We argued. It was nothing serious, but still…we argued. Right before. Without exception—we always argued. At the swimming hole, I remembered we debated about what to listen to next after Duran Duran’s Seven and the Ragged Tiger. Cody wanted Def Leppard’s Pyromania or AC/DC’s Back in Black for the umpteenth time while I wanted Purple Rain. Dad said we can’t listen to that music, Cody complained. Uncle’s not here. It’s my boom box, my music, I told him. I brought some tapes, Trevor paddled lazily in place towards the shore on his tube. Not Kiss again, Natalie groaned with a long low drawn out sigh. Sure, let’s listen to Knights in Satan’s Service and not The Prince of Funk just cuz he’s black, I replied sarcastically rolling my eyes.
Trevor mimicked Gene Simmons and stuck out his tongue. I frowned at how long and pointed it was and how bizarrely unattractive it made him; his long dark wavy hair, brown coke-bottle glasses, and pale skin, the exact opposite of the hair-banging standards—or so I thought at the time in my very young shallow naiveté. He worked so hard to slip into a look and attitude that didn’t quite fit him, like a too tight t-shirt cutting off his circulation. I realized only later that’s what teenagers are supposed to do: try on every persona till they find one that fits; all of us limited to too few personas to choose thanks to socialized traditional norms we longed to shed. Unfortunately, I didn’t find mine till my thirties and solidified it in my forties—or, so I thought. I wasn’t sure Trevor ever found his. Last time I heard from him, he was just another angry entitled white man bitching about the librals. I steered clear of him from that point onwards. His path and end were like those of the other sycophantic cult-like followers that didn’t meet certain standards. Executed on a dirty black floor where his blood pooled in a shallow puddle of dirty water, he pissed his pants in the seconds before a bullet penetrated his grey matter putting an end to his life.
Dad says they’re taking over. Cosby, Prince, Michael Jackson—Cody bellyached. Was he looking for a fight? I heard the curl of his lip and the obnoxious bite in his tone and I wasn’t surprised. Uncle began fostering sexism and racism early with festooned tales of bogeymen, violence, and chauvinism that made the ugliest parables of the Christian King James bible look virtuous.
God, I hope so, I laughed, ignoring the stern looking crater at the center of his forehead and continued on not wanting or waiting on his reply. Duran Duran was in Charleston and we missed it, I told Natalie. They’re gonna be on Cinemax and MTV and I’m gonna record it. If mom ever comes to get us, I uttered the latter to no one, disappointment rocking my tone. I need to get some more blank cassette tapes too. Unless you have any I can tape over?
We set a cassette tape player next to the TV to record concerts hoping no one said a word until the show finished pausing the recordings during the commercials. VCRs hadn’t come along yet; at least not in our tax bracket and a video camera was something only rich people owned. Occasionally, we got the loud shushes and shut-ups marring our otherwise muffled illegally copyrighted masterpieces. Mom recorded Elvis’ Blue Hawaii show that way. Halfway into it, we heard her shushing me of which she was pretty pissed about. She kept that cassette tape forever until she lost it in one of our many moves.
I eventually taped Duran Duran’s As the Lights Go Down concert on Cinemax onto a blank black tape. I used a silver pen to write ‘Sing Blue Silver’, a title which seemed fitting at the time. Simon LeBon’s operatic energy belting out that refrain was an indelible memory not easily dispatched with age as I still remember decades later my teenage self crushing so hard on him after that show. I wore that tape out playing it repeatedly well into my twenties until the actual tour tape was released that was coincidentally named ‘Sing Blue Silver.’ I liked my tape better because the cheers from the crowd were louder. Much of mine and Natalie’s teenage years revolved around double-D’s music and my crush on Simon and hers on Roger, the drummer. We listened to them so much and had so many two-party dance raves to that tape and the rest of their music that Cody and Ben came to hate them. Methinks it was like all the other teenage boys at the time green with envy and jealousy over how many girls stanned Duran Duran and their music. On one of my many returns back to Charleston, stuck as a teenage babysitter to my other much younger cousins while mom and her sisters were out partying, we would cut newspapers into confetti and have dance raves submerging the living room—much to mom’s chagrin—in confetti. We bounced around in a storm of confetti as, stereo booming, I slammed New Religion lyrics and the rest of Duran Duran tunes that had my younger cousins staring at me in awe.
That memory brought a slight chuckle from me as we continued to prep. I felt their eyes and thoughts, awash in agitation, briefly skate over me. I ignored them and returned to my thoughts.
When we couldn’t afford new music, we taped songs from the radio onto blank cassettes and played them nonstop; stop, rewind, stop, rewind continuously with those clunky hard plastic buttons. We had to wait around the radio forever for our favorite songs to play. Mom drove us around for hours listening and singing to all different types of music from bluegrass to country to rock. She took us on long meandering driving tours of rich people’s homes where we gazed into wide lit windows across vast green lawns in a dream-like awe. Brother—four or five at the time—sat on the console between us—this was before child car seat laws—and sung the chorus of mom’s country and western favorites like Billy Joe Royal’s Down in the Boondocks, Eddie Rabbitt’s I Love a Rainy Night, Oak Ridge Boys’ Elvira, and, of course, any and all songs by Elvis.
I shook off the nostalgia that gripped me, I avoided the prying of eyes and thoughts of those surrounding me. A dullness burned through me like one of those faded memories that continued to arrive with each movement; stratums of recollections uncoiled its way loose inside me. Regardless, all brought me back to the quest afoot. Still, my thoughts lingered back towards myself and that internal battle of me, me, me.
Abandoned at the age of thirteen by a mother who was in a sort of congratulatory mourning, I really didn’t mind and preferred being away from her to being with her. After dad’s unexpected death, we had no use for each other as we rarely liked one another. She experienced a youth she never had thanks to being the oldest child in a large family with inattentive parents and eventually marrying young to escape, exchanging one internment for another: loveless, emotionally unavailable, and verbally and physically abusive.
Sporting a curly bleached permed do with a myriad of cowboy hats and matching boots, she frequented a country-western bar in Charleston called Zacharias with one of her many sisters where they required the adulation of much younger men and drank lots of piña coladas. I understood her need for freedom and didn’t hold it against her not really thinking of the ramifications at that period in my life. We were grieving and celebrating, surviving one circumstance only to be pulled into others new and daunting. She went her way and I went mine. It was a sort of self-preservation—how we found our way through that fucked-up minefield we called life. I accepted this along with the uncertain sting of abandonment that I didn’t know how to navigate at the time.
Mom stopped by every three or four months to visit and picked us up occasionally when she felt like she could be a parent again. We spent a few months with her enjoying what little of dad’s life insurance money was left—which wasn’t much to begin with—and the much-needed solitude and independence I never got from being with my other family.
There was a nice rented house in and around the Charleston suburbs with my own room; a heated waterbed; walls covered with Duran Duran, George Michael, Whitney, Madonna, Janet, Michael, and Prince posters; cable TV and lots of new things: privileges and luxuries—if you could call them that—we never had when dad was alive. That money didn’t last long.
We ended up in Doddridge County before the school year ended. It started after dad died when I was twelve and continued till my junior year in high school. Ten schools in five years; quite an accomplishment for a non-military brat. I shuddered to think what would’ve happened if we didn’t have dad’s meager social security checks.
I pressed play and allowed the memories to proceed feeling the all too familiar rush and fusion of the past, present, and future into the penultimate: head back, eyes closed, fingers grazing the water, I uh-huh-ed Natalie. We floated in silence when the vortex formed and pulled us into the future, chaos, war, and where I stood contemplating the minutia of the past, the strings of the future, and those people now in front of me.
© 2018-2019 Pamela Gay Mullins