The night is cool and I'm not. A gang of girls from my class at Franklin High flutter past, their brightly made-up faces glowing. Muffled snickers carry far in the crisp autumn air. I breathe in and start to float. I leave my body and hover above the crowd. Looking down, I see myself, wispy blond hair, baggy white painter's pants, and dirty Nikes. I'm winding my way through parked cars and orange cones. I rush back into my skin when my cousin Claire grabs my hand. She's eleven and not yet ruled by teenage emotional paralysis.
We reach the Civic Center's entrance. My uncle smiles and hands us our tickets.
"Are you excited?" he asks.
I shrug and say, "I guess." My first rock concert. It's supposed to be a big deal. I am excited, but fear the experience will disappoint me. Most things do.
I am wrong.
The lights go down and I am transfixed. Our seats are near the top of the arena. The band, U2, is too far away to focus on the visual. Audio takes over. Percussion, bass, rhythm. Ten thousand people screaming, stomping, clapping. Two songs and I realize everyone's looking straight ahead. My ex-hippie aunt and uncle are swaying arm-in-arm. My goofy kid cousin dances wildly, stomping my toe on the downbeat. And absolutely no one is looking at me. I stay solidly in my body for longer than I have in days. I close my eyes and feel the thump, thump, thumping of my heart as it syncs with the kick drum in four-four time.
On the way home I declare, "I love rock and roll."
In the amphitheater ladies room, I splash water on my face and eye the goth contingency congregating behind us.
"It looks like a fucking funeral party in here," Claire whispers in my ear.
I try to smile, but it comes out a sneer. "We should know," I say.
Claire pats me on the back.
Death has our family on speed dial. Only three of us remain, and Grandma Mo is eighty-eight. Outside we meet up with my soon to be ex-man du jour. Claire rolls her eyes as he approaches. I try not to look at him, but his outfit is hard to ignore. Leather pants, a cape, and a steel rod through his recent nose piercing that looks like an upturned Fu Manchu mustache.
"It's The Cure, man," he says. "Look around. I fit right in."
Claire looks at me and I shrug. He was a decent fuck while it lasted. The sex is all that I will miss.
We arrive in our upper level seats not a moment too soon. The opening band is finishing up as the crowd grows restless for their melancholy hero. I try to get comfortable, but Freak Boy is crowding my space. I long for an escape. There is a sudden heavy pressure on my shoulders. I'm hopeful it will whisk me away.
When The Cure takes the stage, it is like waking up in a heroin dream. The synthesizers warp time and the lights strobe you into submission. Robert Smith appears, his wild mane of bed-hair shining black, red kimono gown delicately flowing. I can't take my eyes off him. His voice is like a precision blade, slicing pain and dripping morphine regret.
As the lush vocals fade on another angst-ridden number, Claire puts her arm around my shoulder and pulls me close.
"It's good to see you," she says. I lean in. Her hair smells like gardenias.
The song ends, the lights dim, and I begin to sob.
At first the whole corporate boxseats thing sounds divine. Daniel's boss gives us free tickets to concerts and an occasional basketball game, a well-deserved fringe benefit for all of his long hours and frequent out-of-town trips.
High above the riff-raff cramped into their plastic fold-downs, we float on plush cushions and sip Chardonnay. We have our own private bathroom and a waitress that checks on us every twenty minutes.
I squeeze Daniel's hand as he kisses me on the forehead. He's a good man. He got these tickets just for me. And Claire. Freshly divorced from Jimmy, the jobless deadbeat.
"I haven't been to a concert in so long," Claire says. "Jimmy and I never saw a concert together. Can you believe that?"
"I'm glad you were able to come with us," I say, not telling her she looks years older than she should. Then wondering what she's not telling me.
The light roar of the crowd announces the arrival of Sarah McLachlan to the stage. Seconds later, she's simulcast larger than life on two parallel jumbo-trons. A white shirt and blond head in the box to our left decides to stand, stretch his legs, prop himself upright against the railing. A merlot-sipping corporate moron makes himself comfortable, completely blocking our view of both the stage and the screens. I take a deep breath as a gaggle of snipping chicks in the box to our right starts a high-voltage conversation about Botox and wrinkle cream.
Claire forces a smile.
I grab Daniel by the knee and give him a Do-Something look.
He waves down an usher and she begins to recite the corporate box manifesto. Corporate patrons are free to stand, free to talk, free to ruin the evening for everyone who came to see and hear, not be seen and heard.
I close my eyes and concentrate. Blood pumps in my ears, thumping out the rhythm of the bass and drums. I say the words I love rock and roll to myself and without even trying, I begin to float out of my body. I'm startled at first, barely remembering the escapist sensation of my childhood. And how many times I'd wished for it since, only to be disappointed that it never came. But here it is. And I'm rising quickly. I open my eyes and look down at my husband and dear cousin Claire. All the family I have left in the world. Three blips of life just below what we used to call the cheap seats.
I relax. Drift. Try to remember it all. But there is not enough time. There never is.
When I look down again, Claire is reaching for my hand. Disembodied, I resist – but it is inevitable. My skin prickles with the dread of return.
Copyright © Mary Lynn Reed 2005. Title graphic: "Back Seat" Copyright © The Summerset Review 2005.