You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory
At the start of each class, I ask my students an attendance question, often beginning the semester with the same three. If you could have a theme song, what would it be? If you could relive one day from your life, which one would you chose and why? Who’s influenced your life the most? I have multiple answers to these questions, but my answers often involve the same two people: Courtney Love and David O..
Pretty on the Inside was a constant soundtrack in my room and in any friend’s car that had a tape deck when I was in middle and high school. I rented and re-rented Sid & Nancy from Video Frequency just to watch Courtney’s brief cameo. When I shopped at Goodwill or the Salvation Army or Space Clown, I searched for baby doll dresses and faux fur jackets in pink or leopard that looked like they belonged in her closet. I’d carefully apply charcoal eyeliner, then jump in the shower to smudge it with water before leaving my house so it always looked like I’d just survived a mosh pit even though I’d only been sitting around reading Sassy.
Lollapalooza ’94 was the best Lollapalooza. The Breeders, the Beastie Boys,
Luscious Jackson, A Tribe Called Quest, and L7 all performed. I’d been invited by a friend who was going with her older boyfriend and his friends, all seniors in high school. I didn’t get what she saw in him. The whole car ride from Wilmington to Philadelphia he said the most boring shit to her, unable to move beyond small talk: “Spanish is hard,” “If it rains, we’ll be wet all day,” “Billy Corgan sounds gay.” But then I remembered what I saw in him: a free ride to Philly.
The Smashing Pumpkins were mid-set when a woman dressed in all white, looking like an angel and beautiful as shit, stepped on stage. She said, “Hello, I’m Courtney. Could I play a few songs for you?” Shit. Despite my smudged eyeliner, Peter Pan-collared dress held together by safety pins, Mary Jane’s, and tiara, looking like my hero was not the same thing as being mentally prepared to see my hero in person. Later, I heard a lot of people didn’t know who she was at first and others trash talked her, but it’s like I couldn’t even hear the other thousands of people sharing the moment with me. When she started in on her first of two songs, “Miss World,” I could hear the cliché safety pin drop from some punk rock kid’s ear to the soft muddy ground. There was a moment of silence held for Kurt once she finished and, while I lamented his death, I mainly lamented Courtney’s future. She had her whole life ahead of her and likely would have to spend most of it trying to separate herself from the blame people placed on her for something someone else did. Culturally, we don’t like to talk about things like depression and substance abuse. We’d much rather demonize a woman. We’d much rather wrap up Kurt’s complicated life in a neat little bow and point at one thing to blame so he still could be our hero. As she sang “I’m Miss World, watch me break and watch me burn / No one is listening, my friend,” I felt like she already knew this.
If “Miss World” was Courtney’s theme song of sorts, the song she led with when resurfacing after Kurt’s suicide and Kristen Pfaff’s overdose, Hole’s “Rockstar” was mine for most of adolescence: “I went to school in Olympia (i.e. Wilmington, DE) / and everyone’s the same.” I was a sensitive kid in a toxic household and an artsy kid in a middle and high school full of jocks. I sometimes wished my high school was more like the one in My So-Called Life. Sure, Angela Chase was supposed to be awkward, just like I felt each day walking down the hallway, lost in a sea of Rachel Green haircuts. And sure Angela was supposed to be misunderstood by her parents and Sharon Cherski and Brian Krakow and basically everyone else she came in contact with just like me, but Angela Chase was beautiful and had Rickie Vasquez and Jordan Catalano and Rayanne Graff. The LGTBQ+ kids at my school still were closeted and there was no one I secretly wanted to make out with in the boiler room at St. Elizabeth’s. I didn’t even know where the boiler room was located. My Rayanne Graff later would commit suicide, driving her car in front of a tractor trailer.
I first ran away from home in ninth grade, taking a SEPTA Regional Rail to Philly where I’d occupy a booth at the South Street Diner for precisely four hours, drinking coffee until I realized I had no money left and nowhere tenable to go. When “Runway Train” crackled over the restaurant’s radio, I caved and called my parents from the payphone, believing it was the sort of sign. I didn’t want to end up missing and on some shitty alternative band’s music video. I made a mental note: Self, Courtney was much more systematic about how to get a life that meant something. She made lists and she befriended people who could help her, people like Michael Stipe. You don’t know Michael Stipe.
But I told myself I’d move to Philly as soon as I graduated from high school. I made lists not about who I needed to befriend, but what would make me happy. I’d become a college professor. I’d write and some people might read my writing. I didn’t need to be famous or the girl with the most cake, but I did need to be a girl with a slice of cake I actually fucking liked.
The first time I met Casey I was hanging at the South Street Diner again, a place I’d come to consider the epicenter of counter-counter in the tristate area because it had a unisex bathroom, a big deal in the early 90s. He slid across the booth from me in his ripped Clash T-shirt, then said, “My brother works at Veem.” I felt like one of those characters in a Jane Austen novel who’s constantly about to faint. He was hot and although Veem wasn’t as cool as Zipperhead—Courtney had set fire to a T-shirt behind the counter at Zipperhead baring Kurt’s death certificate—they did sell Jolt and herbal ecstasy. “They got this in today.” Casey pushed across the table a bootleg copy of Sonic Youth’s concert at the Electric Factory from the previous week, before snagging a scoop of my Jell-O. I thought he was trying to sell it to me.
“So what?” I said. “I went to the actual show.” I had not gone to the actual show. It was on a school night and my parents basically were communists who couldn’t possibly understand why seeing Kim Gordon would better position me to take on the world as a discerning young feminist than studying the anatomy of a fetal pig alongside my Quaker biology teacher.
“I was there, too,” Casey said. “Sometimes I wish I was Thurston Moore just so I could be married to Kim Gordon. She’s so fucking hot.” A goth girl passed on the sidewalk who looked like everyone I worked with at Hot Topic before I got mono and had to quit, thank god. “Pretty sure I went to summer camp with that girl,” he said. “She used to be obsessed with Mariah Carey and Jodeci.”
“Poseur,” we said simultaneously, and that’s when I knew we’d be friends. He asked if I wanted to go to his brother’s apartment to watch the bootleg with him.
“Yes!” I said with too much gusto. “I mean, whatever. That sounds like it could be fun.”
The apartment was a third-floor walk-up. The hallway was spray painted, mainly with tags of names that seemed so pedestrian they hardly were worth tagging: Sammy D., Mike, Nathaniel. The gray carpeting was frayed in various places on the stairs. It was difficult to maneuver past the second-floor apartment because its occupants’ bicycles were propped against the landing’s wall.
His brother’s apartment looked like there had been an ongoing party for the past week. The living room, dining room, and kitchen were one big room. The coffee table was littered with empty PBR pounders, full ashtrays, rolling papers, and spoons. The kitchen sink exploded with dirty dishes and cups. The walls were covered with posters- Op Ivy, the Dead Kennedys, Fugazi. Sinead O’Connor seemed like an outlier and Casey noticed me staring at her shaved head. “Don’t ever fight him on Sinead. He thinks she’s punk as shit.” I didn’t intend to fight anyone on anything that day, especially not on Sinead O’Connor. I considered her ripping up a photograph of the Pope on SNL, deciding anything that sent the nuns at my boring Catholic school into a frenzy was punk as shit in my book. I decided Casey also was punk as shit.
Before I could say any of this, he said, “I think you’re punk as shit, too. I mean, the school girl uniform with the fishnets and the Docs and the tiara and the Leia buns. Punk as shit.”
“Thanks,” I said, immediately regretting it. Someone who’s punk as shit probably didn’t thank people. The first time Courtney met Kurt, she insulted him, suggested he looked like Dave Pirner. Then, they wrestled each other. Just as I was contemplating knocking Casey to the ground, a girl from another room ran into his arms. Of course he had a hot girlfriend. She looked like she could be a bassist in a really cool band, like Kristen Pfaff, RIP, or Melissa Auf der Maur from Hole. She looked like she could be a Winona Ryder body double if the director only needed her for shots from a distance.
“This is my brother’s girlfriend,” Casey said, finally. He dumped heroin on the coffee table. It was the first time I’d been in the same room with the drug, even though I’d watched and read Trainspotting so many times I felt like I had a second-hand habit. “I was told to drop this off,” he said to her before asking me if I also wanted to try.
“Maybe another time,” I said. It wasn’t because my health teachers got through to me about the dangers of drugs with all of those stupid videos of 80s high school football players getting ’roid rage or huffing. It was because I had an unnatural fear of dying of AIDS and, therefore, had an unnatural fear of shooting up. Really, the disease had become so mainstream even Tom Hanks had AIDS in his movies.
The girl disappeared without the bag, then Casey dug through the refrigerator. The whole room smelled like stale food when he opened it. “Citywide?” he asked. I didn’t know what he meant, so I didn’t answer. “Do you want a Citywide?” he repeated. “
“Sure.” He placed two PBRs on the counter, then retrieved two shot glasses and poured Jameson in both. “Here,” he said, handing me a PBR and a shot.
“Thanks.” I tossed back the shot. The Whiskey stung my throat, a burn that at first hurt, but almost immediately felt electric. I’d drank plenty with my high school friends, especially with my Rayanne, but it always was in hidden spaces—behind the dumpsters at Movies 10 or in the basement of someone’s house in between boxes of old toys and stacks of Richard Simmons exercise tapes no one watched anymore. Here we had a whole apartment to ourselves and we could do whatever we wanted for as long as we wanted. I was hooked on the freedom.
“Damn,” Casey said, taking my empty. “You were supposed to wait. Hold on.” He handed me his shot glass, then poured another. “Okay. Now. Cheers to?”
Cheers to running away from Delaware for the day. Cheers to taking chances. Cheers to hot punk rock boys. Cheers to taking chances with hot punk rock boys. “Sonic Youth,” I blurted.
“Sure. Cheers to Sonic Youth.” He put the bootleg in the VCR sitting on top of the television. I took a few sips of my PBR while he fiddled with cords and fussed with the remote. We sat on the floor in front of the television as they started in on “Expressway,” but the quality of the recording was so poor I barely could make out the song. The guitar riffs and bass lines got really loud, then really soft. A crowd surfer accidentally kicked the camcorder, the concert going black for nearly a minute before Kim Gordon reappeared on screen.
When his brother’s girlfriend reemerged, she sat on the sofa, then wrapped a tourniquet around her arm. It all seemed so ordinary, like a more salacious version of Norman Rockwell, just some American kids having fun on a Thursday afternoon. I was expecting Sid & Nancy. Maybe if the Sex Pistols were playing it would feel closer to right. “Good Save the Queen” or “Pretty Vacant.” Maybe if everyone looked sexier. Maybe if she wasn’t wearing pajama bottoms and a The Neverending Story t-shirt. I made a mental note: Self, when you try heroin for the first time, make sure you’re wearing a leather push-up bra and all of your friends look like they’re residents of the Chelsea Hotel in the late 1970s. As Casey scooted closer to me, I asked him if he was going to shoot up.
“That’s more her thing.” His arm brushed against mine and I wondered if it was intentional. “I’ve been working on a play,” he told me, though I didn’t ask. “I’m real into Sarah Kane right now. She’s British. If you haven’t seen Skin, plan to. It aired on Channel 4 in England.” He took out a notebook. A sticker on its front read “Kill Your Television” and I considered how he just told me to watch something made for T.V., but let it slide because I noticed the sticker on the back: “I Still Believe Anita Hill.” I remembered watching the Clearance Thomas hearing with my parents, how they had doubted the woman’s testimony because she didn’t report the harassment right away, and I remembered it being obvious to me why a woman wouldn’t speak up. But Casey was a feminist! The first real live male feminist I’d met! I’d written my first bonafide high school research paper on Gloria Steinem and Second Wave Feminism and no one other than my teacher had been interested, not that I’d been particularly riveted by their papers about football-related concussions or the link between ringworm and dating wrestlers. But Casey!
And then it happened. He kissed me. I’d kissed plenty of boys, but I finally had my first kiss with someone I actually liked. With a fellow aspiring writer who had a tongue ring. While wearing a tiara and watching a Sonic Youth bootleg. While someone did heroin on the couch behind us. I was punk as shit.
I met the second guy I actually liked, David, a year later. For the first time, however, that like turned to love. We were at a concert neither of us wanted to attend—the Counting Crows and Wallflowers—because our respective friends had extra tickets. We’d been pre-gaming in the parking lot, making fun of things like Adam Duritz’s fake dreads and how Jakob Dylan said he didn’t want people to associate him with his father even though he’d adopted his father’s stage name, when David was ticketed for public urination. The ticket led to him getting in an argument with a cop who ultimately issued a ticket to a made-up person at a made-up address supplied by David because he insisted he didn’t have his identification. I was drawn to his disrespect for authority. I made a mental note: Self, don’t just make out with guys who talk about bands like the Dead Kennedy’s. Date guys who live like them.
We exchanged numbers, but I figured I wouldn’t hear from him again because he was starting his senior year of college and I was starting my senior year of high school. Spoiler: we dated for over six years. Soon “Perfect Day” replaced “Rockstar” as the song I loved most. When Lou Reed sang, “Such a perfect day / I’m glad I spent it with you,” he was talking about heroin, but my “you” was David.
We had many adventures— staying out until 6 AM at bars and afterhours clubs in the various cities where I lived while in college and finding our favorites (Googies, The Mount Royale, Dirty Frank’s), fleeing the scene of an afterhours club after I’d punched the owner in the face for insulting me, sneaking backstage to drink Mountain Dew with Daniel Johnston. But unlike my fascination with Courtney or my relationship with Casey which really was just me testing out my need to live like Courtney, the most important parts of my relationship with David were subtler and had little to do with the kinds of music we liked, the ways we dressed, or the trouble we got into. It’s hard to think of our adventures in cinematic terms because I was so caught up in being with him and being myself I often didn’t care about or notice the things around us. Sometimes David looked like he shopped at the Gap. Sometimes he ironed his clothes. He loved going to jazz clubs. None of these things mattered, that’s how punk he was. His obsession with typography matched my obsession with writing. He encouraged my wildness, but also pushed me to be my best self. My barely scraping by in high school turned into my graduating Summa Cum Laude from college and applying to graduate school. We both wanted more from life, though we couldn’t quite pin down what that “more” meant aside from not wanting what we saw.
The last time we saw Bowie live with a few of David’s friends he grew up with in Queens still haunts me, though. The first time I met his friend JD was at a neighborhood baseball game the week I moved to the city. It was unlike any baseball game I’d attended, men drinking espresso instead of water in the dugout followed by an alcohol-fueled afterparty. JD busied himself rounding up people to kick the shit out of another neighborhood guy whose bachelor party was the same night, furious he wasn’t invited. He tore through the listings in the Voice, deciding the groomsmen definitely were at the Rick Derringer show. David and I stayed back. We weren’t trying to get involved in a fight we had no stake in, maybe, but mostly there was no way in hell we’d be seen at a Rick Derringer concert.
JD always was explosive like this, so it was eerie seeing him five years later at Jones Beach, a ghost of himself. When he heckled the guys behind us for thinking “Station to Station” was a jam off Bowie’s new album, he was more of punchline to them than a threat. He’d worked in the Twin Towers and survived, at least physically, though the PTSD and depression that followed led to alcohol and drug addictions. During the drive from the city, he popped an assortment of pills and drank Vodka straight from an oversized bottle, insisting this mixture was okay because he also was chugging Mylanta. I knew heartburn medication didn’t cancel out whatever he’d been doing to his body. JD died a few months later. Medical records called it a heart attack, but his heart had been broken for years.
When I arrived in Seattle for the first time, it was with my husband and it was days away from the 25th anniversary of Kurt’s suicide. It also was a few months before I’d turn 40, an age I once thought I’d never reach. My Rayanne and I often talked about the 27 club—Kurt, Janis, Jimmie, Shannon Hoon—but she died at 21 and I still was around half a life later. I’d stopped at Linda’s Tavern for a drink as soon as I arrived, the last place Kurt allegedly was seen alive. I was doing research for my YA novel-in-progress, going to all of the spaces Courtney and Kurt inhabited together and on their own, uncertain of what I’d find or if any of it would be useful.
I immediately knew I was decades too late. There was taxidermy and wood paneling on the walls, a juke box, and a bartender unwilling to kiss anyone’s ass, all details that made Linda’s feel like it still could be the dive described in accounts of Kurt’s final days. But I live for dive bars—I could have a PhD in dive bar-ology, really—and this place was not one. My beer was eight dollars. There was a food menu and people actually ordered from it. There was bar merch for sale and a message on a chalkboard behind the bar asking drinkers to “tag us on social media!”
When I moved to Richmond for graduate school, I found a box of old letters I’d written or received. Most I tossed, but a few I brought with me, one being a letter I’d written to myself in 7th grade about my plans to drive to Seattle and befriend Courtney Love as soon as I got my license. But by that time, Courtney had moved to Malibu and I’d become obsessed with the more accessible Philadelphia and my real-life friends.
I also saved a letter David wrote in the middle of our break-up. He’d sent my favorite flowers—wild ones, not roses—and urged me to make decisions that were best for me. He said he felt like I was trying to make everyone else happy, so afraid of hurting other people’s feelings that I was neglecting my own. The selflessness of his allowing for the possibility that my heart wasn’t with him crushed me in retrospect. I couldn’t see at the time the ways he was telling me to trust myself. I wanted him to fight for me, to act irrationally, because acting irrationally was the only way I’d seen adults act until that point.
I cheated on David with a guy who pretty much worshipped me in undergrad, so much so acting overly possessive and abusive was his natural next step. When I told friends at the time how he wouldn’t leave my apartment one night and wouldn’t let me leave either because I told him I wasn’t in love with him, most said the experience would make me stronger. When telling someone this same story years later, I made a mental note: Self, significant others and friends shouldn’t make you stronger. They should make you feel safe.
A close friend of David’s got married soon after I cheated because his girlfriend was pregnant and, although the celebration was nice, it obviously was thrown together. At one point, David turned to me and said, “Our wedding will be so much more over-the-top.” I felt like someone had knocked the wind out of me. I’d cheated because he said he never wanted to get married. I didn’t want to get married then, but after so many years together I did wonder what we were doing. Saying this felt forced, like he was only doing so because he didn’t want to lose me. I was too afraid to tell him I thought he was lying because I was too afraid he would agree. Instead, I broke up with him and moved away.
Despite my being the one to end things, I kept trying to recreate my relationship with David with subsequent boyfriends for years. I backpacked across Europe with a guy I thought I loved. I called off an engagement with another guy I thought I loved. I accidentally got pregnant before luckily having a miscarriage with a guy I never loved. I never gave any of them an honest shot. It was performance art really, going through the motions of intimacy without letting down my guard.
The morning after drinking at Linda’s, I drove to the home Courtney and Kurt had shared. Though just a few miles from my hotel, it took nearly an hour, my rental car snaking through hills and narrow roadways and thick traffic for a Sunday afternoon. I circled past the house several times before finding parking, so many people visiting Lake Washington to soak up the sunshine, a surprise for April. I parked several blocks away, passing million dollars homes and people who likely didn’t care who Courtney was or is. No one seemed to care less than the owner of the house, a giant wall erected to prevent fans from wondering the grounds or taking photographs.
The only indication Kurt had committed suicide nearby was a bench in a small park next to the home, a bench that had turned into a makeshift memorial. Someone left an unopened pack of Benson and Hedges, the cigarettes my dad used to smoke that I sometimes stole because I’d once seen Kurt smoke them. I traced my fingers along the graffiti, all messages for Kurt, nothing for Courtney. Sure, she still was alive and it was a memorial, but living people need to know they’re loved a lot more than dead ones. I scribbled “I love you, Courtney” with the only writing instrument I had on hand—a tube of eyeliner.
A month after my miscarriage, I was home visiting my parents and David came over because he also was in town visiting his family. His mom had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and wasn’t doing well, beginning to forget who he was or what they’d just done together, longing for the only family she remembered back in Venezuela. His parents traveled to New York on their honeymoon, then fell in love with this country and never left. When we were dating, we spent a lot of time at her house. She cooked us arepas for breakfast and sometimes kept us up until 3 AM helping her make what felt like hundreds of tamales. Other nights, we’d listen to her singing and playing guitar until the sun came up. We both cried a lot that night as he told me about his mother’s illness. It was like old times, like I was 18 and he was 22, hanging in my parent’s basement getting wasted, but also being vulnerable as shit.
Except I wasn’t really being vulnerable. At one point he tried kissing me—the one thing I’d wanted more than anything for the past several years—and I pushed him away. I didn’t tell I’d just been pregnant. That I started to have my miscarriage in the middle of my MFA thesis reading, but kept on reading. That I even had a party that night and sat through the house band’s set despite being in physical and emotional agony. That I hadn’t yet processed any of this.
I’ve flipped over that moment in my parent’s basement again and again, wondering if things would have ended differently had I spoken up. I’d made my bed and now I had to lie in it, though, just like Courtney sang about in “Miss World.” For years, it would be the one day I wished I could relive.
I went to an exhibit on my last day in Seattle, Nirvana: Bringing Punk to the Masses, and what struck me most was the near-erasure of Courtney from Kurt’s story. There were three photographs of Courtney and/or Frances Bean, but the role women played in his rise to fame mostly was ignored. It was like the curator’s vision was as follows: Kurt hung with the Melvins, Kurt already was a genius, Kurt met more male musicians who also were geniuses but not as much as he was, Kurt's genius was elevated even more until he met Courtney and she destroyed him, thank you for visiting. The museum’s curators also made a clear decision to erase Courtney—there wasn’t even Hole merch in the gift shop—but their revisionist history doesn’t change the real story.
I don’t know why this shocked me because I’m used to women being erased in my own life. My mom’s happiness took a backseat to my dad’s. She made excuses for his alcoholism, each concession shrinking her a little more. My dad blamed me for all of his and their problems, suggesting a teenage girl had far more power than she did over the adults who controlled her life. We hated each other for years because I did the thing my mom wouldn’t, shining a mirror back on him whenever he tried to shift the blame, refusing to internalize that I was the bad one or the wrong one, that I was anything more than a girl trying to figure out how to live a life that wasn’t as toxic as their life, a life where I could just be a kid.
When I think of Casey as the first male feminist I met, my memories are complicated by recalling the ways he also erased women like Kim Gordon, never mentioning her music or fashion line, but only how much he wished he was Thurston Moore so he could fuck her. And even Thurston Moore eventually cheated on Kim Gordon.
But the ways David erased me hurt the most because it was gradual. There wasn’t a blow-up. I can’t point to a specific exchange and say “A-ha! This is why we had our falling out.” It was more like JD’s death, like how Bowie shows and New York were fun until they weren’t anymore.
After the Kurt exhibit, we retreated to Pike’s Place to engage in some mindless touristy stuff. While my husband was in line ordering chowder and beer, I scrolled through Facebook. A post from David’s sister caught my eye. His mother had died the previous week, a woman who once had been such an integral part of my life. David often talked to me about her decline. We had been strictly friends since that night he’d tried to kiss me, so much so he’d lived with me for a week while he found an apartment after a bad breakup. He attended my wedding. When he stopped drinking because he felt like he was getting out of control, he said things like, “you’re one of the few people I trust and can be myself around,” making me feel like our friendship was different. And it was different to me. He was my lifeboat long before I’d learned how to save myself and that’s something I’ll never forget. I didn’t need his friendship anymore. I had a strong friend group of my own and the job I’d wanted for decades. I wanted his friendship despite time and space.
I never imagined discovering over social media his mother died. While reading the obituary, I was surprised again: he was engaged. I used to wonder if David and I were soulmates who would never be together, but in that moment I realized something I’d never considered: our relationship and later our friendship had never been as important to him as it had been to me. Maybe I was to him what mostly every other guy I’d dated ultimately became to me—nothing. Maybe in order to create his new life, he had to pretend his old one never existed.
When I asked him why he didn’t tell me, he said he wasn’t on social media much. Finding out on his Facebook or Insta wouldn’t have been better, though. I wanted him to say, “I’m sorry for not thinking you were important enough to tell,” but I also knew any “I’m sorry” would be empty. David made the decision to remove me from his life. He couldn’t be sorry for something so intentional.
I circled back to the Cobain exhibit, considering what I’d wanted to see—a memorialization including Tracy Marander and talking about how Kurt would never have been able to pursue his music if he hadn't been able to live with her rent free and have the total emotional and financial support of his partner. I wanted a lot more talk about how the Oly/Riot Grrrl scene impacted his work. How feminist music and art was just as much of an influence on his work as bands like the Melvins. How Kathleen Hanna came up with the phrase "smells like Teen Spirit" in the first place. How Kim Gordon was the one who really helped Nirvana land a record deal with a major label (there was one sentence about that), but also how she produced Hole’s first album and therefore Courtney was the one with the Sonic Youth connection in the first place. How Kurt was just as rabid for fame, but was better at concealing it than Courtney had been. Thinking of their story reminded me of how I’d helped David cart his portfolio around Manhattan when he was looking for work. How I’d helped him fall in love with Philly when that’s where he instead was hired. How when some of his friends just wanted him to entertain them, treating him like some punk rock court jester, I just wanted him to be himself. How like Courtney always wore her heart on her sleeve, I would continue for years after our breakup to tell anyone who would listen how talented he was. How he was one of my favorite people growing up. How he still is even though it also feels like he’s dead. I wasn’t invited to his wedding. Unlike JD who scoured the Lower Eastside to beat up his friend, I collapsed in my bed the night of the wedding, crying myself to sleep.
The next time I ask my students to name their theme song, I’ll say “Rebel Girl” or “Feels Blind,” two Bikini Kill songs I love so much I walked down the aisle to the former and launched a magazine inspired by the latter. When I ask them who influenced their lives most, though, I know I’ll give the same answer: Courtney Love and David O.. Despite the ways their marriage was scrutinized, Courtney and Kurt created their greatest art when they were together. So did John and Yoko. I didn’t create my greatest art when I was with David, but I did something better. I established the framework to be able to create my greatest work regardless of who I was with or where I was at because I learned to trust myself.
I’ll never again ask my students which day they’d relive, though. Even though I can close my eyes and feel like I’m watching Courtney perform at Lollapalooza or hanging at Casey’s brother’s apartment, like I’m seeing Bowie for the last time at Jones Beach with JD or pulling away from David in my parent’s basement, I’d have to go back further to change things before reaching those moments for them to have different outcomes. Back to a Seattle when Kurt still was alive and people didn’t blame Courtney for his choices. Back to before I tried modeling my life after Courtney’s to escape my own. Back to a pre-9/11 NYC when we still could afford to be naïve and run around the Lower Eastside like we had fire beneath our feet. Back to a time when David’s mother still remembered everything and David didn’t purposely try to forget. But we can’t go back. We can’t put our arms around a memory because places and people change unless they stop like my Rayanne or Courtney’s Kurt. Like Bowie or JD or David’s mother. Like the old me who let things slide and made mental notes instead of admitting out loud someone absolutely fucking broke me.
Lindsay A. Chudzik is Editor in Chief of Feels Blind Literary and an Associate Professor of Writing at Virginia Commonwealth University. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in The Chiron Review, Defenestration, Dogwood, FLAR, Ghost Town, Haunted Waters Press, Map Literary, and Pembroke Magazine, among others. She is a Pushcart nominee and her creative nonfiction has been anthologized. Lindsay also is the Assistant Director of RVA Lit Walk and a recent recipient of a Gulf-South Summit Award for excellence in community-engaged teaching. She is obsessed with pizza, punk rock, and politics.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.