Dave had cut his hair. He had put away the drums, for the most part, and picked up the guitar. He’d started a new band, and by all accounts life was good. And he had done everything in his power to put the past behind him.
But it was early April, 1999, and all of a sudden the past was overcoming him, dragging him down and dragging him back. Especially since he had happened, by some cosmic coincidence, to be in Seattle visiting some old friends that week.
He didn’t dare go on the anniversary. There’d be crowds, and he’d see Courtney for sure, and she’d find some way to attack him or just glare at him like everything was his fault somehow. He waited until almost a week later, when it had all died down and he knew he could go in peace.
On the drive to the cemetery, he let his mind wander. It was odd, the things that would remind him. He saw old friends from those days occasionally – or, in the case of one Eddie Vedder, old rivals turned friends. He’d seen Eddie quite a few times, at shows and festivals and awards shows where neither of them felt comfortable. They’d talk, and the old days always came up. Meaning, Kurt always came up. Eddie was a good guy and knew not to press a sore subject, but just his presence reminded Dave of Kurt, how Kurt had his silly vendetta against poor Eddie and his band.
He was so lost in thought that he almost drove past the entrance, and had to hit the brakes most ungracefully and turn down the narrow lane rather abruptly. Appropriately, the sky was gray and it was drizzling just enough that he had to flick the windshield wipers every so often. He drove slowly – no one else was in sight, and he was in no hurry.
It was a small gravestone. Nothing obvious or eyecatching. Kurt wasn’t even buried there. His ashes were in Courtney’s possession, as far as Dave knew, but Kurt’s mother had wanted a stone for him near the rest of his departed relatives. She had planted some flowers and kept it in relatively good condition.
Dave sat down in the damp grass, hugging his thin jacket tightly around him and shivering in the spring chill. He ran his fingers lightly over the engraved words. Kurt D. Cobain. 1967-1994. Another shiver passed through him, this one probably completely unrelated to the temperature or the rain.
The transition from sitting to lying down wasn’t one he was fully aware of, but after a while Dave noticed he was on his side, still half gazing at the cold, wet stone. He didn’t feel like moving, and he thought for a second how strange a spectacle this would be to any observer. Dave Grohl, “reborn from the ashes of Nirvana” (or whatever the fuck the critics were saying in Foo Fighters reviews now), lying in the rain in front of Kurt Cobain’s grave. Oh, if only Rolling Stone could see.
The rain was strangely comforting, a steady rhythm all around him even as it drenched him, making his clothes cling to him. He didn’t notice the cold, or rather, he noticed it happening to someone else. He saw a guy with short, dark hair lying in the grass in the middle of a rainy cemetery, but he felt that he was far, far away through time and space.
The smile. It was that smile that won him over, wasn’t it? That day, when they were messing around like little kids in the supermarket. Almost nine years ago, it had been. And he could still see Kurt’s face clear as day, still see his somber countenance break suddenly into that brilliant, rare smile. He’d always told him he ought to smile more, but at the same time, he didn’t want that. A selfish little part of him had wanted to keep Kurt, and those smiles, all to himself, but each passing day that had become more and more impossible.
Fragmented memories came rushing back, things he’d been blocking out for years. Shows they’d played when Dave first joined the band, when the energy was so incredible and they were so much a part of the music they made together. Stolen kisses afterwards in dark backstage corners. All the mornings they woke up together, tangled in the sheets of that tiny bed in that tiny apartment. The winter months in that apartment that would have dragged on and on if they hadn’t had each other.
Good times, bad times. The fights. The times everyone almost found out. The time Krist did find out. That awful period of time when they were apart, didn’t speak, couldn’t speak. The blowouts he’d had with Courtney because she suspected and he knew it, even though she never came out and said it. She really wasn’t a dumb girl at all. Just strong-willed, and determined to ruin Dave, even though she didn’t know she was doing it.
The images began to blur, and he wondered briefly if he was losing consciousness. Opening his eyes, he saw the grass, smelled that odd rainy scent, but still saw the old apartment over top of it. The smelly turtle tank, the crummy old TV that barely worked. Kurt’s oldest guitar in the corner. The two of them curled around each other on the couch, barely noticing most of the time whether the television was working or not.
Of course the guilt was still there, tainting every single memory. The guilt was always there. What could he have done? He knew, after that night in Rome, deep down Dave knew. It was inevitable, and he’d tried. He’d tried to reassure Kurt, told him how much he loved him and that he’d probably crumble into dust if anything would ever happen to him. Kurt had nodded, replied with the required, “Don’t worry about me, it won’t happen again.” Dave had known he was lying, and he had never felt so helpless in his life.
Not your fault. You don’t blame Krist, do you, or Pat or even Courtney? So why blame yourself?
There was no logical answer. Logic had never played a big part in anything to do with him and Kurt. So he did what he hadn’t done in five years, what any reasonable person would do when reason utterly failed. He cried.
He cried and cursed everything he could think of. Drugs, fame, whoever had sold him that gun, Courtney, himself, Eddie Vedder, anyone and everyone. When he was done, he was no better than when he’d begun. So he lay still, the rain coming harder now to wash away any traces of tears. The thought crossed his mind that he would probably freeze to death out here. The next thought, though, was the one that terrified him: He didn’t care.
It was his absurdly cheerful phone that woke him in the morning. Taylor had programmed in some damned Spice Girls song as the caller ID tone for himself, and now what-the-hell’s-her-name Spice was serenading him. Had he been more conscious, Dave might have laughed out loud at the surreal scene.
He fumbled around in his pocket and finally pulled out the little beast. “T? What’s going on?”
“Where are you?” The connection was bad, but his drummer sounded concerned. “You said you were gonna call last night when you got to the hotel.”
“Oh. Fuck.” He ran a hand through his hair, which was sticky with the dried rainwater and the mud. “Sorry. I never wound up at the hotel. Got caught up in doing some other stuff.”
“You sound like you just woke up.”
“I did. You woke me.” Before eleven A.M, the nicest man in rock was nowhere to be found.
“Oh. Sorry, dude, I was just worried about you.”
“I’m okay.” He felt bad not telling Taylor anything, but now was not the time. Maybe when he was back home, warm in his own bed and firmly in the present.
“All right…well, just call me when you wake up a little, okay?”
“Kay. Bye.” He hung up and let out a huge yawn, still blinking to adjust to the sunlight. His back ached from sleeping on the bumpy ground, and sitting up was a slow maneuver. When he finally got there, his back scraped against the stone behind him, and he sighed. Closed his eyes and leaned back against it, allowing himself this one last moment to recall, relive, immerse himself. And when he opened his eyes and staggered unsteadily down the hill to where his car was waiting, he wasn’t done thinking about Kurt. It wasn’t done hurting, and the guilt was not gone, by any means. But some kind of closure had come to pass. Finally letting himself remember had done a lot more for his mental state than years of trying to forget. So simple, but apparently his therapist had never gotten around to telling him.
The reminders were still everywhere. The radio played Heart-Shaped Box, and Eddie called every now and then. The irony of the way Taylor looked, and the way he and Dave felt about each other, was lost on no one. But life, as it tends to do, went on. The world forgot Kurt, and the world moved on. Dave never, ever forgot – he didn’t want to, and he hoped to God he never would. But Dave, in some sense, had to move on.