Chapter Five – Controversy
They argued. It was nothing serious, but still—they argued. Right before. Without exception—they always argued; it was some kind of teenage hillbilly ritual, these arguments. Something that seemed ridiculous and strange standing amongst the ruins now. Before though, at the swimming hole, Jay remembered debating 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 she 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,” she 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,” Jay said sarcastically rolling her eyes quite dramatically for emphasis.
Trevor mimicked Gene Simmons and stuck out his tongue.
She 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 Jay thought at the time. 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. She realized only later that’s what teenagers were supposed to do: try on every persona till they find one that fits; all of them limited to too few personas to choose thanks to socialized traditional norms they longed to shed.
Unfortunately, Jay didn’t find hers till her thirties and solidified it in her forties—or, so she thought. Jay wasn’t sure Trevor ever found his. Last time she heard from him, he was just another angry entitled white man bitching about the librals. She steered clear of him from that point onward. His path and end were like those of the other sycophantic cult-like followers that didn’t meet certain standards. Executed on a dirty grey 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.
Jay rolled her eyes. She heard the curl of his lip and the obnoxious bite in his tone and 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,” Jay laughed, ignoring the stern looking crater at the center of Cody’s forehead and continued on not wanting or waiting on his reply. “Duran Duran was in Charleston and we missed it,” she told Natalie. “They’re gonna be on Cinemax and MTV and I’m gonna record it. If mom ever comes to get us,” she uttered the latter to no one, disappointment rocking her tone. “I need to get some more blank cassette tapes too. Unless you have any I can tape over?”
They 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 their tax bracket and a video camera was something only rich people owned. Occasionally, they got the loud shushes and shut-ups marring their otherwise muffled illegally copyrighted masterpieces.
Jay’s mom recorded Elvis’ Blue Hawaii show that way. Halfway into it, they heard her shushing Jay to which her mom was pretty pissed about.
Jay eventually taped Duran Duran’s As the Lights Go Down concert on Cinemax onto a blank tape. She used a silver pen writing Sing Blue Silver across the black tape—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 she still remembered decades later her teenage self crushing so hard on him after that show. She wore that tape out playing it repeatedly well into her twenties until the actual tour tape was released that was coincidentally named Sing Blue Silver.
Jay liked her tape better because the cheers from the crowd were louder.
She kept that cassette tape forever until they lost it in one of their many moves.
Much of Jay and Natalie’s teenage years revolved around double-D’s music and Jay’s crush on Simon and Nat’s on Roger, the drummer. They 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 grew to hate Duran Duran and their music. Jay thought 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 Jay’s many returns back to Charleston, stuck as a teenage babysitter to her other much younger cousins while her mom and aunts were out partying, Jay and her cousins would cut up newspapers and have their own dance raves. Submerging the living room—much to her mom’s chagrin—knee-deep in confetti, they bounced around in a storm of it as, stereo booming, Jay slammed New Religion lyrics and the rest of Duran Duran tunes that had her younger cousins staring at her in awe.
When they couldn’t afford new music, they taped songs from the radio onto blank cassettes and played them nonstop; stop, rewind, stop, rewind continuously with those clunky hard plastic buttons. They had to wait around the radio forever for their favorite songs to play. New music—introduced by way of a musically gifted DJ with a good ear and a fortuitous locale while listening at the right time (only if said radio stationed permitted it)—seldom found its way onto the airwaves. Radio stations in less populated and rural areas rarely got new music quickly and usually not until it hit the top twenty. Regardless, they consumed whatever music they could as her mom drove Jay and her baby brother around for hours listening and singing to all different types of music from bluegrass to country to rock. She took them on long meandering driving tours of rich people’s homes where they gazed into wide lit windows across vast green lawns in a dream-like awe. Her baby brother—four or five at the time—sat on the console between them (this was before child car seat laws) and sung the chorus of their 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.
Jay wanted to shake off the contrasting emotions of nostalgia and anxiety that gripped her as each memory landed in real time. Avoiding the prying eyes and thoughts of those surrounding her, a dullness burned through her and continued to arrive with every movement. Layer upon layer of recollections uncoiled its way loose inside her pounding its way into her psyche. All brought her back to the quest afoot towards herself 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, Jay really didn’t mind and preferred being away from her to being with her. After her dad’s unexpected death, mother and daughter had no use for each other as they rarely liked one another. Her mom 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, her mom 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. Jay understood her mom’s need for freedom and didn’t hold it against her not really thinking of the ramifications at that period in her own life. They were grieving and celebrating, surviving one circumstance only to be pulled into others new and daunting. Her mom went her way and Jay went hers. It was a sort of self-preservation—how they found their way through that fucked-up minefield they called life.
Jay accepted this along with the uncertain sting of abandonment that she didn’t know how to navigate at the time.
Her mom stopped by every three or four months to visit and picked Jay and her baby brother up occasionally when she felt like she could be a parent again. They 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 Jay never got from being with her other family.
There was a nice rented house in and around the Charleston suburbs with her 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 movies and TV shows: privileges and luxuries—if you could call them that—they never had when her dad was alive.
That money didn’t last long.
They ended up going north before the school year ended. The routine drop-offs started after her dad died when she was twelve and continued till her junior year in high school. Ten schools in five years was quite an accomplishment for a non-military brat.
Jay shuddered to think what would’ve happened if they didn’t have her dad’s meager social security checks or family to house them.
Pressing play on this ghastly nightmare, Jay allowed the memories to proceed, feeling the all too familiar rush, fusing the past, present, and future into the penultimate: head back, eyes closed, fingers grazing the water, she merged into that point when and where they floated in silence until the vortex formed and pulled them into the future, chaos, war, and where she stood presently contemplating the minutia of the past, the strings of the future, and those people now in front of her: Cold, dead-eyed enemies she wouldn’t trust with no one’s life.
Especially her own.
© 2020 Pamela Gay Mullins