Jeremy Peters scratched Goth Sux into the rear driver’s side panel of my 1987 Chevrolet Camaro. I was taking a piss behind the banyan tree by the teacher’s lounge. I knew it was him because he always called me Goth even though my look was strictly grunge. I only wore black because I was in mourning. Kurt Cobain committed suicide a year and a half earlier, and junior year 1995 at Henry Flagler Preparatory High School felt like a leaking bridge.Light my candles in a daze ‘cause I found God.
What does it mean to me? It means Kurt had an epiphany, probably while lighting a cigarette. I smoke Parliament Lights; I have a fake ID. Everything sucks, and it’s not going to get any better. It’s probably why he killed himself. But maybe it does.
I retaliated by slashing both passenger side tires on Jeremy Peters’ 1994 Volvo. He caught me red-handed and beat me up. I covered my face. From the ground his face looked like a freckled question mark. I could’ve embarrassed him by telling the whole school that I saw him getting a hummer in the locker room from Phil O’Connell after track practice, but Kurt wouldn’t have done that.
Phil O’Connell had blond hair like Kurt, but a better complexion. I consider myself pansexual. That’s what I told the artist who inked my Kurt tribute tattoo.
“We have a sale going on,” he said. “Get a piercing twenty percent off with any tattoo.”
“Can I present my receipt and still get the sale price if I decide to get a piercing at a later date?” I asked.
“Don’t know, dude. You’ll have to ask the manager. By the way, they got a copy of your ID when you paid, right?” He added shading to make Kurt’s hair look extra greasy like I’d asked him to. I was sweating from the needle.
* * *
Spanish class was a joke. Scott Thomas asked if I could help him. “It’s all heads over tails to me,” he said. I used a notebook to block the stench of his halitosis.
“I can’t explain why things are the way they are,” I said. “You’ll just have to remember what I say is right and don’t ask questions.”
“You won’t regret this,” he said. It looked like he was going to hug me, but changed his mind at the last minute.
Mr. Barnhart came in wearing a disc man and singing “Canta y no Llores,” pronouncing every letter. Then he wrote Canta y no Llores on the grease board with a blue marker. He kept his disc man on for forty-seven seconds more until the song ended.
“Buenos días, clase,” he said.
Scott Thomas shot me an expectant look, and I rolled my eyes before answering with the class: “Buenos días, Señor Barnhart.”
Mr. Barnhart hung his tweed jacket from a hook by the cubbies in the corner. Wearing tweed in Florida is a joke. I snickered.
“¿Conté una broma?” Mr. Barnhart asked. I shook my head.
He continued. “Dígame, clase: ¿Que significa ‘Canta y no Llores’?”
Scott Thomas looked at me again. Again I rolled my eyes. This could go on forever.
I raised my hand, and answered literally. “Sing and don’t cry.” Barnhart thought about it for a minute, and said, “¿Cual es la significacion?”
* * *
Everyday after school I went to Caffinatrix for a double espresso and a Parliament Light.
“¿Que quieres?” I asked Scott Thomson, testing him. He untucked his uniform shirt, and drank a peppermint tea.
He scrunched his eyebrows. Sweat beaded between the folds on his forehead.
“I want to remember,” I said, giving an example, “and to have met Kurt Cobain.”
“I want a girlfriend,” he said. Patting his stomach, he added, “and popularity.”
In Ms. Jones’ Drafting class I was experimenting with techniques of perspective, and I sketched parallel lines converging at a point with a car racing forward. I handed Scott Thomas the sketch after signing it.
“You’re the only friend I got,” he said.
In my room later that night I listened to Bleach twice and the second half of In Utero once. I went through the illustrations in my Spanish textbook and placed thought bubbles over anybody wearing black, and filled them with lyrics from “Been a Son.”
I always use red ink. We’re not supposed to write in our textbooks, but future generations may forget about Kurt so it’s important to keep his words alive. My sister, who is only two years younger than me, doesn’t know who Nirvana is, but I forgive her because she still plays with Barbie.
* * *
The track team made state, and we took a charter bus to Tampa on a Friday after school so that we’d be rested and ready for the Saturday morning match. Jeremy Peters punched me in the arm and called me a Goth fag when Coach Fernandez announced that I was to be his roommate.
“I forgive you,” I said even though he never apologized.
Coach Fernandez threatened him with suspension. Jeremy Peters asked to bunk with Phil O’Connell, which was fine by me. Young love should be celebrated. If more people were happy for each other Courtney Love wouldn’t have gotten the terrible reputation she did.
Jeremy Peters and Phil O’Connell were seniors, and could do whatever they wanted. Coach Fernandez switched room assignments, substituting Jeremy Peters with Scott Thomas in my room. Scott Thomas was officially on the reserve list, though nobody expected him to ever run track because of his asthma. I placed hand-drawn comic strips with Spanish dialogue in his locker every Wednesday. They were usually about Mr. Barnhart’s disc man, or they were about my 1987 Chevrolet Camaro’s relative superiority over Jeremy Peters’ 1994 Volvo.
Before lights-out, I circled every fifth word in Gideon’s bible in red ink. My original plan was to do so throughout the whole book, but time was a factor so I limited myself to Genesis, and balanced it out by sketching a flipbook about a parachute enthusiast with unfortunate luck on the last few pages of Revelations.
Scott Thomas slept in his boxers, and I brought along a long sleeve black flannel and black cut-off jeans.
* * *
My grandparents drove cross-country to pick me and my sister up in Aberdeen when I was five. I chewed Wrigley’s Double Mint gum. Florida was only five days away. My mother disappeared. My father worked in a cannery and didn’t have a name. She had a freckle either above her left eyebrow or on the tip of her nose. I have a hard time remembering which. At some point, I assume, I’ll have to make a decision and stick with it.
* * *
We beat Tampa.
The following weekend, we went to Gainesville, and when we won there we went to Tallahassee the weekend after that. Coach Fernandez convinced Principle Marcus to allow us to skip school on Monday since the panhandle was six-and-a-half hours away and we would be exhausted when we got back.
A seven-year-old almost drowned in the pool two feet from where Jeremy Peters was practicing his butterfly stroke. Later he made a joke about it. When I glared at him, he looked away. Phil O’Connell saved her.
I carved Grandma take me home into the plaster of each hotel lobby.
In Tallahassee, Phil O’Connell shared a room with me.
“Sorry you can’t spend the night with Jeremy,” I told him as I changed into my black flannel.
He was brushing his teeth. “Whatever, dude,” he said, after he gargled.
“I think of myself as pansexual,” I said, and showed him the Kurt tribute tattoo on the inside of my bicep.
In his notebook in red ink I wrote: our little group has always been and always will until the end, and that night I gave my first hummer.
“I’ll tell Jeremy you’re cool,” he said. Afterwards, Jeremy Peters stopped harassing me, and even apologized for defacing my 1987 Chevrolet Camaro.
* * *
The next month of my life was so busy that I forgot to draw weekly comics for Scott Thomas. Every moment felt extremely important, so I wrote everything down. Unfortunately, I lost the notebook in a booth at Caffinatrix three days before the month ended. I cannot be held responsible for anything that happened in that period because I can’t remember any of it.
* * *
Scott Thomas was excused from class Monday through Wednesday the first week of March because his father died in a car wreck. A 1994 Le Saber T-boned him after running a red light. Mr. Thomas drove a 1991 Ford, but I can’t remember the model.
I sketched a visual interpretation of the Nirvana ballad “Something in the Way” on white poster board and left it for Scott Thomas in his locker with a note attached that read: I’m sorry for your loss. He thanked me with a Tupperware container full of home baked coconut macaroons, courtesy of his mother. Jeremy Peters attended the funeral with his parents. Phil O’Connell arrived alone half an hour later, but sat with Jeremy and his family. Nobody touched, but Mrs. Peters constantly dabbed at her eyes. She was allergic to the gladiolas surrounding the coffin, but she may have been crying, too.
I tried my hand at graffiti, tagging the side of school with a silhouette of Kurt and the words: R.I.P. KC and Mr. T–the latter for Scott Thomas’ father. The school painted over my graffiti, but planted a bougainvillea bush for all the dearly departed next to the gymnatorium.
We had a Community Healing day the following Thursday. Scott Thomas disappeared after second period.
* * *
Phil O’Connell invited me to his parents’ country club almost every day during the summer while Jeremy Peters was away in Annapolis, Maryland, attending the United States Naval Academy’s summer program.
Afterwards, we’d go back to his house. In his room he kept an airplane lamp and inspirational posters taped to the wall.
I’d begun silk screening portraits of Kurt in the style of Andy Warhol, and presented Phil O’Connell with one featuring a camouflage background. He shoved me then I gave him a hummer before letting him inside me.
“It’s only three weeks,” he said, putting his wet board shorts back on.
We smoked Parliament Lights and listened to records while lying on his brown carpet.
* * *
Scott Thomas catapulted his Romulan Bird of Prey into the canal behind his house and hung a poster of Pamela Anderson on his ceiling.
“I’m dating a girl who goes to public school,” he said, popping a Certs.
All his clothes came from Abercrombie & Fitch. He lost fifty pounds and frosted the tips of his hair. He bought new CDs by Alanis Morrissette, Garbage, The Goo Goo Dolls, Radiohead, The Presidents of the United States of America, Blues Traveler, Coolio, Bjork, The Bloodhound Gang, and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.
“Kurt was against consumerism,” I said, as my Rayden demolished his Sub-Zero in Mortal Kombat.
“In a freestyle battle 2Pac would bury ODB,” he said, halting my Sonya Blade Kiss of Death with his Reptile Acid Spit.
* * *
Jeremy Peters returned from the Naval Academy with ramrod posture and an obsession with the weight room. He spent the rest of the summer reading books about aeronautical engineering. He lost Phil O’Connell’s phone number.
Phil O’Connell took up golf, and his father paid me to caddy on Sundays. I put the money towards a new catalytic converter for my 1987 Chevrolet Camaro, and used the old one in an installation entitled “Canta y no Llores” that I was showing in a young artists group show at the North Palm Beach Community Center. Phil O’Connell donated a dirty oil filter, and Scott Thomas gave me the gas cap from his father’s 1991 Ford.
Jeremy Peters reluctantly contributed a used condom, but at the last minute I caved to peer-pressure and presented the installation without the condom. For my records I kept a photo of the installation (with the condom) and tacked it onto my wall next to the mural of Kurt I did in charcoal.
* * *
Phil O’Connell papered his closet with acceptance letters from Harvard, Penn State, New York University, and a sole rejection letter from Johns Hopkins in Maryland. He spent ten hours a day working at his parents’ country club while getting his A.A. degree at Palm Beach Community College.
“Two and a half ounces of gin and one and a half ounces of vermouth,” Phil O’Connell said, listing the ingredients of a martini.
He also learned the head-to-shaft ration of a Big Bertha graphite driver.
“What comes next?” I asked.
He smiled like Jeremy Peters.
* * *
Graduation couldn’t come quick enough.
Scott Thomas bought his girlfriend a bassinette when he thought he had knocked her up, but then she got her period. During Christmas vacation she let Jeremy Peters put his penis between her breasts at the exact hour he was scheduled to see Jerry Maguire with Phil O’Connell (8:10 PM). When he finished, Jeremy Peters slammed her door so hard it fractured the jamb then he caught a red eye for Annapolis. She made new friends.
Scott Thomas bought a gold chain, baggy jeans, affected a swagger, and refused to apply to colleges on the east coast. “Get with it,” he said, and poured orange juice on my Seattle University application essay about Kurt. He wanted to study marketing and land an internship at Death Row Records.
We never spoke again.
I burned “Canta y no Llores” in a backyard ceremony then mailed the ashes to Jeremy Peters’ house.
When my acceptance letter arrived, I made copies, which I kept for my records. College started in the fall of 1997, three and a half years after Kurt Cobain committed suicide.