PUNK-ASS MATTRESSES • by Christina Dal Santo

I didn’t know him personally, but our lives intersected on three separate occasions which made me feel entitled to mourn his death. The first time we met it was the fault of mutual friends. He handed me a heavy stack of pink and yellow flyers that advertised the punk show he was hosting in his parent’s basement, and I hid them between the pages of crisp, new books and clothes racks all around the mall. The flyer had all sorts of catchy words scrawled on it like ‘slime’ and ‘ooze’ and ‘scum’; words that seldom, if ever, entered my uptight, religious vocabulary. For the first time I felt cool in my oversized Catholic school jumper. I was punk just like Nik, minus the denim jacket and angrily styled hair.

The second time we met was, of course, at the punk show. I silently navigated the crowd of vegan activists who had set up camp outside the garage and puffed at their American Spirits. I gave the doorman a five dollar bill, walked past a middle-aged man watching The Price Is Right in his boxers, and down the stairs to the basement. My ears were met with the thrash of guitars, the buzz of a bass, and the heart-pounding rhythm of drums. Nik, the vocalist, jumped off the bass drum and dove into the electrified crowd, not caring when he accidently kicked someone in the face with his combat boots. The crowd didn’t seem to mind either.

The walls of the basement were lined with twin-sized mattresses that had been tied to support beams with bungee-cords and rope. At first I didn’t understand the necessity of this, but I soon realized after countlessly being pushed, shoved, and tossed about like yesterday’s garbage the mattresses served as the only barrier between my soft skull and the thick concrete walls. These people lived life to the edge; literally, they vowed to live life the straightedge way — at least that’s what their tattoos told me.

The third time we met he was five feet to my left. Alone and content, he sat silently as a no-name band from New York sung the night away between pleas to buy their self-released album. I wanted to walk up to him. I wanted to remind him that I was cool; I had been to his house and liked the same kind of music and considered animals sacred, too. I had imagined our conversation dozens of times, gaining more conviction with each mental run-through, but by the time my nerves had subsided he had disappeared. I thought I saw him through the window, standing outside in the chilly October air, but I didn’t pursue him; that would have seemed pathetic for a girl who was supposed to embody a free spirit.

It was a shock when I learned of his passing. No one knew what the cause was, or how such a thing could happen to such a good guy. All that seemed to result was a stronger belief that there was no god; at least not one anyone we would want to worship. His fans found space on their forearms to permanently commemorate him with needles and ink. His parents had a beautiful tombstone made. It could have been four times that we met face-to-face, but I chose to keep it at three — for now. Someday we’ll meet again.

Christina Dal Santo was not born and raised in West Philadelphia, but she did spend most of her days on the playground. Alone.

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  • Michael Stang

    I enjoyed the theme, the underlying emotion that your writing suggests, but for the life of me I don’t get the twist at the end. I’m sure as the others ring in someone will explain it like-duh and I can feel stupid all over again.

  • I, too, had trouble understanding the ending – I thought maybe it was supposed to be somewhat open-ended, but I still felt as if I was missing something.

    My favorite phrase? Angrily styled hair.

  • Kathy

    Catholic school gIrl meets punk rocker and is changed by the experience? But how? I too hope other comments will offer insight because I was enjoying the story up until the end. “All that seemed to result was…” and “I chose to keep it…” thoroughly confused me.

  • There are some really good themes here. The underlying question of a higher power seem to jump. Especially with the paradox at the end of questioning the existence of god and, yet, the protagonist declaring she will meet him after she is gone. Is the mystery man a punk rock jesus? I would like to see more develop from this.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    I thought this story has heart and charm and deserves a bit higher ranking. I gave it three stars. I took the ending to mean the MC chose not to push a perhaps untimely connection with Nik in life, but they will undoubtedly meet in the afterlife; he was “such a good guy.”

  • I also like the tough but tender voice of this piece, and I agree with Sarah. They sounded kind of like “emo” kids to me, maybe? And the MC was rejecting their glamorization of suicide? But maybe I’m reading too much into that part. I also liked how much she conveyed in so few words.

  • Mariev Finnegan

    Very powerful story and its strength is that it is obviously written by a young girl is also its weakness… Such phrases as: I hid them between the pages of crisp, new books and clothes racks all around the mall. And, Nik, the vocalist, jumped off the bass drum…
    I find it hard to see jumping off a drum…
    While she wonders if there is a God, (I do to), the conclusion that she will see him again needs more motivation. Not just that she is a good Catholic girl. All in all, a good read.

  • An engaging piece. The characters are well-drawn in few words.

  • Alison

    Well drawn out characters and emotions

  • Carl

    As I read it, it’s not the girl as an individual who is questioning God’s existence, but the larger group of fans.

  • Simone

    The next to last paragraph made me think the fourth face-to-face would have been if she’d looked into his coffin, which she chose not to do.

  • Karen

    I thought the fourth would be if she killed herself too. But she decided to wait–for now.

  • John Brooke

    Ah, that fourth encounter, leaving the mattress pink. Well written and so timely.