The year was 1996 and I was flailing emphatically to Sisters of Mercy at Cambridge’s late, lamented and legendary alt-club ManRay. In mid-flutter, it suddenly occurred to me that someday, I’m going to miss this.
Nostalgia’s not really my bag; I’m actually kind of bad with long-term memories aside from individually momentous events, usually things that I remember with horror, like hitting on people for whose rejection I am in retrospect grateful.
Or the time when I found three perfect 1960s party dresses IN MY SIZE (roughly a 22!) at The Garment District, and then I cut them up to make other, goth-ier dresses that seemed better in my mind but which were, in reality, horrible abortions of DIY fashion on a level with how Molly Ringwold bastardizes the AMAZING prom dress Annie Potts gives her in Pretty in Pink. Pretty in Pink should have served as a warning -- NEVER ALTER VINTAGE DRESSES THAT ALREADY FIT YOU, lest the ghost of Andie Walsh haunt you the rest of your days -- but I did not heed its wisdom, and so those dresses were ruined.
Regrets, I’ve had a few.
But generally I am not the sort of person who thinks about years gone by with any sort of wistful longing. So it was weird that I had that moment of clarity that evening, right at the bridge of “Lucretia My Reflection.”
But I was correct, because today, some mumblemumble years later, I do miss it. Sometimes. Or at least, I miss certain parts of my goth past, if for no other reason than what they represent to me now.
1. Smoking clove cigarettes. I KNOW. Cloves are incredibly terrible for you, much worse than regular tobacco cigarettes in terms of the toxic chemicals you slurp greedily into your precious lungs. But it didn’t matter, because I was sad and dark and in love both with the idea of my own invincibility and with my choice not to give a crap about how I might be damaging my health.
Not paying attention to health is a young person’s gamble, so I suppose the root of this is a longing for the carefree days of my misspent youth. Before I knew I had asthma.
Also, dudes, they smell SO GOOD. I smell a clove on the street now and I have to restrain myself from chasing down the smoker to bum one, like a cancer-seeking Pepé Le Pew.
2. Not caring about the state of my lace tights. I still own a few pairs of intact lace tights but I can’t seem to bring myself to wear them. Why? Because I am afraid of runs.
See, back in Goth Times I didn’t care if my tights had runs; indeed, I sort of sought their destruction willfully, as given the amount of spiky jewelry I and my friends wore, holes were gonna happen. Do you know how often I’d be shuffling around a packed dance floor only to get some dude’s spiked bracelet caught in the fishnet tights I had fashioned into a crude top by cutting a head-sized hole in the crotch and pulling the legs over my arms? TOO MANY TIMES.
It was a good way to meet people, though. Oh hey, cute person, your talon ring is stuck in my shredded sleeves, and by the way, I’m Lesley!
3. Wearing black, and only black (on the outside, because black is how I feel on the inside). Laundry was soooo easy, especially once Woolite came out with that special detergent for black clothes. It was the only brand I bought for a long time.
And almost everything I owned matched, except for that weird thing where some blacks don’t go with other blacks. I meticulously organized my dimly-lit dorm room closet by various shades of black to make black-matching simpler.
Some of you are going, “Um, what?” right now, but others are going, “OH MY GOD I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT YOU MEAN.”
4. Feeling happy and secure in my outsiderness. I feel pretty happy and secure in my outsiderness today, but for different reasons, as I am no longer a visible member of a readily identified subculture.
What I miss was that whole community of outsiders. We wore a uniform of sorts; we recognized each other. I could visit a strange city where I knew no one and yet if I could find the local goth club them I would immediately have a dozen new friends. OKAY, this wasn’t true of EVERY city -- many larger cities had extremely competitive and drama-prone shenanigans but it was true for lots of them.
If nothing else, at least I knew I could find people who understood why I was wearing enormous and intimidating boots that looked like they had some kind of on-board weaponry.
5. WEARING COSTUMES. I miss those boots! I sold them on eBay years ago, along with many others of similarly unnatural design. I miss dressing up in stuff that bore only passing resemblance to clothing and even then only because it was being worn on a body.
I miss not having to give a crap what people thought of me, to the extent that I could go out dressed in a manner explicitly intended to draw their ire and then to be pleased when they offerred it.
I still do a more sedate variety of this today -- in comments to my fat shaming post back on January, someone called me “pretty” but then asked “why the ugly outfit?”
If I'm honest, my first thought was I’M NOT PRETTY and my second was BECAUSE I LIKE IT. My more immature side still aches for the time when I wasn’t constantly trying to strike a balance that enables me to dress how I want to dress, but without dressing in a manner that’s going to get me peppered with unwanted commentary all the livelong day -- I miss my stubborn refusal to fit in, no matter the consequences.
6. Dancing in public. This is probably the thing I miss most. Sure, there are lots of places a person can go to dance, but I preferred my goth locales because they weren’t meat markets in the way that so many regular nightclubs are. In the former, I might get hit on occasionally, but it never interfered with my having a good time; in the latter, I was lucky to get through a single song before some dude was rolling up on me expecting a noncombative lay in exchange for his kind attentions.
At the goth clubs I frequented, people tended to dance because they loved dancing, and had no compunction about doing so in a theatrical manner (a favorite: “pick the rose, smell the rose, throw the rose away”), and if somebody liked it, then great, and if somebody hated it, well then fuck that person.
The goth subculture as a whole seemed to be built on an attitude of “fuck anyone who has a problem with us,” and for a young adult who’d spent a lot of time being bullied, shamed, and otherwise riddled with self-loathing, the freedom to simply not care anymore was hugely appealing.
These days, goth isn’t what it used to be; its visibility is far less than it once was, and although these things are always cyclical and goth will no doubt rise again (VAMPIRE JOKE) I doubt I’ll ever be a part of it as I used to be. For one, I go to bed kind of early now, when I’m not up too late playing video games, and my tolerance for drinks with more than two kinds of alcohol in them has dwindled to the point that I am now capable of hangovers when I never was before.
But if ever you’re in the neighborhood and you hear someone howling along to Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Cities in Dust” at the top of her lungs, and the stomp-shuffle of dancing on a hardwood floor, and the sweet aroma of cloves and Auric Blends’ Egyptian Goddess in the air -- it’s not me. It must be the ghost of Lesley Past still hanging around hoping someone will drive her home. Because she didn’t know better. Because she was young and dangerously free.