Nonfiction by Audrey McGovern
Dani and I teeter on the outskirts of a mosh pit in Land Reader’s wood-paneled garage. We are there for my brother’s first house show. Eli’s band, War Bonds, is playing in the center of the floor. There’s not any kind of stage, the crowd just clears out around them as they play on the level, uncovered concrete.
My brother told me that “level” is an important idea in hardcore punk. The lack of an elevated stage is integral to the atmosphere of a live show, because we come here to break down what separates us: no fences, no gate, no lead singer to scream at or profess your love to from afar. In a punk show, they’d be right there in front of you, everything in a messy state, the corners of everyone’s body intermingling to the sound of a hundred things at once, so loud it ricochets inside you during the rare, anticipatory moments of quiet; so loud you couldn’t confidently say if the screams you hear are coming from your neighbor, or from a figure across the room. Pure dissonance is pure ecstasy, right? It’s beautiful, in theory.
In reality (which is in Virginia) hardcore punk looks the way bugs do. The ones that won’t stop ramming their bodies into the yellow fading light on your back porch. They chewed through the mosquito screen to get up close, so now they’re overconfident. They think they can ram their way through glass, but all they do is hit it over and over again. This is how the boys are here; they circle each other while circling nothing, and when someone gets hit hard, that just means someone else is next.
I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Eli, but the corner is a safer space to watch from. From here, I can see the drummer sweat, and the boys, whose names I don’t know, fall. There was one who fell with his arms outstretched behind him, and I don’t know why I held my breath, bracing myself for the sound of skin hitting concrete. I had forgotten my place. But the band doesn’t care about my ringing ears or the kid with the outstretched wrists. We all just keep on playing.
Blake Rutgers just got dragged out of the garage for flying too close to a girl situated purposefully outside the circle. I think the side of his arm grazed somebody and all hell came down on him. He says it was an accident, and it probably was, but pointed aggression feels better than aimless aggression, so that’s what he got.
I am beginning to notice he is unbelievably high off Xanax, as he falls over himself on top of Land Reader’s mid-size sedan.
I am 13 right now, so Eli is 14 and still straight-edge. This makes him exceptionally displeased with Blake’s behavior. Eli doesn’t know that two years later he is going to use drugs every single day.
“You should go home,” Eli tells him. “You’re being an idiot.” Blake does leave, but he doesn’t go home. While I am inside, using the bathroom along with three other girls, Blake Rutgers peels his semi-lucid body off the driveway pavement, and walks by himself down the road. He follows the streetlights and yellow dotted lines, one foot after the other, until he is gone, gone, gone.
“Does anyone know where he went?” I overhear Land asking a group of kids as I walk out of the humid dark garage, in a row with my female accomplices. They shake their heads, disinterested in the matter. Land paces up and down the driveway, eventually resting both hands on the rusted hood of his car.
“I am going to go look for him,” Land announces to no one in particular.
“Eli!” Land yells, trying to summon him from the garage, where he retreated after his sickening experience with Blake. “Get out here. We are going to go look for him.” Eli doesn’t even come outside all the way to respond. He holds the screen door open and places one foot on the shallow stair, keeping his other safely inside. A car starts in the back of the driveway, and the front headlights flash on. When the warped light hits Eli, his blonde buzzcut looks white. The short fuzz, drowned in high beams, is transparent, and for a moment I can see the outline of his skull.
“I’m not doing that Land. He always does this. It’s not my problem.” I used to think that was such a cruel thing to say—now I know that it isn’t. The headlights turn off.
End of Intermission.
Eli started playing again, but I am missing it, missing the only reason I am even here. I am walking with Land and his girlfriend Dani, looking for someone who never asked me for my help. I believe, at the time, that this makes us exceptionally good people. But really, I am not a morally superior being. I am not selfless. I just have a habit of feeling guilty when other people make bad choices and there are so many bad choices to be made. Forgive me for missing the show.
We walk through the entire neighborhood, which is comprised strictly of one story houses, shades of brown, and American sycamores. Across the road you could find a neighborhood on the water where the houses all look like ski resorts and everyone has a Suburban. Somehow, we all end up going to the same high school. I hate them at first, I hate even being in the same room as them, but then I suddenly get pretty and I’m invited on a boat for the first time in my life, and damn, I become a certifiable class traitor.
At one point I take off my sandals that are rubbing the wrong way against my heels and walk barefoot on the asphalt, and it feels nice. Blake isn’t my brother, so when he disappears in the night high, I can look for him while enjoying the stroll, while appreciating the weather. It’s not like it was with Eli. There are no crying moms, no awkward interventions. I don’t have to sit at the kitchen table, acting like I’m not coming down off my own high, telling Eli, Your behavior is affecting us all. My mom opted for, I don’t even know who you are anymore. I know exactly who Eli is, and he doesn’t need to be hurt that badly.
When we reach the end of the road, there’s a forest that continues past the yellow light and smooth pavement. I put my shoes back on to go in, but our search is futile. Blake isn’t hiding in the dirt underneath the dead leaves, and we can’t find him. We retreat backwards in a mix of defeat and acceptance. Land Reader tells us to not feel so bad, that you can’t always help people, especially if they don’t want it. Land and Dani’s hands keep colliding on the way home.
Walking back to the show, I feel beckoned by the abrasive music. I don’t usually like punk, but tonight I want to watch the bugs swirl. Hell, maybe I’d even look for the light myself.
But he’s in the front yard. Blake Rutgers. When Land sees him in the grass, he is relieved, then angry. He walks over to him, looking so big next to his flat body.
“Where were you? We have been looking for you for the past half hour.” Blake laughs. At the time, he sounded mean and mocking, but I think he was just laughing because to him, it was really funny.
“Went to buy weed,” he sings. Land is exasperated and yelling something at him, but I am not listening at all, I am watching. Blake is lying with his arms stretched out like Jesus, and his face is nestled in a clump of wet grass. His fingers are twisting around feeling the blades, and it looks like it feels so good. His eyes are glazed over, and they look somehow sweet. Lamb-like. He looks so much happier than the rest of us.