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Ten Years Gone
By Stephanie Kuehnert

On my first day at Viretta Park, I stayed from 10 in the morning until the police asked us to leave around midnight. By mid-afternoon a circle had formed around a couple of kids with guitars sitting on the grass just to the right of the bench. My friends and I spent the rest of that day singing Nirvana songs with them. Our circle fluctuated in size as people came and went, but we kept a candle burning in the center next to a copy of the issue of The Rocket that had come out when Kurt died. In the sunlight we were rowdier, often screaming the words at the top of our lungs, sometimes off-key, guitarists breaking strings, laughing at ourselves when we forgot the right line. It mimicked the energy of Nirvana and the world during those two magnificent years that they were huge -- the chaos, the honesty, the general good goddamn time. As night fell, everyone in the circle lit white candles, which we held until they threatened to burn our fingers. The mood became more somber, our voices quieter, but more powerful. Someone showed up with a cello to play along. I huddled closer to my friends for warmth, cupped my fingers around the heat of the candle, and closed my eyes to the darkness of the park as I sang, knowing this was the beginning of what had been 10 years in the making, my goodbye to Kurt, and all the memories the moment was stirring.

* * *

After the death of Kurt Cobain I wanted more than ever to experience the camaraderie of the underground that Nirvana's music had exposed to me. But I found that my underground was not housed in sweaty, hole-in-the-wall rock clubs chock full of best-kept-secret bands, it was outside, right out in the open in Scoville Park, just two blocks from my high school. Around fifty kids hung out there: punk rockers, ravers, skaters, metal heads, sci-fi geeks, and the just plain bizarre who defied any kind of categorization. Fall of my sophomore year, when I first set foot on Scoville Park's dying grass, I thought it was my Mecca. I was amazed by the creativity of the people I met there, and the way the park seemed to be a home for kids who had always been left out. But by the time I left my hometown, just two-and-a-half years later, I wanted to burn Scoville Park down because of all the bad that had come out of it. Drugs were destroying many of the people I loved the most, gossip had shredded most of my friendships, and a boyfriend had almost completely shattered me.

Born out of that park was the relationship that diseased my memories the most, made all my words, all my favorite songs sound ugly for years. My first affectionate image of him is still untouched. Him in his basement, playing with his band. He was the drummer, but he came out to sing and play guitar on the last song, a cover of "Aneurysm." He was wearing a blue cardigan, a Nirvana t-shirt, and jeans with massive holes in the knees. His stringy, chin-length black hair hung in his face, but his hazel eyes were locked on me. That was all that I wanted then, a boy who sang songs to me, my own Kurt Cobain.

My last image of us together is even more vivid. The jeans with the massive holes were around his ankles, his hair, blond streaked with red and blue then, pushed out of his face as he looked down at me.

"Watch your teeth," he demanded and I pulled my lips even tighter over my teeth. I tasted my own blood, but I still couldn't make him come. So he said, "We should make love."

He still called it this even though that phrase had lost its meaning for me two months before when I had said no the first and only time, and he had refused to speak to me until I gave in.

"Your little sister's upstairs."

He shrugged like I should know better. So I shut up, got on my hands and knees for the last time, the short, cheap carpet ripping the hell out of them. He leaned over me, the t-shirt he wore kept on rubbing against my bare back, and entered me from behind. Didn't hurt as bad as the first time I took back my "No." After I had given in I was so scared to say anything to him that I let him pound his chest against mine, between them on a chain that dangled from my neck, a ring that he had given me, which created little circular bruises that I still felt the day we broke up.

Perhaps it seems that this relationship is my story, that it defined my life more than the music, more than Nirvana and Kurt Cobain. For a long time it did, the six months I spent with this guy repeated on a loop in my head for years after everyone, myself included, thought I should have been over it. But that story is no different than all the stories like it. There was no hitting, but there was the controlling, the isolation from friends, the constant berating, the never-good-enough-never-right. It destroyed me twice. The first time while it was happening and the second while I was trying to work through it. It swallowed the rest of my high school career, only one friend staying at my side through all of it, patiently waiting for me to let go of all of the pain. I don't know which was worse, the actual events or that it was bred in the cozy, underground scene I had searched so hard for. I don't know why I had always had it in my head that the underground was sacred and nothing bad could touch it. After all, Kurt Cobain was dead.

* * *

Though no place figures into my past more prominently than Scoville Park, it makes sense to me that I would come to terms with everything at Viretta Park. After all, it was what I saw on TV in 1994 -- the kids at Viretta Park joining together to comfort each other over the loss of Kurt Cobain -- that had driven me to seek a place like Scoville. On my third night in Viretta Park, my last night in Seattle, after we lit the candles, I went up to the bench by myself to stare down at the blinking candles that spelled out Kurt's name. That's when it really sunk in: what I had been searching out for the past 10 years, that pure creative force, that voice that Kurt Cobain had given the world, was inside me. I had carried it with me through my destructive adolescence and my slow recovery, to Seattle, to Kurt's Park, the place I had wanted to be for 10 years. Or, perhaps, it had carried me.

When I walked back down the hill to where the others were sitting, admiring our dedication in silence, we had to figure out what to do about the candles -- they were starting to go out in patches. Burning out or fading away, we debated. It seemed to be a precise metaphor for the Neil Young lyric Kurt had quoted in his suicide note, "So, remember, 'It's better to burn out than to fade away.'" As much as I hated that line and the decision to die that he had justified with it, we decided quickly, collectively, against letting the candles fade away, wanting our memory of them to remain as vivid as our memories of Kurt. So we blew out the candles, each making a wish.

As we walked slowly away from the bench, out of the park, and past Kurt's house, I remembered a quote in a magazine that I read the year after Kurt's death. A fan had written, "He was." I had cut it out and put it above the picture of Kurt that Rolling Stone put on the cover when he died. I realized it was all I needed to say about my past. It happened and it was over. I didn't need to think about it anymore, I didn't need to forget or to forgive, I just had to stop looking back and the dull ache would be gone.

It was.

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