The first time Jamia hears "Rebel Girl," it's 1997 and she's seventeen and sitting in her friend Sammy's basement, listening to a mix tape that he just got in the mail from one of his friends from Boston. Sammy's kind of smirking a little, his newly-bleached half-hawk falling in his eyes because his mom won't let him 'hawk it at home.
Sammy's laughing a little, maybe, but Jamia isn't.
The girl's voice comes out of the speakers tinny and a lot rough: "They say she's a dyke, but I know she is my best friend, yeah."
"Who sent this to you?" she says, moving toward the tape player and swatting at Sammy's hand as he tries to stop her from rewinding it. Fortunately, she's less stoned than he is, so she's going to win.
"That girl I met at the Converge show in Boston last year. Amanda?" he says, sounding stoned or confused why the hell she cares so much.
Huh. So. Amanda.
And it starts simple, like that, with Jamia getting Amanda's name and address. They start trading mix tapes and stuff – Jamia sends her the Jersey hardcore fanzines and Amanda sends Jamia mix tapes. They write letters, of course, because it's just kind of weird to throw a tape or a bunch of zines into an envelope, but they don't really start talking to each other about much of anything until Jamia puts her own fanzine in one of the packages.
`You've got to be shitting me. Bruce Springsteen?
It wasn't much of a start, but it was a start.
In her next letter, Jamia explained how she saw Springsteen's working-class guy stuff as actually kind of proto-feminist. Amanda shot back a long diatribe that actually included the phrase "proto-feminist can suck my nuts if it doesn't include an actual awareness that women are fucking people and not metaphors."
So they argue all the time, but sometimes they agree. It's about six months into writing that Jamia throws a note at the end of her letter: We should write a zine.
Amanda's "yes" comes quickly.
And thus, "outtamyhead" is born. Jamia puts some of the journal-y stuff she's been writing about growing up a girl and a punk in New Jersey, about hardcore and how it saved her life and how much it is pissing her off, about girls who are coat racks and guys who spit in her fucking face and how hard it is to find a band that wants a girl who can play bass and not a pair of tits.
Amanda apparently has a metric shit-ton of photos that she's never showed anyone, so they totally have a kind of artsy Boston feel to it, too. They both have strong opinions about music, about what makes an album worth buying and what increased internet access might do to the music scene. It really kind of makes a cool zine, the back-and-forth as a central feature. They still mostly disagree, but Jamia looks forward to every one of Amanda's cut-and-pasted pages in the mail.
It's around then that Jamia's mom manages to pull together the money to get dialup internet, which pretty much changes Jamia's world. Before, it was kind of only Amanda that got any of the shit Jamia was talking about – she completely stopped hanging out with Sammy and most of the other punks who had made up the landscape of her world six months before. They just … they don't get it. They don't get why she doesn't want to go to another E-Town Concrete show or listen to this really amazing Rise Against bootleg that someone's brother got a hold of.
So it's lonely, sometimes, but it is what it is. Jamia writes a lot of sexually-confused and vaguely angsty poetry inspired by the growl in Kathleen Hanna's voice. She'll never show that to anyone but she also writes a lot of essays that usually end up in "outtamyhead". Amanda's still sending her tapes too. She doesn't have the shows and the hard concrete floors of a pit and sweaty boys jostling around her, but she does have the late, great Mia Zapata or Niki Eliot chanting, screaming, and even occasionally singing the shit that she wishes she knew how to say.
But then Jamia discovers stuff like the Bust.com message boards and Sleater-Kinney fan clubs. She finds out how much nicer it is to be able to e-mail her favorite zine writers, how much more immediate the conversation can be and how much faster she finds out information. So much of it is little packages in the mail, the excitement of getting a bootleg that she knows that someone else would love, late night conversations back and forth on message boards. It's weird, like a community, but totally dispersed.
She and Amanda e-mail, of course, but they never really get out of the habit of sending letters and packages with random buttons and shit in them. It's a little weird, though, because although they talk all the time, they've never spoken. It's strange to explain to other people – pen pals went out with slap bracelets in the third grade – but Jamia can't afford to call Amanda and Amanda can't afford to call her, so they keep trading opinions and fighting and rhapsodizing about music and writing their zine.
Jamia hasn't mentioned anything to Amanda, but she's been saving money from babysitting gigs and what she can scrape together from the dishwashing job that she got after school. She really wants to go up to Boston to meet Amanda, like for real. The first barrier is, obviously, her mom. She doesn't really get it, not any of the stuff that Jamia's been into since she was old enough to be into anything. Jamia thinks her mom is probably happy that she's stopped coming home with bruises and sprained wrists from pits at shows and Jamia knows that she was never totally comfortable with Sammy and the other punk dudes that Jamia hung out with all the time. It still doesn't mean that she's okay with Jamia traveling alone to meet a friend from the internet (which was Jamia's first mistake – she should have said "friend who moved away" or some bullshit lie).
Even though her mom won't let her go to Boston, Jamia keeps saving her money even after she gets enough cash together to go to Boston. She can wait.
School's better and worse. Mostly, she's just getting through the year without getting into fights and getting good grads. She's hoping that proving she's responsible mean mean that her mom finally send her to public school for her senior year and maybe letting her go up to Boston for a little while, like a weekend. It's ridiculous to pay that much money to send Jamia to Catholic school when she hates it and maybe she could make that sound responsible and prove to her mom that she could travel alone.
Whatever. She just wants out of St. Joseph's, at least.
She's reading an old issue of Sister Nobody in study hall when a piece of paper gets slipped under her arm. is that the one with the review of Captain, My Captain?
Jamia looks at the author of the note with her eyebrows raised. It's not like Team Dresch are mainstream music in Jersey, especially with the queercore influence. The guy (guy? really?) is grinning at her, his hair falling into his eyes. He's tiny, like 5'2" and it looks like he's been drawing all over his arms, which the nuns would fucking kill him for doing.
She recognizes him from around, but she's pretty sure they've never talked. Frank ... something?
She looks for Mrs. Gaitano and sees that she's going out into the hall to turn in the attendance sheet.
"Seriously?" she whispers.
He smiles again, leaning in close to avoid getting caught (Mrs. Gaitano really hates it when they talk in study hall). "They're no Pansy Division, but, yeah."
"Really?" Jamia couldn't help but sound disbelieving. She'd never, never met a dude who was into riot grrrl, let alone one who would admit to liking queercore.
"Chris Freeman is hot," he shrugs.
And, just like that, Jamia has a partner in crime that actually lives in her town.
Frank doesn't fuck around. He reminds her of Amanda in that way, just all-out, no apologies. He's not exactly walking around St. Joseph's announcing to the world that he wants to have sex with guys, but he's not hiding it, either.
"I still can't believe you just outed yourself to me in our first real conversation," Jamia said a couple of months later, sitting on Frank's bed and flipping through his records. His taste was ... eclectic, to say the least. She still has never managed to get into the Misfits, something that she knows Frank will never give up trying to correct.
"Well, might as well know if you suck right off the bat, right?" Frank shrugs, not even looking over his shoulder as he types something into his email.
Jamia nods, even though he can't see her. He's probably right.
Jamia starts throwing some references to I (heart) Amy Carter and Tribe 8 into some of her stuff for the zine. Amanda doesn't really seem to notice or she doesn't care - either way, it doesn't have much of an effect at all.
Of course, not all queercore fans are queer, so it's not like she really thought that Amanda would get some kind of a message.
But maybe it was her own way of testing something, seeing if Amanda sucked.
A few weeks later, Jamia gets an email from Amanda with a picture of Leslie Mah and the subject "Holy hell, she's hot."
Jamia wonders if shes being tested back, but ... fuck it.
"She's pretty," she writes back quickly, before she can change her mind. "I don't know, though, she's kind of chubby." She hits send before she realizes that she's really thinking more about her own thighs that rub together when she walks, the curve underneath her own jaw that never really goes away. They've exchanged photos - Jamia has one of Amanda grinning into a camera and flipping her off hanging by her desk. She knows that Amanda knows what she looks like, can probably piece it together.
A few days later, Amanda writes back.
"I think curvy femmes are hot."
Jamia doesn't respond, but she does curve a hand around her own hip and smile a little.
"There's this dude on one of the messageboards on Bust, right?" Frank says one day while they have their shit all spread out over a table in the Candlewyk. He's eating his half of their Disco Fries, his with no cheese and gravy because he's thinking about becoming a vegan.
And really, standing up to Disco Fries is the first test of whether it would really work.
Jamia nods a little absentmindedly. She's supposed to have two more pages in the mail to Amanda tomorrow and Frank is supposed to be studying for his Trig test the next day. This, of course, means that Frank's talking about guys while Jamia gets gluestick all over her hands.
"... I think he lives in Chicago? Dude, I don't know, but he's fucking hot. He looks like a football player and shit with these shoulders? And he's talking about going to this Sleater-Kinney show in Seattle because he missed them in Chicago and there are all of these breakup rumors and I kind of want to go?"
Jamia had kind of tuned Frank out because she'd actually heard all about the guy on the internet that he wanted to bang. Except, apparently, not all.
"Wait, what?" she says, looking at him, confused. Seattle? It would be ... god, it would be awesome, but seriously? Too much money, for sure.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Frank said, bouncing up and down on his seat a little. "It's in April and tickets are like $7 for four bands and we could fly out on Thursday night and be back by Monday, so we'd really only have to take one day off school. I looked at flights and they're super cheap right now, so I think we could swing the whole trip for less than $300 total if we took food with us and crashed with people from the internet."
Jamia shakes her head a little. Fucking Frank. "I can't even get my mom to let me to go Boston on the bus. You think she's going to let me go to Seattle with you to see Sleater-Kinney and meet up with internet people? She's seen 60 Minutes, man, and she's not going to go for it."
Frank grins, wide and sure. "Jam, you don't even know. Moms love me."
Apparently, moms fucking love Frank. He comes over for dinner still in his school uniform, his tie tied correctly and not looped under his collar the way that he actually wears it in school. He says "please" and "thank you" and calls Jamia's mom "Ms. Nestor."
Jamia would call him out on being a kiss-ass, but she thinks that it's probably just that he has manners. Well, manners and an ulterior motive, but whatever.
"Your meatballs are delicious, Ms. Nestor," Frank says, red sauce smeared all around his mouth. "I think they might even be better than my mom's."
Jamia's mom's eyes narrow and Jamia thinks that Frank has finally pushed it too far. "Iero, right?" she asks. "Italian?"
"Well, then," Jamia's mom almost looks like she's blushing, for God's sake. "I guess you'd know, wouldn't you?"
"Yes, ma'am," Frank says and then smirks at Jamia when her mom turns around to grab the meatballs off the sideboard.
After that, it's pretty much a done deal. Frank explains that they were staying with friends of his family's who moved to Seattle (lie, but he seemed so trustworthy) and Jamia plays the "I'll be 18 soon anyway, at least I'm telling you, plus I'm paying for it" card, which works way better than she ever could have imagined.
She tells Amanda about it in her next email, really excited about the trip and going with Frank and seeing Sleater-Kinney.
"Your mom is okay with that?" Amanda asks in the next email. "Well, at least you get to go. That's awesome, girl, have fun."
It's true that it kind of came out of the blue. Sure, traveling with a friend, Jamia paying for it, her mom liking Frank, but … some part of Jamia wonders if her mom was okay with it because she had a man with her, but she shrugs off that suspicion because it's just too damn creepy.
And so her mom actually drives her to the airport, which Jamia never would have called.
Jamia is stepping off the plane in Seattle before she even realizes that it's for real. They'd had to do some pretty quick thinking to come up with mom-friendly explanations for the trip (seeing a band was a reason, but not the whole reason to go across the country, right?), who they were staying with (old friends of Frank's/Jamia's, depending on whose mom they were talking to), and how they could get ahold of them (Frank had a pay-per-minute cell phone that his dad had bought him out of guilt the last time he saw Frank, thank god). They'd had to hustle, but it worked and Jamia still kind of couldn't believe that it had.
She turned to Frank and grinned hard. He looped his arm around her shoulder, his eyeliner smudged from trying to put it on while the plane was landing (he was out, but his mom would fucking kill him).
He hugs her hard and she hugs him back and it's like they both just get it.
They stand in line with all of the other kids outside of RKCNDY, Frank standing on his tiptoes to try to catch Bob, who is apparently tall and perfect. He's also the one who has a friend in Seattle that they can stay with, so it's important that they find him, Frank's hormones notwithstanding.
Jamia doesn't mind waiting outside. It's pretty warm in Seattle in April, at least compared to Jersey, and she's completely content to watch the punk kids talking and the baby dykes holding hands nervously. She sees these two guys with mohawks, one green and one blue, making out against the wall and she just. She sees a flash of bright red hair that reminds her of Amanda. Yeah. She can wait out here for a little while.
There is this blond dude who looks totally out of place - he's wearing a flannel shirt and ripped jeans, his long hair kind of blending into his blond beard. He looks huge and kind of like he's on his way to a grunge show or something.
She turns to Frank to raise her eyebrows, wondering for a minute if the guy is going to have a problem with the mohawked guys.
Well, fuck that shit. She didn't grow up in Belleville for fucking nothing.
Jamia squares her shoulders and narrows her eyes at the dude just as Frank shouts "Bob!" in a voice that is almost half an octave higher than his normal one.
Jamia's jaw drops a little as the big lumberjack dude ambles over and grins at Frank, his whole face changing.
Well, doesn't she feel like a fucking idiot.
The good news is that Bob is a damn sweetheart. He hugs Jamia as soon as Frank introduces them, he grabs them all bottles of water and blocks out a little bit of space for Jamia and Frank to stand where they can actually see.
Jamia's never been to a show with tall, solicitous guys before. It's kind of ... awesome.
Frank is making love struck eyes at Bob through the opening acts, barely noticing when the single woman with a guitar is replaced by a duo with some kind of rocky starts.
But even Frank's hearteyes don't miss the Bangs.
They're jumping up and down and shouting while the Bangs play and it's almost exactly perfect except for how Jamia really, really, really wishes that Amanda were here. She wants to curve a hand around Amanda's shoulder and whisper into her ear. She thinks she might even want to reach over and awkwardly try to hold her hand while holding her breath like Frank had been trying about thirty minutes ago. (Now, he and Bob have moved directly into cuddling between songs, which is both precious and fucking nauseating).
She wants her internet friend here, the girl who could grin at her and flip her off and probably criticize the Bangs while dancing to them.
Still. For all of the things to be wrong with this trip, at least that's the only one.
Jamia is hoarse by Sleater-Kinney's third song. By the time they hit "I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone," she's breathless and thirsty and her throat hurts. She taps Frank on the shoulder, smiling quickly at Bob, and mouths "Going to get some water."
Frank checks his cell phone and his eyes widen. "I'll come with!" Frank shouts, giving Bob's hand a quick squeeze before pushing back through the crowd.
"You didn't have to come," Jamia says when they were a little farther from the stage, enough that they could actually hear each other.
"I know," he says, looping an arm around her neck.
"It's just ... you have a Bob," she says, pressing her face against his neck.
"I do, huh?" Frank's smile is blinding.
"Yeah," Jamia is trying hard, really hard not to sound jealous, but. "I want one. Not a Bob, but ... a somebody."
"Well," Frank says in what she recognizes as his Mysterious Voice. "Maybe you have one."
Jamia rolls her eyes. Frank tries, but ... he kind of doesn't get it.
They're standing in line for water a few minutes later when she notices that it is exactly 9:30. She is scratching a hand through her hair and trying to air dry some of the sweat out when she feels a tap on her shoulder.
She rolls her eyes and turns around - six people have already tried to cut in front of her in line and she's just East Coast enough to be fucking over it. Then, she just. Stops.
Bright red hair. Battered Gits t-shirt and holey jeans. Familiar green eyes and a smirk.
"Holy. shit," Jamia whispers as Frank whoops triumphantly.
"I knew you hadn't guessed!" he yells, pumping a fist in the air. "I knew it!"
Jamia looks at him blankly and then. "Wait. You. You brought Amanda here?"
Amanda smiles, slow and wide and dirty. "You didn't guess?"
Jamia turns back to her. She'd forgotten that Amanda was, like, real and not waiting on the other side of a computer or a mailbox. "No! I didn't ... what. How did?"
Amanda shifts her feet and tilts her head toward Frank. "Someone told me you might like to finally meet up. I'd been saving some money to visit Jersey, so I bought my tickets a month ago. I got into SeaTac, like, half an hour ago. I tried to get an earlier flight, but ... fuck it. I'm not here for the Bangs, you know?"
Jamia is gaping, she knows she is, but there's not really a lot she can do about it. Seriously. What?
"That ... that makes no sense," Jamia says.
Amanda grins. "Not really. But it's good, right?"
Jamia shakes her head to clear it and throws herself at Amanda, throwing a fierce arm around her neck as she hugs her. "Fuck yeah it's good."
Frank rejoins Bob (and then promptly jumps him and starts making out against a side wall). Amanda and Jamia stand in the back for a lot of Sleater-Kinney's set. Normally, Jamia would hate those girls, the ones who are talking through an awesome set, but ... she's talking. To Amanda.
Amanda is exactly like Jamia thought she would be. She's funny and snarky and has a generous smile. She touches Jamia more than she would have expected, using little nudges and taps on the shoulder for emphasis. Jamia would have expected it to be awkward - they've known each other for more than a year, they've written back and forth about insanely personal shit, and this is the first time they're meeting.
But it's not weird. It's just. It's just good.
The set is almost over when Amanda stops in the middle of a ridiculous story she's telling about tourists in Boston and fucking with them and getting tipped. Jamia is laughing (the story is funny) and her head is tipped back a little.
"Can I ...?" Amanda trails off a little, a weird look in her eye.
Jamia stops laughing immediately and steps in toward Amanda, not sure what just happened. Things were going well, right?
Amanda's taller than Jamia, so she has to lean down a little. "This is going to be fucking embarrassing if I'm wrong," she mutters and, before Jamia can wonder or maybe even hope a little, Amanda leans in more and.
Oh. Oh. They've barely kissed before Amanda is pulling back and ... is she blushing?
Jamia reaches up for Amanda's head and pulls it back toward hers. "Not. wrong." she says fiercely before pulling Amanda back in.
They don't stop making out until the opening strains of "Words + Guitar." Jamia gasps a little and pulls back, untwining her legs from Amanda's (Amanda really likes curvy girls, apparently).
Jamia feels a head rest on her shoulder and looks over to see Frank grinning at her. She grins back and high-fives Bob and grabs Amanda's hand. Amanda is grinning and Jamia is grinning and Corin Tucker is singing the shit out of a song and it's just. God, it's fucking great.