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."

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Commentarium (29 Comments)

May 12 10 - 2:29am
jay

It takes a pair to say that to the high school flock. Well done.

May 12 10 - 11:06am
:)

I think this is my favorite thing I have ever read on this site. Loved it.

May 12 10 - 12:20pm
spinster

I question the veracity of this, just because Kurt was found on a Friday and I know I didn't hear of it until the weekend. How could kids at school be so shook up when they were unlikely to have heard about it?

May 12 10 - 1:30pm
lessthan

"I never heard it suggested even in the subtlest way that the boy might be at fault. He went about his business, his friends, his basketball games with his place in the hierarchy intact." That line jumped out at me. How was her "friends" ostracizing her the boy's fault? He never did anything that was over the line. He just said some nice things and was friendly. I don't get it.

May 12 10 - 2:12pm
kat vt

@lessthan They ostracized her because he liked her in return.

May 12 10 - 3:20pm
Flynn

I can't remember what *time* Kurt was found on that Friday. I remember watching it on MTV when I got home from school but maybe someone at her school had ditched that day and was watching TV and word spread? It's not like we had the internet back then. Someone watching it on TV would have had to communicate with someone at school.

May 12 10 - 3:26pm
Susan

Uhm, he *killed himself*. The kids at the author's school were probably shaken up for weeks afterward, and that they stewed about it for the weekend before coming to class depressed on Monday seems appropriate. What is it about this that doesn't make sense?

May 12 10 - 3:26pm
HD

Wow, you guys are focusing on what day she heard about Kurt's death? This article has nothing to do with that. Talk about missing the point.

May 12 10 - 3:28pm
Susan

Aside from that, I was always a Courtney fan anyway, and think she got a raw deal as well. I remember seeing her at a show a year later, and she looked right through me with such pain and rage that I took a step back. It wasn't until I lost my best friend to suicide a few years later that I understood that look.

May 12 10 - 3:33pm
ssa

@lessthan he led her on.

May 12 10 - 3:54pm
Chuck

I dug the article, and the meaning but can't help but draw upon the fact that portions must have been embellished. The protagonists ending speech seems more like what the writer wishes she could have said that day, rather then what she did say.

Portions are just too well remembered and described to make this quite as believable as I wish it were. Not many people in High School would risk telling it like it is at the cost of losing a second group of friends, even over personal morals and opinions. No matter what wise and sagely advice is given to you by your elders and Disney movies.

May 12 10 - 4:01pm
former riot grrl

I miss the bright, smart, sassy, witty 90s Courtney before she became so addled by drugs and life and untreated mental illness.

May 12 10 - 5:10pm
spinster

I was not addressing the 'point' of the piece; I was addressing it's veracity. It doesn't come off as believable to me, in part due to that niggling detail, and in part due to the qualities noted by Chuck.

May 12 10 - 8:08pm
David

Damn, Rachel Shukert can write. I make sure to click on all her articles. She has such an intelligent voice, and she really hits the nail on the head.

May 12 10 - 8:20pm
Maura

Kudos to her. Only thing is, Kurt wasn't any less (or more) heroic or any less (or more) of a villain. He was sick. He had a potentially lethal illness, bipolar disorder. The illness killed him in the end, after he wrestled mightily against it for over a decade.

May 12 10 - 8:37pm
M

I have no sympathy for either of them. Both neglected their child. It's not something to look up to, and it's not something to be proud of. I don't care if being "fucked up" looks cool or "takes a lot of guts." You better have the fucking balls to raise your child right when and if you have it, woman and man alike. The real hero? That's Frances Bean.

May 13 10 - 12:51am
Lola

Do you think this might be meant to be a historical fiction-ish deal? It kind of reads like one, just because I can't imagine THAT many people being that distraught over it to the point where a school has to set up counselling, and suicide prevention meetings. But I wasn't alive to see it, and if my favorite/most idolized singer were to die, I would be as distraught. Courtney- sometimes people don't understand, and make judgments anyways, and that seems to be all her life is. She's clearly so broken, and people think "Oh crazy Courtney" but she's always needed more help than she's been given I feel. Depression, or whatever she's going through is rough

May 13 10 - 10:13am
Nonymous

"I haven't seen people this upset since that deaf kid from shop class accidentally hung himself while he was masturbating."

This is the best dramatic fore-shadowing I read all morning.

May 13 10 - 10:20am
Ric

I love this article. This is one of the most well-written pieces I've ever read on the whole Kurt-Courtney debacle. I also really loved how you've interjected your private life from high school in there. Amazing job!

May 13 10 - 11:44am
sabine

WTF? Is this the proofreader's day off? Not only is this written in bizarre awkward "I wish that's how teens talked" style (I haven't seen people this upset since that deaf kid blah blah too much expository detail blah) but it is riddled with fucking typos! This wouldn't have passed a typical Comp 101 paper, why the crap is it on Nerve?

May 13 10 - 3:45pm
Rachel

@Chuck Not many, but that implies that there are indeed some brave enough.

@sabine Uh, what language do you speak? Because I've read this story twice now, and have seen nary a typo. This would have gotten an A or B in any Comp 101 class. I should know, I've been in one recently, and I write just like this.

It's just a story, possibly a bit embellished at parts that are hazy. It's creative license. Paid authors do it QUITE a bit. Ever heard of Augusten Burroughs or Chelsea Handler? It's pretty much accepted that sometimes when writing a memoir or even a piece of one, you have the right to add a bit and embellish the parts that you can't remember verbatim.

The story was great, and well written. Picking it apart in such a manner is really pathetic. You're completely missing the point of the story by doing so.

May 13 10 - 10:46pm
@lola

schools definitely set up suicide prevention meetings and at least a couple of kids actually killed themselves. it was a huge epoch-defining melodrama, pop-culturally speaking (and of course, teenagers will eagerly jump on any hint of tragedy).

May 14 10 - 10:06am
nobody's geek

erm...
1. This is obviously fictionalized memoir/creative nonfiction, which both explains the implausible dialog and makes worries about the exact details of the timeline irrelevant.
2. There are 8 typos in 3 pages

May 14 10 - 3:48pm
sammyjune

i don't doubt that the scenario in this story went down almost exactly as the authour told it. It perfectly sums up kids in the early nineties and kids in general: overwrought and laden with angst and blame, calling everyone "poseurs", hating on fellow girls...hahaha! Great piece! Good job!

May 14 10 - 4:34pm
@nobody's

to which typos are you referring?

May 24 10 - 2:20am
WFK

Would you mind listing these eight typos?

Jun 06 10 - 7:07pm
The Masked Masculist

And in India, another nine year old girl was sold to a brothel while her little brother spins silk with his ankle chained to a table.

Jun 27 10 - 10:47am
Lily

There are typos. Examples:
to go this
was not directed not
though > thought
she and the Sarah
I found these 4 and I'm not even mother-tongue...

Jun 27 10 - 1:31pm
Christina

Six paragraphs down: "At school Monday morning..." Most of this was purported to have happened after the weekend. I thought the detail made it nice to read, even if it may have taken a bit away from the story's truthfulness.