My friend Ian gave me a bunch of pictures he had of me. They ranged from ages 15 to 21. Looking through them, I had a few realizations that struck me as both profound and sad. The first was that Ian was always around. The locations and friend groups in those pictures are so funny and varied and it just goes to show how present Ian was at a time when I remember us having some distance between us. The second was that I don’t remember much from that time, which of course caused me to reflect and theorize about why I don’t remember much.
Ian was the unofficial leader of the cool punk rock kids freshmen year. A group I was trying desperately to be a part of and enjoying the company of any chance I could. As freshmen year dragged on, I became more and more broken. My grandpa died, who I lived with since I was five. My brother, nearing graduation and turning 18 was getting progressively more of an asshole. My grades were garbage and I decided to stop going to class fourth hour so I could just go to lunch all three periods. Time crept on and I was broken and continuing to break. Perhaps it is in the brokenness that I truly became a little punk rock kid.
The summer after freshmen year, Ian called me and asked if I wanted to go up north with him. That was a shock to me because I wanted nothing more than his validation and here he was inviting me on a family trip. I remember it really well. We left his apartment with his mom driving the minivan. We stopped at McDonald’s across the street and they bought me breakfast. Then, we were off. We went up to the dunes outside of Traverse City and walked all the way to Lake Michigan. When we finally got to the motel, Ian and I were making jokes about how dirty it was and looking back I think I probably came off as ungrateful and too good for the cheap motel, which is funny considering how little I had at the time.
After that trip, Ian asked if I wanted to come tryout to be the lead singer of his band, Bitter Youth. He was in the band with two other punk rockers, Rob and Justin, and they had recently parted ways with their lead singer. I improvised some lyrics to songs they already had and I was in. That was the start of Done Mama Proud, a band name that Ian’s dad came up with. Other than practicing at Rob’s house, I spent all my time at Ian’s apartment, sitting in his walk-in closet that was technically his bedroom and listening to music.
During the year that Done Mama Proud (DMP) was together, I was popular. I was the lead singer of the best punk band in school (other than Bramley). We played a bunch of shows, including a Battle of the Bands at St. Andrew’s Hall, where we would often go to see punk shows. Then, at the end of sophomore year, I cut my hair and started gaining attention from different crowds of people. Rob and Justin took their weed smoking to a new level and got more into psychedelic rock and other hippie shit. Ian was hanging out with a lot of Waterford and White Lake people (I think), and the band just kind of stopped.
The next couple years were glorious for me, as much as I remember. I started playing guitar during my time in DMP and started doing the morning announcements junior year, both of which garnered me a lot of attention from girls, one of whom I dated and proceeded to lose my virginity to. She was more popular than me, so that got me into other groups of people, which segued my popularity from okay to top of mind by senior year. At least enough to get voted Class Clown alongside a cheerleader who was much more popular and beautiful than me.
When I look back, though, it’s just those moments. Those high points that stick out. The in-between is very blurry. I have to conclude it was my mindset during all of it. Freshmen and sophomore year, I was constantly waiting to be found out to be an imposter in the punk rock crowd. Two years prior I was in choir and singing exclusively Bob Seger. I was a fraud. On top of that, even though I connected with Ian, Rob and Justin were always elusive to me. I don’t know if it was cause I didn’t smoke weed or because we were just different personalities. Either way, there was always a distance between us and I was just waiting for one of them to call me out, which Justin almost did a couple times when I was trying to pull the band in a different direction.
Then junior and senior year, I was dating the most beautiful girl in the school and she was older than me and I did not belong in that position. I felt good with her, because behind her blonde hair and cheerleader outfit, she was an artist and a weirdo. We were good together, but all the access I was getting to the crowds of people that were so much cooler than me was too much to handle. It’s pretty much the only reason I started drinking. I needed to fit in somehow and that was my way in, or at least I thought that way. After my girlfriend graduated, I was left with the rest of the popular seniors, carrying my own weight and trying my best to fit in wherever I could, using my comedic high school fame as a tool to do so.
The entirety of my high school career, I felt like a fraud and not in the typical way where “we all feel that way”, but thinking that if I got found out, I would lose it all and be subject to the same emotional and verbal abuse from everyone at school as I was getting at home from my brother. I never felt safe and I had to keep going and think of new ways to entertain and question everything, or else. I was constantly teetering, and the one time I fell between groups and felt lost, I began cutting myself. It was brief, but it was a vision of what could happen and how fragile it all was.
When people talk about me back then, they thought I was so confident and covered in hot women and that I had it all together. It’s remarkable how we can portray ourselves and how it stands in direct contrast to how we are actually feeling inside. I think that’s why all those memories are so blurry. I couldn’t be present and enjoy myself and absorb the surroundings and the people because I was constantly worried and afraid and teetering on the edge of a complete breakdown. In that way, I suppose, I was pretty punk rock .
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