The Metal That Gave Me Mettle

The first computer I ever owned as a kid was some piece of shit desktop that did nothing for Internet and only basic script commands. I could play Space Invaders and Pong on it, green icons on a black screen with a laggy system so that I never got too used to winning. Around 11 or 12 or so, I got upgraded to a faster computer with Internet capabilities and a dial-up connection. I can recall the long screeching noises vividly. My friends and I used to vocally mock the sounds, as if the machine had feelings we could hurt.

My grandparents, God bless them, put a lot of faith in me to not go to any websites I shouldn’t have. I remember furtively venturing to “sex dot com” and laser printing out softcore images of naked women that I hid under my mattress and blamed on my friend when I inevitably got caught. Oh, you were holding drugs for a friend? Weapons? Yeah, I had topless photos of Denise Richards. “For a friend”.

I took my grounding and pleaded my case and gradually regained my privilege to be on the computer. I discovered Java Chat, a popular early chat room type often divided up by topic or demographic. The particular one I frequented…I don’t even recall how I found it. I think the subject for the room was “Miscellaneous” or some other inane shit.

Being a bullied kid with few friends and an awkward look, I found it easy and, in fact, a relief to meet friends on the Internet. There was JadeDragon (who was kind of a dick) and Topcat (who was my homie) and Spider and this chick Jess who I had a huge crush on and who called me occasionally and who betrayed me when I found out she lied about her age, even though her actual age was closer to mine. You remember when A(ge)/S(ex)/L(ocation) was a thing? Yeah, it was like that but with lies.

I think I was 13 or so when I met Amanda in the chat. She was a year older than me, feisty, funny. She and I bickered as much as we had each other’s back, but she was also there for me through some really hard times. We became friends, though I was in Anchorage, Alaska and she was in Toronto, Canada. We spoke a lot, almost everyday, in the chat room proper or in PMs (private messages). She was my girl, my go-to, the one person I could tell anything to.

She is still a close friend of mine, some 13 years later.

Amanda is the one who got me into Kittie. She started talking about it in the chats, linked me to songs, encouraged me to buy the CD (which, at that point, I think was only Spit). I’m not a big metal guy. I never have been and I probably won’t ever be super into it, but there was something about this all-chick line-up and they way they shredded and screamed and sang that reached whatever pent-up feelings I had gurgling in my chest cavity. I got hooked. I checked them out because a girl I liked asked me to and I stuck with it because the band fucking rocked.

As the Java chat wound down, Amanda and I found our way over to Kittie’s official message board on their website. It was free to sign up, there were hundreds of threads to contribute to (Band discussions, debate, general topics, art and poetry, tours, etc.), and the only rule, really, was don’t be a dick.

Did we follow that? Hahaha no. Not in the slightest.

Could we be warned and banned and suspended? Absolutely. But the moderators didn’t always get along and there were always favorites and sometimes someone said something so fucked up but inherently hilarious that the person would get a message asking them to tone it down instead of an official warning.

There were several regulars that frequented the board, myself among them. I was 13 or 14 when I started posting and I developed a certain kind of reputation for myself. Everyone who was anyone on that board built a rep for themselves. There were stern folks and smart folks and assholes and sarcastic assholes and poets and artists and dumbfucks and rock stars. I made friends with a lot of the right people, but I got warned a time or two. Everyone who was anyone on that board got warned a time or two.

There were costume contests and .gif request threads. There were board awards where people could vote for users to win things, and other people would make banner “award” images to post in their signature lines. There were threads about politics and threads about soda and an equal amount of energy and opinion went into both.

It was a community. It was a family. Not everyone got along, but it was a family all the same. The craziest part about it was the transparency. This was right when scanners and webcams were starting to get big so there was a level of transparency on the board that hadn’t been in the Java chat. Add to that the fact that several board members either lived in close proximity to each other or would road trip to hit up concert venues and meet there. We knew when people were who they said they were.

Additionally, as it was their official board, the Kittie band members would occasionally pop in to chime in on certain topics. The thing that struck me the most about them was that they never came in to address their “fans”. They came in to talk to their family. There was never an air of condescension or entitlement or a shortness of expression. They were our friends, and we were theirs and that was a huge thing.

See, in school, I had to be somebody different all the time. Quiet around certain people, bite my tongue with certain people, hide my intelligence or over reach it with certain people. As I got older and began working, I needed to have a professional face. I had to hide certain qualities about myself and felt ashamed about certain others.

But on the Kittie message board. Everyone could be themselves for the first time. I didn’t have to worry about being called ugly. I could hide or post a pic and at least one person would have something nice to say. I didn’t have to worry about my poetry. There was another poet who would encourage me. I could rant in anger or cry in frustration or celebrate losing my virginity or crack crass jokes or vent my family problems or voice my insecurities. I could be me and people fucking liked me for me and that was weird and so goddamn needed.

You know, people talk a lot these days about the dangers of meeting people on the internet. It is no more dangerous now than it was ten years ago. Less so now, in fact. You just need to not be a fucking idiot about doing it.

I met Diana when I was 17 and flew to Texas. We had spoken on the phone, had webcam chats, talked for years online. I may have gotten confirmation from someone else that she had met, and we met in an airport – practically the most public place you can meet. I stayed for two or three weeks. We went to Ozzfest during Hurricane Katrina, celebrated what I think was her 21st birthday, catcalled some meerkats at the zoo and walked the Galveston strip. It was a hell of a trip.

A year or so later, I flew down to meet my friend Tommy. When he first showed up on the board, he had some stupid fucking goggles that I would not let him get away with wearing. I flew down a couple times, actually. Once I met another board member, Ashley, visiting from Arkansas. The other time, Tommy and I decided to spur-of-the-moment drive from Prattville, Alabama to Detroit, Michigan to meet up with board member Crystal and catch what would be my first live Kittie show.

We arrived in 13 hours, stopping for fuel in Tennessee at a joint gas station/fireworks shop because God Bless You, Tennessee.

Which brings us back to Kittie. I never got to meet the full Spit line-up that had got me so hooked on the band, with Talena Atfield and Fallon Bowman. I did meet sisters Morgan and Mercedes Lander, bassist Trish Doan and guitarist Tara McLeod and let me tell you, they were amazing to me.

They snuck us in to their sound check to hear some of their new stuff before anyone else. They recognized me immediately as “that dude from Alaska”. Mercedes made sure I had one of the two copies of the set list in hand and they took the time to take pictures with me after.

I flew to New York to meet board member Jenny D. We caught Kittie’s acoustic set in a mall where I surprised them. I hadn’t let them know I was coming. Jenny took me to my first and only college party where, at 18 or 19, I won some games of flip cup, vomited all over some frat house bathroom, got a girl’s number and suffered the single worst hangover I’ve ever had.

We caught the Kittie concert in Poughkeepsie and after, the ladies all signed my hat. Tara, who I had a tremendous crush on, gave me her number to keep in touch. I mentioned wanting to write books for a living. Morgan encouraged me to do so. I can’t express how much it means to have someone you look up to and whose art you enjoy tell you to keep at it.

I met board member Karen in Ireland and had one of the fondest memories of my life, holding her while a university group, amidst a light show, sang “She Moved Through the Fair”.

Skyler Martin, aka Skaz, is another board member. One I’ve never met but who is the best writer I’ve ever worked with or whose material I’ve helped edit.

Tommy, of Alabama fame, and his roommate (and board member) Ben once gave me a place to stay when I got kicked out of Canada and had no place else to go.

The last time I saw Kittie perform live was at the Key Club in Los Angeles in 2009. I had just moved away from Alaska for the first time. I was scared and mostly broke and too much in my head and in a rough spot. I scraped money aside to see them; my friends ditched me. Morgan greeted me with open arms. She gave me a shout out during the concert. Ivy Jenkins was playing bass at the time. I didn’t get to meet her then, but we’re friends now.

After the concert, after I forcefully interjected myself between a perma-fried, super-high fan and Morgan, I got to spend a little time with her and Mercedes just relaxing on the tour bus and drinking wine. And I felt okay. I felt like I could get through things, if only for a while.

Morgan and Mercedes Lander, Trish Doan, and Tara McLeod have absolutely been encouraging to me and my endeavors for the better part of a decade. They have never needed to reach out or wish me happy birthday or offer me to hang out. They have never needed to reach out to me.

Or anyone else, because they have reached out to so many people. They have touched so many lives, have encouraged artists and inspired artists and have left an impact on the industry.

Not only that, but the community they have built has saved lives. People who couldn’t be themselves anywhere else found an out. Those who were struggling found support. I personally have developed some of the strongest friendships in my life from interactions on that board, real friendships that have lasted over a decade without, in some cases, needing to meet in person. I’ve met my greatest inspirations through Kittie’s board. My best first kiss with a woman. Some of my greatest, craziest memories. Friends all around the world.

The best part? I’ve lived most of my life in Alaska. I’ve barely had the interaction with the band people elsewhere have. I know of at least two marriages from that board, one that crossed the world. Kittie is a band who is compassionate, inspirational and fun, a band whose presence ignites growth and whose very construction can build a global family that stands the test of time.

I love the band as a whole for their artistry, especially being outside of what I typically like. And those women I know personally? I love them dearly for the friends, the experiences and the encouragement they’ve given me. I may not have pursued storytelling had they not told me I was worth it.

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Life Was Simpler When I Was Dying

I went to bed on a Wednesday night in May last year, not long after my birthday. I had the next day off, so I was a little high, a little drunk and I planned on sleeping in the next day. Instead, I woke up around 9AM, violently nauseous. I ran to the bathroom, hurled up what I could and staggered out of the bathroom. Was I hungover? Seemed like it.

One of my two roommates at the time, Matt, was getting ready to head down the hill. He knew I was sick, and I debated staying home, but I really wanted to see the new Star Trek movie. He agreed to drop me off at the mall and I walked up to the theater with a body that feeled ten times heavier than normal. I bought my ticket and a soda and sat down.

I threw up twice more within the first 30 minutes of the movie.

I don’t know if you’ve ever vomited so hard that you sat, back against the wall with your legs tucked against your chest, crying in the handical stall of a shitty theater bathroom but let me tell you, it isn’t ideal. At this point I thought it was the flu or some kind of food poisoning I got from the seafood I had the day before. Only one thing to do in that situation: sleep it off.

I left the theater, Star Trek thirst unquenched and walked down the escalator. One of my former bosses was walking by and waved to me. I didn’t notice. She told me later that I looked blue (physically, I mean. Not sad, although I was that, too) and she thought I was fucked up out of my mind. I mean, kind of. I had no idea.

I cabbed it back to my house. I barely remember the ride. It must have been around 11, 11:30. Matt swung back by. He had been to the gym and was no prepping for work. He could tell I was seriously ill. Let me tell you something about Matt: I firmly believe that he has zero respect for me at all. He’s always first to shit on me, has never congratulated me on an accomplishment and never had my back in a fight. On this morning, he was so worried about me that he made me soup while I was laid out on the couch, hesitated leaving and called our other roommate out of concern. It was serious shit.

I spent the next 9 hours fucked up. I was in and out of consciousness on the couch. My phone was untouched on the floor. I had two cups next to me. One was full of water that I could only sip out of because anything more triggered vomiting (and I was dry-heaving pretty well on my own at that point) and the other, disgustingly, was reserved for whatever phlegmy spit I could muster. I had no concept of time or self beyond pain and suffocation.

Around 9PM, I found myself in the bathroom yet again, trying to find something other than stomach bile to bring up. My throat was so raw that I was spitting a little blood. My other roommate, RJ, got home. He had tried to call me twice, neither of which I had noticed because I had practically forgot I owned a phone. He knocked on the door and said, “What, you’re too good to answer my phone calls now?” I told him I was spitting up blood. He asked if we needed to go to the hospital. I told him I didn’t know.

I walked, poorly, out of the bathroom. I was pale, he said. RJ used to be an EMT and he sat me down on the couch, my prison for twelve hours, to take my pulse. He couldn’t find it. “We’re going to the hospital.”

They checked me in at the hospital. The triage doctor, who had a particularly active cold, was a huge dick who disbelieved the seriousness of my situation and blamed my low blood pressure on the equipment. RJ, God bless him, argued that no, something was very wrong with me.

I was in the emergency room from 10PM until 4AM, with RJ by my side. My blood pressure was 80 over 40. My temperature was 103 degrees. My heart was going three times the rate it was supposed to. I was almost completely dehydrated. My magnesium and potassium levels were almost nonexistent. My body was shutting down, and that’s when I got the news: I had septicemia. Septic shock. Blood poisoning.

I knew it was bad. That is bad. Shit. But it has levels, right? So I asked the nurse, “How bad is it?” and she looked me dead in the eye.

“Well, you could die.”

I looked over at RJ, RJ looked at the nurse. I let out a laugh that was a few pitches higher than I’m proud of and laid my head down on the bed and struggled not to cry, tried not to panic.

After 6 hours of fluids and tests (“Maybe it’s a UTI that went septic. Nope? Okay, a kidney infection? No? Huh. Well. This is, uh…hm.”), they admitted me eaaaarly Friday morning.

I spent four days in the hospital. I had multiple IVs in me the entire time. The saline was constant until I checked out. The magnesium wasn’t so bad. I opted for potassium pills every two hours because turns out liquid potassium burns like a motherfucker when it’s being pumped into you, a fact no one told me until I was writhing in pain on my gurney while my roommate (hospital, not RJ or Matt) shit on the floor.

I couldn’t piss until Saturday. Didn’t have the fluids in me. My blood pressure and temperature didn’t even out until Saturday night. I slept like shit and finally asked the nurse to give me some percocet so I could even try. Saturday night I got moved into a different room, one with a window and the first sunlight I had seen in three days. The doctor told me, “Wish these things opened up more but some lady tried to kill herself jumping out of it, broke both of her legs.” He went on to tell me that he had no idea what happened to me to put me in septic shock but it seemed to be under control. Prescribed me some medication,  let me check out as soon as I showered and felt up to it.

So there’s the bare bones of it. My brush with death. Once it looked like I was going to be okay one of the nurses told me, “Hey, man. You were hours away from dying. If you had waited until the next morning to come in, if you had made it, it would have been weeks in the ICU, minimum.” Several times while I was in the hospital, I thought,  “Hey, it could be worse” and then immediately reminded myself that at that point, worse was dead.

Now, you find out certain things when you’re on your deathbed. Like who gives a shit. Turns out, for me, it wasn’t many. Word got around on FB between my friends and I. I mentioned how serious it was. I texted some people to tell them I loved them when things were still looking shaky. A woman I care about very much but who was on the outs with me texted me to make sure I was going to be okay. The girl I loved and knew for years? Not even a text.

I would come out of delirium to find the last people I expected there to make sure I was alright. Seriously. These were people I cared about a lot but was by no means close with. They brought me thoughtful gifts. Superhero writing materials. Books to read. A flute. They kept me company.

I cannot express to you the emotions that come from not getting love and concern from the people you expect it from and then getting it from people you never expected. That’s a rough ride.

Now, here’s another thing I didn’t expect. Dying gives you a sort of perspective on life. What matters and what doesn’t. The things you haven’t finished or haven’t done. The words you wished you had said. The people you want to see again. I left that hospital with a sense of zen that lasted for almost three months. I stopped worrying about money, relationships, where I was at in life. It eventually crept back in and wore me down, but I was so content. Euphoric. It was beautiful, truly.

I didn’t expect that and when the shit started piling back up, I didn’t expect wishing I could be back there. It suuuucked. It hurt and I was exhausted for a month afterwards because of what my body went through. But people worried about me and gave a shit and things were much more clear-cut.

“Things were so much simpler when I was dying” is a tweet I sent and there’s a macabre truth to that. It sucks when you have a birthday where nobody shows up, like this year. Especially following a birthday party for a friend where a hundred fucking people showed up. That sucks. And it’s hard not to long for waking up and seeing someone unexpected who cares about your well-being.

These are weird feelings. They come and go and stay gone longer than they linger. Honestly, if I should take anything from it, it should be that zen perspective I got upon walking out ibto the sunshine and not the cascading disbelief that came with the bill for $22,000.

I almost died and it taught me that I don’t want to die. That I love love and I love life and I love people even when I hate them because over a decade of retail work demands it. It taught me attention is addictive, especially when it distracts from a lack of accomplishment. It taught me that if you live one life, you can sometimes find more in less.

It also taught me not to get septic shock, because that shit sucks hard.