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Patty Schemel on Coming Out: 'I Wanted to Disappear and Then Kill Myself' 

Patty Schemel on Coming Out: 'I Wanted to Disappear and Then Kill Myself'

Patty Schemel
Photography: Darcy Hemley

Read an exclusive excerpt from the Hole drummer's new memoir Hit So Hard

You know, it's always the same. Somehow when you're 15 years old, there's always a Matthew McConaughey in Dazed & Confused-guy willing to buy the beer. I learned how to procure the party by loitering in liquor store parking lots with Susan, who was herself 17. It was 1982, and all you had to do was slip the guy $5. My sister was back, and Mom was out--she moved to an apartment ten minutes away in a town called Everett. We saw her on the weekends, and everything changed. At least when Mom had been around, she'd compulsively cleaned up after us.

Now I spent a lot more time partying outside the house. It was the time of ragers in the woods with the other children of divorce in town, the heshers, and the rockers. The heshers were identifiable by their Pink Floyd T-shirts, their ubiquitous roaches, and their Pontiac GTOs. The rockers wore leather jackets and Reebok high-tops with their jeans tucked in. All of the farm kids were into their Country and Western, hardcore. I swear I've seen some line dances, a little do-si-do in a parking lot. Chewing tobacco was the great equalizer; in the woods, we were all hicks.

Related | OUT100: Patty Schemel, Musician, Author

My social life really opened up when I started playing music. That was the common thread for all my relationships. If you liked the Ramones, you could come over to my house and I could play you all the songs on the first record. That's how my first band Milkbone came to be. It was made up of five like-minded weirdos--my friends Joe, Erica, Danny, and Kevin (and also sometimes Erica's sister, Michelle, would hang out and dance, just cause). Band practice launched in my bedroom, but eventually we moved my drums over to Dan's house where we were able to spread out and record a tape of all our original songs (and our lone cover of a Ventures song). We were pretty confident about our songs and started playing all over town: at house parties, in basements, a barn, and the high school cafeteria. Everybody loved us, even the goths, which was surprising considering we had kind of a B-52s vibe.

Despite the fact that I was typically a person who isolated, I wasn't nervous when I was playing in front of a crowd. Of course, I was drinking before and during shows. It was beginning to be something I would become known for: up-for-anything-Patty, who didn't mind a trip down a flight of stairs if there was more to drink at the bottom. I was always taking it too far. Making a fool out of myself, hurting myself in order to prove that nothing was really that painful. My senior year of high school was a turning point, the year I really chose alcohol above all else.

I had a crush on one of my friends, Lucy, who I had a few classes with. Lucy was a cheerleader and had blonde hair and blue eyes. She laughed at my jokes and expressed interest in Milkbone and good music in general. I knew she probably wasn't gay, but a girl can dream. It was hard not to fantasize about being with her when she was so easy to talk to, and we both liked the same bands. She wasn't much into drinking, though. That was okay--I could drink enough for both of us.

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One night that fall, Lucy and I went to Seattle together to see the Ramones. Her sister went to U-Dub (the University of Washington), and we'd planned to crash on her dorm room floor. I couldn't wait to see the show, as the Fastbacks were opening, and I idolized Kim Warnick, the bass player who made punk sound so musical. That night, we should have been able to enjoy our slumber party. Instead, I would spend most of it in jail.

It didn't even take that long. When the show was set to begin in fifteen minutes, I went out to the parking lot with Lucy and a few friends to smoke and down a 40-ounce beer. It was a ritual I craved, almost as fun as the part where we'd drink inside while the band played, and then drink some more after it was all over. Within minutes an unmarked police car rolled up, and two plainclothes cops started barking orders at us. "IDs, IDs... We're gonna need to see IDs!"

In the late 1980s in Seattle there was a movement against the all-ages rock show--part of a crackdown on the teenage "riots" people feared were incited by punk music but were actually the product of kids being menaced by the police. As soon as they descended, most of the kids in the parking lot dispersed, not wanting to miss the show. But I held my ground, not wanting to put my bottle down. I didn't want to not have it just because of these clowns.

The cops turned their attention on me. "How old are you?" I looked them in the eye but didn't answer. "Why don't you put your drink down and show us your identification." I was emboldened not just by alcohol but by the small crowd that stayed to watch, including Lucy. "What's your name?" I came up with a clever answer: "Fuck. You." And that was the first time I was ever handcuffed and arrested.

At the precinct they called my mom. I seem to remember choosing her over my dad for that conversation, thinking defensively that maybe this wouldn't have happened if I weren't the daughter of a professional recovering alcoholic who hadn't been much of a disciplinarian to begin with. Plus, she might not be as hard on me since she herself was in trouble with CPS and was now living alone. She was pissed, but she did come to pick me up, and while I would be grounded for more than a month by my parents, my punishment from the county was minimal. I had to write a letter of apology to the officer who I'd offended with my use of the F-word. That was all it took to get that cleared from my permanent record, to ask nicely.

I could tell my mom anything, but I would never tell her how much I drank or what drugs I'd started using. When I started to realize that I was gay and the pain of that secret was too much, I had to tell her. I got my chance when I got drunk on New Year's Eve and made a pass at a straight friend and was so full of shame and humiliation that I let it all out. I sat on my mother's couch and put my head in my hands and cried. I wanted to disappear and then kill myself (in that order). Mom sat close and listened to me tell her that I was in love with a girl and it would not be reciprocated. She hugged me tight and told me that it was okay and there was nothing wrong with me, that there was a whole wide world out there outside the small town of Marysville, and I would find my people.

My greatest fear was that everyone would know, that people would talk. I just hoped that if people were gossiping, it would be about my drinking and not my being gay. After all, only one of those things was socially acceptable.

Excerpted from Hit So Hard: A Memoir by Patty Schemel. Copyright (c)2017. Available from Da Capo Press, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

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