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Ten Years Gone
By Stephanie Kuehnert

Every article I have read about the impact of Nirvana was written by someone who was at least in their twenties when "Nevermind" came out and remembers what it was like to be "there" and how they rediscovered their passions because of it. I was twelve years old; I didn't really know about the "underground scene" or even know that I should be "disillusioned with the mainstream" though I definitely knew I didn't like Pop or Hair Metal. Kurt Cobain didn't help me rediscover my voice or my passion; he gave me that passion and the permission to use my voice. And as for Nirvana's music being the release from pain that everyone speaks of, well, it says a lot for a man in his early twenties to be able to give a voice to that indescribable pain that every adolescent girl experiences.

In junior high, boys in gym class were the worst. Every day I was greeted by their insults about my unruly hair, my lack of boobs, how much I looked like a boy. It only got more intense when we started to play whatever the sport of the day was and I was inevitably terrible at it. The teachers never intervened.

And then over the summer between seventh and eighth grade I did theater and somehow managed to make enemies with the popular girls. They chased me home every day, all of us on rollerblades. I remember their blazing eyes and their long, perfectly conditioned hair flying out behind them. My spine curved, bent over like the speed skaters I had seen in the Olympics, arms pressed close to my sides, pumping back and forth to try gain enough speed to stay in front. My messy brown hair twisted around the headphones I used to insulate me, punk rock protecting me from their threats and insults.

But nothing was as bad as the way my best friend Juliet changed. She had been my other half and with her around, I could turn a blind eye to everyone else. Then she found out her grandmother, her primary caretaker, was dying of cancer and she took her anger out on the only person she had: me. One night when I slept over she told me she was going to cut off all my hair when I fell asleep. She slept with scissors in her hands; I stayed awake staring at her Garfield poster. By the end of seventh grade, Juliet's grandmother was so sick Juliet had to move away to go live with an aunt in Rockford.

Her grandmother died less than a year after she moved. As much time as I spent at Juliet's house, her grandmother was like my own. The scent of her pork chops or corned beef would creep in beneath Juliet's bedroom door, sneaking past the piles of clothes and books on the messy floor, circling her daybed to torture us while we played Nintendo. Finally, she would call Juliet to get out the dishes. We would rush into the kitchen, pile food on our plates, and eat in the living room with Juliet's grandparents, watching Star Trek. Juliet's grandmother had the couch at the back of the room to herself. Books and papers were stacked on the cushion beside her, along with her carton of More cigarettes. My last image of her haunts me. The same brown sofa, the stack of books and papers, and, despite cancer, the cigarettes; on the table next to her was a mannequin head with a wig. Juliet's grandmother sat there, draped in a blanket, head wrapped in a pretty scarf, looking small, forcing her tired face to smile. Hers was the first death I experienced and it was so shocking I remember nothing of it, not where I was, who told me, or how I reacted.

The second death, a year later almost to the day, was Kurt Cobain's and it was Juliet who broke the news to me. The phone was ringing when I walked into my room that Friday afternoon after school.

Juliet was cackling. "Kurt Cobain is DEAD! He won't be making any more crappy music!" She hated Nirvana and just about every other band I liked.

"No, he's not," I countered hotly. "That's just a rumor." Gossip had been swirling about this since he overdosed in Rome and I figured that was what she was talking about.

"He's DEAD! He SHOT HIMSELF! Turn on Q101, turn on MTV, if you don't believe me!"

I hung up the phone and ran over to my stereo. "All Apologies" was ending and then the DJ announced: "It has now been officially confirmed Kurt Cobain is dead."

* * *

Though I saw them on MTV and in magazines in the days and weeks following Kurt Cobain's death, the first time I saw Viretta Park, up close and in person, and the house where Kurt's body was found was 10 years later. When we first arrived at the park, there were already little groups of Nirvana fans, and there was also media.

"Let's just ignore them," one of my friends muttered as we walked over to the bench. Like hundreds of other fans, we wrote our messages to Kurt. Soon after that, MTV approached me for an interview. I was still feeling numb to it all, overwhelmed by the passion of Nirvana's fans that was evidenced in the park, and by seeing the house, just over the fence, where Kurt Cobain had spent his last living moments.

"Uh, I guess." I agreed and let MTV film my disorganized speech about what Kurt Cobain and Nirvana meant to me.

Afterwards, I wandered over toward the bushes that bordered the house and started crying, all of my emotions finally spilling forth about being in the park, including anger at myself for letting the press capitalize on my grief. Eventually I rationalized it, remembering how when Kurt died, MTV was the only connection I had and for some fans, it still was. Though the presence of media was overwhelming at the time, I know that part of the memory will fade and the images of the fans I met there will remain.

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