tonight i went to my first live music in about 2 years. i saw everclear, who were one of my favorite bands in high school. i feel some need to apologize for liking everclear, but the truth is, they have songs about being from a fucked-up working-class family, about being desperate, about wanting to escape the addictions that have destroyed everyone around you and sometimes failing, about being mentally ill and trying so so so hard to change but what is change really? i relate to them a lot and it makes me feel less alone.
tonight made me remember a magical night in 1998, when i was 16. for some reason, my entire family wasn’t home, they were either staying out really late or maybe were somewhere else entirely, so i invited the boy i had a crush on over to my house. i told him to come over wearing eyeliner and he did. we laid in my room in the dark, with my sister’s strobe light blasting, and threw hershey’s kisses at each other while listening to the everclear album “so much for the afterglow.” (i had specifically bought hershey’s kisses at my job at CVS because i wanted to kiss him and i thought this would somehow make it easier to do this. yes i am a cheesy mofo forever and always have been!) we didn’t make out that night, but we eventually laid on the same bed, my head on his shoulder, and i felt alive and sparkling with possibility.
anyway, now it’s 2021. i work at a mental health urgent care clinic. trauma, as you probably know, is everywhere. i spend all day talking to people about their trauma. i show them how to do bilateral stimulation. “it looks kinda silly,” i say, “but you cross your hands, like a butterfly, and then tap out a rhythm on your chest.” i do it, to demonstrate. “that’s because the part of your brain where your trauma currently lives is the most basic part of your brain. it doesn’t understand language. so you can tell yourself that you’re safe, or these bad things aren’t happening anymore, but there’s only so much you can do. you need to let your body know that you’re safe too. some things are tapping, drumming with your hands, dancing, and singing. deep breathing and eye movements. you have to get that message to that part of your brain.” i say that exact sentence multiple times a day. only to the people whose trauma is actually over. well, sometimes to people who are still experiencing daily trauma but where the really big life-altering thing has stopped, at least.
i was thinking about this, standing there, with the first opening band, who i had never heard of and thought were fine but not particularly inspiring or anything, but i could feel the vibrations of the music in my sternum, and i felt better. i wondered if i was taking my own advice. wonder if that’s why we all love shows so much (even though shows aren’t safe for a lot of us, sometimes). wonder if the vibration is part of the feeling we’re all chasing.
i had a moment singing along with a song i had been singing along to when i was 16, 17, 18: “i will never be safe/i will never be sane/i will always be weird inside.” i remember singing that and thoroughly believing it back then, when i was so young and so much of my life had yet to happen. it was weird singing it again. sad but also beautiful. sometimes back then it made me feel hopeful and i was wondering if that was my younger self, getting the signal i was sending back through time tonight. it felt so impossible back then, but i did find relative safety. when i was 25 i got my first long-term home where i felt safe. sometimes i forget what a gift that is, how precious and rare. i never found sanity. i’m still weird and that’s good, i guess. weird for life!
what’s also weird is that i feel like i have safety, when every day i make sure to hug my partner and tell him i love him because i am acutely aware, every day, because of the work i do and the mode of transportation i use to get there, that i might not make it home. i talk a lot with my clients and my coworkers about safety. but really, what does any of us know about safety?
i love everclear because they’re songs about being very unsafe, about being sad and addicted but still trying to find beauty anyway. the lead singer dedicated a song to all the sober people in the audience (of which there were only a few, at least by the show of hands.) he said he’s been sober for 32 years and he said, “i don’t care if you’ve been sober for 32 years, days, or minutes, you’re my brothers and sisters in the struggle and i am so proud of you.” if i were more of a crier i totally would have cried. i have spent the past 2 years trying to get sober and it has been one of the most lonely, alienating and hopeless things i have ever done. i have felt so, so, so profoundly alone in a world where almost everything revolves around alcohol, and where i desperately want to consume it but cannot. i felt something like grace in that moment. i wonder if he was reaching out to his younger self, singing that song about doing heroin after ten long years in a straight line, that fall like water when he fucks up again. did he ever think he’d get 32 years? it sounds so long. almost my whole life. i have about six months sober this time, i don’t think i will live for 32 more years, but every day, in the midst of great pain, i am reminded of what is possible. that anything is.
PS if this post inspires you to check out some lesser-known everclear songs i recommend “white men in black suits,” “why i don’t believe in god,” “strawberry,” and “normal like you”