Category Archives: adolescence
His name was Gwar of all things. Do you know who Gwar is? They are an awful band in giant goblin type costumes with spikes and monster makeup. They throw vomit and blood and piss and semen (or rather accurate fakes) at their audience through out their shows. They have quite a following among some people.
He had GWAR tattooed on his knuckles and he made sure that every person he ever met knew that he had earned that name by having the word Gwar carved into his arm by the lead singer. He claimed this happened when he was 8 years old, but I think the scar seemed fresher.
I had very recently turned 14 and very recently ran away to Portland Oregon. I was using meth, I was tasting what I thought was freedom, I was being hunted by a serial killer whose victims were all street girls between the ages of 12 and 19. My boyfriends name was Rush. Rush was my boyfriend because he was the only person I could find the morning I left Olympia who would take the bus to Portland with me. I was scared to go alone. I was disappointed that it had worked out that way. I would have rather taken his girlfriend.
While I was in Portland I met a lot of people. My name was Flame because my hair was bright red, one shade brighter than my always, even now, red cheeks. Flame and Rush and Gwar are all pretty stupid names and we were pretty stupid kids. We thought very big of ourselves and our place in the world, sometimes you have to, too survive how invisible you really are in a culture of adults who are skirting the responsibility of initiating you into something worth belonging to.
I met a lot of boys and a lot of men. They wanted to get me high, they wanted to sleep with me, they wanted to sell me or show me off to their friends. Some of them wanted to be my Dad and some of them wanted all of these things. Gwar was the only boy I met, the only person I met who was in my corner. He was my friend, and only my friend, from the gate.
He was 16 years old and 6 feet tall. He had a faded green Mohawk. He was covered in scars and track marks. He was the sort of character, in his cut off pants and stick and poke tattoos, that most people would cross the street away from after dark.
I met him and forever after every time I saw him he asked how I was and he meant it. I heard that when I got arrested he got drunk. While he was on that drunk he saw the arresting officer leaving the police station under Pioneer Square. He picked up his skateboard and ran with the intention of beating that man, it took 8 teenage tweekers to knock him over and hold him down. Fortunately the officer was a block up and didn’t notice the commotion. He got in his car and lived to arrest another day.
That was not a side of Gwar I ever saw. I only saw big blue eyes and the only safe friend I had. At punk shows he would put me on his back and spin as fast as he could in the middle of the mosh pit. I would hold around his waist tight with my legs and stick my arms, covered to the elbow in spiked bracelets, straight out and knock over anyone who came close. I would feel powerful and supported.
When I was arrested and sent back to Washington I moved in with my sister. Everyday I planned on leaving but everyday I chickened out. My brother came over once a day and made me a fried egg sandwich. My mom dropped off boxes of Cheese crackers outside the front door.
One day, months later, Gwar showed up in town looking for me. He told me that 6 people had tried to hitchhike north to find me when I had first been sent back. Some how they ended up in a ride that took them East and left them in Yakima. They were too high to know where they were. While they looked for me in a town that was several hours away from where I was, they decided to break into a house and were all arrested.
That’s when Gwar decided he would be the one to come find me. He thought about it everyday for months and one day found himself with the right combination of drugs and gusto to really do it.
I don’t remember much of his visit. I remember what he looked like skateboarding down our hill. I remember he always picked me up when we hugged. I remember him leaving when he realized I could not be convinced to come with him. I made him drink the water here everyday because it is legend that if you drink the water in Olympia, you will always come back.
Three years or so later I ran into some people in Eugene who I had known from that time and I found out why he had never come back, even for the gallons of water I watched him drink.
At 17, shortly after I had seen him, his body had been found by the edge of the freeway.
I heard a tall tale about kidnapping and drugs and important people. I don’t remember that story, it seemed like more of meth helping people make sense of senseless things. It seemed like more of those boys who never grew up finding a way to feel more important than they are.
What is true is his body was found by the side of the road and at least one person remembers his heart and how truly rare a being like that was. In a sea of manipulation and greed and addiction and distrust and violence I remember one of the best hearts I ever met. I remember when it stopped beating. I won’t forget how quiet the world is now without him. I won’t forget how relentless beauty is.
It will sprout from scars.
It will sprout from concrete.
Whatever happens to us, beauty will keep pushing, keep breaking, keep surfacing especially where no one is looking. That’s how beauty survives. That’s how we, the ones of us who did, survived.
Thank you Gwar. I love you.
She said “Do you remember meeting me at the shopping cart races?”
I said , “I might have killed those brain cells.”
She said “Do you remember moon pies?”
And I did, somehow I did. I saw mountains of moonpies being passed among hundreds of crusty queers in a park in Ann Arbor Michigan. I remembered that that town was a land of milk and honey because there was a ten cent deposit on every beer can, and a bin full of them outside of every frat house. I remembered river rats from Minneapolis building pirate ships out of shopping carts, I remember sex on a front porch and making out on train tracks and a diner built out of an aerobus. The bus diner was sitting on the tracks at the exact point when any train leaving town pulled over. That way you could sit eating fries until your ride got there… milk and honey.
I remember one day that I drank water from a bottle in a trash can and felt tripped out for the rest of the day. I remember a person with purple hair talking about the camp of trannies they had built outside of the Michigan Womens Festival because none of them or their boy children were allowed inside.
Racers came to town for the week. They had workshops, got shit faced, went to or played at shows that happened every day. There was a score board spray painted on the side of a prominent building where cops and punks competed to own the town. Cops got a point everytime someone got arrested or an event was successfully shut down and punks got a point everytime someone or everyone got away.
On racing night alot of punks just shoved their drunk asses into carts and had their closest friends push them off the edge of a dangerously steep hill in the middle of town. Others had worked days or weeks turning multiple carts, bound together, into wild animals and land ships.
I remember the sea of carts and patchworked sails and moonlight and good screams.
And I sort of remember the girl.
Come to find out…she had brought all those moonpies.
The first few days in the San Francisco International Airport we actually believed we would someday catch a flight. We did not get very comfortable. We went outside a lot to smoke, always rushing back in halfway through our cigarette. We acted like our names would be called at any hour even though no one knew our names and the only flight that we could catch was once a day at 7:30 am.
On Sunday there was no 7:30 flight. We found out about that on Saturday after not getting seats on that mornings’ flight. We took a bus to the city. We went to the Haight, we drank some beers, we got very cold. We realized that we had packed like the beach bums we were aspiring to be. We had two blankets between three of us.
I was the youngest, still a minor, so I went to the shelter off Ashbury where they give you dinner and a bunk and ask casually if you would like any other assistance and leave you alone when you say no. My friends each got one blanket and though they denied it the next day, I had heard the wind on my borrowed window and I was sure they were spooning.
We made it back to the airport by Monday morning. In retrospect this was impressive. I have many stories of popping off my main plan for what I think is a day or two and not making it back for a decade or ever.
Monday there were soldiers waiting for the plane that had standby seniority, so they took the available seats. Tuesday there were people who had purchased standby from a company that held a higher priority with the airline, so they got on.
I tried to be chummy with the ticket guy, after all we were practically family at this point… he was very well dressed with lovely lip gloss but he was not preferring to become any more familiar with us than he had to be.
Tuesday afternoon one of my companions had an allergic reaction to something she ate out of the trashcan that probably had peanut oil hidden in it. She almost asphyxiated as the drugstore in the airport mall insisted that I count pennies for Benadryl.
On Wednesday morning we were given seats! We even got a smile from the ticket guy. It was as I turned away from the counter with my ticket in hand that I saw them, three elderly women who were actually from where we were going. Two of them were in their sixties and the third, their mother, was in her eighties.
I stood back and watched them. My friends were anxious to get to our flight. They were so excited. I grabbed them by their packs and made them wait with me. The women walked up to the counter with an envelope of standby tickets that looked very familiar. It was our same, no priority what-so-ever company.
They were told there was no room for them. On a flight of people who were tourists and bums and businessmen there was no room for the three women in line who belonged on Oahu.
I took the tickets from my two astounded friends and I went back to the nice lip gloss. I told him to give those three our seats. His jaw hit the floor. He asked me why I would do such a thing, he had seen me every morning for a week and he was pretty sure I lived in a blanket fort between two Chinese restaurants in the food court.
I told him I had grown rather fond of the airport and that those three looked like they would be more cozy at home than in a blanket fort. He promised he would get us on the next mornings’ flight and he did.
We tried to sneak away from the counter but the youngest of the three women stopped me. She handed me half a pack of tailor made cigarettes with a twenty-dollar bill stuffed in the cellophane. I told her good luck and she told me it isn’t luck it’s blessings.
7 years old.
Bush senior had begun to bomb Iraq for the first time…that time.
My grandmother, my mom’s mom, spent her days watching television evangelists in her crowded trailer. In the early years of their marriage, she almost bankrupted her and her husband by sending money to Pat and the purple haired woman. Her children hated him for cutting her off from the bank accounts. They did not like having one more person to go through if they needed bail money. They also didn’t like how she got a little edgier when she couldn’t guarantee her place in heaven with a cash donation. She also missed receiving cards from (she imagined) them personally, thanking her for her generosity.
They were the only two people in the world that considered her generous. They were the two whom she gifted and never called later to remind them.
It was from these voices of her God that she learned about the prophecies of the bible. When Papa Bush began a public slaughter of the already devastated Iraqi peoples she had it on good authority that it was a definite sign of the end times.
She immediately set about gathering her 6 children and all their children in her trailer. The trailer sat on a nice wooded hill surrounded by her husbands beautiful tomatoes. Whenever I remember him it is on a little riding tractor lawn mower weaving his way through the trees. His work was never done though I was never quite sure what it was he was working on. He was a kind quiet man. My grandma had never stayed put after leaving my grandpa until that overall wearing potbellied sweetie came along.
She gathered them all; myself included and began a prayer meeting. She talked about the hell that was about to be seen on Earth. It was her intention that we all stay there together to await our certain death. It was her contention that a nuclear holocaust could be expected momentarily.
I learned in my adult life that this was the last time all her children ever did anything together to appease her. It was actually the last time that all 6 at once would be willing to be in a room with each other. No one else believed her idea; they just figured they would stay with her a few days until she settle down.
The trouble for me was that none of the adults present told me that it was Grandma and not Western Washington that was exploding. Everyone was playing along so well that I believed, with what capacity I had, everything I heard her saying. Most of my cousins were playing in the woods, beating each other up or trying to have sex or whatever other brutal shit they were learning at home. I was, however, glued to my Mom’s lap crying and shaking for what was years to a child body.
This is a memory of mine that I didn’t have until I was grown up and told about it by a kid who at the time was old enough to remember how devastated I was.
A 7-year-old child can barely understand why people can’t see through them if they block the television. I was trying to understand the end of everything and wrestling with the magnitude of heaven.
15 years old
I was living in a small room on the top floor of a haunted punk house where knives flew offs counters into walls and mice ran choreographed circles in the living room.
I sat rocking facing a wall for months. I felt everything falling from under me, I jumped at any loud noise, and I drank to quiet my nerves. When planes flew overhead I cried. My feelings were so big that they had the same authority as the purple haired woman had for Grandma. The end was upon me.
If I heard a plane noise while I was out I would search the sky desperately until I discovered which kind of plane it was and decided whether it was likely to drop a bomb. If it was likely I would run to the nearest public restroom, lock myself inside. My eyes and jaw and fists would be clenched shut.
When the noise passed I would slowly open one eye to see if I was still alive.
Most kids my age were worried about what to wear to school or whether they would have to be chaperoned at prom. Maybe they had not heard it was the End of the World or maybe they coped with rhinestones and extracurricular activities.
My Dad just recently found out that things are not going so well in the World of Humans. He started to be very worried about food and energy and water and weather and money. He found out from Facebook, who had the same authority for him as the purple haired lady had for Grandma or my fear had for me, that it is likely that the military will rise against Obama, taking over the government and holding the country hostage in a brutal and indefinite marshal law.
He has begun to collect canned food when it’s on sale and inquire with friends about food preservation. He goes fishing more often.
He started growing squash. The first year they were as big as my head, then from those seed, the next year they were as big as my head and shoulders and this year they are as big as my torso. Also this year, zucchini the size of my thigh surround the torso squash. Everything flavorless and everything gigantic. The larger the vegetable the greater comfort he takes.
I have been making zucchini bread and making zucchini bread.
My sweet brother from a different mother has gallons of water in the basement and the main floor of his home. Both, so that if one part of the house is inaccessible She may be retrieved in the other part.
He feels the little earthquakes. The ones that only science tools usually notice. He feels them and he waits. They are calling something bigger.
He raises his sweet baby and loves his sweetest sweetheart and goes to school to learn how to use all his personal experience as a homeless youth to help homeless youth. He sings and grows the only orange cosmos anyone has ever seen. If, by now, you have seen orange cosmos you can be sure they are a direct descendant of the ones in his yard.
He tends to what needs tending as if everything might have a chance to keep going. He does this even and especially as he feels the plates under his feet make little big shifts. Every couple of years he waters the cosmos with the jugs from the basement and the main floor and refills them with fresh water.
My mom keeps a bible on her bedside table and keeps the world at a distance.
Friends run away to the woods and make houses and grow food and keep the world at a distance.
Kids break windows or carry signs.
Today, it is cold outside. The porch was frosty until mid morning. I pray for more snow, especially in the places where the spring waters depend on it. I hear stories and I see them in everything all around me. On the corner a group of young men are having a good time being pissed off at each other. My dog is having a good time letting them know they should keep moving.
I have eaten today and I have drunk. My hands are cold, my shoulder is sore, my piano is longing to be played.
blink. blink. my eyes were slow to open and even slower to focus. It seemed to my very groggy mind that I was being watched by a blue-eyed Cyclops. I pushed my head back what seemed like a mile, but was more likely an inch, and the face of an unknown child of approximately 7 came into view. I startled and fell off the opposite side of the child-sized bed that my mostly adult body had been precariously placed on.
I was very confused. I slowly took in information. Princess sheets, headache, clothes on (thank God) some kind of garage. I could see where this child corner abruptly became a bleak adult bedroom with a queen sized bed and plenty of empty wine bottles. The sheets had rode off one corner of the bed exposing a mattress that was yellow with age.
She eyed me suspiciously. I would have too. I tried to think of something to say to this stranger whose Mom had put me in her bed after fucking my brains out in her own. When we had tumbled into the room it was well past 3 in the morning. The child had been sleeping inside the house with her Grandma and Grandpa. I had been redressed and sent to sleep in the kid-bed because the little one was likely to crawl in with her Mom in the early morning.
It was apparently past early morning and I had nothing to say for myself. Perhaps sensing this, she spoke, “Do you like to play unicorn princess?” She said it in the same tone that surprised adults would use to say, “Who the fuck are you?”
“Yes I do.” What else could I have said? A nervous bead of sweat rolled down my face.
“Well come on then.” She stood and walked towards the door that I assumed led into the house. I absolutely, under no condition, wanted to go in there.
Her Mom was some kind of photographer. Either that or she wore a camera to pick up chicks. Down on her luck, she had moved back in with her parents to get help with her kid and maybe her drinking problem. I searched my mind for her name but it was not there. I had met her in a bar, in a town where I was visiting with the most recent in a string of men I was using for protection, status and a sense of self worth, in other words my “boyfriend”.
I had gone out with his best friends girlfriend for a fun night while the guys watched her kids. We went to a bar that was having a generic fetish party. It was 5 dollars or free in a costume. I tried to convince the door person that young homeless girl was a real turn on for a lot of weird rich men but eventually I had to just take off my pants to get in without paying the cover.
I remember being pretty tossed when she decided to leave and I decided to stay. I had a thing for middle-aged lesbians and I had been exchanging glances with one all night. She had a camera around her neck and a backwards hat. Hot.
What I would find out the next day is that while I was trying to convince my friend that she should stay and we could both find a nice lady to sleep with, the phone in her pocket had accidentally called her house and left the whole conversation as a message on an out loud machine. This was the early years of cell phones and my first experience with their sense of humor.
The next I recall I was sitting on a velvet couch close to the bar taking shots of tequila that seemed to be magically appearing before me, one after the other. It occurred to me that I should investigate this phenomenon. Four shots in, I looked up. To my surprise there was a half circle of butches, fifteen to thirty years my senior, before me. They had decided, as a group, to take turns buying me shots. They were making bets about who was going to take me home.
I told that door person I was a fetish.
Thankfully my favorite, the photographer, was on the couch beside me. I leaned over and declared my preference to the room with a very sloppy kiss. We finished our drinks, tried to order more and found out that the bar was closed.
We went to her little Toyota truck parked across the street. We got in and as she searched for her keys a cop car pulled up behind the truck. The cop waited for our next move. Well, our next move was deciding to walk home. We rolled out of the truck and the cop rolled on.
We took turns puking on our stumble, some 4 miles into the suburbs. When we got back to her house it is a foggy memory of blankets and clothes and hats tossed so many directions that I believe it took longer to get dressed again than it had taken for each of us to get off.
That’s how I ended up in that eensy bed being watched awake by a wild eyed child who was leading me into her grandparents home.
I got the sense that others were home but they kept to the back of the house as the girl poured us each huge bowls of sugar cereal. When they were empty she poured another and then a third. My eyes were about to burst from their sockets. My pupils were like sauce pans from the high fructose corn syrup that had replaced the blood in my veins.
She took down two salt shakers from the top of a stove that held many. She uncorked the bottom of one and handed it to me. “Now,” she said with a great deal of authority, “Now, we are unicorns. We will use this magic invisible fairy unicorn dust powder to leave ourselves trails to follow back home when our journey is complete.”
It was like the cereal, she had a large container of salt and refilled our shakers whenever the emptied. We dumped a good pound or more of salt into that living room carpet before I heard the knock.
Behind the knock was my friends’ boyfriend. I had called on a random kitchen counter cell phone 2 hours earlier. My boyfriend was in the truck and not, as it turns out, in too much of a talking mood. I felt happy, hung over…sure, but happy. I could tell that this irritated both of them. I smelled like tequila and a grocery store cereal aisle and I was talking a hundred miles a minute about the child I had met and wondering aloud what had become of her mother.
The first time I got drunk I lived with my mom. I had been brought home by older friends who were freaked out by my vomiting and loosing consciousness. I have one memory of my Mom waking me up by slapping me across my face and shaking me. She was screaming. She was scared. The next morning I woke up with an awful hangover. I was always jealous of people who said it took years of drinking to start getting hangovers.
Anyways, to punish me she made me go shopping with her all morning. She took me to grocery stores, department stores, the mall. The lights, the sounds, it was terrible. If I hadn’t been an alcoholic, it probably would have scared me into stopping.
The funny thing is that four years later, at 17, these two men did the same thing. They took me shopping for hours. I don’t think they even bought anything but we went to every store between the suburban photographer family home and that couples rural house. The louder and brighter the place, the more business they pretended to have there!
Tonight, I search my mind for the names of that unicorn princess or her desperate mother but they are not there. I remember some things about being small. I remember raising myself. I remember being lonely. I remember everyday being a surprise until it was not surprising anymore. I hope, for all the salt, that that unicorn princess found her way home.
When the federal government implemented a program during the last Great Depression to raise the price of beef by slaughtering half the cattle of every rancher in New Mexico, they did not anticipate the wisdom of everyday people. Those everyday people, including my great grandparents and my great great grandparents, knew for a fact that while you could count on a cow to feed and clothe your children and neighbors, you could not count on the promise of an increase in the price of beef to do the same.
Government officials came to the gate of my great great grandfathers ranch with the paint they intended to use to mark their choice of the cows to be killed. They met two gentlemen who had been warned by their neighbors about the unappreciated company. One was the owner of that ranch and my grandmas’ grandpa William; the other was his son in law, my grandmas’ dad.
They held their guns, not pointed but in plain sight, and calmly explained the situation to their ignorant visitors. These two men, from whom I descend, informed the guests that they had no problem with the government coming through the gate provided it was by falling through it.
The officials were not apparently obliged to consent to that particular arrangement and took their leave. No one on that ranch saw them or their paint again. All the cattle lived on until they laid down, not to increase a national profit, but to feed those who had tended them…
When he yelled at her in front of that stupid ska show, so close to her that his breathe blew her bangs away from her face, he did not notice the scrawny pink haired barely pubescent punk behind her. He did not notice that is, until I puffed up and stepped between them, trying to defend her.
His veins popped and his fists clenched, I was deflated. The power of my sneak attack was short lived. I wondered if we should run before he swung, but then the most beautiful thing happened. She, who had stood in the line of his nasty vodka scented insults for months, came alive in a never before seen way. She scared him, screaming so close to his face that every hair on his head ran away and he is bald to this day…
When I sat pleasantly drunk on the clown bus listening to a moonlight trumpet serenade with my grease paint smeared but not forgotten, I could not have imagined that anyone in the neighborhood was not in love with the night. But there was a man, half a block away, whose pulse was increasing, his pupils were dialating with every brass note. He hated clowns and fun and music but most of all he hated to miss an opportunity to punch someone.
I met him at the bus door and walked around the front with him. I mistook him for a reasonable man who was reasonably irritated and he mistook me for a freak that needed my teeth knocked out. Half way through the first sentence of my admission that we had been a little loud for a school night, his fist caught me so hard in the chin that I flew into the bike rack on the front of the bus. I started to stand up. But just as my oversized shoe souls reconnected with the pavement and my mouth opened to catch my sentence where I had left it, he hit me again so hard that this time bells rang and I was out.
Ten clowns ran off the bus and right into his worst nightmare. He, never having had violence fail to solve a problem before, ran scared into the night with them on his heels. The one who stayed behind was the trumpet player and his song brought me back into the beautiful night.
I remember this feeling
the sun sets on this couple blocks of town, in the still warm early fall
just as it did when I was a (not so) little girl
In those days I spent hours jumping on a trampoline singing along to Ani Difranco on my walkman
or swinging from the branches of the tree that provided cherries for the desserts that were served in the underground cafe that my neighbor ran out of his living room on the weekends
my affair with the woman neighbor was a scandal for some of the neighborhood but at 15 I felt plenty olde enough to pretend that we were mermaids while I lost three pairs of socks and two bras to her cluttered corners
those days tasted like turnovers and the second half of a 40 oz of Big Bear
and in my memory it was always this time of day, the time when afternoon anticipates the middle of the night
I am two blocks and twelve years from that place
a place full of ripe plums
cherry pits getting lodged between my toes, homemade gravy, sunkissed smiles,
the first awkward adjustment of a strap onto still forming hips
napkin drawings, hugging strangers
and thinking only in punk lyrics
those memories are Watertower Pink
a very particular pink made of sunset reflected off the waterpower onto the tips of cedar trees
Tonight that color sends an adolescent taste of lonesome and longing riding over my tongue, along a wave of now cold coffee
while I wait, like that little girl, to see what the night wants from me…