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Ten Years Gone
By Stephanie Kuehnert

Altars. Saviors. Rock 'n Roll. My life is best represented in verse -- verse, chorus, verse. Every memory is a song or an album or a chord strummed on a distorted guitar. I don't know if I can do justice to my own story the way my favorite songs could. I don't know if I will ever be able to describe the surge of memories and ideas that charge every synapse in my brain when I hear my favorite band, Nirvana. I know that I have never been able to capture the feeling in my stomach when I heard the news of Kurt Cobain's suicide on April 8, 1994, an event that seems central to my story.

In 1994, I was 14 years old and, as much as I wanted to go, I had no way to make it to Seattle from Oak Park, Illinois for the very first public vigil for Kurt Cobain. It wasn't until 10 years after Kurt's death that I could afford the trip and had people to go with. I joined up with four girls I met on a music website. We came from Chicago, Denver, St. Louis, Southern Illinois; one of the girls came all the way from Australia. The five of us spent a week exploring Seattle together, all of us seeing the city for the very first time, focusing mostly on finding places from Nirvana's history, such as music venues where they had played.

We also traveled two hours to Aberdeen, Washington, the town Kurt Cobain grew up in. We spent most of our time in Aberdeen at the Young Street Bridge, a place where Kurt escaped to as a teenager. Sitting beneath the bridge, on the muddy banks of the slow-moving Wishkah River, where every inch of concrete is covered with markered and spray-painted messages for Kurt, I stared out at the little houses and evergreen trees that lined the shore; the heavily pregnant, gray clouds above. Though Kurt's presence in that place had dissipated, it is one of the two places the energy of his spirit is most powerfully felt, tended by every fan who goes there to remember him.

The other place is Viretta Park, called "Kurt's Park" by his fans, the small park in Seattle right next to Kurt's last home. My friends and I went there on April 5th (10 years to the day that Kurt died), April 8th (10 years to the day his body was found), and April 10th (10 years to the day the first organized public vigil was held for him). We bought flowers and candles at the Public Market, took the number two bus to the end of the line, and walked about half a mile up Lake Washington Boulevard to get there. On the first two days we watched people of all ages, from all over the world, come and go, leaving flowers, candles, pictures, letters, even a box of macaroni and cheese, on the bench in the center of the park that had become an unofficial shrine to Kurt. On our third visit, however, we found that everything -- even the large cross that someone had made out of pink flower petals below the bench -- was gone, thrown out by the Seattle Police. But we were prepared, armed with more flowers, and a bag of one hundred tea light candles, which we used to spell out "KURT" below the bench. We sat there through the afternoon. A few people came and went, but only two other boys stayed with us on through dusk, and when the darkness fell, the seven of us, armed with only three lighters, lit up Kurt's name. You could see it clearly from the street; it burned with the same ferocious brightness as Nirvana's music.

* * *

I entered junior high in a suburb of Chicago in the fall of 1991, at the dawn of an era. Perhaps you can't call a couple of glorious years an era, but because those years echo so strongly culturally and personally for so many people, I call them one. I was a skinny, awkward, stringy-haired girl who had given up all attempts to fit in over that summer. I had never done a very good job to begin with. In sixth grade I had given it an honest go, putting away my odd outfits of oversized, boldly-colored shirts topped with berets or witchy dresses and granny shoes from the vintage boutique by my house, and buying Keds and Gap pocket t-shirts. But I hated being plain. Just a month before seventh grade, my friend Kendra, a kindred spirit who was also just too naturally strange to fit in, played me a tape that contributed greatly to my decision to give all attempts at popularity the big kiss-off.

Kendra's room always seemed so much more sophisticated than mine. It was her arty touches, the cool hats she left sitting out, the collages she made with pictures clipped from fashion magazines. I was sitting on her bed while she flipped through a shoebox full of tapes that she kept on her dresser. Kendra was on top of underground music in a way that still seems unfathomable to me.

"This band," she was saying as she pushed her dark brown, sharply angled hair out of her pale face, "you might like them. This is their first album, but there's a new one coming out soon. I don't know what I think of it really, but oh, here it is."

She put on side two. The sludgy guitar riff from "Negative Creep" started as she walked over to sit on the bed beside me. She handed me the tape case, but before I could take in more than the band name, Nirvana, the vocals kicked in. When Kurt Cobain yowled, "Daddy's little girl ain't a girl no more," they instantly became my favorite band. I had never heard a voice like his, or lyrics so stark and powerful.

After the song ended Kendra got up to turn it off. "What do you think?"

I told her to put it back on.

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