– Excerpt from GLORY GUITARS: Memoir of a ’90s Teenage Punk Rock Grrrl by Gogo Germaine, “Just Before You Feel Most Alive” by Jessica Bernal –
The Girl Gang and I had graduated from getting into trouble to getting away with it. We had successfully ditched class a number of times, small clusters of us ditching one period at a time to share a cigarette. Bolting from Boltz Junior High took some real chutzpah. Junior high was like a prison: once you were there, it was nearly impossible to escape. This is why schools are surrounded by large, flat fields with no shrubbery to hide behind. It only takes a dipshit, blind with hubris, to sprint across that human trap, particularly in groups. We did it anyway. We got away with it more times than you might imagine. Even if a teacher caught a glimpse of us, we were anonymous hoodlums at that distance.
Random absences here and there were dealt with by the dreaded attendance line autobot: just as pesky as those automated calls from politicians, and more likely to get you busted. Whenever anyone would ditch class, or even be late, the Alexa of Ditching Past would call your home and announce it to anyone who picked up the phone:
“Gogo. Germaine. Has been listed as. Truant. To. The. Following Classes:”
The system had its flaws. It only took camping out by the phone all afternoon, grabbing it on the first ring, to evade parental discovery. There were a lot of pretend phone conversations back in those days, to the fake parents picking you up from school, to the fake friends who were really just the attendance line. Afternoon phone duty was just the price you paid for ditching class earlier: not getting to do anything fun later in the day. Unless you had a younger sibling, in which case you could just bribe them to sit by the phone and answer before your parents did.
We were going to shows all the time. My first concert was the Aquabats at the Aggie, those goofy ska legends who threw an entire pizza into the crowd. It was addictive. The next step was Warped Tour, which always offered bands like Bouncing Souls, the Vandals, Guttermouth and Pinhead Circus. Then we were seeing shows at punk party houses like the Heethens at the aptly named Heethen House. Still, I had no problem hanging out with hippies or listening to Led Zeppelin. Therefore, I never fully fit into the punk scene.
I certainly felt punk indignation towards my authoritarian figures, however. One afternoon, my mother sat me down on the couch and held my eye contact sternly.
“Gogo,” she began, “I know that you’ve been sexually active.”
My being sexually active came as quite a shock to me. “Mother!” I recoiled. “Where do you even come up with this shit?”
I knew that my cursing would get me extra grounded, in this Catholic of households.
“Gogo, listen to me. When you smoke cigarettes,” she went on, “and you dress like you do, and you hang out with boys, it’s obvious to everyone that you’re sexually active.”
I’ll still never know if my mother was going off of some ill-informed tip, if she was just making a point, or bluffing altogether. But I was gripped with Gandhi-levels of injustice at how wrong she was. I was still fairly innocent.
I was interested in boys, but the thought that a boy I liked even possessed a dick was dizzying to me in a way I didn’t quite understand. And yet, from the boys on the block to authority figures, everyone assumed that since we smoked cigarettes, we must be fucking the entire neighborhood. Sexual harlots hell-bent on the d. The rest of it—the drinking, sneaking out, drugs—that was all a byproduct of us wanting to get fucked, instead of good old-fashioned recreation. We were asking for it.
I might’ve been vaguely interested in the d, but I didn’t know what to do with the d. I wanted to sign up for the d’s newsletter and start collecting pamphlets on the d. Maybe a simple meet-and-greet before jumping into anything big. I wasn’t ready for what was coming straight at me.
Imagine seeing a group of young men on skateboards, huddled around a pipe and smoking weed. Is sex the first image that comes to mind? Are they asking for it? They can misbehave without being sexualized. And guess what, they probably are sluts. Actually, I’m sure of it.
I would’ve been a teenage degenerate no matter what. But my parents’ misunderstanding of my behavior served to assuage any guilt I might’ve felt while I fiercely challenged myself to new depths of rebellion.
Soundtrack: “Gotta Gettaway” by Stiff Little Fingers
A seedy assemblage of teenage degenerates met one morning with unsavory motives. We gathered at one our haunts: outside of Toddy’s, the grocery store nearby where skaters often flipped ollies in the pedestrian area. It was me, Dar, Tana, Lexi, Kylan, Bill, maybe John Robinson and Mark MacMillan.
We proceeded to use the pay phone to call the school, one by one, each affecting preposterous parental voices to tell school administrators that our son or daughter wouldn’t be attending school, followed by some fairly colorful excuses. Each person took a turn doing it for another person, right in a row, while the peanut gallery of listeners laughed hysterically and silently all at once. Same number showing up on the school’s caller ID each time. Nothing suspicious there.
Then we bolted.
Soundtrack: “Linoleum” by NOFX
We charged in an unruly gang to Tana and Dar’s house, cackling with conceit at our ingenuity. Each of these stolen moments meant a greater high. Ditching with Dar and Tana had provided a freedom I had never experienced before, but this was a new level, as we were free and in the company of boys and drugs. Drinking our coffee directly out of the Pattons’ dingy carafe. We sat around in a circle in Tana and Dar’s backyard, smoking a bowl. Getting very merry. The mottled sunlight was goddamned beatific. We were all on to smoking our cigarettes when our juicy moment of satisfaction shriveled up like a raisin.
In the late morning, Tana’s phone started ringing off the hook. We froze in indecision of whether to answer, whether one of us could fake being a grownup again, if it were a dreaded school representative. Before we could make this decision, the answering machine picked up.
“Hello, this is Vice Principal Squires from Boltz Junior High, calling for Jack and Barbara Williams. We wanted to let you know that Tana and Dar have not shown up to school today. We suspect they are with a larger group of truant kids. Boltz has staff out in the community looking for the students, and we have already made calls to all the other parents in the group.”
Already made calls to all the other parents in the group.
Already made calls to all the other parents in the group.
What could’ve been a contained situation of simply deleting one infected answering machine message had now scattered into a full-blown epidemic. An epidemic that would result in the plague of detention. Or worse.
When you’re ditching school, you feel so much fucking smarter than everyone—the teachers, the students, your parents. And when you get caught, you feel like your life is literally over. We had been busted for things before, but there was something different about this time. There was a deep level of conspiracy to be answered for. Perhaps it was the inane reactivity of groupthink that fueled our overreaction.
“What the fuck are we going to do?” asked Tana, running her hand through her sand-colored hair, a cigarette clutched in the other hand. When Tana said “fuck,” it was particularly satisfying, like it had its own additional, hidden exclamation point. She was excellent at cursing. She stomped inside and I got a whiff of her hair. Tana always smelled fucking amazing. She is an Older Sister, literally and by metaphorical standards: I’ll always associate girls who own an arsenal of good-smelling beauty products as Older Sisters. They have nice things I want to borrow. They’re organized and generally have their shit together. Tana is a Virgo, peak of shit-togetherness. Even her cigarette organization system put mine to shame. She packed them with great panache, her baby blue nails perfectly painted; she kept a lighter in the pack and she always kept one cig upside-down. Tana wasn’t going to take this out-of-control situation very well.
“Fuck this,” giggled Dar. She was already vastly stoned, I could tell. Younger sisters like Dar and me have a filtered grasp of reality, one that’s much softer and freer of consequence. It’s this looser sense of consequence that allows us to face problems boldly, or stupidly, as it were. The gravity of the situation, as we looked at each other, blitzed, was so heavy as to be suddenly hilarious. We exploded into snickers.
Emotions have different facets to them. There’s the psychological tie-in to an emotion. But for a feelie like me, who feels things in her body so strongly, emotions also come with tangible, sensory responses that are delightfully free of judgment. In this judgment-free zone, love and fear can feel equally pleasant. Fear feels like a million exciting little black cilia tingling my nerves; it’s nearly orgasmic. It explains why adrenaline junkies and thrill-seekers exist. Our sensory enjoyment of emotion outweighs our emotional response to it, so much so that we’re willing to put ourselves at risk because of it.
In this moment, buried within me was an understanding of the psychological consequences of my parents being angry or worried. It was just drowned out by the fucking delicious, hypnotic buzz of the fear of being caught.
Dar and I let some giggles escape until Lexi gave us a sharp look, and we buttoned up into pure serious again.
“Fuck this,” Dar said again, rising up to her knees. “Let’s just run away.”
Soundtrack: “Runaway” by Screeching Weasel
With these words, that pent-up fear-buzz I had going on was positively unleashed. “Fuck yeah!” I yelled, pitching my fist into the air. We began pogoing.
“And where would you have us go, exactly?” asked Tana. She had her amused older sister face on.
I looked far into the distance, trying to pluck the answer from a place vaster and much more important than these environs.
“California,” I said reverently.
California, golden land of glamour and heartbreak. Teen tragedy was beautiful in California. California’s balmy weather year-round would make our certain homelessness a breeze, I reckoned. We were sick of this shit anyway. School was like hell.
“Los Angeles, Los Angeles,” reads Mary Karr’s teen memoir, Cherry. “You know almost nothing about the place, so while you’re waiting for your friends to come in a blue truck to ferry you off, you stare at its spot on the map, as though peering close enough will split the small dark seed of your future and reveal whatever self you’re fixing to become.” Even as Mary Karr knew nothing about Los Angeles, her plan was still more solid than ours; we only had the hazy boundaries of state to drive towards, not even a city on a map to stare at.
Lexi looked at us squarely. “How will we do that? How will we get there?”
“Well,” said Kylan, “I could steal my grandma’s van.”
“Yes!” Dar and I cheered.
“Can any of us drive?” Tana asked, throwing the question into the air as if not expecting it to be answered.
“I can figure it out,” said Kylan. “I can pretty much drive it. My grandma never even uses her van. She won’t miss it.”
Lexi and Tana stared at him, then each other, unsure.
“I’ve stolen it a bunch of times before!” he assured them. Which was reassuring, unless you didn’t trust someone who frequently steals the things of loved ones, and then it’s not reassuring. We didn’t suffer from this belief, of course. In Teenageland, stealing from parents or chain stores operates on its own separate plane of morality that is more acceptable than stealing from friends.
The elder girls agreed to the plan reluctantly, the younger girls joyously. Mark and John shook their heads like we were crazy. We would take that van, all of us, to the golden land of California. We just needed to run home, sneak in and grab some things, leave a note for our parents, and get the fuck out of this tired town.
Tana and Dar left a lengthy note to their parents telling them that we were running away, that we loved them, and not to worry about us. We decided that my house was too hot, so we told the Williams parents to send my parents my regards. I would have to share clothes with Dar and Tana, but we shared everything already. I imagined a life on the road with my friends, totally free. Living out of a van, wake-and-baking on the beach every morning, no school, nothing to do. Spangeing on the streets, not having a home to go to. It was so romantic. These days, I can barely sleep in the comfort of my own bed. How would I fare sleeping in a van with several people?
It’s not really the logistics that matter in Teenageland. Details are secondary. Gestures are huge, and this was a big one. We were all about bold moves. It was about reaching out as high as you possibly could to try and catch that shooting star that was sailing light years above your head. It was all in the reach.
*GLORY GUITARS was published in October of 2022 by University of Hell Press. Excerpt provided with permission from U of Hell and Gogo Germaine. Buy your copy from the press here, or from Bookshop or Amazon.
Gogo Germaine won the Spelling Bee and the D.A.R.E. essay contest in the 6th grade. She was voted “Most Unique” in the 7th grade. Then it was all downhill from there. The rest was the stuff of hysterical after school specials: Gogo began stealing cigs, shotgunning PBRs, snorting cocaine in her jammies, sneaking punk boys into her pink bedroom, and listening to tinny car stereo tunes while glaring into the sun like a muscle shirt dad. Gogo snuck out of her house every night for an entire summer. She spent her adolescence swiftly running out of all manner of doors. One day, she finally escaped. As an adult, Gogo wrote Glory Guitars for the singular goal of capturing the feeling of the air as she ran across a field to ditch school, totally free of responsibility. It became the ambitious platform for her to reclaim her agency and make sense of all the mayhem she experienced. She is no longer a danger-seeking asshole.
Photo by Glenn Ross
Jessica Bernal is a Chicana artist born and raised in Aztlàn. She studied art and design at Community College of Denver, and has exhibited her works in several galleries in the Denver area. With a darkly surrealist mix of acrylic and oils, she forges a juxtaposition of Chicano Magical Realism and outlaw street art.