I thought I was a fan; I didn't realize I was supposed to be a groupie.
by Rachel Friedman
"He's looking at us!" Becca shouted over the music.
"Who?" I mouthed.
"You're crazy!" I screamed into her ear, my lips close to the four purple studs crawling up her left lobe. I took a deep drag of my Camel cigarette. Closed my eyes. Exhaled. I loved this band. I couldn't believe I was only two rows from the stage, close enough to see the lead guitarist's pointy incisors when he opened his mouth to sing.
When the show ended, a boxy security guard approached us. "You girls want to go backstage?"
"I told you," Becca said. We were led to an unmarked door. Becca marched boldly inside; I trailed behind her like a stray. Soon the band arrived: the lead singer, in jeans and a black t-shirt; the baby-faced drummer. The bassist, all voluminous hair and under-eye circles, headed straight for us.
"Hey." He introduced himself, like we were three ordinary people meeting at some lame high-school party. "Where are you ladies from?"
"Syracuse," we said in unison.
"Cool, cool." He popped the top off a beer, took a deep swig. I had so many questions: about his creative process, how they decide on set lists and who takes a solo when. I was a classical violist with secret fantasies of being in a band. But the bassist's name was being called.
"Gotta go," he said, looking disappointed. "Here." He took my hand, scrawled an address with a black marker. "If you guys ever need tickets to a show, just say the word."
"Cool," we said. And then he was gone.
Two months later, the band announced a nearby show. I composed several drafts to the bassist on lined notebook paper — my only other option was leftover monogrammed Bat Mitzvah stationary, which obviously wasn't going to work — finally settling on three brief sentences of pleasantries and then straight to the point. Did he possibly have two extra tickets to the show?
The bassist wrote back, but not until after I'd missed the show. He sent a postcard, white with a psychedelic blue balloon floating up into space. He apologized for not getting me tickets in time. He asked me to write again ("It's nice to get letters"). I wanted to show off the note to all my friends, but I knew keeping it a secret made me even more special.
The postcards kept coming for more than a year, one every month or two. I spaced out my responses, trying to play it cool, but I could only force myself to wait a few days before responding. We discussed what we were reading, what we were listening to, where we'd traveled and where we wanted to go. I went to three of the band's shows, but didn't ask for tickets or tell the bassist I'd be there. I was more than some fan looking for free tickets. The bassist thought I was interesting. We were friends. I wanted more than anything to get out of my small town and into a world like his, with music and philosophy and no boys holding the beer funnel up for me as I knelt on the damp ground.
A few weeks before my seventeenth birthday, the band was scheduled to play a weekend show in a field near my town. It would be three days of drinking and smoking in the blazing August heat. It was the summer before senior year, when life would become an endless series of college applications and minor panic attacks. I didn't ask the bassist for tickets but I wrote and told him I'd be there. I wished him good luck. He responded with a promise of four backstage passes. The three guys I was going to the concert with couldn't believe our luck.
We went directly to the VIP area after claiming a camp site. We were so close to the stage it sounded like we were on it. I lay back in the grass, head in one of my friends' laps, eyes closed, letting the sun purify me. I was content, a feeling I'd found difficult to access lately, with my parents' recent divorce, not to mention academic and social pressures. I didn't notice someone blocking the sun until Brian nudged my shoulder, at which point I found myself blinking up at the bassist.
"Hey," he said. I was startled to see him there, taking his set break to seek me out. "Do you want to hang out?"
"Sure," I said. He offered a hand to help me off the ground. His nails were dirty, like he'd been digging around in the dirt.
I followed the bassist to a shiny, silver trailer. Inside we sat at the kitchen table, which folded neatly out of one wall.
"Who are you listening to?" I asked. A small stereo propped near the sink was producing leisurely piano runs.
"A friend," he said vaguely, seeming preoccupied.
"Right," I said. I was preoccupied, too. I knew why the bassist had asked me backstage. He wanted me to go on with the band. I didn't have my viola, of course, but I could sing. There was this one duet the band had recorded with a well-known country singer, and I believed the bassist was going to ask me to perform her part in front of ten-thousand people. After the show, my life would start. I would no longer be some ordinary girl in a do-nothing town whose plans were her parents' plans, her teachers' plans, her friends' plans — anyone's plans but her own.
"You are so pretty," the bassist said. It was a ridiculous statement, one that didn't belong in my fantasy.
"I don't feel pretty." I smiled good-naturedly. "I feel sweaty."
"Well, you are very pretty." The bassist examined my dark hair, auburn-tinged from the past year's experiments with various shades of blaring red. His eyes moved down to the dress I had purchased from one of the entrepreneurial girls at every show who stitched and hemmed the patchwork fabric into wearable sacks, flowers in their hair like it was still the sixties. I was jealous of these girls, who toured all year. They seemed totally free.
The bassist's trailer door opened and he nodded to the woman standing there.
"This is Cara," the bassist said. I smiled, relieved she was here. Things had been getting a little weird.
"Come hang out with me," she said. She sat down on the bed and patted the space beside her. I walked the two steps to her side and sat. The bassist shuffled over to us and positioned himself on my other side.
"Isn't she pretty?" he asked Cara.
"Mhmmm," she replied, like her mouth was full of homemade chocolate cake.
I stared at my lap. I felt the bassist's massaging hand on my back. Cara's hand joined his. She kneaded my bare neck, her fingers occasionally reaching into my hair and tugging a little. It felt okay, even sort of nice in a dreamy way, like it was happening to someone who was me but not me.
"Hey," the bassist said.
I looked up and his face swooped in at mine. It was an endless, slobbery kiss. Even my very first, with Simon Riley in seventh grade, all braces and fumbling, ranked better. Luckily, the bassist eventually had to come up for air.
My sixteen-year-old brain had not yet quite caught up with the situation. But the bassist's urgent look, familiar from the faces of neighborhood boys, made everything clear: sex. And not just with me. Cara, too — the three of us.
I wasn't scared of sex itself. I'd already had plenty and liked it. And I did not see screwing and love as inextricably linked. I knew that sex's bedfellow was power, if you could have sex like a guy — that is, without falling in love with every boy between your legs. That was what made you one of the chill girls who got to live in guys' day-to-day world, not just in their beds. I imagined regaling my slack-jawed guy friends with a wild threesome story back at our camp site. I would be a legend.
Still, even though I was no quivering virgin, the turn of events confused me. Boys were simple: one small glimpse of your freckled flesh and you owned them. But grown men seduced differently, it seemed. With all that letter writing and question asking, the bassist had acted like he really wanted to know me. And all he wanted was to fuck me? This gave him all the power. I could see that clearly. And I wanted it back. In retrospect, there was something else I was protecting. To call it innocence would be insincere, since I prided myself on already have lost mine, but what I instinctively recognized in that trailer was that some fragile piece of myself still needed guarding, and I was the only one on watch.
"I have to go," I said. I pushed myself up off the bed. I fumbled with the latch to the trailer but didn't look back. Once I was clear of the band's circle of trailers, I started to run. I sprinted past the bouncers' bulging biceps, past my friends, past the VIP entrance. If I'd thought it was possible, I would have run all the way home.