Music Makes Identity

Image Credit: Melissa Hood

Image Credit: Melissa Hood

In junior high, I never really felt like I fit in anywhere. I would listen to music, wear clothes, do things because my friends were doing them. My friend liked Britney Spears? I listened to Britney Spears. My friends watch Invader Zim? I started to watch Invader Zim. I felt like I was different but not genuine. I couldn’t find my place, wherever that was.

For Christmas, my sophomore year of high school, my dad bought me a bass guitar. It came in pieces, a kit to build yourself. He put it together for me just the way I wanted it; covered in purple glitter, with roses engraved in the pickup frame. My sister already owned a guitar, and we started to play together, slowly creating dreams of finding a drummer and starting a band.

As well as playing music myself, I also started to listen to music a lot more. I fell in love with a lot of bands that weren’t the ones my friends listened to; Fall Out Boy, Green Day, My Chemical Romance, Brand New, Muse, among others. I didn’t know any other person in school, other than my sister, who had the same taste in music in me. There was absolutely no one else who had the same passion for music.

I also started going to a lot more concerts. I had seen Rush and Jethro Tull live with my dad multiple times already by the time I was halfway through high school; my dad is a huge fan of these bands, so naturally, his daughters fell in love with them as well, more than willing to go to concerts with him. Throughout high school, I added more concerts to the list: R5, You Me At Six, Seether, Fall Out Boy, and Warped Tour.

Warped Tour, started in 1995 by Kevin Lyman, is a music festival that travels around the United States. Among the most famous bands that got their start at Warped include Blink-182, My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, and even Katy Perry. Although many might think that Warped Tour reached its peak in the early 2000s, it continues to be an anticipated event by alternative music fans every year, including me.

The first time I went to Warped Tour was in 2014. Our mother took my sister, our friend Kyle, and I up to Portland to attend. I was immediately staggered by what awaited me. Before the concerts even started, as we were standing out in line, I saw people with their hair spiked up in mohawks and dyed all sorts of colors. Tattoos. Piercings. Crazy makeup. Pop punk fans in tie-dye, metal-heads with dreads, punks and spikes. Normal looking kids in flannel. So many band t-shirts. I wore a My Chemical Romance tank top, shorts, black tights, and converse, and I had a few streaks of purple dye in my hair. There were so many other people there, mostly young, but definitely spanning all age groups.  It was all something I’d never experienced before; I was ecstatic.

The entire day, I ran around the parking lot of the expo center, seeing as many bands as I could, buying CDs, meeting musicians. Most bands who tour during Warped are still fairly unknown, so it’s not uncommon to approach their booth and find them sitting there, selling their own merch and having conversations with their fans.

I met people, and I met bands, who were very nice, and shared interests with me, and even though I’ll never meet any of them again, the interactions still mean a lot to me. I learned that there are people out there who aren’t all like the kids I had been going to school with all of my life. That there were actually many other people who love music and bands as much as I did.

My second Warped Tour, I met a newer band known as False Puppet, who I had known about when they only had a few recorded songs up on YouTube. I was actually one of the fans who helped vote them in as an up-and-coming band to be able to play Warped. I met with them, talked with them about tattoos and music, and bought a button for my jacket and had them sign the sleeve. The next year, 2016 Warped Tour, the drummer for that band was now drumming for a band called The Heirs. I met him again, and he was absolutely thrilled to see my False Puppet button and the autograph from the previous year. It felt amazing to be recognized by a musician, a musician in a band who was getting to play shows on a tour that meant so much to so many fans of music.

I think about my band, the fact that we have one song, and only one song, home recorded. We haven’t played our own show. Yet. But we all love music, and we all love playing it. I know I’m not going to stop. All the other bands out there, the ones that play Warped Tour, like False Puppet, and even the ones that play arenas, like Rush; they all started with only one song. They all started by listening to the bands that their parents listened to, playing in their houses, finding where they belong in the world by using music. Going to concerts and watching bands play, until they became the bands on the stage.

 

By: Melissa Hood

Nothing but Silence Now

Watercolor

Silence can grow and it can be broken, but silence is all we have left when everything is said and done. My sister, Cathleen Marie Childress, passed away in 2009. She was 38. Catie, as she liked to be called, suffered from Bipolar Disorder; she was verbally abusive, and when I was little she was my personal tormentor. When I got older our relationship evolved but it was still subject to her wild mood swings and depression. Catie wasn’t the easiest person to be around or communicate with. Each day came with some kind of emotional eruption that alienated not only me but my two other older sisters, Tracy and Becky. When Catie wasn’t pinning me down and lowering spit down to my face just to suck it up inches before it made contact, she was certainly getting under my skin with verbal abuse. If you asked me now what kinds of things she said, I couldn’t tell you, but I do remember her ice cold glare when she was enraged and looking for someone to unload on.

Most of my life with my sister was anything but silent; she had a rage in her that at times was beautiful passion that translated into her artwork. She loved to draw, paint with water colors, and create visual work with all sorts of paints, pencils, and markers. I think I remember her watercolor works best, especially the sunsets. The reds, oranges, purples, yellows, and blues blended into one another, with no clear borders of where one color ended and another began. Those watercolor sunsets were a lot like her Bipolar Disorder; she had no clear borders of where happy Catie ended and angry, hurt Catie began. But like a sunset, eventually her rage fell below the horizon and was extinguished for a time. In retrospect I can see the nuances whether intentionally or unintentionally translated through watercolor fusion. They say that hindsight offers perfect vision on the moments in our lives that start out as blurry and unclear; for me this is definitely the case.

Catie went to Portland Community College and then Portland State well after high school, and I went to PCC and then Pacific University in the same manner, even though we graduated almost a decade apart.  What I have learned that I know we could connect on, but our experience with being nontraditional students could have become common ground for us as well.

The midday phone calls my sister would make to my sister Becky and I still haunt me. I often think that after spending close to a decade as a low voltage communications contractor that I would have been able to keep the conversations going when my sister would call me at work and the words between us quickly ran out. We had lost the ability to speak meaningfully.

Catie usually called me at work, “Hey,” she would say.

“What’s up?” I would ask.

“Oh nothing, what are you doing?”

I’m at work. What’s up?” I would ask again while wondering why she called.

“Just wanted to see what you are doing,” She would say.

“Just working.” It was about this time in the conversation where the ability to communicate would break down. It was as if she wanted me to keep the conversation going, but the absence of conversation was where it led every time. I wonder if those calls were a quiet cry for help or an attempt to push back the loneliness that she often felt trapped in. But being young, in my twenties, I was pretty selfish with my time or I just couldn’t recognize that something was broken.

I had become quite proficient at troubleshooting when lines of communication were dead, and I was good at finding paths for new lines to be installed in even the most difficult places. Maybe I chose not to hear her unspoken message. Looking back, I was drowning at that time just as she was, but the irony of having a job troubleshooting dead telephone lines and establishing new ones doesn’t escape me now.  There is not a day that goes by where I don’t give part of it to remembering my sister. I recall the times my other sisters and I had the Catie we loved to be around.

Catie wasn’t always vindictive; sometimes she was loving and fun to be around. I can remember moments with her when I was little, watching MTV in the living room with her and my other sisters. MTV was all the rage in the 1980’s and for a while in the 90’s, but that channel gave us all something to connect with. What I remember most from the ‘80s was that she always styled her hair in the fashion of Robert Smith from the Cure. She was always so influenced by music, and that I think was something she gifted to me. I can still remember watching certain videos together. One video I remember was Billy Squire’s “Rock Me Tonite,” we laughed as we made jokes about Squire’s flamboyant dancing around his make believe bedroom. I couldn’t say what it was besides the music that had a way of keeping us together and not fighting. But MTV and movies were two common areas we could all connect.

We eventually established “stupid movie night” when I was in junior high. We would go to the video rental store and rent five movies for five days for five dollars. The films were all B-rated movies with titles like: Ed and His Dead Mother, Serial Mom, and C.H.U.D.  There are no more “stupid movie nights,” and I do miss them terribly. I miss my unpredictable sister and I miss those damn phone calls where the silence my sister and I had was better than the absence that swells in the aftermath of an overdose of prescription pills.

 

By: Steven Childress

Heart of Two Homes

Image Credit: Claire Pillsbury

Image Credit: Claire Pillsbury

It was at the Portland International Airport.

Ten ‘til midnight on a snowy evening in mid-December, and I sat curled around my laptop, breathing in pumpkin spice and black-bean coffee from the Starbucks next door. My fingers swiped over the keyboard, filling in a graduate school application due the next day, while I trapped my cell phone between my ear and shoulder and talked a frantic friend through his first time driving uphill on ice. My back to the frost-glazed window, pressed against it from head to hips so that the bite and the cool seeped in through the worn patches in my jacket – kept me awake.

Four hours of sleep had left me like a frayed nerve, twitchy and raw. Held loosely together by plans and necessities and what seemed like a god-ordained level of stress, all bloodshot eyes and shuddering fingers and–

I just wanted to go home.

South Carolina was about a five-and-a-half hour flight from Portland, as the crow flies. Eight-and-a-half if the crow had to make exchanges in Chicago and Atlanta to get there. It would be a long red-eye capping off an even longer day, but I was at my gate and on time, waiting to take off so I could touch down in my hometown by the time my dad woke up the next morning. So I could step right out of the airport and into the fold of his huge, warm arms, his dopey grin shining down on me, all white teeth and crinkles around his eyes. I hadn’t seen him in person since last January, and the two-thousand miles between us – the three hour time difference – ached in my chest, low and throbbing. I wanted to see him.

But, even so, I kept thinking about it: a half-woken daydream of dropping everything and making my way down to the bottom floor of the airport. Catching the last Red Line train out and hopping on the 57 bus back to campus. Shoving open my dorm door and stumbling through the dark and the warmth and the scent of stale sausage burnt into the carpets. Slumping down onto my bed, face-first and starfished. Sleeping for weeks. For months.

I just wanted to go home.

And that was the problem. Oregon was steamy soup and plastic Christmas trees, rainy naps and a caramel mocha melting the chill off my fingers. South Carolina was golden wheat fields and mist-cool air, sunset silhouettes and a step-family I loved and feared. Home and not, home and not. Caught so perfectly between them that, at times, I felt like I had no home at all. Just waypoints.

I swayed to the right, side pressing into the stiff, navy nylon of my suitcase. The yellow polyester of my laptop bag, sandwiched between. My life and living, distilled down to two carry-ons. I could tuck them under my arms and walk for miles, if I had to.

Packing wasn’t hard anymore. I’d learned how to do it at age sixteen, after my parents divorced and I split the days of the week between their houses. I made a system for hedging a life between two places and lived it, every day, until I had everything whittled down into four bags that I toted between two houses.

And I remember that late-summer afternoon, the sun on my back and warm dust brushing my cheeks as I hovered in the open door of my car’s backseat. As I stared down at those four bags, barely filling half the bench, and realized that I could take them anywhere. That whatever place I stopped in could be my home just as much as either parents’ house. That my real home amounted to an armful of items tucked in canvas bags and the waving hands of my family as I once again drove out of sight.

The woman at the counter came over the gate’s PA system then, calling for the pre-boards and first class. I saved the application file and shut my laptop, telling my phone-friend to pull over and call his dad to come pick him up and bring him the rest of the way home. He’d come far enough.

With trembling hands, I tucked my laptop into its bag and fastened it closed. The black canvas straps slid threadbare beneath my fingers, a touch more familiar than the down of an old quilt or the burnished handle of a favorite skillet. It pulled the breath from my lungs; one part solace and two parts longing.

I wanted to go home.

Throwing the strap of my laptop bag over my shoulder, I grasped the handle of my suitcase and stood up, stretching.

Time had passed since I was sixteen and empty. I’d distilled those four bags down into two now. My second home was across the country. I only moved between twice a year, and only ever on planes. I know now what a home was not: South Carolina, Oregon, and the two bags I carried with me. Not the place you lived, nor the people you loved.

Something more than all of that. Something deeper, or something else.

I stepped out into that drafty jet bridge at midnight, a suitcase at my side and a bag on my shoulder. Breathed in the crisp smell of frost that swept the sleepy haze away, steadied my shudders as I braced against the chill. I remember looking out through the bridge window to see the stars and snowflakes studding the sky and thinking to myself:

I didn’t know what home was, then or now. But I knew that I would step onto this plane. I would keep fighting and working and searching for home.

And someday, weeks or months or years in the future, I’d be standing under this sky again. Staring up at stars and snow – chest full, hands steady, eyes clear. Looking up at this very same sky, and knowing that I’d finally found it.

 

By: Claire Pillsbury