Just Waiting To Be Found

feature image photo by Jeffrey Coolidge via Getty Images

I think about Billy Corgan a lot.

I used to, anyway. There was a solid 15 years where his name probably didn’t escape my lips, as I moved from Teenage Music Obsessions to broke single parenting, until he reminded me of his existence via chemtrails and broke my heart.

For my entire childhood, I spent every summer in the Appalachian Mountains. One of the benefits of being at Mamaw’s was access to cable, something we only had at home for a brief period, when my undiagnosed ADHD-hyperfocus obsessions began to shift from reading and berating myself to TV schedules, which shifted from Laudable, past Acceptable, straight to Inappropriate, despite being driven by the same behaviors. Remember to channel it to an appropriate place at all times, kids.

In the open kitchen/dining room, there was a small TV on a wooden stand, tilted to a diagonal, with a VCR, so Mamaw could keep an eye on the little kids while working in the kitchen. She also used the small TV to break up fights when kids wanted to watch the big TV in the living room, regularly used by Pawpaw to watch Judge Judy, Andy Griffith, and westerns in his navy blue coveralls from His Chair™, the La-Z-Boy we’d all play-fight to steal from him, partially because it was the best chair, and partially because we were all pests.

It was rare no one was in the kitchen, particularly during the summers. All six grandchildren, three permanent-residents of the small community and three of us dropping in for the summer months, along with every Thanksgivingwinterbreakspringbreak we could, depending on where we lived at the time. When the room was empty, I loved to flip through channels slowly, seeing what was going on out there, grateful it wasn’t stuck on Cartoon Network or the Weather Channel, hoping for an X-Files rerun because Law & Order marathons weren’t quite a thing yet.

As I came up on MTV, I started channeling through more slowly, hoping to pause to see what was on. MTV was Strictly Verboten in my home. Even when we had cable access in my parents house, I was too scared to sneak it, afraid I would be caught. Since it housed Beavis & Butthead and Trashy Music, it wasn’t worth the risk.

As I scanned through, though, the “Tonight, Tonight” music video was playing, near the beginning, and my hand immediately dropped. I sat there, mesmerized, watching the recreation of A Trip to the Moon — old things and most sci-fi of the era were allowed in our home — transfixed by the orchestral instruments. I desperately hoped no one would come in, forcing me to change the channel (out of obligation for my parents, out of embarrassment for the rest), until I could find out what this magnificent thing was.

I immediately grabbed a pen by the kitchen phone to scrawl it down.

As soon as I saw the band name, though, my heart sank. I knew anything called The Smashing Pumpkins would never pass the inevitable Is It Acceptable tests at home. I would immediately have to hide it or be afraid of this cutting judgment that made me feel terrible for liking the things I liked, a scrutiny I can’t stand up to, to this day, and the reason I could never go before a dissertation committee or even finish my portfolio in my Master’s program that required detailed notes and commentary from each member of the panel. I left the program with six credit hours remaining, partially because I was too weak to face it.

At some point during the short film as I tried to take in every moment, I noticed something a bit off about Billy’s hand but forgot about it. I held my breath, hoping something equally magnificent would come on, wondering if all Banned Music were that magical, and a video from Pretty Hate Machine began. I wasn’t quite ready yet and quickly turned the channel before someone heard it. MCIS had to be my entry point to the wider world of pop culture before I was ready for Trent Reznor.

My whole childhood, I was a saver. If I spent money, I very carefully combed ads, doing price comparisons of the different My Little Pony villages, to the point where my parents would sigh and say, just buy it. I always had a little stashed away, able to lend my folks a few dollars if they needed some cash because we were too far from an ATM and everything ran on physical bills.

I don’t remember how long it took me to buy Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. It may have been sneaking up the register at Walmart that summer in South Williamson, if it was open by then, or perhaps it waited until we drove back to Arizona, where we’d recently moved. That was the point, though, where I would go back and buy small things with my own money, and could slip in Fear Street books between more acceptable items. I listened to MCIS for the first time on a walkman with headphones and very, very slowly worked up the confidence to listen to it on my stereo until I felt brave enough to face any comments. Little did I know if I’d bought it elsewhere, it would have had the full song titles listed on the back and I’d have an Explicit Lyrics label to desperately peel off, as I began to do with Alanis, Veruca Salt, Pixies, Liz Phair, the Breeders, and eventually Nine Inch Nails. I slowly worked up to listening to the local alternative station by the end of sixth grade, starting off every description and justification to my parents with “They’re not bad, they’re…..”

Wherever I went, though, it always came back to the Pumpkins. Eventually, my parents were able to hear some good in it. My dad sat overnight with us outside Dillards with me, twice, to get sold-out-in-15-minutes tickets to small all-age club shows, as long as a friend’s parent also went.

I don’t know when I really started to notice Billy’s birthmark, but it was early on, and likely dug into some quality time of slowly loading articles found via Altavista or Lycos, in the era before Google existed. This was also the period where Billy always wore long-sleeve shirts (ostensibly) to minimize it, and I absorbed every word he publicly said on the topic.

I was born with vascular nevus. The top right quarter of my body was a dark black-to-red, turning more red with age, but the color changed dramatically from pink to red to purple to blue, depending on my blood pressure and temperature. A few who have gotten to know me well enough can use it as an indicator of my mood or nerves, knowing the patch that starts to turn purple if I get incredibly anxious. This birthmark has played both a huge, and also an almost nonexistent role in my life.

These days, I frequently forget it’s there, until I see a new doctor, who assumes I’m coming in for a dramatic rash and wonder why I’m not at the ER, or a new acquaintance will assume I had a terrible reaction to DC’s mosquitos and feel the need to comment on it. My favorite, though, was the time I was pushing my toddler in a cart at the grocery store, and a doctor kept following me, asking questions about it, asking if I’d come see him about it as I kept telling him no, it’s fine, it’s been monitored my whole life, please leave me alone. I’ve never met a doctor that hasn’t had 50 questions about it, that hasn’t asked me about removing it via laser with a hopeful glint in their eyes, warning of potential tumors and clumping blood vessels.

The family lore goes that it’s fairly rare in cis women, typically on the face, and rarely on the right side of the body. I don’t know if any of this is actually true or just stories for the dinner table. But other than a distant cousin who I’ve never met that had it on his left leg, every other person I’ve met with it has had it on his face, until Billy Corgan. To my knowledge, I’ve never met another cis woman with it.

When I was 16, my hand began locking in a claw, and I had surgery on it on the winter solstice. I watched Tori Amos perform on daytime TV once I was taken home with my head still in the clouds, the surgery performed by a doctor who took pictures of my entire birthmark topless, having me remove my shirt while he, the nurse and my mother were still in the room and watched, to my horror.

When I was 15 and went to my first Pumpkins show, my very best friend, who I’d met in an online chatroom years before, flew out to meet me for the first time from Albuquerque. I took her to school for a day, we ditched school for a day and watched Go at the AMC at the mall, and we went to the general admission show at a smaller theater with a revolving stage (that was stationary at the time), and saw one of the first shows since Jimmy returned to the band.

Before the show, we made friends with the kids in front of us in line — I was one of the earliest people to arrive because ADHD hyperfocus. We got them to hold our spot in line and waited in the back of the circle, where we got to meet Billy Corgan with a small crowd of teenagers. I don’t remember what I said; I didn’t have him sign anything. I just tried to thank him for opening up my world so much, for being that entry point, for helping me deal with my arm and develop the self-confidence to admit what I liked and why I liked it (a skill I’ve never quite honed and really would have helped me when I came out, very gradually, over the course of a decade). I stayed mesmerized by his arm as I shook his non-birthmarked right hand with my birthmarked right hand.

My friend and I ran back to our spot in line, near the opening to the bar, and waited with the kids from the local private Catholic school we’d met earlier, absolutely stunned. We got excellent seats despite feeling angst toward some VIPs who were escorted right past us. We patiently sat through the opener, Queens of the Stone Age.

That was the first of many times I saw the Pumpkins. There was the mini tour they did after D’Arcy left, with Melissa Auf der Maur, at a small bar in Tempe that was razed shortly after. Such a large crowd showed up that instead of doing a show in the wooden-fenced backyard of this bar, they did two performances and no signing. My sister, friend, and I were lucky enough to be in the group right after the cut-off, so we could watch the first show through the gaps in the fence, and the second show from the front.

During their break, I stayed up and bought Zwan tickets and cringed at how much I disliked Billy’s solo album, despite being delighted by how prominently he displayed his birthmark on the artwork, much more subtle than my own arm. When they reformed years later with only Jimmy and Billy remaining, one of my best friends from high school/college roommate joined me to see them at a newly constructed mid-sized venue four days before my 24th birthday, where they played music I didn’t know at the beginning and end of the show, but the middle was everything that got me through junior high and high school, including quiet renditions of “Thirty-Three” and “Perfect,” making every second worth it. Whatever changed in my life, I could always put on my Siamese Dream CD.

I’ve never listened to the new albums. I easily went over a decade without listening to the old albums, and when I was reminded of how much they meant to me, it was with the reminder that this person, who created so much that helped me come to terms with who I was, what I enjoyed, the initial judgments and literal, verbal commentaries by total strangers on my body out in the world, was aligning himself with the factions in this country that literally wanted me to either shut up or die, depending on who was speaking that day and how emboldened they felt. I’ve had almost a decade of grappling with that, finally coming full-circle and allowing myself to start listening to my favorites from time to time, remembering the years I carried the box from the Aeroplane Flies High boxset as my purse and lunchbox, and starting to let them back in my life.

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M.R. Brite

M.R. Brite spent twenty years in Arizona until the wonderful world of humidity beckoned. She spends her days pretending to be a cartoon princess, as a line of critters coincidentally follows her from room-to-room, while teleworking. She embroiders and plays the ukulele, poorly.

M.R. has written 1 article for us.


  1. Thank you for writing this <3 I don't have the birthmark tie in, but so much of this sounded like you were writing from my own life! It's always so incredible to be reminded that, for every little experience we have and think no one else in the world shares, there's someone out there who shares it.

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