Christmas 2001, our youngest had just turned one. For the last two years I had been trying to communicate to my husband how unhappy I was in our marriage. Not hearing my words, or taking heed of them, I had asked for a separation. Christmas was a dark season that year.
On Christmas morning I opened a box from him that had a bunch of Double Bubble (my favorite gum) and four CDS. Pink – Mizunderstood, Sum 41 – All killer no filler, Blink 182 – Enema of the State and for the life of me I can’t remember disk number four. There was a note inside that said something along the lines of “for your new obsession with bubble gum”, a reference to my new taste in music, a departure from heavier bands like Tool, Metallica, Ozzy, Alice Cooper, Alice in Chains, Slayer, you get the picture. Bands we had enjoyed together, both in our home and in stadiums. One of our connection points.
Sitting on the floor between us, this shoe box full of bubble gum, was his last ask. His way of asking in the way that we did, both of us the absolute worst at communicating our feelings, what is happening to us?
A lot had happened to us, mostly being silly and in love and getting married months after our 21st birthdays. Having three kids by 30. Him working 60 hours a week at a physically demanding job. Me trying to make myself into this new human who stayed home with the kids, sold Pampered Chef, lived on a cul-de-sac in the suburbs and baked brownies for dessert.
We were two kids with a lifetime of trauma built-in before we even signed our marriage certificate. We navigated a lot of hard life in those 12 years we were together, and I truly believe we both did the best we could with the skills we had at the time. We both needed work. Long story short, that was our last Christmas.
The first Christmas we knew each other was back in 1989. He went up to Michigan with his best friend to see Testament in the basement of some reception hall. He caught a boot in the forehead in the mosh-pit, and I don’t think I’d ever seen him quite so happy as he was when he came home from that show.
He introduced me to Anthrax that first year. He was living in this run-down trailer park, in a very old trailer that was a boiling tin can in summer and an icebox in winter. The Christmas tree that first year was decorated by beer cans punctured by a bb gun, and a lone Alice Cooper Christmas bulb. We danced around the trailer thrashing our heads to Caught in a Mosh and Efilnikufesin while Christmas lights blinked in the corner, never quite making it onto the tree.
A year or so after we split, I was managing being a single mom to three kids and navigating my first post-divorce heartbreak. I was obsessed with Dashboard Confessional – Places you have come to fear the most. Sitting alone on the counter in my kitchen, in my new apartment, with the holiday lights strung around the top of the cabinets, I’d sip my vanilla Smirnoff and diet coke and sing along to that album night after night. Crying my heart out, scared and tired and trying to figure out my life.
My life would go on; turns out I’d be ok. We would all come through this journey with scars but we’d make it to 2019 and he and I would manage to raise three pretty great humans despite our collective limitations.
I’d discover new bands over the years. Lucero would sing the songs of my life and I’d fall in love with Ben Nichols. The Raconteurs, Hands would beckon new lovers. Anti-Flag, Patti Smith, Skating Polly, Wu-Tang Clan, would cross my path along the way.
There are hundreds of bands who have participated in the soundtrack to my life. Many, much more significantly than the ones mentioned here. But this particular list, pulls me back to a person I was once.
This is the 15th anniversary of Riot Fest. It kicked off in 2004, just two years after I officially stepped into phase two of my life. I find it amusing as I step into phase three, with the last child off to college this year, that I’m going to Riot Fest for the first time. It feels like a nice bookend to the last chapter.
I can’t wait to stand in front of this handful of bands. To see Slayer, Testament and Anthrax for Steve. To rage and mosh and remember that boy I fell in love with who taught me a love for metal deep down into my bones. To listen to the entire Places you have come to fear the most, played live in front of me and remember that 32 year old me who was so broken hearted, and forgive her for some really monumental missteps. To bop along to Blink 182 and think about that young fun mom who played all those songs for her kids riding along in the back of the mini-van and the fun moments we had.
To bring back all of those feelings and release them out into the universe, a proper way to bid farewell to what has been the most significant journey so far. And step into phase three, and embrace all it has to offer.
Under a full moon no-less.