by: Patrick Gill and Mar Curran
Note: Things Were Not Supposed To Talk About In Public is a part of a series of articles that indulges a panel of IOW writers desire to overshare. Enjoy.
One of the stranger points of bonding between my dear gephew Mar and I was when, ironically enough, over beers we discussed times in our lives when we were Straight Edge.
Though it is a time in our lives we do look back on with some fondness, respect and even light-hearted giggles– there are just somethings myself and Mar just don’t miss about being Edge. I will start.
I don’t miss getting my nose broken.
I was edge for my time in High School. At the time I was also entrenched in the hardcore scene of Santa Cruz, California; where the men wore women’s pants, slim black shirts, some carried knives, all carried resentment; many of them also lived with the pent up anger of being called a faggot or “worse” by people at their school.
Reader, you and me know better — just because someone looks feminine, that doesn’t mean your ass cannot be kicked by them. Those young men felt like something had to be proved. This was sloppily slathered on top of a sense of being at odds with the world and the inexplicable rush received from chest caving drums and shouted gang vocal choruses.
I loved it, and I can remember a lot of it because I was Straight Edge. No drinking, no drugs, no promiscuous sex. Those were the x’s I learned, others have other answers that ring similarly with about the same severity and strength. I didn’t feel hindered by my restrictions though, in fact I felt empowered — that I could stay clean. Don’t assume that I hated people who didn’t though; those people were actually my best friends. We got along because as much as I was in my head, my head was a wild place. Those were wild people, who loved me and appreciated my presence more than anyone else.
What I remember and don’t love though were the moments I felt judged and ridiculed by other people who were straight edge. There was a straight edge crew in my town. Long shorts covered their wire strong legs; out of their band branded t-shirts sprouted spindly solid arms, and they covered their heads with flat brimmed hats and hoods. X’d up hands at shows, soon tattoo ink stretched across their calves and biceps, leaping koi and yellow roses enclosed bold X’s or the thin cursive “Straight Edge.” All of them were acquaintances, some of them were friendly, most of them hated me.
Like I said, I was close friends with the kids who drank, who smoked, who did drugs and fucked around. I was their driver, almost an accomplice or cohort in crime, I guess. This somehow made me an enemy to the cause. It wasn’t like I fit in anyways. I didn’t look exactly like a metal head, with my cropped but bushy light hair and bright orange hoodie that could only aptly be described as bio-harazrd fluorescent orange. That thing was a light source of its own at times, I was dubbed “The Traffic Cone” by people at shows. Add to this that I have way too thundering of thighs for skinny jeans, I bust ass first out of them within a week, and this was before I knew how to patch those suckers.
Now I have a butch scowl mastered and it gets employed purposefully at times, but I smiled a lot back then, too much. The othering was set, by association and style, this crew felt I was the antithesis of the movement while still being in some way a part of it. I pushed one of these kids out of traffic once, getting them to safety, and still I got dagger eyes and shit talked about me behind my back.
Finally, at a show a town over, at a venue I pretty much knew no one at, the confrontation came to a passive but quite physical moment. I was standing at the edge of the pit. I usually posted up there, like a beefy dude is expected to. I was waiting for a two-step break down, the moments I love the most, during a more heavy wail and drum breakdown. I had an arm up, but I wasn’t looking directly into the pit. I turned, as some guy is massacring my outstretched arm, which is at the required distance for not being bodily harmed but still enjoying the show from your place at pit’s edge.
I know some knocks are to be expected, scenesters dance vicious. But when you keep knocking into an open arm and there is plenty of space actually in the pit, you recognize you are being a tool and you move into that space. I turn in to see who it is, in case I know the guy and can give him the “Would you stop?” polite look. I look in for two second when a fist rises, then flattens it path into my nose. I am taken aback a bit, but not enough to roll me over. I look at him in watered eyed shock.
His mouth tight and small, his septum rings wiggles as his whole face stays solid, he looks like a bull mid gore. It’s _____ from the crew. His fist recoils and he and I are pretty much eye to eye with a foot or so between.
“What the fuck, ________?!” I am a hurricane of blood.
My nose, my mouth, a trail wide as a glacier’s cut through earth and red as Tabasco has started to take residence on my toxic orange hoodie. I can’t stop staring. He gets back to the movements of his dance. I stand stock still, until I realize I don’t want to leave blood on the floor.
To get you to realize again how cheap and beautiful that hoodie was, cold water took the blood out immediately and I am convinced it increased the brightness and shine of that magical rayon blend. I was fine, with a bulbous bump in the bridge of my nose I walked back into the show and was silent for the rest of the night. My brother picked me up after the show, he would have been there but he was on a date. He felt so bad about not being there and sticking up for me that he took me to a late night movie. The only thing that could make a broken nose feel worse was seeing Attack of the Clones. It was the thought that counted, though.
I asked someone that I was friends with actually in the crew, did _______ mean to sock me right in the face. Accidents happen at shows. “Yeah, the guys don’t really like you. Sorry man.”
The only thing that got us to bury the hatchet, was a brief conversation at a memorial of a mutual friend. I had unexpectedly started blubbering during an impromptu speech, made when they invited all the attendees to say a few things about our lost friend and family member. We were in the space we all went to so many shows at, this time facing a poster board college of his face rather than him.
I said I wouldn’t have made it through high school without him, I can’t remember what else I said beside the choking tears. I couldn’t remember where I was standing before the speech.
I settled back in a new spot, realizing after I was next to the guy who broke my nose. I turned to him a quietly said,
“You broke my nose and your friends hated me.”
“Yeah, sorry about that.”
“I’m okay with it, just wanted everything out in the open and known, you know, now.”
“Right, I misjudged you before. I really am sorry. You seem pretty nice.”
We had both just recently broken edge, no one had anything to prove.
I don’t miss freaking out about everything.
I was edge for 21 years, from my birth to the day of my 21st birthday. This may not count for much with some people, as drinking would not have been legal until I was 21 anyway, this was just me abiding by the law. These people, I assume, also live in Pleasantville. I grew up as an Irish Catholic kid in the Southwest Suburbs of Chicago. If I wanted to drink like many of my peers chose to do, it wouldn’t have been hard. There were parties every weekend, parents with open liquor cabinets, a friend of a friend who knew someone. Alcohol was never too hard to come by, and neither were other substances if you knew who to ask.
But I didn’t want to do what other kids were doing. From an early age the message of avoiding alcohol and drugs somehow translated in my brain to a moral risk. My early anxiety meant I had to be the best I could be. This rigid facade of greatness could only be maintained with the perfect amount of control. If I controlled my behavior, I could make sure I did not embarrass myself, my family, my friends. I could make sure I would never look back with regrets. I could keep creating the perfection into a reality.
I spent a lot of time building up the perfect life. Good school, good grades, serious relationship, adult apartment, board positions; responsibilities, respect, expectations, anxiety. But you know what? At the end of the day, it wasn’t perfect. Anxiety is all about the future. I wanted to make sure I could have a perfect future, but nothing can change that I got into a place where I hated what I had built up around me. Nothing was what it was supposed to be, how I’d envisioned it. It seemed like all my hard work had been destroyed, and I was left with nothing.
But it wasn’t nothing. My best friend at the time reminded me that he’d gotten through the same problems I found myself facing in the last weeks of my 20th year. Maybe I just needed to reevaluate what made me happy, what made my life worth living. Maybe adulthood wasn’t about having the perfect facade, telling yourself you’re happy, going along with the plan that was set before you.
On my 21st birthday my friend Sara bought me a six pack of Blue Moon. I took one sip of the foam and grimaced. My former best friend bought me a six pack of Mike’s Hard Lemonade, which I drank one of before I decided all alcohol did was make me sleepy. The world did not collapse. No one stopped being in my life, I did not fail all of my classes, my parents did not disown me, I am not an alcoholic, and I have yet to die alone surrounded by a dozen cats in a drunken stupor. Those fears were just fears of not being able to control every aspect of my life, which was an allusion; I never had control, and not drinking was just one way I fooled myself into thinking it was better to commit to other people’s standards rather than risk failing at my own.
Drinking is not a cure for my anxiety, and it is not a symptom. I’m aware of the risks I face by drinking. I am careful not to use it to deal with emotions or solve my problems; I do my best not to overdo it.
But the calculated risks are what life is all about. I had it all wrong, at least for myself. I had to let go of an unfounded worry to get back the control I needed, to realize what was actually worth worrying about. Like Neti pots.
Patrick Gill is the Co-Creator of In Our Words, as well as the Co-Founder and Host of the queer reading series All The Writers I Know. He is a poet, essayist, short story writer and occasional performer. Patrick writes the column “B*tch, I’m Miley Cyrus” for HEAVEMedia, is an alumnus of DePaul, has developed LGBTQ-centered anti-bullying curricula for CPS schools and is currently working on LGBTQ friendly children’s books. Patrick is doing so in order to be cute and endearing once again. He is a semi-professional word-hustler and a burrito hunter. His mother thinks everything he is doing is a fun thing to do.
Mar Curran is a trans/queer rights activist and community organizer; he is on the boards of Video Action league, Advocate Loyola, the Queer intercollegiate Alliance, and works with GetEQUAL. As spoken word artist, he has read at each All The Writers I Know event. He studies Communications and Women’s Studies at Loyola University Chicago. Curran likes beer and cats.