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True Stories: Nice Girls
Courtney Love is no one's role model, but she changed my life.
By Rachel Shukert
When I heard the news that Kurt Cobain had died, I was in the least rock and roll place imaginable: in the Nebraska state finals of the annual National Geographic National Geography Bee.
Everything about the event — the redundant awkwardness of its name, the plastic nametags we were required to pin to our unfashionably stiff official t-shirts, the squads of attending social studies teachers nervously dabbing at their dampening underarms with clumps of yellowing Kleenex — reeked with blatant uncoolness. I am a competitive person, but as an eighth-grader I was also excruciatingly self-conscious about such things, so when I was knocked out in the afternoon round by a possibly autistic Future Farmer of America with truly terrifying knowledge of plate tectonics in the Java Sea, my failure came as a massive relief. By the time I had made my way off the stage it was well past three o'clock so I called my friend Sam from a pay phone in the lobby to catch up on the news of the day. Through tears, she told me that the tortured voice of our generation had been found dead on the floor of his house on Lake Washington by an electrician come to install a new security system. The cold gun was still pointing towards his chin. The coroner estimated that he had lain there undiscovered for more than three days.
Courtney killed him, same as if she pulled the trigger herself.
I held the receiver by my side for a few moments, catching my breath. A gale of applause echoed from the auditorium as my bespectacled rival neatly dispatched a tricky question about the partition of the British Raj. "Wow," I said finally, with typical eloquence. "That sucks."
"Dude," my friend replied urgently, "You don't even know. It was crazy at school today. People were like, collapsing in the hallways. The counseling center set up, a special grief center, and we all had to go this emergency assembly about suicide prevention. I haven't seen people this upset since that deaf kid from shop class accidentally hung himself while he was masturbating."
"Yeah," I said. "That sucked too."
At school Monday morning, a girl sat wracked with sobs in front of my homeroom, cradling her backpack like an infant's corpse. "The only one who could understand me is gone," she wailed. A cascade of snot streamed from her nose into her open mouth, where it clung queasily to her tongue like a streak of untrimmed fat on a raw slab of meat. My classes were thickly peppered with dour boys in grimy Nirvana concert t-shirts. Sam informed that in honor of the fallen, they had vowed to not to remove them, nor to wash them, nor to wash themselves.
"Until when?" I said, alarmed. "Until he comes back to life?"
"Until they're ready," she said snappishly. "Until they've gotten to the acceptance stage of grief. You're still in denial."
"You're right," I said. Nearby, a boy named Randy Shoemaker, his oversized In Utero tee resplendent with streaks of unidentifiable filth, kicked a locker repeatedly, the heavy steel-toe of his worn Doc Marten meeting the cheap metal door with a sickening crunch. He managed at least ten kicks before one of the sad-eyed ex-Marines the public school system had hired to police our hallways spirited him roughly away. "I can't believe this is happening."
By lunchtime, it appeared that others had progressed directly to the anger stage. Their rage, however, was not directed not at the traditional targets — God, drugs, the deceased — but toward someone else entirely.
"That fucking cunt," Leslie Vorderman, a straw-haired girl with the face of a furious pumpkin, had taken the dull metal point of her geometry compass and carved the word "KURT" into her forearm, tracing the letters over and over again until they were etched indelibly into her flesh. I imagined it had been painful; the K in particular looked angry, throbbing and red, a fine crust of pus beginning to form at the indentation. "She fucking killed him, the fucking whore."
"Who?" I mouthed nervously.
"Courtney," Sarah Carpenter spat out the name, along with several gummy bits of government issued pasta salad, peppering the front of her flannel shirt. "She killed him, same as if she pulled the trigger herself."