“What do you mean Kevin is in Juvi.!?” I shouted at my Mom. “Not Juvi. He is in a half-way house,” she replied. “A half-way house?! What is that?! Why is he there!?” I asked her. She began explaining to me why he was there and what a half-way house was. “I need to go see him! Is he okay!? Can I call him!?” I begged. My parents were very strict, and anything that didn’t involve church or school always became a huge fight. I was relentless though. My poor parents. If I wanted something, I did everything in my power to wear them down. This battle was one they were never going to win. They agreed and took me to see Kevin.
As Kevin got older, he started to act out and get in trouble. He was angry, really angry. Kevin had gone through a lot in his childhood, and his way of coping was with anger. He also struggled with depression. Something broke in Kevin when he was a kid, and his brain only knew how to scream for help by lashing out or by self-destructing. This time, in particular, he lashed out in rage. That is what landed him in the half-way house. Other times when he self-destructed and tore himself apart, it wasn’t uncommon for him to threaten suicide (always attempting in a way that he could be revived or saved.) Kevin didn’t want to die. He just didn’t know how to deal with his pain. He spent so much of his energy protecting others and making them smile that he left nothing for himself to cope or heal. His attempts and dramatics were always his way of pleading for help. He knew if he took pills they would find him and pump his stomach or if he threatened to hurt himself, someone would be there to talk him down and help him sort out his pain. Kevin was still the coolest person in the world to me. If anything, his pain made me latch on tighter and bound us together more in a weird way.
My Dad dropped me off at the half-way house. He said he would be back in an hour or so to pick me up. As I got out of the car, Kevin walked out. He was wearing baggy, worn out jeans with a chain hanging out of the pocket, a tee shirt, and a black cap. “You came!” He yelled out. I smiled and ran up to him. He grabbed me and gave me one of his famous Kevin bear hugs. I was older and bigger now, so he couldn’t swing me around like he used to, but he always lifted me off my feet. I held onto him. He felt sad. I didn’t want to let go. “Let me show you around!” he said excitedly. He gave me a tour of the half-way house and showed me his room. He introduced me to some of his new friends there.
Eventually, he said he wanted to go out and smoke. We walked outside, and he lit a half cigarette that he had found. He showed me how he would find and collect half-smoked cigarettes when he didn’t have any of his own to smoke. He smoked his cigarette and told me why he was there and everything else that was going on in his life. I hung onto his every word. I tried to comfort him the best I could. I hated when he was hurting. He pulled me out of my darkness when I was a kid. I had vowed to myself to always do the same for him if he needed it.
He had been fighting pretty bad with his step-dad. We had that in common. My step-dad and I always butted heads and things always seemed to escalate into a screaming match. Which probably brought Kevin and me closer at times as well. We were both protective and stubborn, so it made it hard for our birth parents, let alone our step-parents to deal with us. He finished his story, and I asked him if he was okay. He looked at me, smiled his huge toothy smile, and said, “Yeah, I will be okay Taw-shina. Nothing and no one can get me down. Let ‘em try!” “Yeah! Let ‘em try!” I repeated. He smiled at me, this time with a look of pride for his new little protégé’ and his sadness seemed to lessen.
“You want a cigarette?” He asked me. I thought about this for a second. I never smoked before. I was a singer, so my initial reaction was to say no, but it was Kevin. I had to be tough. I had to be cool. So, I said yes. “Have you ever smoked before?” He asked me. What do I say!? What do I say!? “Yeah, I have had a few,” I replied cool and collected, hiding my fear and blatant lie. He gave me a cigarette. He lit it for me. I inhaled. It tasted awful! I didn’t know how to ash a cigarette so as we walked and talked I waved it awkwardly at my side (away from his line of sight). Waving it like this and not smoking it much obviously made it go out. So, I presented it to him and said, “Um, it went out?” and he re-lit it for me. As he lit it, the second time, he obviously figured out that I had never smoked before at this point. Oh my god! He knows! He thinks I am so dumb! Ugh! He is going to make fun of me and think I am a stupid little girl! He didn’t make fun of me though. He just lit it, smiled, and gave it back. Why was he so kind to me? Why did he make me feel like I was cool and strong? Why did I feel invincible when I was next to him? At that moment my step-dad pulled up next to us like a bat out of hell and jumped out of the car. He smacked the cigarette out of my hand and smacked the cap off of Kevin’s head. “Dad stop!” I yelled. He was fuming. My Dad had been very involved in my singing career at this point. He was also a Dad that didn’t like seeing his 12-year-old daughter smoking. Though we butted heads and did not get along often, he was a great Dad. He was very strict, but as I got older, I realized it was because he loved me. He was trying to do the best he could with me for my real Dad that had passed away. The problem though, was that Kevin got through my forcefield first; my emotional fortress that protected me in those early years. So Kevin was my world.
The poor guy, my step-dad, he never had a chance. Anyone who said a wrong word or had an ill thought about Kevin would set me off. I would turn into a feral mama cat protecting her kittens, hair standing up and hissing. In life, there wasn’t anything I could actually do to protect him, but in my mind, I was always ready to call forth the forces of hell to defend him if I had to. My Dad yelled at me to get in the car and begrudgingly, I got in. Naturally, we screamed at each other the whole way home.
Kevin’s life went on in this way for some time: half-way houses, self-destruction, and self-medicating. Other than the half-way houses, I did the same. I began following in his footsteps. I started to learn to deal with my pain and emptiness by cutting, self-mutilation and body modification, drugs, alcohol and started to get to know my life-long battle with depression. Kevin began finding new friends who understood him. He discovered his tribe. He found his Punk family. With my parents being very strict, I was bound to church, school, my private school friends, and well, my room.
He would call me from time to time and tell me all about his new friends and adventures. He would talk to me about the music he was listening to and any new piercings or tattoos he got. He was all about the Sex Pistols, the Ramones, Marilyn Manson and others. I would soak up his every word. Wide-eyed and excited I would ask him about them, and he would play them over the phone for me. He also fell in love with Dropkick Murphy’s, Flogging Molly and other Irish Punk bands. He would tell me how one day he would get to Ireland and listen to some Irish Punk bands there. He would go on about how the police and the government were corrupt and how backward the church was. I soaked it all in like a sponge. I would get off the phone and instantly research every band he had told me about. I started doodling band names and finding ways to buy the tapes and CDs without my parents finding out.
One night, there was a Christian rock concert in my town. Their music was on the harder rock side so I figured it was the closest I would ever get to go to a Punk or rock concert with Kevin. I asked him to go. He came, even though I knew, in his mind he probably didn’t think it was as cool as his bands were. After a long fight with my parents, they agreed to let us go alone. We went to the concert.
When the band started to play, I started watching him with overwhelming admiration. He had long hair (to his chin), parted in the middle and wore his long black trench coat. He started to move his head back and forth, whipping his hair forward and back. He stopped, saw me looking at him and threw his jacket off. He was wearing a Marilyn Manson tee shirt. He probably wore it specifically to piss off any of the youth group/church people that were there with us. He loved doing that. He had such pride in who he was, so obviously, being punk rock, the church was his enemy. It was awkward for me, being such a church girl, but it always made me laugh. After taking off his jacket, he started banging his head even harder. He looked at me, standing still and without a word he put his hand on my head and started pushing it. I looked at him scared, and unknowing. He headbanged, stopped, then pushed my head again. I tried it, paused, then looked at him. He nodded approvingly. Yep, there goes my heart melting again. I started getting the hang of it. I loved it! I started jumping up and down and headbanging. I was headbanging like the cool kids! He grabbed my hand then and pushed my middle and ring finger down, then the thumb. He smiled, nodded, and shot my arm into the air. (He had formed my hand into the rock and roll hand symbol). I laughed, smiled, and shouted out. Side by side we jumped and headbanged for hours. It is still one of my favorite memories to this day. Again, Kevin set me free in ways I never thought possible. He taught me to channel my rage and smile while I was getting the rage out.
Later, after the concert, before he had to go home, we were about to say our goodbyes, and he noticed that I looked sad. He looked down at me and said, “What’s wrong kid?” I looked up at him with glassy eyes, my hair sweaty and matted from the concert. “ Well, it’s just that, I love Punk stuff! I want to wear cool Punk clothes and get piercings and go to cool shows like you and your friends. I want to be cool like you. I want to be Punk, but I can’t! My parents are too strict! They will never let me dress punk or go to Punk concerts!” I started to cry. He lifted my chin, pushed back my sweaty hair, and said, “Oh, Taw-shina, it’s okay….” He pulled me in and gave me a huge Kevin bear hug. He held me until I stopped crying. I can still remember the smell of cigarettes, sweat, and leather on him. I pulled away and looked up at him. His eyes filled with compassion and wisdom, as he said to me: “Punk isn’t what you look like or what you wear. Punk is an attitude. Punk is right here.” He placed his hand over my heart as he said this. “ You are Punk right now, you have always been Punk.” “Really?” I squeaked. “Yeah, really.” He hugged me again, smiled his sly grin, and left. I carried his words with me every day of my teenage years and still carry them with me today. It is also why the sight of a mohawk, trench coat, studded collar, or the basic cords of a Punk song still melt my heart and make me smile to this day.
Because of Kevin’s words, that night Punk had become more than a genre or style or fad to me; it had become an ideology, a way of life. Punk is the misunderstood, the broken, the downtrodden. It is the loud and proud, the stubborn, the fighters, and the rebels. It is the weird, the freaks, and the outcasted. I was Punk, Kevin said, I was always Punk. So even without my own group of Punk friends or being in the scene, I found my place. I found my people. I would always see them, and they would see me.
Kevin knew me before I knew myself. Was that why he got through my forcefield that day? Was that why he cared for me even though I was just his dorky girl cousin? Maybe we were bound from the start that way? Maybe it was just the silent vibrations emitting from our young hearts giving out the Punk beacon signal? We were angry, we were broken, we needed to fight someone or something, we needed to be seen, and we needed acceptance through blind eyes.
It is a mysterious wonder how some of us survive our teenage years. I still have no idea how Kevin or I did, that is for sure. What I do know is that the waves of depression and anger couldn’t beat us. They didn’t get us. We found ways to fight and survive them by embracing them. We fell in love with our pain and misery.
Misery loves company they say. By the late 90’s the Punk, Grunge, and Goth culture had exploded! We weren’t alone anymore. Our family was everywhere, and now it had a voice to tell others how we all felt. Because of Kevin, I didn’t have to hide anymore. I could let my freak flag fly….and I haven’t stopped since.
To Be Continued…
Part 3 – “Love”…coming soon!
“Undermine their pompous authority, reject their moral standards, make anarchy and disorder your trademarks. Cause as much chaos and disruption as possible, but don’t let them take you ALIVE.” – Sid Vicious
***A special thank you to all friends and family that gave me photos of Kevin. Thank you for helping me to keep his memory alive every year. I love you all. ****
Sending you all love and light,