"Sneaking Past" by Elizabeth Carlton Chase
As a teenage reject, I found comfort and community within the punk-rock subculture of the mid-1980s Atlanta music scene. My divorced parents were strict in their different ways, their rules out-of-sync and punishments unpredictable. They flooded each other’s disciplinary gaps with what felt like unwarranted austerity measures. So, free-spirited as I was, there was a fair amount of sneaking out on my part. This was a thing, back then — we all did it — we had to — but we did it without cell phones or ride-sharing services.
One weekend night, when a friend and I were having a sleepover at my father’s suburban home, we became predictably restless and decided that a Dirty Rotten Imbeciles concert at the all-ages nightclub downtown would make for more satisfying leisure time than watching Rockford Files reruns with my family. So, we snuck out of the glass-sliding door of my father’s recently-finished, basement bonus room.
The ritual was to slide the door open lovingly, coaxing it molecule by molecule, until there was enough room for us to slither past without causing any creaks or crinkles. In the track would be the inevitable granules, and then we’d get down on our hands and knees to brush and blow them out of the path of the door. Sometimes we’d use spit or lip balm as a lubricant. Then we’d have to perform that process all over again — painstakingly, methodically — in order to seal the door closed in our wake. This could take 45 minutes. It’d be worth it.
Once free, it was time for the long walk along the shoulder of a dark, two-lane road to the bus stop where we caught the last, nearly empty city bus out of the suburbs. On our best behavior, we’d slink to the back, trying to escape the blue-white fluorescent lights. Swaying in our seats in tune with the weight of the bus as it glided over potholes, we’d speak in soft, mature voices, avoiding the periodic stare of the suspicious bus driver. At our stop — Luckie Street — the hydraulic door would hiss open, and we’d clop down the stairs in our combat boots to our second realm of freedom: downtown Atlanta. We’d brush past characters in the shadows on the final stretch, where we’d finally see the club — a beacon of dim, flashing lights at the bottom of that last hill.
That night, we slipped past the doorman (who winked at us in lieu of asking for the $3 cover charge) and embarked on an evening that met all of our expectations, complete with underage drinking and flirting with everything that moved in the mosh pit of sweaty punks. And the bands delivered what we all craved: liberating music, the kind that made us feel free in our fifteen-year-old skins.
At 3 AM, a friend of ours gave us a ride back to an intersection near my dad’s house. Moshé was an eccentric man many years our senior, who sported a braided mohawk and 20-plus earrings on either side. As we tiptoed along the asphalt in our sock feet, we giggled about how my father would’ve had a conniption if he’d seen us getting out of that old muscle car. But we knew from experience that Moshé was gentle. For the most part, this tribe was nurturing and protective, instilling a level of self-confidence and self-esteem in anyone who felt empty — anyone daring enough to come looking.
Late that night, with morning just over the horizon, we padded down the driveway in silence and squished through the dew-kissed backyard. By the time we reached that damned sliding door, we had assumed stealth mode, our breath as silent as interstellar space. It was time for re-entry. Slide, pause, beat, beat. Nudge, pause. Long beat. Slide. 35 minutes later — maybe a bit rushed, but door protocol complete — we had successfully managed to slither through. As we found ourselves with our bare toes cradled in my dad’s new beige carpet, the door locked, and the moonlit curtain appearing undisturbed, we allowed ourselves a sigh of relief.
Just then, there was a small pop in the silence, and we were blasted with lamplight. There sat my pajamas-clad dad, splayed out in his La-Z-Boy chair. He gave us a round of applause, his face showing an ominous mixture of amusement and fury. We were in big trouble, and we both knew we’d pay the price with our respective parents. Our one saving grace was that — because of our bone-quiet routine — my dad hadn’t heard any banter we might have otherwise shared: the dream of the next ill-founded adventure. Looking back, I now realize that I am extraordinarily lucky to be alive.
I maintain that it was worth every minute. And every molecule.
ELIZABETH CARLTON CHASE
Elizabeth Chase holds an MFA in Screenwriting from the American Film Institute and earned her BFA in Filmmaking (Screenwriting) from the UNC School of the Arts. With extensive experience in the Hollywood studio system, she currently works from home as a freelance writer, copyeditor, and transcriber. She is also a veteran actor, with a focus in comedy in both her acting and writing. A native Atlantan, Elizabeth lives in the Los Angeles town of Monrovia, at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains. She shares her life with her husband, Joshua, who is a sound effects editor for film and TV and a musician. The pair are pet-parents to two Cirneco dell'Etna dogs, Mercurio and Zahara. Elizabeth is an avid walker, hiker, and swimmer, and loves to do just about anything that’s adventurous but just shy of being called an extreme sport.
Headshot: Jhovany Quiroz
Photo Credit: Lynn Yoffee