Sara Dobie Bauer
There’s something about a big pair of red lips—something like salvation. I didn’t know it as a seventh grader at Perrysburg Junior High School, but I was about to find out, following the death of my Grandma Dobie. Grandma and I were close, maybe best friends. She was my babysitter and a constant fixture at Sunday dinners and weekend picnics. Then one day, I came home from school and my dad’s car was in the garage. I knew damn well he should have been at work, and I remember thinking, “Grandma Dobie is dead.” I hated being right.
Before the start of eighth grade, I demanded to dye my hair black. I stole black eyeliner and nail polish and wore huge t-shirts with Kurt Cobain’s mug on the back. He’d killed himself the year before, and I associated with the guy. So did plenty of people, but I didn’t know it. I was too busy raging to Nine Inch Nails. Writing notes to myself that said “I hate you” and “You are ugly.” Using little pocket knives to scrape my skin.
They call it “teen depression.” How was I supposed to know? I lived in Perrysburg, Ohio. The yards were perfect. The clothes were perfect. Everyone was fucking perfect. Except me. I was messed up, but no one in Perfect-ville talked about depression, suicide, or sex.
It’s estimated that one out of every eight American teens experiences depression. It’s considered a national epidemic, and I was the poster child, wallowing in death fantasies, hopelessness, and fear. There were ways to treat my condition, of course: medicines like Prozac, Zoloft, Effexor … the list was endless, but in teens, certain antidepressants had been shown to actually increase suicidal tendencies, so that option was out.
I did see a therapist the summer after Grandma died. He wanted to talk about my dreams and what they meant. I remember how much I hated him. He was fat with a big beard, and he never laughed. He made me angry and nervous, and after sessions, I would bury myself under my bed like some skinny corpse in a tomb. Asshole, I would think. Conventional treatments weren’t working; my parents were running out of choices.
Then, I met Jannelle through church. Our moms were friends, and we shared a bond of introverted misery. It was like she knew, just looking at me, that I wasn’t right. She wore big, white bandages up her arms and around her wrists. She was even bonier than me, and none of her clothes fit, so she always appeared to be drowning. I loved her. I loved her even more when she gave me my first cigarette and said, “You should come over this weekend. We’re going to watch Rocky Horror,” to which I replied, “You’re doing what?”
When asked about the film Rocky Horror Picture Show, actor Barry Bostwick said, “I just thought we were making a musical.” Well, he was right and he was wrong. Rocky Horror was a musical, released in 1975 to horrible reviews. The film was a total bomb, until one advertising exec in Hollywood suggested the Waverly Theater make it the midnight show. It’s been shown continually in movie theaters ever since, making it the longest theatrical run in history. How did this happen, when the movie was originally such a flop?
In 2005, it was selected by the Library of Congress to be preserved in the National Film Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically important.” I don’t know about the aesthetic part, but culturally, I get it. Rocky Horror was one of the first films to openly portray a transgender lead male who just wanted to fuck. And it’s easy to root for the guy, because who doesn’t want to fuck Tim Curry in a corset and high heels? I know I did, sitting on the carpet at Jannelle’s mom’s house that weekend for the popping of my RHPS cherry. As soon as Magenta’s big red lips started singing “Science Fiction Double Feature,” I was hooked, done for, obsessed. I have been ever since.
The plot is simple … in that science fiction, alien porn kind of way. Janet and Brad are college kids who just got engaged. Out for a night on the town, they get lost and end up at the mansion of Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry, better known as “Frankie”). Frankie is a bi-sexual transvestite from another planet. He’s having a party with all his transsexual alien friends and celebrating the creation of his “monster”—a hunky dude with blond hair who was born to become the doctor’s sex slave. As you might imagine, the innocent virtue of Janet and Brad is soon compromised by Frank’s servants: Riff Raff, Magenta, and Columbia. Of course, they get some sexin’ from Frankie, too, and well, that’s the movie, with some outstanding song and dance numbers and finally, a mansion that takes off and disappears into space.
I recently asked a fellow Rocky Horror fanatic why the film was so important. His response? “The movie itself is not important. It’s the people who are attracted to it.” Rocky Horror brings people together. Not only is it universal, but it’s timeless. No matter where you are or when you’re living, there will always be weirdoes. There will always be outcasts, searching for identity in a sheltered world, and RHPS is there to hug them and say, “A mental mind fuck can be nice!”
The people at Jannelle’s house that weekend were freaks. They were sexually confused and filled with longing like Brad and Janet. They were in love with the wrong people like Columbia. They were sexual deviants like Frank-N-Furter, and they felt rejected like Riff Raff. They wanted to get righteously wasted and laid. A couple of them even wore bandages like Jannelle’s on their arms, legs, wherever they could find supple flesh. I recognized fellow cutters, and I almost wanted to compare scars. Thankfully, I didn’t, because I soon realized I was not surrounded by cutters; I was surrounded by real-deal suicide attempts. However, they didn’t judge my naiveté. They didn’t give a shit about anything, so long as Frankie was up on the TV screen, strutting his stuff. So long as Brad and Janet got deflowered. So long as Rocky, the monster, ran around in his gold lamé Speedo.
When my dad came to pick me up and take me home, the kids covered in bandages asked, “What are you doing next weekend?” And just like that, I belonged.
Within months, I traded my oversized t-shirts for tight tops and short-shorts. I smoked regularly and could drink most high school seniors under the table. I embraced the heavy, black eye makeup, and I knew every line to the RHPS classic, “Sweet Transvestite.” I was exploring—kissing girls, boys, whoever was willing. I was still cutting, because I liked to cut, and if Dr. Frank-N-Furter taught me anything, it was to embrace who you were and not give a shit about what anyone else thought. RHPS was a gateway to social acceptance. Once I realized it was okay to be different, I didn’t hate myself anymore, but I sure as shit hated cheerleaders, jocks, and all forms of authority. I became confident, fearless, and proud to be a freak.
Every weekend, I was with Jannelle and her friends, and I was accepted as one of them. People came and went. Cuts healed and new ones formed. Sometimes, a member of the group would go missing for a couple weeks. We knew it was another suicide attempt, but we weren’t allowed to go to the hospital to visit. Instead, we sent cards with pictures of Tim Curry in drag, because as long as Rocky Horror kept playing, life could keep going. So could school. Before I knew it, eighth grade was over, and it was time for high school.
You won’t believe what happened then.
In ninth grade, I stopped dying my hair black. I still wore tight clothes, but I added some color. The black eyeliner went, and I did crazy things like join the choir and try out for plays. I became involved. My eighth grade self would have kicked my ninth grade self’s ass. But don’t think I’m a total sell-out. I still saw Jannelle, and we met sometimes for the midnight showing of Rocky Horror at the Clazell Theater in Bowling Green. However, the darkest part of the darkness had passed for me.
It did not pass for the some of my friends. In high school, alcohol wasn’t enough, so they started using heroin. Perrysburg High School was famous for its heroin. What did the adults expect? Perrysburg was full of money, but there was nothing to do. Why not get high? Really high?
The first actual suicide happened my junior year. Thankfully, it wasn’t Jannelle, but it was another of our RHPS cronies. We all came together again for the funeral. I brought out the black clothes, and our group said goodbye to a fellow freak. I remember there was a collage his mom had made for the occasion. In all the pictures, he was smiling. It didn’t feel right, to have him all over the funeral home smiling as if to say, “Look how happy I was. Look! I’m perfect! We’re all perfect!” It would have been better if there hadn’t been any pictures at all. Or maybe just one, of Frank-N-Furter singing the final song, “I’m Going Home.”
I graduated from high school in 2000, and I left Perrysburg to attend Ohio University. There, I built a new circle of freaky friends, who related to my stories of Rocky Horror mania. I did the same thing in Charleston, South Carolina; I’ve done the same thing here, in Phoenix, where just last weekend, I wore the shortest skirt I could find and hit up FilmBar downtown for the midnight show. My depression continues. It always will, I suppose, because for some of us, depression is a life-long condition. However, my depression is and always has been manageable, because I found a treatment that worked: embracing the freak in me.
Not everyone made it out of Perrysburg alive. Every couple years, another one bites the dust. When I’m really down, I still turn to Rocky Horror Picture Show. I sing the songs. I dance the “Time Warp,” and I wonder about the people who are gone—the ones who finally cut the right vein. Did they forget about Frank-N-Furter? Did they forget it was okay to be an outcast? I wish they would have gone to a midnight show, where people could have told them, “It’s okay to be a sad little weirdo, because we’re here to embrace you.” I wish they could have heard Frankie say, one last time, “Don’t dream it; be it.” Maybe Rocky Horror could have saved them, if only they’d remembered to turn on the TV. I know it saved me. It still does.
Sara Dobie Bauer is a professional writer. A graduate of Ohio University, she is a currently working on a Creative Writing Certificate at Glendale Community College, and she just completed her first novel, Life without Harry. In her free time, she watches bad horror films, roots for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and enjoys a good IPA. Read more of Sara's work at http://saradobie.wordpress.com.