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Brianna Hammerstrom


I will be withdrawing my application to the 27 Club in 2 days. Another milestone. All the birthdays did I not believe in after 18, somehow happened. 25 happened. I do not call it miracle- I know how much labor I put into staying here. Know how much privilege gifted me both breath and blind eye. I think about Breonna - we share syllables, and enough letters to echo each other. Her birthday was yesterday. We would have been 27 together for precisely 3 days. We both passed 25- something Kanye and I didn’t think we would get and here we are. Here she was, with us. And now isn’t. Like the many who didn’t make their next milestones.


This was supposed to be about isolation. The people I left and the ones who left me. How people wanted to label me Welfare Queen, Crowned Doing Nothing, of the Sitting, of The Waiting. I was a part of The Waiting for so much of my life- Billie Joe and punk rock gave me the space to be, to wait with my anger until it unfurled itself into the grief it always was. But we don’t talk about Poly Styrene, instead boast of Dead Kennedys. Jesus of Suburbia died and we killed him. Kurt Cobain died and we killed him. Breonna Taylor died and we killed her.


My stomach has always been full of mourning. Before Quarantine began. In the Previous. The Was. And here, in the present of pandemic, I am still trying to clean my plate. My eyes have always been bigger than my stomach; I made myself sick of it, kettling my own grief. When I was 16 after being denied a psychologist, I sank in the shame of it. Later, I couldn’t Occupy Wall Street- how was I to occupy my own body??

A smashed window holds priority over a smashed skull. Pepper spray remedies have snaked their way under my eyelids. Hashtags translated into digital tombstones. Street Medic Handbooks and First Responder Training alchemized into both propaganda and gospel; to be caught aiding a protestor is labelled punishable offense by those in riot gear. After all, healing is not a gift we give to the hurt in this country, only scars are allowed on this land- gerrymandered counties bloom on forearms.


A woman from Chicago has my phone number written in Sharpie on her body, just in case. Another from KC has my tarot cards telling her to stick to the edges. Someone in Salt Lake City asks about how to find legal counsel. I think to myself, this is the most punk rock I can be. Aiding and abetting to protect and serve my community. The small riots alighting my body as I let the anger be the grief it always was. I inherited my throne of Waiting long before I ever applied for Unemployment- waiting for this world to do something worthwhile with it’s paper and laws. Turns out the Great Experiment isn’t the venue I hoped it would be- red tape, glass ceilings, bouncers who think a mosh pit is more violent than a billy clubs.


I shout between chants at the protestors in my new city to drink water, take turns leading the calls, to preserve their voices for when we will need them. I hear my first name echo off the leaves- letters and syllables that are mine, but not mine at all. Someone I shared a hotel with once told me I had a Black Girl’s name. He wasn’t wrong, is all I can think now, as our name rattles off the neighborhood windows. This is also a milestone.


I am withdrawing my 27 Club application. I will be 28 soon. It is an honor and privilege to do so in times like these. My mother has always called me her miracle. I have enough grey hairs on my head to count each as a blessing. My anger is also a blessing, unfurling in its own time. This is the achievement: grieving in the most open of senses. It is the most punk rock thing I can do, stay connected in the chaos of it all.


May we all have the chance to march in the sun just like this.

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All images other than author photos and artist artwork ©Matthew Batt 2020