Saturday, January 24, 2015
An excerpt from Just Another Number
I knew Marshall from what I called “the Nightfall crowd.” Nightfall was weekly Friday evening concert in downtown Chattanooga every summer. A busy road separated two sides of the park. The bands played on one side of the street, crowded with parent-aged patrons toting lawn chairs and coolers packed with boxed wine and locally brewed beer. On the other side of the street, teens sprawled out over small grass hills and clustered tightly in attempts to form discreet weed smoking burrows.
Nightfall kids were the youth who had slipped through the cracks of southern convention. Some scurried to the group as a fortress from the social ostracism chucked at them throughout childhood because of their poor families, oddball personalities, intimidating intellect, closeted homo or bisexuality, inept athletic abilities, or nerdy fetishism in video games, theatre, poetry, anime, or Internet hacking. Others willingly committed social suicide. They flaunted their rebellion with electric blue Mohawks, charcoal-smeared eyelids, baggy JNCO Jeans with marijuana leaf patches flimsily stitched on the back pockets, and jingling metal chains connecting wallets to belt loops like a dog to a leash.
Occasionally, I could spot a private school trust fund baby in Birkenstock flip-flops, a pastel Polo, and a khaki visor that sat as a crown atop thick mop of ash brown curls. They didn’t linger long though. They were shoppers while the Nightfall kids were their vendors. However, most Nightfallers were the type of kids Bible Belt parents prayed their children didn’t bring home.
The irony was that, with their forced diversity, they created their own cliché. Whether they donned rainbow pajamas, shredded tank tops, or bubble wrap skirts, they made great efforts to appear predictably unpredictable. It was my long blonde mane, baby pink cheeks, and fitted Gap denim that made me look like a foreigner. However, beneath my flesh, I was just like them. We were all animals trapped in a cage of Mega Churches, Tennessee Vols, and the Republican Party. Without understanding how sheltered our southern micro city bubble was or exactly why so few of us could relate to our parents, our frustrations festered into angst. We craved any substance to escape our reality. We smoked, snorted, drank, and pill popped. We hid in our rooms, locked our doors, blared songs of strung out or deceased musicians and searched for gloomy lyrics we could identify with. We scribbled them on our bodies, walls, and notebooks to accompany our own poetry of demented fantasies and chronic despair. Without understanding why, we were aimlessly broken.