Baby’s First Mosh Pit

Five measly dollars in exchange for community, liberation, and a good fucking time.

Illustration by Lux Montes. Graphic by Ang Cruz.

It’s a decent-sized crowd packed into an absolute shoebox, with the buzzing of excitement bouncing off its brick walls. A small, forgotten hallway of a building squeezed in between an upscale nightclub and a parking structure, The Smell is home to a laundry list of performers spanning various genres and a sort of rite of passage for the local SoCal DIY teens.

I was a mere 19 when I made the pilgrimage, practically dragged there by a friend and anxious after the hour-long bus ride into the heart of downtown Los Angeles. A lifetime of feeling like a square peg in a round hole makes me all too aware of everything at once. I try to make myself smaller to take up less space in the cramped building. My heart rattles inside my rib cage like a swap meet bird and I feel my skin prickle with sweat as I wait for someone to realize I don’t belong.

As the night went on, and song after song rang out, I found myself slowly untangling. A lot of these kids actually look like me, big and brown, with technicolored hair, facial piercings, and ripped fishnets. They smile at me in passing, and quickly offer a hand to anyone who slips in the thronging crowd. Their lack of judgment disarms me and I start to bob my head, then sway my body, and finally dance, lost in the music.

Sweat skates down my face as my heart pounds in my ears and my body is pushed along with the crowd. My eyeliner is running, my hair is fucked up and I’m breathing hard and heavy. Lost in the thrall of the pit, I tilt my head back, and laugh.

Looking back on it now I can’t believe how perfect it was. I was done with high school, taking classes at the local community college because my family couldn’t afford the universities I was accepted to. I was feeling stagnant, lost, and unsure of my future. No career path was lighting up for me and I was closing more and more onto myself as old friends left to attend their Real Four Year Colleges. I could feel myself sinking beneath than them with each passing day, not knowing if I would ever breach the surface. I was too nervous to commit to anything and too frightened of failure to try. I was scanning social media looking for updates, constantly measuring my growth against theirs.

Having dedicated three-fourths of my high school tenure to the marching band left me largely at a loss of what to do with all of the free time I had. For three years my life revolved around rehearsal, tournaments, and recitals — losing that structure stripped me of the confidence I was building and the friends I had made. I was starved of community, kinship, and understanding. You can’t spend that much time being part of something bigger than yourself and come away feeling anything but lackluster.

I feel so at home in a crowd with a halfway decent sense of direction. The pit was familiar to me in that way, bodies forming haphazard ripples pulsing in time to the music. Marching band, however, was exact. Precise. Each motion carefully measured and each one of our faces was uniform. Only the color guard was allowed to smile as the rest of the band performed with grim blank faces, concentrating on the steps. Our show was broken down into pieces and memorized, each step is done over a thousand times. Our band director demanded pinpoint accuracy, barking at us, “From the top!” long past our scheduled practice time.

There’s beauty in perfection, of course, merit being something so perfect that it’s undeniable. I didn’t pride myself so much on being the best, I was in it for the solidarity. For 12 minutes and 44 seconds, I was the world’s happiest cog. There was this point in our closer, the big finisher, where the entire band lines up flush against the yard lines, and we hit the last few notes together, loud and true.

I can close my eyes and still remember the way it felt, how powerful I felt with everyone by my side.

Marching band taught me there was strength in numbers but mosh pits taught me there was strength in me.

Marching band is doing laps at the Y, slicing into the chlorine blue over and over until butterfly strokes are so second nature that your mind can drift. Mosh pits are white water rapids, wild and powerful, demanding your full attention. As the night goes on I start to thrash with the best of them, knocking into the brick walls, screaming choruses I learned minutes ago.

I felt alive for the first time in months, the familiar taste of the strength and presence I had in marching band brought forth with a new sense of agency. The pit is direct — there’s no practice and there’s no big show. Ready or not, someone is coming your way, sending adrenaline and kinetic energy coursing through your body. You aren’t worried about the idiosyncrasies of everyday life, you aren’t worried if you’re too big or too small or too much, you just are. In the pit, there’s no judgment, just the swirling throng of bodies exchanging bruises like kisses. There is nothing I have grown to love more in a shorter period of time than the weight of another person slamming into me.

This particular show was more punk than hardcore, and few pits nowadays are expressly formed around the intent to hurt another person. I was able to trust the coursing current and dive in. It was enough to get me out of my comfort zone and more importantly, out of my head. Coming out bruised and sore, with bloodied knees and broken glasses was a small pound of flesh to pay for the fire singing in my veins.

I will never forget the first night I realized that no one cares about me to the extent that I think they do. No one is analyzing me looking for chinks in the armor, no one is prodding for weak points. I don’t have to be this porcelain version of myself all the time because nobody cares. We’re all trying to orchestrate meaning out of the jumbles of notes we have to work with. Every experience is unique and personal, shaped by our own various insecurities, triumphs, and traumas. Life, real life, isn’t about fitting in or being perfect. It’s about existing as you. It’s about having the strength to be you among a sea of thronging bodies. It’s finding confidence in the freedom to exist.

The wee hours of the morning welcomed me as I snuck into my home for the first time, the whole night a secret folded behind a lie to appease my dear mother. I felt fundamentally changed, and excited. Not for the future, per se, but for today. I stopped comparing my growth to others and focused on nurturing myself.

I stopped seeing my life as five-year plans and started measuring my worth in richness of experience. Nothing had changed about my circumstances other than the context I was viewing them in. I’m still working toward finding my place in life but I’m not afraid to get messy, sweaty, or bloody anymore.

I’m not afraid to try.