I heard Smells Like Teen Spririt on FNX yesterday. I was doing my ADD-radio-dance thing, where I flip through all 18 saved stations until I find the one with the very BEST song; so I nearly scrolled right past it. It's just a song like any other, a song I must have heard a hundred times by now, a song I own in several different formats. So why bother to listen?
For some reason I stayed. And started to think back to the very first time I heard the song. (Insert Wayne's World-style "Do--diddle-ooo! Doo--diddle--ooo!!!" here...)
It was my junior year of high school, and it was one of the cold, grim months (much like this one...of course, cold and grim in southern Maryland is usually mid-40's weather, but I digress...). I grew up in a small, just-two-shops-short-of-rural town, and there wasn't much to do if you were under 21, not in prison, and not into cow-tipping (which I HAVE witnessed, by the way, but that's another story...). So one thing we'd do was to drive. Just drive. Drive till we got 20 minutes away, to a different just-two-shops-short-of-rural town that seemed really, REALLY different from our own. And there, in the parking lots of strip malls, teenagers would converge to do some serious hanging out.
That night I was with my insufferably preppy friend, Lisa, who was probably wearing khakis with the pegged legs and had her bangs curled up in some fluffy way. I know the gist of what I was wearing--my trademark (through high school, anyway...) black tights with ripped-up jeans shorts, a black velvet top, and some sort of combat-boot-esque footwear. We looked as different as night and day, I'm sure. (And before you laugh at my description of our fashion, bear in mind that it was the early 90's--we were hip, man, hip.) And we just happened to hit the parking lot at the same time as carloads of students from a neighboring high school. They spilled out of station wagons and rebuilt "classic" cars, wearing different uniforms of punk. There was the guy with the faded-out and ripped-up jeans that had small stuffed animals pinned all over them. There was the guy in all black, with the blue mohawk (remember, NO ONE had hair in colors back then...). There were more that I can't remember, most of them wearing stuff that would later be attributed to the "grunge" movement. We were pretty much the only chicks, which entitled us to an immediate party invite despite Lisa's decidedly UN-punk outfit. Woohoo!
The only problem was, Lisa didn't want to go. I had to do some serious arm-twisting. But my powers of persuasion won out, and we drove down to a place called Timber Tides for the "party". It looked like something out of a bad movie--a bunch of people on the beach, in the woods, in the winter; spindly dead trees and fires in trash cans. The teenagers of the apocalypse. But they were playing Nirvana--playing it loud, and moshing along. I stood transfixed, watching the fire, watching the moshers, feeling the sand blow against my legs and scrape the skin through my tights. And I realized, at that very moment, that life was bigger than I had thought it was. That there was going to be room somewhere in the world for me, the small-town girl with the big ideas who didn't dress like any of the other preppies in College Prep English. There were other people "like" me, people who didn't have the time for sports or mixers or being like everyone else.
It was a few more years before I left the small-town life, and Kurt Cobain was long dead by then. I heard that news while I was driving along in my green Beretta, driving home from work at Wal-Mart, wishing my life was different.
Eventually, it was.
In a way, I feel like it started to be that first night. The night that we sat at a late-night Wendy's with some guys we went to high school with who were at the party, guys we never would have talked to in the hallways, and sipped diet cokes while they ate Junior Bacon burgers. Sipped diet cokes and wondered what other surprises life had in store for us.