. Messily devouring leftover pizza, they had smeared tomato sauce all over their faces. In with the combination of my blurry vision, and the glow of the television, the sauce eerily resembled blood. The camcorder was set up on a tripod behind them, and they were still filming. The scene was completely surreal.
“Y’all. The sun is going to be up soon. My mom gets home this afternoon. We trashed my house Friday. I need to get home and sober up and clean.” I said.
____ insisted on driving his parent’s car. ____ asked if it wouldn’t be better if he drove, considering he had only been up on acid, not acid and drinking combined. ___ also insisted that he had mostly come down from his trip. ___ wouldn’t hear it.
The sky was beginning to lighten as we crawled down the driveway in the cold. ___ asked one more time if he shouldn’t drive. ____ shrugged it off. I was in the front seat with the camcorder, recording our drive for posterity. Who the fuck is dumb enough to record their crimes anyway?
A four three way stop lay at the bottom of the hill. The street we were on intersected with another street. Ahead of us was a cornfield that lay fallow. ____ showed no signs of slowing down as the intersection barreled towards us.
“____! STOP!” ____ and I both yelled in unison.
He didn’t stop. He plowed through the intersection without even slowing down. As we blew through the stop sign, I looked over at ____ in the driver’s seat. His head was bobbing loosely on his neck like a doll. I wasn’t even sure if the severity of our predicament registered for him.
And I laughed. I laughed and laughed with teenage death urge glee as ____ completely lost control of the car. We launched over a pile of snow pushed to the side of the road by a snowplow from a recent storm. I was still laughing when the car momentarily took flight. All four wheels met the frozen ground of the field, and the car began to spin. I kept laughing when we came to a stop directly between two telephone poles. A few feet to the left or the right would have spelled varying degrees of disaster for all three of us, but we were lucky. The air was still and silent.
____just turned to ____ and said “Okay. Fine. You drive.”
I suppose dying in a drunk driving accident two weeks after my fifteenth birthday is one of a thousand early deaths I could have gone to, but never did. I’d like to think my survival, really the survival of so many of my friends was due to a small amount of self-preservation, and maybe some supernatural guardianship, rather than sheer idiot luck.
Drug Story Two:
The first time I got high. It was that same winter, maybe a few weeks after ____, ____ and I nearly met our doom. ____’s little brother ___ and I are smoking weed in his room. He has crudely constructed a bowl out of a sprite can, using a safety pin to poke holes in the side. To add to the sheer idiocy of this scene, we are using a zippo to ignite our buds. My lungs burn as I inhale copious amounts of weed smoke and butane.
Blowing smoke out the window, I realize I am totally baked. ____ is ecstatic at this. He wants to celebrate by going outside and “walking around”. Even in my state, I know what this will consist of. There is so goddamn little to do in this town, that “walking around” is really just code for walking to the McDonalds a few blocks away and seeing if anyone we know is there.
This walk is precisely what we do. We walk east on Forest Avenue, very slowly and giddily. We cut across Main Street, and behind the churches that line it, and into the cemetery. The walk seems to take forever, and I don’t notice the cold. I do notice that I have to think very hard about order which to put my feet on the ground though.
“Left foot, right foot.” I think hazily.
“Just imagine you are seeing your favorite band right now. It can be anyone.” ____ interrupts my concentration.
We’re nearing the hole in the fence behind the cemetery and I immediately envision myself seeing the Dead Kennedys fifteen years earlier. I imagine myself in the swirling crowd. I imagine the hopeful and angry faces of the punks that came before me. I picture Jello Biafra jumping into the crowd to sing from the fray.
“Dude. We were born too late.” Is all I manage to mutter to Adam.
The scene at McDonalds is totally dead. We run into two casual acquaintances and I can’t follow our conversation. One offers me a bite of her ice cream cone. I decline. I want to leave. The air smells too greasy and it’s stuffy in here. I can’t understand why ___ would want to be inside anything, let alone this paean to homogenized corporate monoculture. None of this translates to anything aside form “Let’s just go home and eat hotpockets” though.
We go outside, and there are some jocks we vaguely know congregated outside of a pick-up truck. They glare at us. We look at them and try and walk past. Right as we get to the hole in the fence, one of them aims a laser pointer at us and yells “We’re gonna shoot you, you fucking faggots!”.
Laser pointers had just began to come into prominence. I hadn’t really seen them outside of movies where they acted as the sights for firearms. It didn’t seem inconceivable that these redneck jocks might have a firearm with them. All of these thoughts seemed to come slowly, and were their urgency seemed amplified by how high we were. Before I knew it, I was ducking through the hole in the fence, and running. Adam followed suit quickly.
We ran across the cemetery, occasionally ducking behind gravestones if we saw headlights crossing Highland Drive. It made sense that the jocks might have jumped into their trucks, made a left on Forest Avenue and another left up Highland if they were truly dedicated to fucking with us (at best) or murdering us (at worst). Most likely, they laughed at the sight of us running away, and went back into McDonalds and ordered shitty food.
That would have been the most rational line of thought. Too bad drugs don’t always make you rational.
We waited until we were sure we didn’t see any headlights coming, and made a beeline for the church on the other side of Highland Avenue. We ran towards the church hall, where I had been to one of my first punk shows a few years earlier. We hid behind a wall for a while, completely convinced that we heard cars full of angry jocks circling the block looking for us.
We then made a break for Main Street. Adam was sure that every car we saw was full of the same illusory, menacing jocks. We made a dash across Main Street, and onto Railroad Avenue. This was a relatively quiet side street. The jocks wouldn’t think to look for us here. Just a block or two to cross, and we’d be on our way towards Forest Avenue, and ___’s house, safe from all jocks, and other unfriendly faces.
Of course, the block we had to cross seemed like it was miles long. We saw headlights creeping up behind us, and dove for the bushes in a field. The car passed without even slowing down. It didn’t matter. It could have been the jocks. It could have been anyone. ____ was breathing heavily next to me. Somehow a single isolated interaction with some assholes in a McDonalds Parking lot had escalated in our minds to the entire town being out to get us, and ____ and I having to cross miles of hostile territory to reach the sanctuary of his house.
We made it to the corner ___ lived on. Finally. The whole ordeal had seemed like it took hours out of our night. There was a light on in the house. It looked like ____’s dad might be up and tooling around downstairs.
“Wait! We can’t go in yet. My dad will realized we’re stoned!”
Fuck. ____ was right. His dad was an old hippie. He’d be able to spot how high we were from across the room. We’d be in deep shit then, for sure. He would call my mom and tell her. She’d never forgive me. We decided our only course of action would be to run across Forest Avenue and hide in the park for a while. We’d wait it out until ____’s dad either fell asleep, or we were just less high. Still convinced the jocks were looking for us, we hid out in the dugout of the baseball field for another hour or so before walking home.
The best part of this story? When we were hiding from cars in an empty field along Railroad Avenue, we were directly across the street from the police station. It was closed, of course, considering it was after nine PM. Had it been open, though… All the cops would have had to do would be to look out their window and they’d see two paranoid idiots with blue hair, high as a goddamn kite, and hiding from cars full of imaginary jocks in the bushes. ____ still had a bag of weed on him. He might have even had our homemade soda can piece too. The cops would have had an easy bust, but they missed it.
Depression has seeped itself into the marrow of my bones once again. I shut my bedroom door against the world, especially this week. Especially being a reeling, grieving queer person this week.
On my dead end street, I shut my bedroom door against the world, and draw the curtains against the light. I wrap myself in a blanket mailed to me by a long-gone lover in the hopes that it would help with my sleeplessness and I wonder:
“How long will this time last?”
Depression is a monster. I am depression. I am a monster.
Late at night, driving home, I park my truck on my street. I stand quietly in the yellow glow of the streetlight for a moment before walking into the house. Our street dead ends into the woods, and I hear coyotes howling in the distance. Hope the dog circles around the edges of the light, sniffing at the air. I can tell she’s spooked.
I’m spooked too, but it’s not the coyotes. It’s the passing hours. Its’ the passing days. It’s the passing years. They all add up to the same mounting sense of panic and isolation that set my skin crawling.
The streetlights flicker. Hope growls softly at the tree line. I almost wish I smoked cigarettes, or drank alcohol. At least I’d have something to do with my hands, or something to meet the darkness with. Instead we turn towards the house. Hope runs ahead of me and beats me to the door. We walk inside and go into our room. She settles herself at her place on my bed, and I mine. I open the window, and outside I can still hear the coyotes, growing distant.
Tonight I love them for howling at the moon to keep me company.
I really don’t want them to eat my housemates’ cats.
I ended the night reading old journal entries. This is never a pleasant way to spend the small hours of the night. You realize how similar you are to the person you were at 19, at 21, at 25, at 30. Maybe we never really change. We just grow older, and more embittered as the lines wear into our face and the years pass by in a flash.
I’ve always talked about depression. I’ve always talked about feeling like an alien. I have always talked about isolation. These themes have defined my life. It wasn’t just a passing teenage phase. It wasn’t just a passing early adulthood adjusting phase. I don’t think my experience is unique by any means, but it’s the experience I know the most intimately.
A breeze flutters through my window. Hope snores. I turn a dried and cracking page from a fifteen year old journal.
June 27th, 2001
I slept in the back of my car in Lauren’s apartment complex last night. I arrived too late to knock on the door and ask to sleep on the couch. I think I pulled up around one or two and fell asleep. Lauren knocked on my window to wake me up around seven when she left for work. She handed me a spare key, and told me I could go inside and brush my teeth and shave if I wanted.
I probably looked like hell.
I haven’t wanted to sleep at J’s house. I can’t bring myself to, knowing what her next door neighbor did. He tried to say hey to me and ask how my drive from Minneapolis was. I ignored him. Are you fucking kidding? I have some of my things stored in the garage, but that’s it.
J says I’m too angry. She says sometimes these things just happen. The phrase “quiet atrocity” reverberates in my head over and over. Fuck this. If this is how adults live and treat each other, I want to stay a fucking kid forever.
We got in a fight that led to me sleeping in Lauren’s parking lot. I cried more than I’ve maybe ever cried in my life. All that helpless, impotent rage came pouring out of my eyes and my tiny body in racking sobs. We agreed to go to therapy, but I don’t know if it will help. I know I am doing literally every wrong thing here, but I also don’t know where to turn for advice.
I don’t sleep enough at night. I drive around looking for quiet places that will set my mind at ease. I listen to the same four or five tapes on my tape player for hours.
Catharsis. Gehenna. His Hero Is Gone. Tragedy. Born Against. From Ashes rise.
I dig through suburban dumpsters while The Rebel Sound of Shit And Failure grinds away in my tape player. I sped through the intersection of 14th Avenue and Ogden Street half hoping a car would slam into me and end it all while The War of the Sons Of Light and Suns Of Darkness vomited all of it’s hatred and bile out of my speakers. Driving north on Wadsworth Boulevard I pull over to cry and punch my windshield until it cracks while Tragedy howl about the Tension awaiting imminent collapse.
The words have never rang truer than now. I once told J that I needed music that sounded as ugly as I felt on the inside every single day, and this was it.
Earlier today I recalled the story of how a friend and I met to her with such detail that she was kind of amazed.
“Maybe it would help you if you had partial amnesia. I can’t imagine what remembering all these tiny details might do to a person. I was horrified. I actually got kind of upset and wanted her to apologize. I’m so attached to memory, and the details that I feel things just as deeply a decade later as I did when the event occurred.
Case in point: Reading the above journal entry. I remember the sinking hatred that filled my body when I encountered J’s assaulter. I remember the sinking, helpless wrath that filled my being almost every single day that summer. I remember exactly how it all felt. I remember. I’d like to say that I’ve moved on, but recalling that helpless anger with ease, maybe it’s not the case.
Still, it’s my brain. I’ll take it’s functions as they are, thank very goddamn much.
Howl. Crackle. The early summer breeze comes in through the window again. It is nearing two AM. I’m glad our street dead ends and is silent except for the chorus of nocturnal life the woods provide.
April 6th, 2005
It’s been almost two months since the accident. I can walk upright with a cane now. The last two months have been so hard. The apartment I lived in when the car hit me was cramped and infested with roaches. My housemate was an unsupportive fuckass, so I moved here.
Molly lives in a one bedroom apartment on 2nd and Acoma. I live in the living room. She is the only one on the lease. The rental agency doesn’t know I’m here. If they every check, we will have to hide most of my stuff somewhere, or at least make it look less like I live in the living room.
I got drunk by myself a few nights ago on a bottle of plastic whiskey from the liquor store a few blocks away on South Broadway. I laid in bed and stared at the ceiling while Molly’s copy Lucero’s Tennessee spun on the turntable. Call me elitist, but the record just sounds right on vinyl. I get it. It’s punks playing country music, or hipsters, or whatever. These ridiculous sad bastard songs sound like they are supposed to with the accompanying crackles and pops that come with vinyl.
I kept thinking about a line I read in a Derrick Jensen book, about how humans inherently hating themselves and each other. With liquor swimming around in my belly and my head spinning, I had to admit he was right.
If we didn’t hate ourselves we wouldn’t commit atrocity after atrocity upon one another. We wouldn’t poison the planet. We wouldn’t poison our bodies, or murder, or rape. Or fucking commit genocide. We wouldn’t commodify and consume everything within reach if we weren’t full of a self-hating death urge.
We wouldn’t have to numb ourselves to the horrors we commit, or uphold, or ignore, with three dollar plastic bottles of whiskey.
I just admit it. I drink because I hate myself. I said that out loud at a party at Villa Kula last summer when someone asked me what made me want to start drinking. The room fell awkwardly silent.
When I was straight edge, I used to say that I never wanted to numb myself to the experience of the living no matter how difficult or horrific it was. Now I just want numbness. I hate the person I am becoming. I hate it when I have days where this city just looks like a rotting corpse, and it’s inhabitants are just maggots crawling and gnawing through the flesh.
My eyes are all fucked up and bitter. I’m only 24. Alcohol alleviates that bitterness for a while. Sometimes I pray that alcohol poisoning will take me in my sleep.
Last night was largely a blur. I definitely remember Molly and I meeting up with an old high school friend at a queer bar just north of Colfax. I’m still walking with a cane, but felt well enough to walk around. Before we left the apartment, Molly and I planned our “Night of Mayhem”. If I was well enough to walk (albeit with a cane) maybe I’d be well enough to run too.
We filled our bags with spray paint, bricks, a crowbar, and one bottle of whiskey each. Kentucky Gentlemen, of course. This is the only gentlemen either one of us trust. I can’t bike yet, so I bussed it up to East Colfax. The Zero, then the fifteen. I was only mildly self-conscious of the rattling spray paint can knocking against the whiskey bottle in my bag.
We didn’t know what we were going to break, or spray paint, but it was going to be awesome.
We hung out at the gay bar with my high school buddy, and watched the drag show. My high school friend bought Molly and I two shots each. I’m definitely feeling it by the time Molly and I get up to leave and meet our other friends, and respective lovers at the 404 Lounge on South Broadway, one maybe three blocks from our apartment. L. and I have already been having a strained conversation through text message, and I’m not looking forward to meeting up with them. Molly and C. had been broken up for a week or so, but were in that awkward ex-lover phase where the cord wasn’t quite cut. It had been a rough winter, for all of us.
“You know, you could jump on the bus now, or we could walk down Colfax and drink some of this whiskey. It’s such a nice night.”
She was right. No reason to hasten what was likely going to be an awkward night at the bar. We made our way, stumbling and giddy down East Colfax, passing back and forth the bottle of Kentucky Gentlemen.
“You know what fucking song I love?”
“Kiss the goddamn bottle!”
“Goddamn. Me too. We should sing it. Mattie Canino sang it for me at a house show last year when I started drinking.”
We went on like that; west on Colfax towards Broadway, where I’d catch the Zero, stumbling and singing. We sang it so, so badly. A man walking on the south side of Colfax even stopped to watch and laugh at us.
“It gets loneliest at night.
Down at the liquor store.
Beneath the neon sky.
Six A.M., the floor comes alive with lice.
The pan’s dried up so tight.
With hardened beans.
So I lean on you sometimes.
Just to see you’re still there.
Your feet can’t take the weight of one.
Much less two.
We hit concrete.
How were we born into this mess?
I know I painted you a prettier picture, baby.
But we were run out on a rail.
Fell from the wagon to the night train.
I kissed the bottle.
I should’ve been kissing you.
You wake up to an empty night.
With tears for two.
Cigarettes they fill the gaps.
In our empty days.
In our broken teeth.
Say mister, can you spare a dime?
Some change could make a change.
Could buy some time.
Or an ear to hear my story.
It’s all I’ve got. My fiction
beats the hell out of my truth.
A palm upturned burnt blue.
Don’t call it sunburn.
You’ve been shaking on the job.
Just one drink ahead of your past.
There’s a white light coming up.
You draw the blinds hoping it’ll pass.
I kissed the bottle.
I should’ve been kissing you.
You wake up to an empty night.
With tears for two.
I kissed the bottle.
I should’ve been kissing you.
You wake up to an empty night.
With tears for two.
I kissed the bottle.
I should’ve been kissing you.
You wake up to an empty night.
With tears for two.”
We came to the corner of Colfax and Broadway where I was to catch the Zero, and where Molly would jump on her bike and bike the eleven blocks south to the 404. Before my bus came, Molly insisted that we jump over the chains keeping people off the Pioneer Monument and drink a toast.
“Everything we know is coming to pieces! Our lives! Our city! Our world! Civilization itself! Through it all our friendship, and maybe this stupid statue will endure!”
Molly was grinning and gesticulating wildly with the bottle of whiskey. A trained opera singer by profession; even with the slurring, her voice carried mightily. We both pulled swigs of liquor out of the bottle, emptying it into our bellies. Molly took the bottle and smashed it at the foot of the statue.
Somehow, nobody called the cops on us. My bus came. Molly got on her bike. Ten minutes later we were at the 404. Molly was already fighting with C. when I arrived. L. became irate with me when I didn’t say hello to her as soon as I walked into the bar. Her irritation only grew when she realized how drunk I was.
The details are lost to me in a whiskey blur now, even a day later. I think that cute boy who flirted with L sometimes came into the bar. Somehow I tried to walk home by myself. It was only three blocks. L. followed me outside to ask if I was okay to get home on my own.
“Fuck you! I’m fine! Let me go!” I slurred.
The hurt was right there in her face. I was now that guy. The guy who gets wasted and jealous and acts like a hurting piece of shit. Seven words that I couldn’t take back. It went downhill from there.
We argued for a minute in front of the 404. Then walked back to Molly and I’s apartment. We sat on the porch, crying quietly. We proclaimed how dearly we loved one another, but it just wouldn’t work.
It’s a blur. I definitely remember crying and saying: “I’m in love with you because you’re so sensitive. I love you because you cry reading the newspaper!” I remember asking her what she was feeling, and she replied only with “despair.”. She asked if she could come in to fuck one more time before we broke up for good. I said no. My room was too messy and I was embarrassed to have her in it.
We kissed goodbye and she walked home. We’ve broken up before. I wonder if it will stick this time?
I passed out in Molly’s bed, periodically waking up to leave her a series of increasingly incoherent voicemails. She played them for me today, and they’re hilarious. I can’t even tell what I’m saying in the last one. “Something something something heartbreak”
Molly and C. got in a huge fight. It’s definitely over for them too. Molly came home crying and passed out next to me in her bed. We laughed at our messenger bags full of alcohol, spray paint and bricks the next morning. Who were we kidding? We didn’t break anything but ourselves. Our “Night of Mayhem” quickly devolved into a night of emotional mayhem. Now we’re left to pick up the pieces. Again.
I don’t drink now. I don’t even really go out to bars. Lately I don’t even really go out. In my solitude, I could almost miss the drama and disasters of youth. Almost. I look back tonight not with a sense of loss, or wasted days, but a sense of bewilderment of what any of it means.
Some nights I can see it clearly. Tonight isn’t one of them. There are good days and bad days. I’m out here alone on a dead end street, save for the coyotes howling, and save for Hope the Dog, of course. I’m not sure if I’d have it any other way, but I don’t know. Pouring these words onto the page makes the loathing dissipate just enough. It brings just enough light to the darkness. That’s it. That’s kind of all I’ve got to go on.
We’ve been picking up the pieces for as long as we can remember. I don’t really know how to bring this piece to a close. It feels more like a weird archival journal entry, a look back at survival strategies to see what worked and what didn’t work. I guess it comes back to the fact that at thirty-five years old, surviving gets exhausting. I want to thrive.
Sleeping pills cut into
A can of coca cola|
Sipped into grinning mouths
My broken teeth were born
Right here, where
I-95 cuts like a knife
Milepost after milepost
All the way through
The sticky-hot night
Insects hum and the
Air smells like
Ozone and asphalt
From South Carolina
And on into Georgia
Fluorescent truck stop lights
Light up the night
Lighter heads and blurry eyes
Leaden limbs stumble
Laughter meets our mouths
Pockets filled with
Stolen cassette tapes
Meant to be sold
To keep lonely truckers
Company on long drives
“Lynrd Skynrd’s greatest hits”
“Power Ballads Vol. six”
Glowing and gorgeous
Awash in nearby highway noise
And flickering yellow
Lights lining the parking lot
Keeping the long bright
Darkness at bay
The long road to everywhere
And nowhere at all calls
The engine ignites
Into motion again
My head on your shoulder
A New Rose sings
In my headphones
And lulls me
Back into restless sleep
Joey, Jessica, and Jess Bird picked me up at my mom’s house on Saturday night to make the drive to York. It’s January, 1996, and I am fourteen years old. I’ll be fifteen in just under two weeks. I am the youngest in the car. Jess Bird just turned sixteen a few months back. Joey and Jessica are older than me. I think they both are maybe nineteen or twenty, twenty-one at the very oldest. It’s the kind of age difference that seems lightyears away when you are a kid. They are both out of high school, and have an apartment somewhere. I’ve never been to it though. It’s mostly where my friends go to do drugs and party, which isn’t so much my thing. Having an apartment of your own still seems so cool to me all the same. I stay quiet in the back of the car, holding hands with Jess Bird. All the sudden, I feel like such a kid and I’m deathly afraid of saying the wrong thing.
Joey’s car is kind of a piece of shit, but it has a tape deck. We listen to someone’s copy of Staring at the Sea: The Singles, the cassette version that had all the B Sides on the other side of the tape. It’s full of all the weird, angular songs that hadn’t made it into the widely known canon of The Cure. A great number of the songs sound like they involved copious drug consumption while they were being written. They sound like they came out of Mr. Smith’s head all wrong, or completely right. They sound especially perfect if you are a weird fourteen year old awakening to the world at exactly the right time, trying so hard to feel all grown up with your steel toed boots, black jeans, and leather jacket.
The club the show is at is awkwardly named “The Fenix”, spelled just like that. I always wondered who chose to spell it that way, and why. I had been hearing about the place for at least the last two years. It’s the place where the cool, older kids go to dance the night away. My friends tell me about sneaking out of their parents’ houses to get rides with older kids to hang out there. We live in a cluster of small towns collectively grouped together and known as Southern York County just under twenty miles south of York proper.
Thinking on it two decades later, the distance seems completely negligible. Gas prices and financial constraints aside, you probably don’t think much about driving twenty miles. You probably just put the address belonging to wherever you are going in your GPS, pick an album on your iPod, and go. Rural Pennsylvania in the mid-nineties, most of us were convinced we were positively the only people in our small towns who know how hard it is to be a weird kid. Finding places like this where we could go and just be weird kids was like finding an oasis in the desert.
We park in a parking lot near the club. Joey spot’s Eddie, his younger sister’s ex-boyfriend. Eddie is getting out of his car with his new, younger girlfriend. Eddie had cheated on Joey’s sister last winter, and they had stayed together but fought brutally all summer long. The bad blood simmered to a boil and ended with Joey and his two younger sisters chasing Eddie out of a house party under threat of violence the night Jess Bird turned sixteen.
Joey is pissed at seeing Eddie and the new girlfriend together, and fumes in the car for a minute. I feel weird about this. Eddie and I aren’t close friends, but I like him. He’s always been friendly with me. He’s also a cool older weirdo.
While this story is about what felt like my first encounter with underground music in a real and definable way, I suppose it wasn’t my first show. I have clear memories of two shows before that, though I think there may be more. My very first time seeing friends play live music was at a rented church hall in Shrewsbury, one of the other tiny boroughs that makes up Southern York County. I went with Forrest and Melanie. These are my two closest friends, and who I spend the vast majority of my time with. We haunt record stores a lot, looking or anything vaguely punk.
This is part of the story, solely because it’s the first time I ever met Eddie. The music itself from that night actually isn’t’ much to write about. It was just friends playing mostly Sex Pistols, Nirvana, and Ramones covers. It’s fun enough, when you’re fourteen, trapped in a small town, there isn’t a single other thing to do, and you feel like you are awakening to an entirely new world.
Four random rednecks end up at the show that night. I am the smallest in my crew of friends, and they single me out. They try and catch me alone whenever they can and shoulder check me muttering “Hey faggot”. They follow that up with challenging me to step outside with them. This is hardly original, and the kind of thing I’m fairly used to at this point. What makes it a defining part of the story though, is this is the first time one of the older kids sticks up for me.
The show is over, almost everyone has left. Parents have come collected their children, and gone home. It’s just Melanie, Forrest, and a few of the older freaks packing up their gear and getting ready to go home. The hicks are waiting at the other end of the parking lot yelling “COME ON, FAGGOT!” Melanie’s mom still isn’t here to take us home. I’m getting a little nervous.
At this point Eddie simply walks across the parking lot and asks them what their problem is. The boys respond that they think I’m gay, and I need a good ass kicking due to this fact. Eddie tells them he might just be gay too. Are they gonna fuck him up as well? The boys respond in the negative, deflate, and get back in their truck to go home.
Back outside The Fenix, Joey waits for Eddie and his girlfriend to turn the corner. As soon as they do, he runs over to Eddie’s car, and pisses all over the driver’s side door. Eddie is kind of my friend, but I don’t really say anything. I guess I don’t like how he treated Joey’s sister either. I also like Joey. He took up for me late this last summer when a different group of rednecks were aiming to “kick my ass” for “being a faggot” at a local carnival. I don’t know who I feel more loyal too. It ends up boiling down to Joey being my ride home, and I’m kind of more scared of him than I am Eddie.
Joey gets back to the car, and we all sort of laugh nervously and walk towards the club. The Fenix is on the second floor of an old building on South Beaver Street in downtown York. You have to walk up steps to get into the club. The line stretches down the stairs. I do my best to not look nervous. I had heard they have a policy of not letting anyone under sixteen in the club. I repeat my mantra of “Nobody will notice you are only fourteen. They will take your five dollars, and let you in.” over and over as we wait in the line.
The ascent up the stairs feels like it takes years. When we finally get to the top of the steps, there is a desk and an older woman is working the door. I believe she was the owner. Everyone called her “Ms. Amanda”. She reminds me of someone’s really nice mom. Not so much my mom, who is at home chain smoking and gradually becoming a despair filled shell of her former self, but somebody’s nice mom. She takes my five dollars, stamps my hand, and welcomes me to the club.
Inside, the club is dimly lit. It smells like cigarette smoke and leather. Everything from floor to ceiling is painted black. There is a bar over in one corner, but as it’s an all ages venue, they only sell soda, and have pitchers of water on the bar. Behind the bar is a mural of a cityscape. The club had been named “Big City” when it first opened sometime in the eighties. I figure the mural is a holdover from those days.
After all the buildup of hearing about this place, and can now scarcely believe I’m inside. I feel like I’ve entered a secret world. There are still butterflies fluttering in my stomach as Jess and I diffuse into the crowd. Punk is still relatively new to me. I have been jumping into the scene with both feet for a year or so, but this is my first bigger show, and my first show at a club.
There was one other show that I remember, previous summer. My big clear memory of it is it was the first time I had ever seen a pit. I had seen kids sort of mosh, or push into one another before, but this shit was gnarly. The kids were wildly throwing themselves into one another with abandon, and I watched fists and boots fly every which way.
Tonight, it feels like every weirdo in greater York County is in this club. The punks are out. The goths are out. I even see a skinhead or two. Having just become a part of the underground scene, I still don’t fully understand the obscure fashion codes that differentiate racist skins from non-racist skins. I know I’m supposed to look for red or white laces on their Doc Martens, but it’s too dark to fully check out someone’s boots, so I just steer clear.
The air feels electric as more of our friends start to show up. The bands aren’t set to play yet. We fill the dance floor waiting. All the music I am in the middle of falling in love with booms over the sound system. This may be a punk show tonight, but the club caters to all the misfits who inhabit the surrounding area. The goth kids fill the dance floor, as the DJ’s taste clearly lean towards the darker side of the underground. Jess and I awkwardly dance while waiting for the bands to play. I don’t really know how to dance. I didn’t then. I think I still don’t.
We smile and laugh, and do our best to converse over the thundering music. Heather just showed up. Her boyfriend and his best friend are there too. They are on acid. I’ve never been on acid. I’ve never been been around anyone on acid. I don’t know how to act. I nod hello and keep my distance, even though I like Heather’s boyfriend. He is so, so cool, and so punk. He has a leather jacket covered in studs and band logos. A few weeks later, he will loan me both my first Crass, and Sisters of Mercy tape. It’s an understatement to say how much both of these bands will change my life.
I don’t drink or do drugs. My older brother has lived a life filled with addiction, and struggling to stay sober. I’ve had it drilled in my head for as long as I can remember that if I slip up, and even try drugs or drink I stand a chance of ending up like him, making endless trips to rehab and back again. I’m terrified of drugs. Almost everyone around me does them. Earlier that summer, while Melanie read the book Philosophy of Punk, she told me about the concept of straight edge.
To my limited, pre-internet understanding, straight edge embodies the rebellion and independence of punk, but includes eschewing mind altering substances into that rebellion. Earlier in that school year, Forrest had loaned me a cassette copy of Minor Threat’s Out of Step EP. Always the frugal record shopper, he had found it at a used record store for a mere $3. This tape is now my favorite record. It’s fast, smart, and to the goddamn point. It’s punks flying in the face of convention, and doing the opposite of what everyone expects of them. I want to be just like that.
I do my best not to resent or judge my friends for their habits, even though sometimes I think it’s dumb. I mean, what else are we supposed to do to kill the boredom in this place? It scares the shit out of me, though. Thinking back on it, I probably had more judgments than I should have. Those will change a few months later, when I decide to spend a few months experimenting with alcohol and weed. That is another story though.
When we’re at home, we mostly spend our time hiding in someone’s room with a towel against the door smoking dirt weed out of homemade aluminum can pipes. Sometimes we steal tiny amounts of beer and liquor from someone’s parents. You know, just enough so we can get almost drunk, but not enough so anyone’s parents notice. We live in a dry county, so it’s really hard to find alcohol anyway. Once we are suitably altered, we walk around the dusty streets of this town, going nowhere, and goddamn fast.
Well, everyone else does. I don’t smoke weed. I’m just here for the company and the walk. It’s better than being alone all the time. I’m going nowhere just as fast though.
Joey, Jessica, and Jess Bird all popped a pill of cheap speed each before we got into the club. I didn’t want to do speed, so I just drank a can of Jolt. I don’t think caffeine is a drug, and I kind of want to fit in, and get wired too, just not in the same way.
The sound system turns down, and the opening band hits their first chord. Jess and I had been dancing so much, that we had barely noticed them set up. The energy in the room instantly shifts and the punks fill the dance floor. A space opens up for a circle pit, and I am swept up in the maelstrom. The bass player is the punkest person I have ever seen. His hair is a wild maze of color and liberty spikes. He is covered in make-up, and just cannot stop moving onstage. The room is electric with dancing punks and weirdos. I am so excited, I find myself completely unable to not move my body.
At one point the music seems to sort of halt in the air for a moment, and the singer belts out a line about feeling crazy. He repeats it over and over again, and I can feel myself lifting up. Years later, I would hear the demo tape that this song was on. It’s pretty bad. It sort of plays like mid-nineties Eddie Vedder school of alternative rock mixed with punk. I think this kind of thing was fairly common in small towns with isolated scenes. A mish mash of lonely kids who want to play music with varying influences get together and form a band. The final recorded product often seems like the clash of influences don’t mix well. This band was no different. Live that night though, with the music pounding in my ears, they were everything.
The second band hits the stage, and the room gets heavier. The music is heavier, darker, and more violent. The singer is bellowing rage like it’s coming from the darkest parts of him. The skinheads start having more of a presence. One of them takes a disliking to me, and swings at me in the pit a few times. I do my best to avoid him, while holding my ground. Joey intercedes, telling him to back off. For a moment it looks like the two of them will come to blows. The skinhead backs down, but glares at me from the other side of the room for the rest of the night.
I am instantly in love, with everything. I feel at home for the first time in my life.
The show is winding down. Jess and I end up on the balcony for the rest of the night. She doesn’t feel well now. The speed is starting to wear off, and she’s crashing. We end up sitting on the floor and I wrap my arms around her, telling her she’s going to be fine. She’ll go home and go to bed, and wake up late tomorrow morning feeling better. Drugs are only temporary. The scary parts don’t last.
I think about saying I love you in that moment. I don’t. Everything always feels so urgent when you’re fourteen. I think it did even more so for me. It’s hard to be objective. I also think I might not have learned how to love anything before I loved Melanie and Forrest. A few months later I would admit to myself that I was in love with Melanie, and that I was in love for the first time in my life. Twenty years later, I look at it through a different lens. Like, given enough time all of our greatest loves, tragedies, and triumphs kind of fade to mere curiosities and closed chapters. Maybe learning to love is a life long process, and one that punk rock falls short in.
Jess and I kiss goodnight, and she gets a different ride home. Another friend promises to take care of her. We break up like a week later
I remember that too clearly too. I put down the phone and sit in my room, breathing heavily. Feeling too much, too hard. I can’t make it all stop. Everything hurting too much isn’t a new sensation for me. I’ve developed coping mechanisms. I pull out a pocket knife I always keep in my pocket and rake it across my upper arm as hard and as fast as I can. The blood seems to pause for a minute before gushing out of my arm. I stare at it blankly, finally able to breathe right. Mental illness and self injury will haunt me for the rest of my life.
I do my best to stop the bleeding, and go outside to the woods near my house to try and calm down. Walking out of my room, I put my headphones on, and put a mixtape in my Walkman. The music is there, just like it always is.
Twenty years later, the music is still there. So are the scars. Somehow, I have yet to cover them with tattoos. I love them both.
That was it. I’ve been going to shows ever since that night. Forrest, Melanie and I spent the next several months trying to go to any punk show in the area we could. I moved to Denver two years later, and got a taste of being involved in punk in a bigger city. I kept at it. I will be thirty five in a few weeks. I’ve never quit punk. It wasn’t my hobby. It wasn’t what I did to kill time before I went to college, or got a real job. It was the first thing I ever really loved. It was the first thing I was just wholeheartedly excited about. My mom accused me of joining a cult. I have lived a life spent in noisy and crowded rooms. Some of it has been hard. A lot of it has been really hard. A lot of it has been so beautiful and filled with immense joy too. I’m proud to say that I do my best to sit with that joy instead of the struggle as I get older.
Venues like The Fenix, and countless others like it, in countless other cities that I have lived in, or passed through are long gone. I couldn’t even keep track of all of the places which have come and gone, been torn down, or turned into luxury boutiques, or otherwise gentrified. Punk, and underground music in general are changing. I blame the internet for making everything hyper accessible. I could also just be feeling older, and things feel routine after twenty years, rather than the coolest secret you have ever been told. I also know that across the world kids are still making music, and carving out a space for themselves in the world. I’m so grateful to them for doing just that.
I still find myself haunting basement shows, house shows, shows at clubs, really anywhere where fucked up, alienated weirdos are making lots of noise. The scene I come from is long gone. Most of my friends from that era have moved on, or have careers, or families. Many of my friends from the eras and cities that came after my time as a teenager in Pennsylvania have moved on and away from punk too. That’s alright with me. I don’t begrudge anyone doing what worked for them. I get why people walk away from punk. I just can’t. I don’t know anything else. I struggle with relating to anything else.
Despite any impressions you may get to the contrary reading this, I don’t think I miss my youth. I don’t know that I wish I could go back and relive it all again, or whatever. They were good years, sure. They were also so hard, and took such a long time get over with. It took such a long time to undo all the ruin from being a teenager, from being in my twenties. I’m still doing that work now.
I do wish I could write a letter to my younger self, and address it January 20th, 1996. If I could, I would even write it on the back of the flyer from that first show at The Fenix on the same date. I kept the flier for at least a decade. Sadly, I think it got lost when a long gone West Denver punk house where much of my stuff was stored was evicted.
Post marked January 20th, 1996.
Dear teenage self,
You are embarking on a path that will define much of the rest of your life. It will change your life forever. It will change it for the better too. This isn’t hyperbole. It is an undeniable fact. Punk rock, and music in general will be there year after year, long after everything else in your life has begun to feel stale, futile, and cheap.
The path you are embarking on will make your life better, but it won’t make it easier. You are going to go deeper and deeper into being at odds with the dominant culture around you. Alienation and isolation will follow you for a long time. You will get respites from these feelings. There will be times when they feel less heavy, and less like they are weighing every atom of your body down, but you are going to feel them a lot, and feel them hard for the rest of your life.
Please use your time. Please make better use of your alone time. Treat it like the hard won ally it is. Don’t try quite so hard to constantly fill every moment with something. Find your time and use it. It’s too easy to fall into distraction and dissociation.
On the flipside of that, take more time with the people you love. Don’t take it for granted. Remember that we’re here for a good time, not a long time. You never know when someone is going to be gone. You are going to learn that lesson again and again, year after year.
Work really hard to be gentle with the people you love. This is the most important thing. It feels so urgent in youth, because you are so convinced that the world is against you. It’s easy to forget as the cynicism of adulthood wears on. It’s a brutal lesson you are going to learn over and over. You will find other alienated, beautiful, and damaged individuals to share your life with. You are drawn together for a reason, be it alienation, trauma, abuse or whatever else. You are going to fuck up and hurt each other, over and over again. Damaged people damaging each other. It’s a vicious cycle. It feels more present in your subcultures. It feels more urgent and tragic, but it probably exists everywhere. Try to be gentler. Try and be more forgiving. Remember that the people you love are bruised just like you.
The ideals and morals you are forming right now are vital. They will frame the rest of your life too. Try not to be quite so merciless when people don’t live up exactly to how you think they should fit into the world, or how you think the world should be. Try to be more forgiving. Try to soften that iron heart you try so hard to cultivate. A lot of people are consistently patient and loving with you. Try and reciprocate that patience and love more often.
Punk rock is teaching you all about surviving, but be sure to make room for thriving too. Bad things can happen when you don’t thrive. Sometimes it looks like addiction. Sometimes it looks like abuse. For you it could look like living for decades in weird, busted houses with undiagnosed mental illnesses and stagnancy. It could look like living in ruins so long that you think it’s all you deserve.
Make plans. I know it’s hard to focus on anything more than day to day survival. I know we all took that “No Future” shit real seriously. Try to think about it a little bit. If you don’t, you could end up being 35 with a mouth full of broken teeth, too many lost friends, a head full of worries and nothing but ten years of dishwashing jobs behind you.
There is something to be said for living outside of convention. It’s so exciting now. You also need to realize that it will inevitably come with doing without certain comforts. This is just a cold hard fact. You are going to have a harder time talking to people who exist outside of the microcosm world you are from. That world is going to get smaller, and fade further into the distance every year. It’s going to look like sometimes feeling embarrassed by your so called lack of achievement.
It’s not the worst life, but punk rock was supposed to be all about living on your own terms. When you focus on survival, you forget how to live. I know you feel like you are all alone. I know you feel like all the odds are just fucking stacked against you, but you got this. There is nobody smarter, or more capable than you.
Finally, and most importantly: Please try and take good care of your body. You only get the one. Please try and not hate it so much. Please don’t spend so long trying to do everything you can to not feel it. When you are in your twenties, please think about how much you want to destroy it, and where that comes from. Try and accept it for the deeply flawed and beautiful vessel that it is. Try not to resent it for it’s desires. Remember that so many other people are bruised just like you.
Do what you want. Be who you are. Take what you will. Use your time.
What do holidays really mean to someone largely estranged from their family of origin?
Maybe it means you start dreading the holiday season from about the day after Halloween, until January second. It means you get to listen to your friends talk about going away to see their families, or what gifts they plan on giving their loved ones. You don’t want to fucking hear it, because you don’t really have a family to go home to. You can’t even imagine what that’s like.
Maybe you think about how the last Christmas you can remember spending with your family of origin, your solution was steal two bottles of wine from the store before making the several hour drive to your mother’s house. It turns out, if you and your mother just keep drinking, that makes the holiday and one another’s company actually bearable.
You spend Christmas Eve drinking wine. Mom drank from a glass, you drink straight from the bottle. You look at dumb shit on the internet, and didn’t talk about anything of any consequence, except mom shows you this cool website where you can look up people’s mugshots. She shows you your cousin’s latest arrest photo, for her latest arrest on meth possesion.
“Look at what drugs did do her face!” She drunkenly exclaims.
“She was such a beautiful girl growing up.”
Then shit gets weird. You half drunkenly start to think about saying something to your mom about the patriarchal weight put on physical appearance, and how damaging beauty standards are, how maybe your long lost cousin’s addiction boils down to more tragedy than the ravages her demon of choice have taken on her face and figure. You think the better of it, and keep your mouth shut. You turn your laptop away so mom can’t see it, and quickly type in the name of your neighbors who assaulted you as a child. These are the real life monsters that lived under your bed that your mother denied existed.
And there he is. One of the faces that has haunted you most of your adult life. Your mom denied he existed all this time, denied your experience was real, and told you to get over it, and there he is. Right there. It’s the face you know so well, but with added mileage. The years have not been kind, and maybe that’s just what you wish on this asshole. You wonder if it means something in some grand universal sense, that you are happening to glimpse this face for the first time in over twenty years while sitting in the same room as your mother, who you rarely see. You think about some grand tapestry involving threads of family, violence, neglect, mental illness and despair that weave themselves together to be torn apart as sure as night follows day.
You think about saying something to mom while you’re both drunk. You wonder if the conversation won’t go differently this time. Maybe the wine will soften both of you. Maybe the wine will alleviate some of the bitterness that has accrued over the years.
You realize you are maybe too drunk. You think the better of it, and go to bed.
You can’t sleep and you answer a craigslist casual encounters ad or two. You try and work up the nerve to go have anonymous sex in the town your mom lives in. Sure enough, there are lonely men who like effeminate boys in this place she moved to for it’s southern conservative values, even on Christmas Eve. You drunkenly think for a second about how maybe this is replaying childhood trauma in your adult life. You tell your brain to shut the fuck up. Stop ruining your night. Anything to fill the void, you guess.
Self preservation prevails. You fall asleep in the guest room. You don’t drive drunk. You don’t go to some stranger’s house and get choke fucked by him until he cums and you leave before he even pulls the condom off, or bother to ask his name.
You drift to sleep and you think of the void.
The void, that great colossal emptiness you are constantly filled with weighs heavily on you. It is your oldest, and surest companion. You stare at the shadows on the ceiling, and you are sure they are staring back at you. You’ve known this since you were a child, and you sought the company of FM radio waves washing through your room at night to keep the abyss at bay.
You feel all that void this year too, as December drags on. The daylight is short, and the nights are long. The dark feels goddamn endless. The dark feels abyssal and gigantic. You have too long to lie in bed and think about where it all went so wrong. The mornings barely push their light through the curtains in your room, and it’s so cold. You don’t want to get out of bed. You think about lighting candles, or doing ritual to bring light back to you, but you don’t have the strength today. Maybe you will tomorrow.
You think about the Christmas when you were fifteen. It’s one of the last fond memories you have of your family, and even that memory is stained with poverty and depression. This was the Christmas just before you and your mom lost your house. The house is dirty, and constantly filled with blue cigarette smoke. Mom stays in the house and chain smokes all day. Sometimes you go to school, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you go out with friends, sometimes you don’t. You get uncomfortable when you are around your friends and their nice families. When you are home, you stay in your room listening to records and staring at the ceiling.
You and your mother decide that even though you don’t have money for presents, you should both go to K-Mart, and buy one another at least something to open on Christmas day. You find something you think your mother will like, and you think about how little money you have. The heat has been turned off twice this winter already, and it’s a fucking cold one.
You do what any sketchy broke fifteen year old would do, of course. You secret the present away in your rad teenage punk leather jacket. This is after all, the K-Mart where just months ago, in the warmer, seemingly invincible summer days your friends would have you go in to the store with your mohawk spiked up to run distraction while they shoplifted to their little teenage criminal heart’s content. This is the K-Mart where some hick managed to drive a riding lawn mower on display outside into his buddies waiting pick up truck and not get caught. You think you are doing great, presents secure in your jacket, and saving this meager twenty dollars at the same time.
“Goddamnit, kid. Do you realize store security is trailing your around the store?”
You hear your mom’s voice behind you. Oops. She manages to explain to the store security guard and employees who have assembled around you that you are doing your last minute Christmas shopping together, and you were simply just trying to hide your purchases from her since you were in the store at the same time. You weren’t actually trying to steal. She promises. She insists you are a good kid.
“Of course that’s what I was doing.” You agree vigorously.
They let you go, and just before Christmas comes, you and one of your older friends go steal a carton of cigarettes from the convenience store two towns over for you to stuff in your mom’s Christmas stocking late Christmas eve. You wish she wouldn’t smoke so much, but not much else seems to make her happy.
Twenty years after that Christmas, the void pulls just as hard. You sit at a bar with one of your closest friends, while she finishes her beer and you drink water. You talk about how neither of you have any family to go to this year. You didn’t really have anywhere to go last year either.
“Fuck it. We’ll buy each other presents. We don’t need our shitty moms.”
You both smile. You talk about trauma, love, and loss. You talk about the difficulty and depression of the season. You talk about moving on, and moving away from destructive patterns. You talk about legacies of mental illness and despair, how they leave their long shadows. You talk about how you can almost see the light moving in at the edges of the dark.
You put your jackets on. You leave the bar. You hug and part ways, walking different directions on Fourth Avenue. You walk home through the fog, and think about what you are going to get your friend. You think about how to move through the sadness that has persistently followed you for these last two months.
No, fuck it. You think about the sadness that has followed you for almost as long as you can remember. Maybe this year you’ll beat it. Maybe this year, as this holiday season and it’s fake happiness fades into the the background and the winter days start becoming incrementally longer you’ll find new ways to thrive, instead of just surviving like you always have. Maybe all this hurting is really just growing, and the bad times melting away like muddied snow come the spring thaw.