I was hundreds of feet from the car, but I saw the reflection of light off the flyer beneath my windshield wiper. You don’t usually think much of a piece of paper when you’re walking through those electric doors at the supermarket. “Oh, just another ad for a new restaurant or some flyer about babysitting.” But as I removed the flyer from under my windshield and was about to throw it to the ground, I read the first line:
Second Hand Wasted
First Show Since Paris
September, 10 2008
Ice Box Skating Rink
Across from Scranton High School
$5 Admission after 8,
So Get There Early.
This brought me back to her:
“It’s like… you know… when people smoke around you, they call it second hand smoke, right. So…you know… when you’re around people who drink and you act drunk to fit in. That’s second hand wasted,” she explained to me.
Astrid Kensington-Dewinter was the love of my life. I had seen her here a few times, but this was the first time I’d got up the nerve to talk to her. We were sitting at a table in the corner of The Metro, a hole-in-the-wall hang-out in Wilkes-Barre where all the freaks and misfits gathered each weekend to hear local bands and drink root beer from glass bottles. Her band, Second Hand Wasted, had just finished their set. My band, Suicidal Smegma, had played right before them, and we were still packing everything away when Astrid hit the stage. I was transfixed. She was like a siren. Beautiful. And I was Odysseus, tied to the mast of the ship.
We bonded over the cliché use of the words “Fender Stratocaster” in any movie featuring a guitar, which parlor has the best tattoo artists, and caramel lattés from Northern Lights Café. We had a deep, meaningful discussion about the Sex Pistols, the tragic death of Kurt Cobain, and our lives.
“Do you want a smoke,” I asked, pulling out my pack of American Spirits.
“No, I haven’t smoked in years.” I was surprised she didn’t smoke, almost everyone who hung out at “The Metro” did.
“Why?” I asked.
“You see, when I was 13, I had a friend who would buy me these chocolate cigarettes. They were really awesome. Have you tried them?” I shook my head.
“Yeah, well anyway, when I was 14, the guy got arrested. I’m not sure what for, probably had something to do with screwin’ a minor.” She took a moment to laugh to herself before moving on. “Anyway, I couldn’t get cigarettes with him in the pen, and by the time I was 18, I wasn’t addicted anymore. What can I say? I used to live a very colorful life,” she told me. A stud through her nose, playing in a band called Second Hand Wasted, and she “used to” have a colorful life.
“I think I might love you, Astrid.”
I make myself think about times like that now. Trying to forget why we broke up. It was only a few months ago. She had pulled me out of her parents’ Fourth of July BBQ…
“I can’t believe you kissed her, Radley. She’s my sister. This is the WORST thing you have ever done. I don’t know what was going through your mind. You’re such an assho… Just…I think you should go.”
I don’t know how it happened. I barely even knew Dagmar. One minute I was standing on the deck, eating barbeque chicken and talking with Astrid’s 17 year-old Lolita of a sister, trying to convince her that the Jonas Brothers are not rock-and-roll, and the next thing I knew, Dagmar has me pinned to the house and she’s sticking her bubblegum pink tongue in my mouth. I didn’t want to kiss her, but the animal instinct in me took over. My instinct just kept thinking of that tight little body, the butterfly that hung from her navel, visible through the tank top. That’s when Astrid walked in.
“Don’t call me, don’t e-mail me, don’t even bump into me. If you see me on the street, walk the other way!” she screamed. Then she cast me out into the mean streets of her parents’ suburban neighborhood.
After a week, I still couldn’t bear to get out of bed. I replayed the scene over and over again in my head, the sweet taste of Dagmar’s tongue, the faint smell of charcoal from the grill outside the enclosed porch, Astrid’s shrill scream as she saw my lips touching her little sister’s. I still had the small, hand-sized bruise on my chest from her blows. I looked at it in the mirror sometimes, imagining where else that little hand had been, the soft caress of her fingers through my hair, the clumsy way she would strum her guitar after sex.
The morning after her parent’s BBQ, Astrid came to get her things.
“But where are you going to live?” I asked.
“I’m moving in with the band,” she told me as she walked out. I got custody of Sid Vicious, our mostly deaf, entirely blind bull terrier. After awhile, even he seemed to miss her. He laid in his crate and whimpered from time to time. Sid in his crate, me in my bed, we were quite the exciting pair.
One night in that first week I had something of a nightmare. In it, I was playing with the band at The Icebox. We were really rocking the joint, best performance of our otherwise shitty careers. Then, suddenly, Astrid was in the audience. Only she was wearing a blue toga and a crown of ivy around her head. She stood right up front and stared at me with her most seductive come-hither look. She opened her mouth and an ear-bleeding screech escaped. I walked towards the shrieking woman. I couldn’t stop myself. I felt my foot step off the stage and woke up right before I hit the floor. I woke up with a start and found myself on the floor of my bedroom. Sid was barking from his crate across the room. Apparently, something had scared him.
I was awakened the next afternoon by the doorbell. Although I didn’t want visitors, something pulled me towards the door. Shuffling through the mess of my apartment made the journey a treacherous one, but I made it with only a stubbed toe and an unknown sticky substance on my hand from the doorknob.
“I forgot something,” Astrid said as she pushed through. “I’ll be gone in no time,” she promised as she opened my closet. She quickly pulled out her guitar, and it made a shrieking noise as it hit the doorframe. I covered my ears from the sudden loud noise. As quickly as she breezed in, Astrid breezed out.
“Wait,” I called after her, but she wouldn’t turn. I ran a few steps forward and, tripping on a dog toy, fell from the porch.
About an hour later, I was still lying in bed when the doorbell rang again. I tried to ignore it, but the bell persisted, so I made the trek once again. Through the peephole, I saw the sapphire eyes and onyx hair that could mean only one thing.
“What do you want, Dagmar?” I opened the door, but refused to unlatch the chain.
“Hi, Radley,” she squeaked. “So umm…I was just wondering…you know…if maybe you wanted to…possibly…and you can say no, but uh…will you go to prom with me?” She smiled at me with her glossy, pink lips and for a moment I almost considered it.
“Dagmar, go home. Just…go home.” I said, watching her teeth disappear as she pouted, almost in tears.
“But I love you!” she yelled through the closed door as I made my way back to the bed.
I spent my days thinking about the good times Astrid and I had…
“Ou est toilette…Where is the bathroom” Astrid said as we tried to learn French.
“No... No. It’s Ou est LA toilette” I corrected her. She was going on tour in Paris, and wanted to learn the language.
“Ou est LA toilette” she mocked. “Volonté vous veuillez venir à la maison avec moi” Astrid said coyly. I looked it up, smiled at her cheeky suggestion, and kissed her. She was quite un petite taquinez.
When I got my cartilage pierced...
“It doesn’t hurt, I swear,” Astrid told me.
Of course in reality, it hurt like… well like sticking a needle through your ear. She held my hand while they unwrapped the sharp metallic needle from its individual package. She even let me squeeze her hand while they stuck the needle through my ear. I screamed bloody murder, and she made fun of me for weeks, but it was worth it just to see her happy. (Isn’t that twisted? I made my girlfriend happy by sticking a sharp instrument right through my ear and then decorating it.)
She even bailed me out of jail…
“Radley what happened?” she asked with a worried look on her face.
“I punched a clown,” I slurred. I had gotten shit-faced and gone to the circus. “He was coming on to me. He just kept smiling at me with that big red smile,” I explained.
“Radley, he was a clown, the smile was painted on that way,” she told me with a laugh.
My life fell apart even more than it already had after Astrid and I split. Not getting out of bed meant I couldn’t play guitar. Suicidal Smegma decided it would be best to drop me. Without the band, I didn’t have a job, so I was evicted. Forced to live in my parents’ basement, I spent my days the same way I had in the last few months before the eviction. Only this time, I didn’t have to get up to eat. My mother left PB&J on my bedside table, strawberry and creamy with the crust cut off. Worst of all, Sid got hit by a car. If you ask me, it was suicide. He may have been deaf and blind, but something about the urgent pull on his leash as he ran into the street tells me he couldn’t stand my depression anymore.
The move to my parents was the last straw. If I couldn’t be with Astrid, then I didn’t want to be. I decided to follow in the footsteps of the greats like Ian Curtis, Elliot Smith, Darby Crash, and Kurt Cobain. As the saying goes “Razors pain you, rivers are damp, acid stains you, drugs cause cramps, gun aren't lawful, nooses give, gas smells awful,” but alcohol poisoning seemed like a punk rock suicide. I took all the money I had left in my bank account and went to the liquor store. The guy behind the counter asked if I was throwing a party, and I didn’t have the heart to tell him no. That, and I’m sure you’re not allowed to sell five bottles of liquor to someone about to commit suicide. I came back with all my boys: Jack, Jim, Jose, Johnnie, and Jameson. Having no idea how to get this started exactly, I loaded it all into my CamelBak so I could drink without thinking. The first gulp made my eyes water and my throat close up, but after awhile it went down like water. After about the twenty or twenty-first gulp, I blacked out.
It was just the kind of mean-spirited luck I had that made me survive the night. I woke up the next morning (head pounding, throat acid-burned and raw) on a bench in the park across from my parents’ house. Wearing Hawaiian print board shorts and a tube top, I was cuddling a cardboard cutout of Ronald McDonald. Suddenly, I felt a sharp pain on my chest. Looking down, there was a blood-soaked bandage adhered to me. I walked to a nearby 7-11 to call a friend to come pick me up, and then got the key to the bathroom. Inside I slowly peeled off the bandage to reveal a new terror. From the mirror, a mullet-clad John Stamos tattoo smiled back at me, and I wept openly.
This is how I ended up in the supermarket parking lot. Flashes of the night returned to me as I walked the supermarket aisles. I remember Animal, the band’s drummer, coming into my room about a quarter-ways through the CamelBak. I remember the Tiki Bar and a bachlorette party asking me for my underwear. Ronald probably came from the McD’s on Keyser Ave. Animal insists on a double cheeseburger whenever he gets loaded. The tattoo and the park bench are still a mystery to me. My grocery bags full of hangover remedies and supplies for keeping tattoos, I contemplated the band flyer.
“Obviously, she doesn’t want me there,” I assured myself. “She probably didn’t recognize the car when she left the flyer. I did wash it after all.”
I weighed the pros and cons of the situation while I put the groceries in my car, while I turned the key in the ignition, and while I drove down the expressway. By the time I pulled into my driveway, I had decided not to go. Then, as I walked in the house, I told myself I would.
I spent all week debating the situation in my head. On the night of the show, my mind had decided to stay home, but my body had a different idea. I didn’t even have a good reason for going. I just wanted to see if she was as screwed up as I was. I told myself I would be making a fool of myself as I put on jeans. I said I wasn’t going as I put on my coat. I convinced myself it wasn’t worth it as I started the car, and I reminded myself that she hated me as I pulled into the lot.
By the time I was at “The Icebox,” it was 8:30 so I had to pay the cover charge. “I’m not paying $5.00 to see my ex-girlfriend” I thought as I handed the girl my money. They had tables set up on the rink. The band had the show catered, and waitresses were walking around taking orders. I sat down at a table in the back, terrified that she would see me. The waitress came over and took my order. “Caramel latté,” I told the girl, flashing back to that first night bonding with Astrid.
The lights dimmed, and the MC took the stage. “How’s everyone doing tonight?” the young man screamed, trying his best to get the energy up. “The Ice Box is proud to present SECOND HAND WASTED.” My fear heightened with the applause. Then she took the stage. Her hair was shorter, she’d gained some weight, but she was still beautiful. The weight was in all the right places; I fell in love with her all over again. She was the siren again, pulling me to her, and I walked closer to the stage, abandoning the concept of my latté, matter over mind again.
Up there singing, she reminded me of that first night. As we walked out of the café, she moved in closer and closer. We walked at least ten blocks before she pushed me into that alley. Pushing me up against the hard brick wall, her warm, soft lips grazed mine. I moved towards her, but she pushed me back, then…
Dagmar’s stare brought me out of my day dream. I had walked right to the edge of the stage and was looking up at her. She looked back, daggers in her eyes. I saw the pain she felt, remembering that I was not supposed to be seen. I could tell she saw Dagmar in my eyes, or maybe a tattoo on my forehead said “I tried to fuck your sister.” At first, I didn’t even move. She had a spell over me I couldn’t control. Beauty mixed with pure fury.
“What the fuck am I doing here?” I accidentally asked out loud. Astrid seemed to have forgotten what she was doing. She stood on the stage, frozen in anger.
“Security!” she yelled into the microphone. I would never see Astrid again.