ROMANCE IN THE ERA OF GOTH
high school freshman year was all about listening to skinny puppy/debussy playlists on my discman during PE while adding safety pins to the thumbholes i had cut into my mesh undershirt. i would concentrate intently on this somewhat hidden from view by a shrubbery near the baseball diamond. sometimes a group of popular, lithe girls would pass and tell me to kill myself, and i would add their names to my hit-list and draw ‘angry hands’ in art class where i occasionally used my own blood as pigment. things continued in this way in a seemingly interminable fashion.
and then there was charlie brown.
charlie brown seemed to be the antidote to my young malaise and existential placelessness. he was four years older - a senior to my freshman, and he was everything i wanted to be. he was The Big Goth On Campus. he held the respect and admiration of jocks, skater kids, and feckless, roaming abercrombie&fitch drones. WHAT’S UP CHARLIE BROWN they would say, quivering under forest green jansport backpacks. HEY charlie brown would say NOT A LOT. charlie brown did not carry a backpack. if he did, it was probably black, survivor-bike style, and had a bunch of Fear Factory cds in it and a big black sketchbook full of GOOD IDEAS.
charlie brown’s goth image was perfectly executed. he had long hair knotted into semi-formed, half-bleached dreadlocks. he wore red-tinted sunglasses. knee-high combat boots ascended to busted corduroy cut-off shorts and a distressed NIN or bauhaus t-shirt. his pale limbs were festooned with glittering, spiky jewelry.
i loved him.
and so i did what i do best: i stalked him mercilessly. i sleuthed until i knew where his classes were and at what time, i wore my best electrical tape accessories and conducted brazen Goth Walks near where he and his raver friends formed their circle in front of the drama room. i wore my trench coat often and in the heat at the cost of bodily comfort, i took greater risks with the texture, color, and material of my pants.
and it worked. it worked because i always get what i want whether or not it is good for me. because if there is a god he seems to employ the same modality whenever i come up on the radar. which is: oh fine, you fucking idiot.
the day that charlie and his friend geoff approached our crew during a morning break we were all aghast and nervous and honored to be graced with his presence. i felt myself sweating and trying to appear nonchalant and congenial. he walked me to my english honors class and we made small talk about trent reznor. he asked if i was seeing anybody. i paused for a moment as though surveying a vast mental catalog of men begging for my attention and then responded NO. he said OK THEN MAYBE YOU WOULD LIKE TO BE MY GIRLFRIEND. and as Vonnegut would say: so it goes.
he was two hours late to our first date. i had agreed to meet him in front of the high school gym, where i told my mom i would be attending a basketball game with my friend kate. as a person who wore a mesh undershirt beneath my phys ed uniform, this was obviously a lie. i waited and charles finally showed up, breathing laboriously under the weight of many pentagram necklaces, and panted SORRY I FELL ASLEEP. i payed for his ticket at the movie theater because he had no cash, i recall him actually emptying his pockets inside out in a comedic manner and grinning with yellow teeth. we saw a horror film, and afterwards we walked to the nearby middle school playground and sat on a bench for a while and talked about subjects that were probably middle school and middle school. after that he fell down a flight of stairs. after that we met his sister at burger king. charlie wore his fingernails very long and they were always kind of clogged with grime and debris. observing his fingernails digging into the deflated bun of his cheeseburger and imagining his discolored teeth commingling with grey cowflesh i felt an urge to drink clorox and scream in an empty field of wheat. instead i made a kind of impressive house of cards out of sugar packets.
over the next four months i ‘lamed up’ exponentially. i started listening to nu-metal. i stopped caring about my grades (prior to meeting charlie brown it had been my sort of inexplicable goal to get into Cornell, and i held all honors courses and got straight As). i stopped reading russian literature. but i began to cultivate a certain cred and people seemed to stop throwing stuff at me for a while. i became charlie’s unflagging support system. charlie was mostly invested in practicing metal vocalizing and smoking weed and occasionally doing e. the only time he was verbally affectionate was when he called me on the telephone whilst rolling. charlie was also an illustrator and a poet, and he drew me pictures occasionally; stylized ink drawings of, for example, a butterfly grinning maliciously. and a valentine depicting my mangled body in a trashcan and himself with a bloody axe, which i retain in a folder of forgotten, nostalgic documents till this day.
we spent our time together wrapped in a silent, somber embrace. one of charlie’s more formal sartorial items was a cape. when i say charlie brown had a cape, i am saying that charlie brown had a cape. this was a cape that did not play any games about being a cape. his mother had made it for him. it fell in mournful black swathes to the floor, the lining was red satin, i want to say there was some sort of bodice-like lacing on it somewhere, and voluminous renaissance sleeves with fine french cuffs. we would stand in the center of the quad and he would enfold me in his cape, and i would rest my face on his chest and usually leave a pale makeup stain thereon after we would peel apart at the toll of the final 2nd period bell.
at lunch we would sit with our backs to a stony column and i would pick at a peanut butter sandwich while he ate a school-heated slice of pizza. we would discuss tool’s latest album lateralus. we would discuss the next time i could come to his house and hang out.
charlie’s family was a very curious unit. his father was an extremely wealthy computer software entrepeneur who divorced charlie’s mom and married a batshit crazy trophy woman who shat rhinestones, and they lived with three hopelessly spoiled alternative kids in a rancho santa fe hillside spanish villa. charlie’s dad had a hobby being a dad in a Dad Band, like many dads who have money and time and a modicum of musical inclination resuscitated after twenty years. there was an enormous grand piano in the foyer flanked by expensive bass cabs and fine marshall amps, formal sofas were upholstered in ‘rockstar’ gold. he seemed like a laid-back dude.
the first time i went to charlie’s house we watched bladerunner on a gigantic television framed by a custom maple entertainment unit with surround speakers. charlie’s stepmother fumbled around in the liquor cabinet and pulled out two bottles of empty absolut. THERE IS A SECRET ALCOHOLIC IN THIS HOUSE she glared at us suspiciously and then teetered off in platform sandals. after we finished the movie we ascended the graceful curves of a marble staircase and charlie brown showed me the most interesting room in his parent’s house, this being The Bong Room. this was a large sort of vestibule off the mezzanine which led to the parent’s bedchamber, it was furnished with sofas, chaise lounges, and a circular ottoman all in matching red velvet. i suppose the most interesting aspect of The Bong Room was the presence of many bongs, surely several dozen of all sizes and colors, and the bongs appeared to be the source from which The Bong Room got its name. The floor of The Bong Room seemed to be covered in expensive persian rugs. WE SMOKE A LOT charlie explained.
the color of charlie’s room was a mystery to me because heavy blackout curtains were always drawn over the double pane windows and french doors of his balcony overlooking Jenny Craig’s horse stables. i do remember that the room had a very high ceiling, because i spent most of my time there staring at it while charlie and i lay in a fully-clothed spooning position on his California King-sized bed. i don’t remember a damned thing we talked about, but i do remember being locked in passionless, lethargic make-out sessions during which my level of arousal was so low i thought mostly about homework and began to question whether i was gay. after kissing him i would return to stroking his goatee and picking at his dreadlocks with ape-like fascination. here i shall proffer a note about people with naturally straight hair who are in the process of growing dreadlocks: they do not bathe. they wax their dreads and abstain from showering for as long as possible to facilitate the ‘natting’ process. and thus: charles smelled. he smelled. he smelled very strongly of patchouli, weed, high school sweat, and dolorous body odor. i never saw charlie unclothed, and i never moved beyond his mouth, and i think that in this way i am very very lucky in love.
i remained assiduously dedicated to his causes, committed to convincing myself that the physical revulsion i felt toward him was an intrinsic character flaw that must be purged. yet i started to see him less and less. he would pass me in the hall and pretend not to notice. there was talk. at chili’s one night with my best friends darren and emilio the topic was brought up whether charlie brown and i were even dating anymore. OF COURSE WE ARE STILL DATING i retorted, and darren wiggled a spoonful of crispy thai rice noodles in front of my face and we all laughed, but internally i began to dread the inevitable.
i checked his geocities page religiously. his page had a brief bio stating, in red typeface on black background, verbatim: IF I DO NOT ATTAIN FAME AS A MUSICIAN, I WILL CERTAINLY ACHIEVE PRESTIGE AS A PRODUCER. one day, appended to this bio was something like I’M GOING TO BREAK UP WITH MY GIRLFRIEND THIS WEEK which was very alarming because it seemed to directly pertain to me. within a few days he approached my crew on the quad, pulled me sort-of aside and said we should be friends. i kind of reciprocated his flaccid embrace and watched tearfully as with a great flourish of his cape he stalked off in the morning glare to biology class.
i was devastated and wallowed for a few months but soon found an even better boyfriend who’s complete lack of social expediency and tendency to eat paper and/or curl into the fetal position at inappropriate moments was outweighed by his excellent taste in music and literature and his proclivity for writing me pretty-decent-for-a-15-yr-old beat poems with a vernacular prominently featuring the words ‘mountain’ ‘sun’ and ‘gysm.’
i am fairly certain i saw charlie brown at a jamba juice near my parent’s house a few years ago. his dreadlocks seemed finally to have achieved a consistency which bespoke success. he ordered a razzmatazz.