I grew up in a tiny, very religious town in Kansas… the kind of place hours away from any decent music. 3.5 hours to be exact. 3.5 hours was how far away Kansas City, Missouri is. There was this little hole in the wall place called the Beaumont Club in the Westport neighborhood of KC that always booked the best punk bands, and we all drove up there every chance we got to hear music that spoke to us, that made outcasts like us feel alive and important and like we mattered.
One otherwise unimportant Tuesday night Social Distortion was scheduled to play a show there. We all wanted to go. My mother most adamantly did not want me to but I knew, somehow I just knew that I needed to, I knew somewhere in the core of my being that this wasn’t just another concert.
She threatened, she guilt tripped, but in the end the beauty of divorce is that neither parent has any real control over you because they’re afraid you’ll go live with the other one and never come back.
So as afternoon drew to a close I crammed myself into my friend Lance’s tiny, funky smelling car with him, our friends Jono, Tara, and Ben who was one of my most trusted friends who I also happened to be more or less head over heels in love with. We drove, we laughed, we listened to music, we smoked a shit ton of pot, and got hilariously lost at one point, but finally we made it to the Beaumont. As we strutted down the cobblestone streets of Westport from the car to the club we felt like the coolest people on the planet, our long journey was over and about to be rewarded by seeing Social D live… except we weren’t. The show was sold out. Four hours (cause of the whole getting lost thing) in that tiny funky smelling car and they were sold out. Completely and totally sold out. All the youthful exuberance in the world wasn’t going to change that.
It could have been the worst night in the world. It had ever right to be. But instead the most epic string of adventures unfolded before us… it was the kind of night they make coming of age movies out of.
Going into detail almost seems like it would taint the memory so I’ll just give you the sparknotes version. There was cosmic bowling, piggy back races through the Walmart meat aisle, a small fleeing-from-the-cops incident, Lance lifting the car with all of us inside it after a rush of adrenaline, saving the life of an old man in a truck stop parking lot, and Ben and I getting handcuffed to a Dairy Queen ice cream freezer. And through it all Ben was smiling. Ben smiled a lot but underneath it I could tell he was a sad sad soul, there was always something weighing him down beneath it all. But that night he seemed free, he was smiling like he was truly happy.
The night ended with a long ride home through which I slept with my head on Ben’s shoulder and my hand in his. (Truth be told I only slept the last half, the first part I was just pretending to sleep while I tried to soak in everything about the moment.)
When we got home Ben gentle brushed the hair out of my face and whispered in my ear. “Wake up, we’re here.” then so quiet no one could hear but me “This was the best night I’ve ever spent with you.” and smiled a genuine smile, not the kind of smile he normally had that I could tell there was still sorrow behind, but a real and genuine smile.
It was the best night I had ever had in those 17 years of my life.
That was the last night I ever saw Ben alive. A few days later he was gone, leaving only a note that said not to cry, that he loved us and would miss us all.
I knew deep down that I needed to go that night. No matter what my parents wanted, no matter what anyone thought… I knew this time it wasn’t about teenage rebellion or seeing some band. I had known somehow that night was going to be important. I knew the path I needed to take and I’m so grateful I stood up for myself and took it. I don’t know if I would have been able to live with myself if I had missed out on that last magical night with someone who ment that much to me.
You are the only one who can know what path you’re ment to go down.
I so dearly hope I can remember that as my kids get old enough to have magical sold out concert nights of their own.