Bodily Guilt

By Jaclyn Jermyn

Courtesy of Jaclyn Jermyn 

Courtesy of Jaclyn Jermyn 

I was 12 when I finally got my ears pierced.

It took my aunt gifting me the money for my first pair of earrings for Christmas to convince my mom that I could go through with the process. I don’t think she was ever against the idea but maybe because she thought that would be the only alteration I would ever make to my body, it could wait a little longer. My cousin Julia got her ears pierced as a baby. I chose a sensible pair of gold studs with tiny emeralds—my birthstone.

The needle didn’t make it all the way through the first time. They had to re-try, causing a subtle unevenness in the final product that it’s hard to look away from when glancing in the mirror. I thought I was traumatized enough to keep my body the way it was, seemingly forever. My mother seemed pleased.

Belonephobia is the abnormal fear of sharp pointed objects—especially needles and I developed it sometime in middle school. I think originally it stemmed from my intense fear of snakes (a fear I still very much have) as well as a few clumsy nurses tasked to draw my blood. Funny, I don’t think vampires have ever caused such anxiety in me. As I transitioned into high school and fell into a group getting and giving tattoos at a young age, I was still heavily cautious. I imagined tattoos to feel a lot like 10,000 flu shots. I brought tattooed boys and boys who looked like they should have tattoos home. It caused tension. 

Courtesy of Jaclyn Jermyn

Courtesy of Jaclyn Jermyn

I planned my first tattoo out for two years before I finally gathered up the courage to get it. Some people work on impulse. They go to the tattoo shop the day they turn 18 and celebrate crossing over into the world of adulthood with something permanent. I had to take two whole years to make sure my guilt complex didn’t out-weigh my desire to do something for me.

I settled on Orion’s belt, a simple three star constellation that my dad had taught me when I was young. I remember being on vacation in the Arizona desert and seeing those stars for the first time outside the confines of my backyard. It made me feel at home.

I got it on my ribs, a place no one was likely to see unless I happened to be at the beach or I was undressed. It felt private that way. After all, this was just for me.

My second tattoo happened in the dead of winter. I was six months out of an abusive relationship and needed a reminder that I was still alive. I held my best friend’s hand the whole time and rode the brown line home alone thinking about what my mother would say. My dad didn’t know about it until he came to the city to move me into a new apartment. It was May and I was in a t-shirt. He asked why I got it. I told him it was a reminder of personal growth. He didn’t ask any more questions.

Courtesy of Jaclyn

Courtesy of Jaclyn

The third was impulse. It was a delicate hand and flower piece of flash and it reminded me of Victorian imagery—something I wouldn’t mind having for myself, on myself. I had originally picked it out for my friend Matt but when he changed his mind, it felt like it was supposed to be mine (not that I wouldn’t get a matching tattoo with you Matt). I put an entire paycheck on it and went home the next month, nervous to show it off.

I look a lot like my mother. Everyone says so and I don’t think that is likely to change any time soon. It just took me almost two decades to realize that looking like someone doesn’t mean that I have to be that person. Loving my parents dearly doesn’t mean I quite understood their blatant disappointment with tattoos and those who get them. For so long I dressed the way my family expected me to. I got the haircuts that were approved of and limited myself to the brands they gravitated towards as well.

I don’t think I’m ever going to cover my body in tattoos but I think it’s probably about time I stop holding my own body hostage for the sake of someone, or anyone, else’s preconceived notions of what a daughter should look like. I don’t think loving my limbs is going to stop them from putting me on the Christmas card. 

The Bittersweet Graduation of Rookie Yearbook

by Annie Zidek

Courtesy of Annie Zidek

Courtesy of Annie Zidek

October is a tease. The weather fluctuates; she can’t decide if she wants to hold onto summer, or if she’s willing to fade into winter. The days stop faster; the nights start at 5:30 because the clocks can’t fall back until November. October is a month of change, of endings.

Since the 2011 birth of Rookie—an evolution of Tavi Gevinson's very own personal blog The Style Rookie—the site has dedicated itself as a celebration of young girls and all things teen, and Tavi has cemented herself as the mother of bitchfacing, DIY flower crowns, and shrines to our fave celebs. Through Rookie (and occasionally The Style Rookie), Tavi has also offered advice on the teenage mundane from unrequited love to scrapbooking.

In a way, Rookie, the webzine dedicated to young girls and the everyday issues they face, has ended. With the release of their fourth yearbook—a publication compiled of the best posts from that year—marking their senior year, the era of Rookie Yearbooks has come to a close. The feminist webzine has, in a way, graduated.

Now, I previously saw Tavi at two Rookie events, both for the release of the second yearbook two years ago. The first one was in October at Tavi’s hometown of Oak Park, where she and other Chicagoland Rookie writers read some of their pieces featured in that year’s yearbook. The second event took place at Saki, a mellow record store nestled along west Fullerton in Logan Square.

That night was memorable. I drove down from the northern suburbs with my two best friends at the time (and one of their moms). Tavi read her December editor’s letter titled “FOREVER”, wherein she earnestly explored what “forever” is (essentially teendom). The band Lemonhead jammed out, as Rookies danced along; and Rookies spent hours together, chatting and spreading love amongst one another. It was an ethereal moment in my “forever.”

Courtesy of Annie Zidek

Courtesy of Annie Zidek

Speed through time about two years, and on October 21, girls greeted Tavi Gevinson to the stage at the Music Box Theater with hymns of “mom,” enforcing the idea that Tavi is in fact the ultimate maternal totem in the Rookie world. I’m at the Chicago Yearbook Four release: eighteen and with a powerful gal pal sitting next to me as Tavi reads her editor’s letter from August from just three months earlier. August’s theme was “Give and Take,” so in turn, Rookie’s editor in chief explores the dynamics of relationships—family, friends, lovers—but offers no conclusion. It served as Chicago Rookies’ commencement speech. And it was fitting. It encapsulates our own relationships with Rookie.

Our bond with the Yearbooks is coming to a close, but our time with Rookie is far from concluding. Though the annual Yearbook publications are ending, Rookie continues. It has played a role in our lives for four years already. It grew up with us in high school and taught us things our own mothers and teachers didn’t. It’s a passionate Internet site that's assumed the role of “mom” in many cases, and in a way, Tavi has also done that for me. She was my go-to, my substitute mom, my long-distance-friend. She was my idol.

Courtesy of Annie Zidek

Courtesy of Annie Zidek

Tavi still sits with prevalence on my list of influential people, but not as an idol. In her editor’s letter for “Give and Take” this past August, Tavi notes that “getting older means killing your idols, seeing their flaws, lowering them off their pedestals.” I have grown. Over the years, I’ve weaned off Rookie, checking it monthly rather than daily. I still keep track of Tavi and her goings-on, but I don’t hold her at such high regard. She isn’t dead, she’s very much alive. But I’ve learned to treat her as a human being with things to worry about and people to love and things to fuck up. She is off the pedestal I built for her, and she is walking the streets of New York City and riding the subway and acclimating to the concrete jungle just as I am doing in Chicago.

November is now six days old, and October is gone. The days will soon get colder, and the nights will bleed into mornings and afternoons. I am ready. Rookie and Tavi taught me warmth and awareness, and I will adapt to the bitter Midwest winter. I will be—I am—self-aware: with cautious yet confident movements, I feel my way through winter, headed towards the tender breaths of March and spring, a time of birth, exploration, and growth.

The Grief That Goes On

By Anna Bruner

Courtesy of Anna Bruner

Courtesy of Anna Bruner

"It will take longer than you need it to, and even then you will feel like it hasn't been enough time." She's talking about her sister who died fifteen years ago. I don't know this woman, but I feel like I do or like I could. I have an affinity for crying in front of and telling my problems to complete strangers. Almost all of them women who remind me of my friends' mothers. I did the same thing on an airplane home to my best friend's funeral in 2013, so I at the very least do know what she's talking about. She's talking about grief. "There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think of her," she says, matter-of-factly, because by now it is routine and she probably tells it to strangers, too. "You've got to accept that it's normal."

But it doesn't feel normal to me. It doesn't feel normal that, almost three years later, I still wake up paralyzed with grief over losing my best friend. I still break down when certain songs come on the radio, or when I think of a movie we watched together, or even when I see certain things on the menus in restaurants. The entire month of October (which was when his birthday and his favorite holiday, Halloween, was) passed me by in a series of panic attacks, dissociative episodes, and nervous breakdowns. The past three Octobers have passed in a similar manner. At least last year I was somehow able to go to class and work on his birthday. Not so, this year. It's not something I can help or even predict, it's just something that happens. I still freeze while rummaging through my jewelry box as I come upon a faded yarn bracelet or guitar pick. I still remember every moment between the last time I talked to him and the first phone call I got telling me he had died. I still talk about him like he's here.

As a kid, my mother would tell me she didn't know anyone who had been to more funerals than I have. Such is the price you pay when you come from a large family, when you're in the Catholic Church, when you belong to a tight knit community. You see a lot of dead bodies. The old unfamiliar bodies of strangers and rarely visited great aunts and uncles and cousins. But a funeral is a funeral. Until it's a kid's…until it's someone you know.

My friend Tyler wasn't even the first friend of mine to pass away. A friend's boyfriend died in an accident the summer before my junior year of high school. We all went to the funeral. I held her hand. I remember being in the backseat of another friend's van on the way home from the viewing, all of us sitting in silence and looking out the window, unsure of what to do or how to be. Though as hard and awful as it was, we all thought, "well, this is it." We'd lost one friend incredibly young. Surely this wouldn't happen again.

But it did happen again, only two years later, to the one person nothing was ever supposed to happen to. No accident, no disease, no freak injury, no drug problem. No cause of death, still to this day. No one knows why, at nineteen years old, my best friend got off the phone with me after I called to tell him a movie was on, and then a few hours later he was dead. That has been the hardest part: the complete lack of reason. Once again, our lives were shattered. Once again, dozens of childhood friends gathered in the funeral home and graveyard, before any of us had even completed a year of school away from home. The only difference this time around was that we had all done it before, and that now we were scattered across the country and not two doors down. 

Last month I anticipated my best friend's birthday (it would have been his 22nd) with every passing day in October. I knew (and dreaded) that it was coming, unsure of how I would react to it this year. I thought maybe I should be "over it" by now, that it was the rule of grief that with each passing year and anniversary and holiday, exponential progress of some kind was to happen. I felt like it should be easier, that if it wasn't easier I was somehow mourning wrong or failing at being a functional, productive adult. I woke up on the morning of his birthday, got onto Facebook, and there in my notifications it was waiting for me.

"It's Tyler Beachy's birthday! Help him celebrate!"

It was fucking cruel. Of course I knew what day it was, but why did his name have to be lumped in with minor acquaintances I've maybe spoken to once in my life? Why did he have to be included in a passing reminder that, on any other day, would have gone completely unnoticed? Why did I have to wake up at five in the morning to have Facebook saying "Hey Anna, tell your dead friend happy birthday, would ya?" I felt angry and cheap and sick and bitter and repulsed, and then I just felt alone and sad. I didn't go to class. I didn't go to work. I didn't "make progress" from the past year. I felt, ultimately, like I had failed as both a mourner and friend. 

Courtesy of Anna Bruner

Courtesy of Anna Bruner

And then I met this woman who lost her sister fifteen years ago, and I told her all about this, and she made me feel like I hadn't failed. She reminded me, as several others have in the past, that there is no failure in grief. That yes, moving forward I may forget some things, I may forget stories, I may struggle on some days to remember his voice. Years from now I might go to work as though it is any other day, and other times I may stay in bed for a week. I might obsess over the small incidents -- the last meal we shared, the last gifts we gave each other, the last trip we took, the last joke we told -- I might replay it all again and again in my mind. Or I may sit quietly and think of nothing in particular other than what has been left behind. 

"The important thing is that you don't deny your feelings," she said, reminding me of a doctor I went to see following Beachy's death, who was wary to prescribe me antidepressants because we "don't medicate the human condition." Something I now understand. 

"The important thing is that you feel it. Don't pretend like it didn't happen. Don't pretend like they didn't happen."

I sometimes cry on the train. I sometimes cry in the middle of a conversation I've had time and time again. I sometimes cry in front of strangers and tell them about my loss. Sometimes they tell me about theirs. It's going to take me a long time to learn it and accept it completely, but there is no getting rid of grief or grieving the "right way." There's just the human condition, and how we treat each other as we experience it together.