“The problem I have with all my nonconformist friends leaving is that I don’t have anyone to nonconform with anymore.”
Yes, I said that. In jest of course, knowing full well how silly it sounded. I was talking with Kris (the girl from typing class, yes) when I said it one morning while we were waiting for school to start, and she of course laughed at me in response. But you get the idea. It’s kind of a downer when nearly all your closest friends you’ve ever had a spot-on connection with has left for greener pastures, leaving you behind. The fun of being the class weirdo kind of loses its sheen when the public response is indifference.
But that was the point: sure, I was saddened that they’d all moved on and left me behind…but I could get over that. Some of them had gone down to UMass, so a visit would be simply a short half-hour trip down to Amherst. Plus we could always send letters if need be. Chris and I had already planned on doing a bit of that over the next year to share ideas for Flying Bohemians songs.
No, the thing that bothered me was that my social life had unhinged itself. I had no anchor, no gang to hang out with. I’d continued hanging with Kevin — we’d both single-handedly saved the school newspaper after the school’s budget for it had plummeted and they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) have the local newspaper print it out for us anymore. And Kris had become my partner in crime where college rock was concerned; we’d dub most of each other’s music collection over the course of my senior year. But the fun I’d had with the Misfit crew — the silliness, the chats, the camaraderie — it wasn’t there with anyone else still in town. But I could handle that. I just had to make it on my own somehow.
I also had to make some adjustments. There was a teen center that had opened down at the other end of my street a year or so previous called Crossroads (a former restaurant that, yes, was at a four-way intersection). They had a local dj playing the Top 40 hits and a bar selling sodas and Shirley Temples. I wasn’t a regular, but I’d head there maybe once a month just to hang out with friends. At the end of 1987 it was always busy and packed with kids from town and elsewhere, but by autumn 1988, the scene was kind of dead. There were still a few regulars, some slightly older townies and so on, but the excitement had worn off and the kids were finding stuff to do on a Friday night elsewhere. The last time I went there was early in September. Some old friends were there but they seemed to be as bored and distracted as I was. I left an hour later and walked home on my own, never heading there again.
The entire town seemed kind of…well, I wouldn’t say dead, but old and dusty. Unchanging. And the things that were changing weren’t always for the better. One of the local factories had closed up shop, leaving numerous locals out of a job. Some of the local stores that had been favorites for decades were closing — sometimes for economic reasons, but also because they were just out of date and the owners were retiring. At my school, the drama club had vanished; the teacher who’d run it had left, and some of the teachers weren’t interested in being in charge unless they got paid for it.
The music I was listening to seemed to reflect that. When Cocteau Twins’ Blue Bell Knoll arrived in mid-September, I could just about hear the slow disintegration of my childhood. I heard the silence of my neighborhood, all of its kids grown up and already moved on. The creaking of old trees and the sad hiss of wind through dead leaves and branches. The lonely distance of the sparse traffic of Route 2, a mile or so south of my house.
I had one more year to get through, but I could not wait to get the hell out.
My writing projects had changed as well. After that moment of clarity at the radio station, my poetry and lyric writing had become less of a chore and more of an outlet; it became a personal journal, a way for me to deal with my own issues, albeit in an oblique and creative way. I’d stalled on the IWN sequel, having gotten about a third of the way before I’d run out of ideas. Two new stories popped up, ideas I’d come up with a year or so earlier but hadn’t expanded upon: Dreamweaver, a horror story about a college kid whose violent nightmares become reality; and Belief in Fate, a roman a clef (yeah, I went there) written in second-person (inspired by Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights Big City) in which I dramatized (read: overdramatized) the ups and downs of my senior year.
As much as I want to dismiss the writing of Belief, especially for its one-note repetition of my feeling absolutely miserable and sorry for myself for many and varied reasons, it ended up being even more of an emotional release for me than my poetry and lyric writing. Although the first chapter was written a year or so previous, the rest of the novel served as a way for me to actually come to terms with my emotional side.
[Let’s be brutally honest for a moment: it was 1988, and if you were a teenage male in a small town and publicly showed emotions or any sign of weakness, you’d probably have been labeled a pussy or a fag and the more troglodyte of the jocks would have never let you forget it. Maybe it wouldn’t have gotten that far, who knows…but I didn’t want to find out, because I didn’t have the time for that kind of bullshit. That’s why I kept the deeply personal stuff private, and used my writing as the release.]
That’s not to say I was completely miserable my entire senior year, far from it. In fact, I’d already decided I’d keep the freak flag flying, even if it was flying solo. One summer while I’d been digging through the back cellar storage at my house, I’d found an old green trench coat that had belonged to my grandfather. I started wearing the thing to school all the time, using its many pockets as an alternative to carrying an unwieldy bookbag. The front right pocket housed my tape player, the left one housing a few tapes I’d bring along, and the inside pocket to be used for the various things such as my daily planner that I’d use to write down homework assignments. I’d carry my books and my notebooks by hand, and even went so far as to plan when I would visit my locker so I’d bring home as little as possible.*
The trench coat (and often that Smiths ‘William It Was Really Nothing’ tee-shirt) became my uniform, as it were, for the rest of the school year. Even during the winter time, when it wasn’t all that cold, I’d wear it instead of a heavier coat. Over the course of the my senior year I’d become known as the creative nerd (as opposed to the band geek, many of whom I’d hang out with occasionally). I was the one who wrote the music articles for the school newspaper, the one who made all the weird projects for art class, the one who’d hide out in the publications room down in the basement and goof around on the computer (a Mac this time!) instead of going to the library or the cafeteria for study hall.
And strangely enough, I started getting along with a lot of the people in my class. I’m not entirely sure how and when it happened, but I wasn’t about to question it. Classmates who bothered me or just plain ignored me treated me as an equal now. There weren’t any long-lasting friendships there, just acquaintance, and that was good enough. Maybe it was because we were all about to head out into the world in a few short months, and the social hierarchy we’d known for so long now seemed a bit…well, stupid.
It seemed we were all in the same boat: we all wanted to move on, as soon as we could.
* – Amusingly enough, this is in stark contrast to Kevin’s book carrying; he’d made a king-size book bag out of denim for a Home Ec class in junior high, and had used it all the way up to his last day at school. My sister used to call it the Killer Gym Bag because he’d carry an insane amount of things in it.