It was Chrissy that first introduced Alma to Judas Priest one afternoon in the living room of Chrissy’s mother’s apartment. That afternoon, at least, they weren’t friends. Not yet. They weren’t exactly friends, as maybe Alma wouldn’t be quite comfortable calling Chrissy her friend. Not that day. Chrissy had a reputation at school for being tough and being trouble. She’d transferred in half-way through the school year, which made her the subject of all manner of rumors and implications she either didn’t notice or didn’t care to deny. Alma, however, who was not wealthy and not white, couldn’t afford to be a pariah. Though she never repeated what she heard, she didn’t defend Chrissy either.
Allegedly, Chrissy got kicked out of her old school for kissing a teacher. Allegedly, students had seen her drinking at a high school football game with some older boys. Allegedly, Chrissy had a fake ID from Rhode Island that said she was 18 and she used it to buy cigarettes. At least that last one was believable. At thirteen years old, Chrissy was already a tall young woman in ripped jeans and an oversized t-shirt, a men’s flannel tied around her waist. In practice, Chrissy didn’t talk to anyone in her classes unless it was necessary and spent most of her lunches sitting alone on the patch of grass at the edge of the quad or with another boy in their grade who missed a lot of school and always seemed to be in need of a haircut.
In Social Studies earlier that day, Chrissy had leaned over to Alma while they filled out worksheets. “Hey Alma, you should come hang out after school today.” Alma looked around to see if anyone had noticed. Nobody did. In truth, Alma didn’t have many friends either, and nobody ever asked her to hang out after school. She tried to sound nonchalant.
“Yeah, that sounds ok.”
“Cool. We can hang out at my house. My mom won’t be home until five but she can drive you back to your house after. She’s really nice.”
All day Alma wondered how she’d get away with this. Her parents barely let her go to the movies with friends from church, let alone into the home of a white girl who wore lipstick, especially while her mother wasn’t home. During lunch she hoped Chrissy wouldn’t approach her in front of the small group of girls she’d gradually assembled over the past two years. With relief Alma saw Chrissy’s flannel back on its usual patch of grass with her usual lunch companion, Kevin. He held open a comic book and seemed to be laughing.
Instead of boarding the school bus in the afternoon, Alma met Chrissy at the back fence between the soccer field and the custodian’s warehouse. The two walked half a mile through the neighborhood of large stucco houses and across a boulevard four lanes wide in each direction. As they crossed, a driver whistled at them out his car window. Chrissy turned toward the man and yelled out “PERVERT! What’s wrong with you?” and continued to the other side while the man honked his horn. Under her breath she said, “Pervert asshole.”
This had happened to Alma a few times before and always left her disoriented, with a damp heat crawling through her scalp and a cold sickness in her stomach. The times this had happened to her, she’d never dared to confront the drivers. If she was alone she’d run away and hunch her shoulders in an effort to diminish the size of her developing body. Alma saw her own shadow walking next to Chrissy’s and noticed how childlike it looked. Across the boulevard Chrissy stopped in front of a large apartment complex and punched a code to access the front gate. Past a swimming pool and around some landscaped pathways, Chrissy led Alma to her front door. The inside of the apartment was dim and smelled of cat fur and un-vacuumed carpet. Alma followed Chrissy inside cautiously and kicked off her shoes in the entry as Chrissy did. From the dark hallway came the tinny sound of machine gun fire and classic rock music.
“Lame,” Chrissy declared. “My asshole brother is home. He like, never leaves the house.” She shook her head. “What an asshole.”
Chrissy threw her backpack on the sofa and invited Alma to do the same, which she did, though with less enthusiasm. They entered the galley kitchen, the long counter bare except for a finger-print smeared microwave oven and a dusty coffee maker. Chrissy pulled a pizza from the freezer while Alma called home. Her mother answered.
“Ma,” Alma said in Spanish, “I didn’t take the bus home.”
After a deep sucking breath, her mother said,”Oh Alma, why are you so distracted all the time? You missed your bus, and you know your father is working a double shift today. He won’t be home until late and won’t be able to pick you up. You’ll have to walk home and it’s so dangerous out there.”
“No, Ma.” Alma sighed, “I have group project to do, so I’m studying at the library with a friend. Her mom will drive me home around five. Don’t worry. See you later.”
Alma hung up the phone before her mother could ask which library and which friend. Chrissy handed her a can of diet cola and the two sat on the white living room carpet, their socked feet propped up on the low coffee table.
Chrissy slurped her soda. “Wow, you speak Spanish, Alma? That’s so cool. I had no idea.”
“Oh.” Alma tried not to feel embarrassed. “Well, yeah. My dad speaks pretty good English but my mom still… I mean, she can speak English, we just mostly speak Spanish at home. It’s easier for her.”
“Crazy.” Chrissy turned on the television to the music video station. Alma tried not to stare at the screen, to act as if she’d watched the channel before. A young woman pouted against a chain-link fence, tossing her blond hair around in time to pop music.
“So, what kind of music do you like?” Chrissy asked. “What’s your favorite band?” She pulled a binder out of her backpack.
“I dunno. All kinds, I guess.” Alma shrugged. Chrissy was still waiting for a convincing answer. “The Beatles?” then again, more assured. “I like The Beatles.”
Chrissy laughed. “Well, this is my favorite band.” She turned off the television and put a compact disc into the stereo, fiddled with the knobs for a moment and stood back, waiting for the music to begin. Out of the speakers came the most raucous sound Alma had ever heard. It seemed impossible for anyone to play music so quickly and with so many instruments going at once. A man’s voice sang ugly words Alma could make out as being about destruction. Alma had expected Chrissy’s music to be unfamiliar and possibly loud, but this noise was what her parents and their church magazines must have been referring to when they described modern music as Satanic.
Chrissy searched Alma’s face for a reaction.
“What do you think?”
“Um, it’s really fast.”
“Fast? I guess. It’s Judas Priest. It’s like, just regular metal. There’s way faster metal.”
“Oh, no. I mean, I guess I never heard heavy metal before.”
“What? That’s crazy. This album is super old even.”
After a moment, after “Rapid Fire” had started, Alma breathed deeply. “Chrissy, my parents are super strict. They’re not super religious but they are really protective and they don’t let me listen to regular music. Only Oldies. And Spanish songs from like, the 70s.” It was a difficult thing to confess, and she was a little relieved Chrissy had no friends at school, except maybe Kevin.
The two girls sat together, not talking, and gradually the shock of the music wore off. By the time “Breaking the Law” came on, Alma nodded her head along to the melody. She said, “My parents think any music with too many guitars is devil-worshipping. If “Paint It Black” comes on the Oldies station they make me turn it off until it’s over. I don’t even know what they’d do if they caught me listening to this.”
“What?” Chrissy stood up. “That’s so fucked up. You should just tell them to fuck off. It’s just music.” She walked to the kitchen and returned with two slices of cheese pizza on paper plates.
Alma felt obligated to defend her parents. “It’s not that my parents are bad people. They worked hard to move me and my little sister out of the neighborhood where we used to live, just so we could go to good schools and be safe. They’re just really strict. And overprotective. About everything. TV, boys, music, clothes. Everything.” Chrissy shrugged.
They ate while flipping aimlessly through their respective schoolwork, and as the rest of British Steel played Alma could begin to make out the individual words. The guitars soared and the drums thumped in her heart and she realized she didn’t care about society’s opinion of young girls either. Chrissy bobbed her head along and looked pleased. When it ended, Alma asked, “How did you even get into this?”
Chrissy said, “Oh, you know. I was at the record store on 17th street and I felt a calling to it. The cover was all black with a big razor blade on it. So, I stole it. And it’s been my favorite ever since. Judas Priest is totally sick. My mom said they went to the Supreme Court or something because all these kids were listening it and then killing themselves.”
Alma wasn’t sure if that was true, but opted not to doubt Chrissy.
A door opened and Chrissy’s brother emerged from the darkness. He was tall and too thin for his frame, his bony arms hanging out his black t-shirt with the sleeves cut off. He pulled his hair back with a rubber band and sniffed the air. “Did you make a pizza? Maybe you’re not so fucking useless after all.” Without looking at either of the girls, he walked into the kitchen and came back, holding half the pizza on a baking tray and can of beer.
“Fuck you, Jeremy,” Chrissy called after him, but her voice sounded small. He turned toward the living room and looked first at Chrissy, then at the stereo.
“Chrissy, you poser. This is my Judas Priest cd, huh? I’ve been looking for it all week. If you scratch it, Chrissy, I swear to God, I will fuck you up.” He walked back into his bedroom, slamming the door behind him.
Chrissy’s eyes turned watery and she sniffed. Feeling helpless, Alma offered her friendship. “Man, Chrissy, this is so good I could listen to it all the time. Do you think you could tape it for me?” Chrissy blinked twice and the tears were gone. She sprung from her seat and rummaged for a blank cassette as if she’d been waiting all day for this moment, popped it in the cassette player and re-started the cd. They listened again, doing homework separately, side by side.
Just after five Chrissy’s mother called to say she wouldn’t be home until late. “Shit,” Chrissy said. “I guess I can’t give you a ride home. I’m so sorry.” Her shoulders twitched in her oversized t-shirt. “Do you want to call your parents to come get you? I can walk you home, too, and ride my bike back.” The cd ended again and Chrissy pulled the tape out of the cassette player. “I don’t want you to get grounded or something. What do your parents do if you break the rules?”
Alma took the cassette from Chrissy’s hand before she could stick a label on it and snapped it into her Walkman, which she tucked into her sweatshirt pocket.
“Um, I don’t know. I’ve never broken the rules before.” On the few occasions Alma had gotten a ride home from the library, she’d found her mother sitting on the front porch, smoking cigarettes and rubbing the beads of her rosary. Alma pictured her mother smoking one cigarette for every ten minutes past five, and now at close to thirty minutes past and at least an hour until she could complete the three-mile journey, the pack would be almost gone by the time Alma came walking up the street to her door. What would her mother do? She waved Chrissy away. “Don’t worry about it. What are they going to do- only let me go to school and home and church? That’s my regular life anyway.”
She gathered her books into her backpack and put on her shoes. At the door, Chrissy said to her, “Hey, if you like Judas Priest, I can make you more tapes. I’ll make you another tape tonight and give it to you tomorrow at lunch or something.”
“Yeah, I’d like that.” Alma pulled her headphones over her ears and started the walk home.
Isabel Magdaleno lives and writes in Oakland. She is a co-op member at Adobe Books in San Francisco, and occasionally works toward a creative writing certificate at CCSF. Rapid Fire, 1993 is her first published work.
I first began photographing bands because of the passion musicians display while performing. It’s like siren’s call to the audience it drives us wild allowing us to shed the mundane insane aspects of ours lives. It’s my hope to capture this tribal passion.