I still have no idea who that red-haired eighth grader was, but she impacted my life in ways she couldn’t possibly fathom.
Picture it: metro Atlanta, circa 1997. I’m a fresh-faced sixth grader getting used to the rigors of junior high. Middle school, being that terrible, awkward time in life when you experience all the newfound joys of puberty, wasn’t exactly the easiest transition for me. It was especially tough since I went to a school that was about 50 percent lower class white sociopaths, 40 percent lower class black sociopaths and 10 percent really stuck-up rich white kids who got the shaft during the last county rezonings. There weren’t a lot of cliques on campus, but of the few that were, what intrigued me most was how the groups seemed to exist sans the grade level boundaries. If you were a sixth grade jock, you hung out with the seventh grade jocks and if you were a seventh grade spoiled princess, you hung out with the spoiled eighth grade princesses. The in-group mobility always fascinated me … especially since I was pretty much relegated to existence outside any of them. I was too bourgeoisie for the self-described “rednecks,” too proletariat for the nerds and too saintly for all of the bad kids – you know, the ones that were in that weird interphase between making kids involuntarily eat Play Doh during elementary recess and getting arrested for trying to rob a liquor store with a Super Soaker while ditching high school.
It was in the sixth grade that I was introduced to a certain – Fashion? Lifestyle? Fetish? – that has since become my premier aesthetic quirk. All guys have a type – some are into your standard breastaurant waitress mold, others are into the tatted up neo-pin-up template, and others are all about the artsy-fartsy nerd chic – and it was here, I suppose, that I developed mine: the all-American goth chick.
Now, at the time, we didn’t call them “goths.” In fact, we didn’t even have an applicable term for the people, of both genders, who wore all black, donned spiky jewelry and wore three pounds of eyeliner to school everyday. Some called them “the alternative kids,” some called them “skaters” (that none of them owned skateboards, seemingly, meant very little) but by and large, the other students referred to them as either “the freaks” or “the weirdos.” All the other kids – even before Columbine – were absolutely terrified of them. Rumors spread quickly: they were all part of a Satanic cult that ate babies. They hung out together on the weekends and did needle drugs and practiced black magic spells. They all chainsawed hobos to death behind Costco while blaring Marilyn Manson. Granted, the worst things they actually did was smoke cigarettes outside the movie theater and maybe shoplift a few malt liquors, but they embraced the paranoia and fear the other students fostered for them. In a way, it made them above the junior high totem, making them a more powerful caste system force than even the preppiest of preps. Sure, everybody made fun of them behind their backs, but nobody had the chutzpah to do it to their faces. Hey, we had all seen The Craft, and we knew what was in store for us if we pissed them off.
And there was something about that I found inherently appealing. While everybody else found the goth girls to be terrifying, I found them oddly alluring. Others thought their morbid, sadsack dispositions was the ultimate turnoff, but I thought it was inexplicably entrancing. Others saw them and wanted to run screaming the other opposite direction; I fantasized about running towards them, and being welcomed into their herd with loving, polka dot warmer-draped arms.
So, that eighth grader I was talking about earlier? She was probably the first major crush of my adolescence. Even now, I have no clue what her name was, but I will never forget seeing her at the bus stop for the first time. She was clad in fishnet arm bands, was rocking the kind of boots I had only seen in Hellraiser movies and her makeup was about one shade away from being a quasi-offensive appropriation of Kabuki theater. Curling her auburn coif from her eyes – revealing a set of peppers outlined in what I assumed was an entire bottle of dollar store mascara – she smiled a sinister smile and asked me, with the playful lunacy of Harley Quinn, “what you staring at, curly?” (I had curly hair like Chunk from The Goonies, you see.)
Of course, I never responded. But every time she saw me in the hallway, she would shoot me that half-playful, half-evil grin and say something along the lines of “hey, curly, how you doing?” I suppose she thought she was freaking me out, but deep down, I loved the attention (god knows, she was the only girl in the sixth grade who ever acknowledged my existence.) So, deep in my prefrontal cortex, that type of female – the one who wears dresses right out of a Bauhaus music video, has earrings shaped like demonic stalactites and whose idea of dolling up means putting on a slightly less faded Slayer tee shirt – became my go-to female ideal. Forget tans, forget the blindingly blonde hair and forget that all too boring “girl next door” look – I was forever enamored by the girls who looked more Morticia Addams than Christina Aguilera.
Throughout high school and college, I more or less homed in on all of the pale girls who wore Invader Zim shirts and hated their parents. Indeed, my very first makeout was with a girl wearing a literal pentagram on her forehead and I was introduced to the joys of carnal pleasure by a young woman whose entire makeup chest was filled with nothing but novelty Halloween lipsticks and nail polishes. Throughout these dating sojourns, I uncovered a rarely spoken truth about the “goth girl” motif/stereotype. In fact, I soon learned that there are indeed five genuses of goth girl, each with her very own idiosyncratic quirks:
THE RICH, SUBURBAN GOTH – Her dad makes $150,000 a year and her mom lets her drop $500 at a time on needless Hot Topics purchases (usually, Hello Kitty-branded lip gloss and anime-inspired belt buckles.) She claims to be a dark, poetic soul, but really, she just likes to wear purple a lot. She has at least three Nightmare Before Christmas posters in her room and the heaviest band she listens to is AFI.
THE POOR, ANTI-SOCIAL GOTH – She lives in a trailer park, works part-time at the local grocery store or hole in the wall restaurant (usually on the back end of the house – they don’t want her spider tattoos creeping out the customers) and has tried at least 80 percent of all the drugs known to man. The only thing in her purse are a couple of wadded up dollar bills, the cheapest cigarettes at 7-Eleven and a switchblade. If she doesn’t have at least one violent felony on her record, she will by the time you break up.
THE ARTISANAL GOTH – She gets good grades, she’s probably the best actress in the theater department and she spends her weekends reading Dante’s Inferno in the original Italian, because it’s more atmospheric that way. Her dream is to get a federal art endowment to make the world’s largest ball of twine sculpture. She plans on getting a PH.D. in 18th century Scandinavian basket weaving and producing an off, off, off-Broadway musical about the life and times of Edvard Munch’s next door neighbor.
THE FASHIONISTA GOTH – She is hyper-concerned about her looks. You absolutely cannot leave the house until she has her winged eyeliner down perfect. She paints her nails every other day and she makes at least one trip to Ulta a week. She doesn’t listen to any goth, metal or punk music and her favorite movie is The Notebook. Indeed, beyond the fact that she likes to wear dark makeup and expensive black clothing, she really doesn’t seem to grasp the deeper nuance of the subculture. By the time she graduates college, she’s usually evolved into a “health goth” or abandoned the aesthetics altogether for a new lifestyle that allots for yellow and pink wardrobe choices.
THE UNKEMPT GOTH – The inverse of the fashionista goth. She never wears any makeup … or deodorant, for that matter. Brushing her hair (and teeth) are infrequent occurrences. She seemingly only wants to kiss you right after she sucked down a Camel cigarette or peeled her lips off her dragon-shaped bong. All her jewelry is pewter, she farts in public and she spends at least half of the day playing League of Legends. She’s somewhat similar to the poor, anti-social goth, except sans the penchant for criminality. After all, to do that means you have to get up off the couch every now and then.
Yeah, sometimes you get a mixture of two or three of them, but by and large? That encompasses the entirety of the female goth varieties. Each subset has its pros and cons, its faults and benefits, something to admire and adore and something to detest and despise. And guys, I think you owe it yourself to experience all five of the sub-goths before you earn your bachelor’s degree. Why? Because goth girls – for better or worse – represent the most diverse range of female personality types. Some are incredibly chill, while others are pretentious and – ironically – stuck-up. Others are nauseatingly banal, downright obsessive and, on the deep, deep side of the pool, positively deranged. They’ll make you laugh, they’ll make you cry, they’ll make you think profound existential thoughts and they will – by design, perhaps – make you want to kill yourself. Even as fleeting, transitory relationships, they provide you with something to remember about both the fairer sex and who and what you are as a person. You date nothing but cheerleaders or club girls or anime nerds for a year, and you won’t learn any nobler truths about the universe. Spend a year dating nothing but goth girls, however, and an entire cosmos of previously unrevealed knowledge befalls you. Hell, you might even find one that is just the right fit, and who knows? Maybe you two can have an all-black wedding, with a cobwebbed Pinterest cake or something.
But perhaps the biggest reason to date goth girls while you are a young dude? Because, simply put, goth girls stop existing at age 25. By then, they’ve had their personalities sucked out by their careers and they no longer feel “free” to paint their nails the same color as Folgers decaf and wear corsets out in the open. They see their individualistic, creativity-driven “goth years” as a joke, something to look back upon and groan. They are professionals now, and they have to terraform themselves to that boring, staid, office drone look. Adios frilly blouse with the poofy shoulder pads and sayonara eggplant eyeshadow. The lip ring comes out, the Doc Martens go the thrift store and the tattered Cure shirts are locked away in the basement, never to see the light of day ever again. You can always find a bubbly cheerleader or artsy geek type when you are 30 and 40. But the authentic, red-blooded, all-American goth girl? You’ve got up until your senior year in college, and that’s pretty much your last opportunity to land one your own age.
For those of you have long mulled pursuing a darker, more lugubrious kind of romance? Remember, the clock is running out, and the sands of time are slipping by a lot faster than you imagine.
And you don’t want to go to your grave not knowing what it’s like to make out with a girl wearing midnight black lipstick, do you? Aye, such would be a fate grimmer than death herself.