It was autumn, sometime in 1995. Many in the grunge rock world (including the teenage
Aikey boys who were kind enough to let me sit and watch them skateboard) still mourned
Cobain’s death. In the midst of mourning, however, a new anthem propelled from the tiny, tinnytuned speakers of the stereo which sat on a picnic table in the Aikey’s garage. The boys had built (while listening to bands like Pearl Jam, Nirvana, etc.) a skateboard ramp in their attempts to desperately master various flips and runs that intimidated me.
“Nicole, go turn up that song,” one of the boys commanded, and being ever-diligent to
whatever the Aikey boys commanded me to do, I went and swirled the volume button to an earsplitting level.
Reflective guitar strums gave way to metallic harshness, stringed fury. The chords
pierced the air’s hymen and the auditory senses of all who listened. And then she began to sing.
Alien meets angel. The alien-angel’s voice caressed our ear drums, transported us to a world of angst-ridden protesting of a political situation that I, at age eight, could not fathom. I stared at the skateboarding boys as they whooped and hollered and laughed whenever one of them fell onto the rough concrete pad beneath the homemade skateboard ramp.
“Another head hangs lowly, child is slowly taken,” sang the alien-angel, and yes, I was taken. Taken with the majesty of the singer’s unearthly voice. I stared at the boys, flailing
through the Lycoming County air on their skateboards, and I wanted to ask “What have you done to me?”
But the question never emerged from my lips. All I knew is that at age eight, I had
somehow changed. In that moment from when the alien-angel’s haunting voice and violent-filled lyrics fell upon my ears, I metamorphed into something I could not comprehend, could not interpret.
“What band is this?” I asked the boys, my voice barely audible above the earth-shattering
music. One of the boys attempted to flip the skateboard with his toe and catch the board in his
“The Cranberries,” he answered.
“What’s this song called?” I questioned.
“Zombie,” the teenager answered, “Now, shut up and listen."
A brown-haired, pony-tailed, precocious girl wearing a Marvin the Martian t-shirt and
cut-off denim shorts and Vietnam-era jungle boots sat at an over-sized gaping writing desk in a dimly lit dining-room-converted-to-play room. A Judy Blume novel rested next to a copy of
Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. Next to Jurassic Park rested a two-speaker AM/FM cassette
player. The girl tapped two No. 2 pencils on a dinosaur-adorned spiral notebook while a song
declared that “Salvation, salvation, salvation is free,” penetrating the dusky dining room.
I was nine-years old, somewhere in the midst of a tumultuous elementary school career that had propelled me into a variety of gifted educational classes (thus explaining why Michael
Crichton resided beside Judy Blume) and a realm of social awkwardness. It was early autumn,
and after returning home from a day of bullying (“Freak!”), of arguing with the teacher (“I wrote
the problems vertically instead of horizontally because it didn’t make sense to waste paper, Mrs. Whary!”), and of being punched on the school bus ride home (for always reading a book on the half-hour ride from West Cameron to Trevorton), my salvation came in the form of a 4”x 2.5” plastic case that housed a new gift so wonderful that not even Santa could compete with my mother at that moment.
Why my mother chose to buy me To The Faithful Departed from her music club baffled
me, but as I pencil-drummed an imitation of Fergal Lawler’s Keith Moon-reminiscent hammering, I felt a wave of gratitude to my mother for spending money we truly didn’t have on
a cassette tape she really didn’t want me to own.
“But, Moooom,” I had whined on the evening (three weeks prior) when had I found The
Cranberries’ latest release in Mom’s music club’s magazine, “It’s… THE CRANBERRIES.” My
mother had given me a pensive look, a look that had said “I would rather you listened to
“I’m not sure I want you listening to a song called ‘I Just Shot John Lennon,’” my mother
had said. And, thus began my hate-affair with censorship.
For a moment, I ceased pencil-drumming. As my nine-year old self became lost in
Deloris O’Riordan’s angelic alien voice that pined for a lost love in “When You’re Gone,” I
reasoned that my father must have been the reason the once-deemed-forbidden cassette now
resided in my cassette tape player (there were perks to being Daddy’s girl).
On the album’s cover Deloris O’Riordan stood leaned against a bright yellow wall, her
right arm holding her steady as her body slanted; O’Riordan, dressed in purple pants and a purple jacket with a navel-revealing black shirt underneath the jacket captivated me with her butch haircut and her black platform shoes (my junior year of high school, I would own a similar pair that bore a Union Jack down the front). Her razor-sharp face, illuminated by her raven black hair, made me long to be thin and Irish, not thick and Ukrainian.
I didn’t want to be me at that moment. I wanted to be O’Riordan: feisty, talented, thin,
uniquely gorgeous, edgy, Irish. At nine-years old, I contemplated how I would survive the world into which I was mercilessly thrown. The bullying. The struggle of being the youngest granddaughter of a Ukrainian man and an American woman. The realization that I was definitely not like other little girls. The only comfort that I felt as “Free to Decide” transitioned to “War Child,” and as “War Child” melted into “Forever Yellow Skies,” and the conclusion that I
reached as the cassette stopped and demanded I switch sides, was that somewhere in the world The Cranberries were touring, and Deloris O’Riordan would approve of my combat boots.
At 17 years old, I was the only Ukrainian-American in a rural West Virginia high school.
Sometime in late October, I sat in the girls’ bathroom on the cold, vomit-yellow tile floor, shrouded in my all black, corset-laced body-length trench coat, cradling some camouflage-patterned generic form of a Sony Discman. Headphones shrouded my ears, and I contemplated skipping 5th period Music Appreciation, but skipping class held the consequence of lunch detention, and I wasn’t the type to end up holding a seat in lunch detention. I was the type, however, that violated the school’s “no electronics” rule and hid in the bathroom with my CD player and headphones, wondering how I could further prove fallacies in the history teacher’s World War II lectures. I’d spent the previous day arguing with him that the Holocaust didn’t only slaughter six million Jews, but also a few million Ukrainians, Poles, Lithuanians, etc., etc., etc. I’d also kindly reported that we Ukrainians harbored a Holocaust of our own in our history—the Holodomor, but the teacher insisted that because he’d never heard of it, the atrocity didn’t exist. Bullshit.
I rested the CD player on my lap, picked at the fraying laces of my Corcoran Double-H
paratrooper’s combat boots, and contemplated my status as the high school’s lone punk-goth that was “too smart for her own good.” The apocalypse-like struggle to “fit in” with the majority of the school’s WASP-ish my-family's-lived-here-200-years-and-we-have-a-respectable-last-name population was the result of my single status and of my lack of friends. Not only was I the school’s lone punk-goth that was “too smart for her own good,” I was also “the foreigner.” The only time I had friends was when “they” wanted help on a partnered-exam or project or a ride to the local mini-mart for a soda. I also had the reputation of being the lone junior to score a whopping 33 on the ACT, the school’s highest score, and instead of congratulating me on having a brain and the smarts to get into any college I desired, many of the faculty asked “What did you do? Cheat?”
I needed to be brave; I needed to render strength within myself, but I was a hormonal,
moody, broody teenage girl that also desired to skip Music Appreciation and either raid the
library for more Soviet history books (despite the faculty’s inability to identify the former USSR
on a world map, the school library—for some reason—harbored a large quantity of Soviet
history books) or continue hiding in the bathroom, listening to O’Riordan cry “All night long,
laid on my pillow/These things are wrong!” Yes, at 17, I spent a lot of sleepless hours, awake on
my pillow, thinking “Everything is wrong.” Yes, at 17, I wasted countless minutes hiding in the
girls’ bathroom with my headphones capping my ears, realizing that the racism (“Ew, you’re
Russian!), the taunts (“Hey, look! It’s Saddam Hussein’s girlfriend!”), and the loneliness (my
mother’s face often bore a worried look as she asked “Wouldn’t you like to have some friends?”) caused the lead-feeling aching my chest and the insuppressible tears that fled my eyes when I found myself alone and rejected, ostracized by a bunch of backwoods hicks that could contemplate nothing but the next chew, the next cigarette, the next screw. Ignorance, for my schoolmates, was bliss. Escape—mental, physical, emotional, spiritual—became an option. Moments before the bell that signaled lunch period’s end and fifth period’s beginning, I
drew the folds of my beloved trench coat tighter. I closed my eyes, and I lamented with Deloris
O’Riordan: “I have decided to leave you forever. I have decided to start things from here.”
In November of 2013, I sat in my bedroom, the second largest in my parents’ home,
wiping tears from my burning eyes and stinging face, holding the gray-and-white cordless phone to my ear, trying to reconcile a week-long argument with my boyfriend of three years. Four years post-college graduation found me piece-mealing part time jobs to equal one full-time job in order to pay car insurance, student loans, car payments, and still living at home with my parents. I lived in the small rural West Virginia town that I hated since the day (fourteen years earlier) my parents announced we were leaving rural Pennsylvania. In 2013, the economy was trash (it was all Bush’s fault!), but what remained trashier than the economy was my reputation for systematically destroying (mostly unintentionally) every relationship with another living being I happened to encounter (why couldn’t I blame Bush? After all, he initiated this societal and economic downtrend!). Four years post-college graduation also found me entangled in a romantic relationship with a man twenty-one years my senior.
“The point is, no one understands me. No one has ever understood me, and no one will
ever understand me,” I sobbed into the phone, “I thought you were the one person who did.”
Another argument. Another emotional upset. Another temptation to throw in the relationship’s
figurative towel and move on with someone else. But, at 26, the fact that relationships,
friendships, any interaction with human being in general were not my forte had become all too
realistic. (“It’s a cultural curse,” my father had once explained, “that plagues native and diasporic Ukrainians. Get used to it. You’ll never know where you belong, and you’ll never feel that you fit, and eventually you condition yourself to realize it doesn’t matter. Besides, who wants to ‘fit’ anyway?”)
“I do understand,” my boyfriend announced, “but you get into these fits, and you refuse
to listen to anyone else.”
“No,” I argued, “You don’t understand. I think I’m going to go now. I just want to be
alone.” And with that, I pushed the handset’s small “end call” button.
My Dell laptop rested on my bedroom desk (the same desk at which I’d spent innumerable childhood and adolescent hours penning stories, drawing pictures, and listening to music), and I clicked the Windows Media Player tab. I clicked the “music” tab and then “shuffle,” and I spiraled into a world of AFI, Alkaline Trio, Ted Nugent, Enya, Marilyn Manson, Depeche Mode, and the Red Army Choir. In a world where no one seemed to understand my creative eccentricity, my Slavic stubbornness, my silent philosophical fits during which I deliberately launched into arguments and attacked those I loved and those I hated, the music understood. The music resided within me. But where were The Cranberries? Somewhere in the transition from childhood to adolescence to adulthood, The Cranberries hadn’t found a home on my laptop’s music collection, yet I knew Stars: The Best of The Cranberries resided in the zip-up CD case residing beneath my bed. Frantically, I shuffled tin cases housing cash, coins, rubber stamps, cross-stitching supplies, and I moved aging stuffed animals and wayward lost socks until I found the four-inch thick black and gray CD case. I unzipped the case, casually flipped through the soft pages housing a menagerie of George Strait, The Clash, The Beatles, The Who until I found it, the CD I craved at that moment. The CD I hadn’t listened to in years. The CD adorned with a green background and atom-like, white waves and whirls and lines.
In 2014, the benefits of owning a 2013 Dodge Ram 1500 pick-up truck not only resided
in the fact that I had a grand 5.7 Hemi engine residing under the hood or a superior 4-wheel drive system, but also that the truck came outfitted with one free year of Sirius XM radio. Sadly, due to finances, after one year of ownership, I was unable to renew the Sirius XM subscription and therefore ended a beautiful love affair with Ozzy’s Boneyard, Octane, 1st Wave, and Lithium.
It was October 7th, two weeks before the Sirius XM radio subscription expired, and I felt somewhat awed at the biological metamorphosis occurring in the mountains that encompassed the four-lane highway that cut through the terrain and led to the small community college where I taught English. Moroseness filled the early morning air, adding a darker feeling to the truck cab where I snuggled into the corset-laced, body-length black trench coat I wore to fight the morning’s slow chill, feeling Kafka-esque in spirit. The Stone Temple Pilots, Oasis, The Offspring all blared from whatever satellite that housed Lithium XM, and I wondered why I hadn’t painted my short-clipped fingernails black or gunmetal that day. My hands gripped the truck’s steering wheel at ten and two, and just as I reached with my right hand to lower the radio’s volume, the blue and white dash screen flashed “The Cranberries—Linger.”
The three words—a band name and a song title--on the screen signaled the return of a
long, lost soul mate; the season once again fell, the cycle again began, as the song’s G-note to B-note to E-note intro wafted through the truck cab’s space, and instead of lowering the volume, I turned the knob until the white bar signaling volume increase stretched to the max. As the volume maxed, I heard my mother’s voice chiding “Turn down that noise! You’ll ruin your hearing!” just as she had done all through my adolescence when I ignored her behests due to headphone captivity.
“If you, if you could return…,” began O’Riordan, and hearing her voice—that alien-angel
voice—reminded me of what it felt like to rekindle a uniquely born-again friendship with
an old flame: truly rejuvenating, just as relearning Ukrainian and Cyrillic had been for me a few
months prior, that glorious feeling of returning to the familiar and finding the place in which one truly belonged despite one’s inability to mesh with the outlying world.
Time slowed for those beatific four minutes and thirty-four seconds. The wild, wonderful
West Virginia world that rested outside of the windshield and the 5300 lb. pick-up truck
brightened: brilliant oranges, reds, yellows that signaled summer’s fading and fall’s rebirth
blared, and then even the tan-gray asphalt composing the waste-of-taxpayer-money known as
Corridor H blossomed to a perkier shade. The white lines and white dashes marking the highway seemed virginal, devoid of tire marks, oil stains, roadkill mess and stray tar. And in those four minutes and thirty-four seconds, I realized that for many, Autumn meant bonfires, tailgate parties, sweatshirts and blue jeans, but for me, Autumn would always be The Cranberries.
Nicole Yurcaba is a Ukrainian-American, a goth (yes, with a lowecase "g"), a professor, and a poet. She teaches in the English department at Bridgewater College in Bridgewater, VA.