Into the Night (2019)
This missive was originally written for the RS500 about the Doors 1967 Self Titled album. Like all things that require some overwrought emotional mining, it took way too long to get this thing to life, blowing way past my deadline and living alone and unfinished in my google drive. Maybe because it was Valentine’s recently, another silly hallmark of this era, I thought of it again and decided to set it free, something between an Egyptian funeral and having a drink with your ex after you sign your divorce papers. While it still feels incomplete, eternal run on sentences and lack of clarity at times, it is what it is or was.— Will, 2021
I kissed Kim Young for the first time after a football game when I was in 6th grade. But really, she kissed me. At the time I was neither forward nor brave enough to pull some shit like that off, no matter how much I pined over it or tried to wish it into existence. It was my first kiss.
I’m getting ahead of myself.
There’s this thing I do; it started as a way for me to dominate a mic in a room full of strangers, for the longest time possible, by signing up for November Rain at karaoke.
If you look carefully at the back of my 3rd grade trapper keeper you’ll see a clumsy but carefully penned cartoonish rendition of the cover of Appetite for Destruction. I was a kid who liked cartoons so naturally I was into Poison but I had an older wilder neighborhood friend who introduced me to Guns N Roses, so naturally I loved them. It was in this way that my history with that band unfolded over years of adolescent hallmarks, notably the summer of 1992 in which Ridley Scott’s Legend filter had painted the Waterhouse scenes of the literal girl next door, her name was Lindsey Fox.
The thing about November Rain, even like a MIDI version of it, is that it’s literally 11 minutes long, and only half of that is singing. By signing up for one thing I unknowingly signed up for another: a gamble to hold people’s attention, to take up all the space in between, regaling strangers with a story about love and tragedy, a story that for me was rooted in the time when I first heard that song. In it, I ended up stitching my own memorial merit badges onto someone else’s clothes that I was wearing. And when push comes to shove, we rarely rise to the occasion, but instead double down on what we know. When it comes to songs about loss and heartache, my current thing was still too sore and painful so I went back to somewhere it was safe, a slow dance with Lindsey.
Lindsey and I had been “going out” for a while, a diary entry by my shocked friend Mike mentions this along with the the fact we’d been listening to Boyz II Men. Lindsey and me had a montage of times together akin to My Girl, the only difference was our relationship was Macaulay Culkin and an ill fated slow dance that was the embodiment of a thousand kamikaze bees.
The first dance I ever went to was in the fall of ’92 and I didn’t know you weren’t supposed to dress up. All the cliché things happened: a cold war era gym, girls standing on one side, boys on the other. Occasionally we’d cross lanes and chat, and then someone played a slow song. I approached Lindsey, whose pastel flowered dress unintentionally matched the nearly Easter-themed shirt I was wearing, clothes our parents had probably bought us for church. I remember awkwardly asking if she wanted to dance; she smiled and nodded.
If I were to freeze that moment in time, examine all the pieces as they fell apart, I would be able to see that we were standing on the bloodstained chalk outline of our once romantic summer.
With the grace of two robots who were clumsily programmed to never touch and the product of parents who hated each other, we mechanically tried to figure out where our hands were supposed to go, who was to lean in first, and how this worked.
And we failed, tragically failed.
I’m not sure who walked off first but we disappeared back into the safe forests of our lingering friends. I don’t know if I ever spoke to Lindsey again.
I’ve probably told that story, in some form or another, over a thousand times, adding and omitting parts along the way. I’d incorporate the lyrics into our story “And you know what? We both walked away, we gave up on love because you know why? SOMETIMES YOU NEED SOME TIME ON YOUR OWN!”. Depending on how drunk or self-reflective or cathartic I was feeling, I’d add bits about my Dad, “a man built out of guilt” and my Mom, “an angry woman who knew no fear”; sometimes I’d talk about love and darkness:
“Two cars speeding down the highway towards an impossible horizon. Two cars with two people, no fucking lights on, barreling down the road in the middle of the night. Two humans, crashing head on, flying through the windshield. And if those two humans happen to kiss before they die, two lonely doomed ships burning in the dark, well ladies and gentlemen, that’s love”.
That song became a therapeutic journal and confessional that tied my present to an actual and romanticized past, telling the truth but also lying about the details. Getting as close as possible to a time when I was in love and didn’t know it yet. This perfect fumbling of wishes and desires; a longing for complete freedom, a never ending moment fueled by compulsion and fascination that blinds you to the fact you were actually free the whole time. I was ready to break out of paradise for no other reason than I was young, dumb, and saturated with self-destructive genes and a romanticized diary handbook that was meant for every tween but penned by the cultural witch’s brew that gave way to Gen X.
Earnest intent often feels the most embarrassing, in part because it’s pure. You’re being absolutely honest and that exposes your origins and vulnerabilities. Different than the skin mask that oversharers tear off in order to vomit forth their bathroom stall autobiographies to whoever will listen (thanks again Gen X). It’s a beetle stretching it’s new wings for the first time, familiar and exciting, but still fragile and untested. I was about to be a teenager and my body and my awareness were in full expansion; I needed things I didn’t know I needed yet. I was developing patterns and drives that were familiar as my skin and as new as they were terrifying; like the alien lump that I got on my nipple, scared it was some kind of cancer, I built up the nerve to ask my parents about. My parent’s laughing and telling me I was about to hit puberty with the same kind of “can you believe this kid” attitude they used when I wanted to buy records with Parental Advisory stickers. On one hand, I get why they don’t take you seriously, bodies, like expression, are hard for boomers — that kind of stuff is reserved for lead singers and poetry, and I was just a kid who played baseball and liked to draw monsters. I earnestly wanted something different, to be taken seriously, to prove to own my Dad or an admiral in the Navy: the most futile of poetry in which you seek to gain someone’s approval so that you can say you didn’t need it. Besides sprouting hair and wings and hormones, I was also clearly growing horns.
Before there was a cart in Valley View mall called Concert Connection, the only place to buy band t-shirts was the Tie Dye Guy. For dramatic purposes, I first noticed the Tie Dye Guy around the same time I began telling Ramona, my extremely rad and game stylist, how I wanted my hair cut. In some simple act of rebellion, I would be bowl cut no more; I wanted long hair like if a young Tony Hawk had been an extra in a hyper stylized rendition of World War II, even though I had neither the words or vision for that yet. Ramona worked at a salon in Towers Mall, another cold war era two story strip mall that once housed the loveliest of Woolworth Cafeterias, and got its name from the two radio towers that flanked it. The salon was across the hall from the Tie Dye Guy and when my sister would be getting her bangs done, I would sneak away into it, through a literal wall of incense fog. The store was painted black and it’s exactly the kind of store you’d imagine being manned by a country Tommy Chong. I would nervously ask questions about their wares like if I combined the wrong alchemy of words they’d throw me out on the streets, rejecting the sale of the dark blue baja complete with a screen printed ying yang symbol on the rocker of the “jacket” my mom was all too happy to buy for me, and deny my entry into what I was coming to understand was part of a “counter culture”.
Not that there was ever an actual “counter culture” though. All this boomer runoff was just a way of selling nostalgia back to people, who probably, like me, tried to assign it to their youth, a time that didn’t exist, that never existed but would be perpetually perpetuated, getting repackaged and resold to the next generation. Monikers that meant nothing then or now but gained powerful meaning to self by proxy of their introduction to that time of their life and not that of a shared society or culture. A gift shop at the end of a ride that never happened. But I didn’t know that yet.
Along with bajas, incense burners, and posters, the Tye Dye Guy sold a lot of band shirts strewn with names and images that intrigued me as much as they were a complete mystery. That Led Zeppelin angel guy who I didn’t know had anything to do with the band until I got a job at a record store, an obviously endless amount of Grateful Dead bears and skulls, and that odd and precisely designed Doors logo. I would process these cultural signifiers with what I saw on TV and the music I could find. No one I knew liked Led Zeppelin yet; the Grateful Dead was some shit soccer players listened to and those dicks wrecked the baseball fields I played on so that was out; but my mom had about five Doors records, thanks in part to that Oliver Stone film that had come out the year before.
I think that was the way I was about music. There were all these big weird feelings I had about being alive and being an adolescent then desperately trying to match them to whatever I could. Most of the time this happened by way of movies but at the ripe age of 12 I was hard into what I was hoping was that elusive sense of self and individuality, but a safe one, not one that I had to go join a cult to learn about but one that would kiss me out of the blue after a football game. This was even pre-BBS for me, and, in the most 90s of milestones, pre-Nirvana. We had Mtv but even then that shit culturally was on a delay, and had we had the internet I probably would have known that it was a nose-bleedingly embarrassing and terrible idea to get my parents to take me to see the R-rated prequel to “that quirky show”, Fire Walk with Me.
Winter was beginning to roll around, it was a perfectly confused time for me. My first CDs were Megadeth and Andreas Vollenweider. I had a mock relationship with the most popular girl in our school. She gave me a beaded necklace which, if I had to guess, came from the Tie Dye Guy. Her mom thought I had a voice for radio and would tell me so whenever I’d call her house. That thing ended shortly in the same kind of meaningless nothing it started out in. Perfectly inline with the blossoming moody teen I was becoming, I brashfully moved all my shit into the basement, an unfinished room made up almost entirely of concrete and framing studs. I took my collection of CDs which had grown to five, Helmet’s first record, a 10,000 Maniacs album because of that one song, the Black Album, and some Doors double live record I had stolen from my Mom. I was going on waves of 6th grade, tough influences from kids who had long hair and got held back a grade, girls who could now be friends and also girl friends, chanting “Anarchy!” over and over as we walked between the lunchroom and sixth grade wing. I had no idea what that meant but knew how it felt, another souvenir from the late 70s instead of the late 60s, but I didn’t know that yet either.
The year closes out with a diary entry, in simple P.S. bullet points:
I heard that Kim likes me
It’s Christmas vacation
My Dad thinks my Mom is having an affair
My Dad also thinks I’m on drugs
I’m going ice skating with Kim soon
It seems and feels obvious as you get older and maybe that’s why you miss it. I never questioned any of those things that I scrawled out in bald point pen. It was more of a “can you believe it?” and that was it.
A church outing was another confused reason I found myself at an ice skating rink, holding hands with Kim as we made hundreds of frozen circles, all the while being circled ourselves by girls I knew from church, clucking whispers at us like this outward display of affection was carrion meat for their eyes and rotted calories for their gossip. Despite my retelling, I didn’t care. All I cared about was what was bleeding out from between our hands. When it ended, I remember this prick from our church named David muttered out “Skating’s over! You can stop holding hands now!” in the same kind of taunt that should have been left to the baby grades we graduated to get here. I probably let go of Kim’s hand, that’s how much I hated that kid. I didn’t know how to fight yet.
It goes without saying that it was totally Kim who took my hand while skating. She was now away from me and it’s the first time I remember missing someone who rationally I knew was just there. Kim was surrounded by the dead eyed youth group poultry, who pecked and squawked at her for information about us: the official status of what we were, the ground up gossip and patterning of couples and their parents’ silhouettes. It was time to go and I decided it was time to “play it tough” but also try something “cool”. As if surrounded by post-lizard bride’s maids and under the slack jawed distaste of that fat goat David, I said something like “Why don’t we just make this official. Do you want to go out with me?” Kim smiled and said “yes”.
I’m not sure why I look back at a time that was overwhelmingly wonderful and happy for me and let something like the memory of those other kids seep in. If I had to guess, it’s my mom haunting me in retrograde. And as I sit here and try to practice some kind of empathy in order to keep writing about these otherwise perfect moments, I remind myself that the best thing David ever did in his life was attend clown school one summer and that more than one of those girls from my church had anorexia thanks to their own overbearing mothers, growing up to marry other versions of David, yokel barnyard pedigrees of their own frustrated fathers and whatever plastic boy Barbie set Kelly up with. In this regard, I was really lucky.
I think even back then I never knew if someone was into me. Even when they said they were my brain was pretty sure that like with my mom and dad, despite how well a vacation went or holiday was present, it was only a matter of time before my mom is locking my dad out and he’s kicking down the backdoor in order to have the last word, neither of them passionate enough to figure it out, just a pointless gesture out of spite. I assumed all relationships always ended in that same place, with entropy radiating resentment and regret, an impossible purgatory where there’s Will Sellari dressed like Axl Rose, a crying Lindsey Fox, and some Akira level spectre filling the gymnasium which made me long for revenge over gold.
But with Kim, it was different.
Kim’s parents loved each other, they laughed, and were always together. They welcomed me without hesitation from the start and would coyly say “you buttheads better behave” whenever we’d get too close. I was earnestly happy and instead of just being young and infatuated, I found my match, listening to Kim talk late into the night on the phone, buying records she said she liked so that I could catch up with her taste, the Yellow Shark by Frank Zappa.
Young love is something that feels unique because it suddenly happens; it’s new and exciting and all the tropes anyone would act like were important after the fact. That is, until you say them out loud or unabashedly include them in some article. It’s only then you realize that your one magic summer love story is no different than anyone else who’s discovered there was much more to being simply infatuated with someone. I will spare you the prose and the vague metaphors that you would use to sew your own memories onto and leave you with this as my learned and aged testament, it wasn’t that this initial feeling was unique, it was Kim. Beyond my own biased feelings and my own myopic narrative, there was and always will be Kim. While I can still feel a pang of embarrassment about the ways I talked about drugs I had never done or heard of, while I default to modern playlists of music from a time I felt were awful but now try to reimagine with happier songs I never partook in, I can be honest about the realities and stages of my life in the same kind of way I just accept that at some point soon I’ll be typing on this infernal thing while wearing necessary reading glasses. And in those honest moments I’m confident still in my assessment of Kim. In that sense it seems inevitable, even before our first kiss.
We were walking hand in hand away from the football game. Football games were a thing like church: I didn’t care about them, but they served as a place both inside and outside of school to play social games, figure out friend dynamics, and most importantly to see each other. I was wearing a fake leather letter jacket that somehow carried over from 5th grade with that Baja under it to stay warm. Our parents were patiently waiting somewhere in the wings, staying warm in their cars as we walked through the cold night, following our shadows towards the parking lot. Upon seeing her parents’ car she squeezed my hand, and under the impossibly dramatic light from the now faraway field, she kissed me.
If I were to shoot that scene, time would almost stop once she pulled away. I would slowly watch her move into shadow and disappear, lingering on the feeling on my lips, becoming aware of the visible breath coming from my open mouth.
Winter stuck Roanoke hard, I’ll spare you those metaphors too, but it was the first time I was aware of what -10 degrees meant. The local science museum housed a small, dated, and seemingly intimate planetarium and as if to challenge the winter gods we decided to go see “Laser Doors” there one night. I invited Kim, eager to keep upping the emotional feedback ante, and maybe kiss her again during the show. I can’t say for certain but it seems very likely that that was all I had been thinking about since the football game. It was Saturday night and several of my friends were going to join me and then spend the night afterwards. We met Kim at the planetarium, I was wearing this old oversized army trench coat my dad had, having out gown anything that had resembled a winter jacket. Making our way into the darkening theater I took Kim’s hand. The sound was from those kind of PA speakers from the 60s, loud but also without definition, and we stared at the ceiling as some lackluster lasers created patterns that were neither in sync with the music or filling even a ⅓ of the small domed screen. It didn’t matter though, that wasn’t why I was there. I held Kim’s hand, stealing glances at her from time to time as the Doors’ songs crackeled and faded into each other like an 8-track version of their greatest hits. I was hoping she would catch me looking, see my face lit like hers in that weird colored light, then lean in and kiss me like she had before. I still didn’t know how any of this worked, but those robot nerves were still with me and I anxiously watched the rest of the show, hoping it would both end and never end, not knowing what would happen.
I didn’t kiss Kim during Laser Doors, although a year or so later I would make out with her on a school field trip to see Schindler’s List at a movie theater which no longer exists. And, just in case you were wondering, that’s how I ended up in hell. By then I was wearing both a long sleeve Skinny Puppy t-shirt with a Ministry shirt over that almost every day. Both shirts came from Concert Connection, but I had bought the Skinny Puppy shirt from my friend Mike after his mom deemed it “evil”. Ministry and all the familiar rogues gallery of industrial bands had started making their way into my life because my friend’s older brother told me Guns N Roses was for “pussies”. I’m getting ahead of myself again.
The show had ended and we scuttled out of the planetarium, I was a frail tapestry of nerves trying to navigate the group. Walking with my friends, I felt Kim pull back on my arm. We were in this little inlet to the theater which had a pointless turnstile in it. She kissed me again. Really kissed me. The drunk cartoon wolf who stumbles around into peril and oncoming traffic which he is totally unaware of while cupids and bubbled red hearts float around his head. When I sobered up I had pretty much made up my young mind that I never wanted to be apart from Kim again. We would fumble towards ecstacy forever… or whatever that Sarah McLachlan record was called.
These encounters would happen in my bedroom, shocking my friend Todd who was playing Wolfenstein 3D on the computer nearby. We weren’t the best about hiding how we felt, clearly. And it wasn’t only Todd that noticed. Later, I remember over hearing my Dad drunkenly telling Carter’s parents that he had walked in on Kim and me. He said he didn’t know what we were doing but it looked like “doggy style”.
My Dad didn’t have a word for what we were doing in the basement and so he just borrowed it from TV or Mtv, from what I’m sure seemed controversial to him at the time. The truth is people in his day would have called it “necking” but since it was fine for him to do that then and not okay for me to do the same age appropriate shit now, he had to use this other word culture made explicit and dirty. In the coming years we’d get into a fist fight in a baby blue colored bathroom in my house, supposedly for directing foul language towards my mom. I remember hitting him hard in the liver, shoving him into a bathtub, and running for my life.
Nirvana finally showed up just in time for an “adolescent trip” that my mom and church pastor encouraged me to take with my dad. Along with a quasi-unclear purpose, the crusade came complete with a road trip to New Orleans, a book of audio tapes about your body, and my new portable CD player. We sat for 14 some odd hours in his company Oldsmobile, a large white car with plush seats that were indicative of an era I didn’t remember, listening to some other preacher try to confidently talk to you about puberty and sex. The pastor would periodically prompt you to stop the tape and discuss what we had just heard, a command my dad often mercifully ignored. As we traveled deeper into the South, we eventually made it to nocturnal emissions, something you “can’t control” but should “pray on”. As usual we were prompted to stop the tape, discuss whether we’d had any wet dreams, and go over the proper way to clean up after one. I remember my dad taking a long deep breath before stopping the tape. I asked him if we had to do this, in the same nervous but hopeful manner my son might when trying to avoid preschool. My dad thought on it for a minute, never taking his eyes off the road. “Just tell your mother that we listened to all these tapes, okay?”. I nodded, putting on my headphones and then listened to Angel Dust for the rest of the trip.
Because it was just me and my dad, it was one of the few trips on which my parents didn’t fight. Every other family outing was marked with throwing their rings at each other, screaming their frustrations and regrets at each other till my sister was in tears. As my dad got older he did well for himself, trips to Disney complete with an abundant amount of souvenirs; little hallmarks and mementos that were supposed to remind us of how happy our trips had been. They were lies we told ourselves to romanticize anything other than the reality of what in the end, was just some was piss poor poetry about America.
About 10 years after I met Kim, my parents eventually got a divorce.
Then about 15 years after that so did I.
I dress like my professors now but still hang onto 25 year old belts and boots that made me feel tough. My dad sings along to Beatles songs at baseball games. My Mom fixates on singer songwriters. In recent years, she moved back to the house where I knew Kim, and every time I go there, I pass our old junior high. I ride by the parking lot where she kissed me and sometimes I forget it ever happened at all.
*Lindsey, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry. I neither had the grace or wherewithal to do even the simplest shit like watch scenes from a movie over and over to learn how to dance or you know just dive in. You were one of the kindest people I had ever know and I was a 13 year old idiot. If it’s any consolation, I’ve nearly spent the last 15 years singing that story to thousands of strangers as a cautionary tale about how they should never give up on love.