Jeremy Bolm is the singer of Touché Amoré and Hesitation Wounds. He runs Secret Voice records, and recently released his second zine of his writings, Words From A Porch.
The night that I got the call that my mother had died was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. The grab bag of emotions was a big part of that. It was Halloween 2014 and my band Touché Amoré had just played our final show for the year. My mom had been sick with breast cancer that had metastasized over a year to become stage four terminal cancer. Being away on tour was something I struggled with, but she encouraged me to do it. She’d say things like, “What would you do if you stayed home? You’d come hang out with me for a few hours a day…then what? Go do what you love. I’ll be a phone call away and if anything gets bad, you can come home.”
The Fest in Gainesville, Florida, has provided Touché Amoré a place to play multiple times over the last eight years, so it felt like the best way to end that year of touring; we had just been in Japan and Korea the week before. I got to spend a couple of days with my mom before flying out to play The Fest. My goodbye with her was very brief…something like “OK, I’ll see you in a couple of days.” She had been on a lot of morphine during my visit, so she was fading in and out and said, “You’d better go.” That was the last thing she said to me.
She was the most supportive mother you could ask for.
We arrived in Florida on October 30. My brother called me to tell me, “Mom had a doctor’s appointment. She ran a high fever at the office, so they sent her to the emergency room.” I was struck with a terribly hard decision to make. We were playing the following night. If I were to hop on a plane, there was a chance she’d pass during my transit and then I’d be left without a goodbye — and without the show (which was financially important as well). I had to take a walk and think about what she’d want me to do. Nothing made her happier and prouder than watching us play. She was the most supportive mother you could ask for. So I decided to stay, as I imagined it would be her wish. I kept my fingers crossed that she’d last a couple of more days.
Our performance at Eight Seconds (a now-defunct venue) felt liberating. We played alongside some great bands and friends we’d made over the years. Watching Paint It Black and our past tour mates Strike Anywhere lay waste before our set was very inspiring. For those few hours, the concert did what a punk rock show is supposed to do: free you of your worries and give you an outlet to scream along with your friends.
After performing possibly too many stage dives to Strike Anywhere, we had to start preparing to play. We had a running gag at The Fest (always held on Halloween weekend) where we dressed like low-budget ghosts and called ourselves “Boo-che Amoré.” This year, we wore XXL white T-shirts with the bottom seams cut into triangles. We looked more like the Flintstones than ghosts. Black markers and eyeliner provided our makeup for the evening.
I may have been singing a song about anxiety or lost love, but for that chunk of time, it all was for her.
The set flew by. We played for about forty-five minutes and crammed about twenty-three songs in. For that portion of an hour, all the words I was singing were contorted mentally to reflect what I was going through with my mother. I may have been singing a song about anxiety or lost love, but for that chunk of time, it all was for her. Once the dust settled, I ran upstairs to the greenroom to change and check my phone. There was one missed call from Chris Bolm, my brother. My heart sank and I knew.
I didn’t have the courage to call right back. I decided to hang at the merch table and talk with a few friends before walking outside. Across the street from Eight Seconds was an open parking lot. It looked like the perfect place to walk in circles. Two rings in, my brother answered and said, “She passed.” I don’t remember anything else from the conversation. I couldn’t absorb a single thing but the fact that I’d lost my mom and I wasn’t there.
My memories over the next hour are a bit of a blur. I remember going back into the venue and telling my drummer, Elliot, that my mother had died. I hadn’t cried yet. I kept running into people and trying to act normal; I didn’t want to accept the reality. Maybe if I didn’t tell people, it wouldn’t be true. The next thing I remember was getting to the hotel and my band wanting to go eat at Waffle House, which was down the street. I certainly wasn’t hungry and most certainly didn’t want to walk into a crowded Waffle House on Halloween night. So they left.
Sitting on a curb in the hotel parking lot, I called my girlfriend, Ashley. This is when I cried. She told me how she visited my mom earlier in the day and they had joked and had some laughs. That warmed my heart — knowing that she was able to bring my mom some joy in her last hours. There was something about breaking her out of there and having some boxed wine.
I paced around for a while after the call and that’s when my stomach began growling. I knew I needed to eat, but nothing sounded appetizing. I took a walk toward the Waffle House and the windows were completely fogged up with body heat mixed with Florida humidity. There’s no way in hell I was going in there…and I love Waffle House.
It turned out that I was in a gas station with the band Chixdiggit.
My only option was the store at the gas station. I found myself doing the same thing I was doing in the parking lot: laps. Around the fourth time circling the Pop-Tarts, the doors opened and in walked three older gentlemen, laughing and smiling. Without any reservation, one for them approached me and asked, “Hey! Were you at The Fest?” Mind you, I had forgotten that I still had my ghost makeup on. I told him I was and asked where they were from. “Canada!” they said.
Not to stereotype, but I enjoyed that fact, considering their joyous nature and eagerness to talk to a stranger. I heard the other two mention something about performing, so I asked, “Did you guys play today?” It turned out that I was in a gas station with the band Chixdiggit.
I knew the name, and their album art was etched in my brain from working at a record store for many years — but, admittedly, I had never actually heard them. We started discussing the different stages we had played and what we thought of the festival in general and moved on to where in Canada they lived and the cost of living in Los Angeles. After about a ten-minute talk in the chip aisle, we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. They wished me a safe trip home and I did the same to them. I walked out after finally deciding on a Cup O’ Noodles and bottle of water.
My walk back to the hotel was much different from my walk to the gas station. I felt nothing at all, which was a massive improvement. I remember thinking that I had to text my best friend Joey about meeting Chixdiggit, as I assumed that was a band he’d know.
The point to writing this out is to focus on that simple thing: “kindness to strangers.” You never know what anyone is going through at any given moment. These three guys had no idea that I had just lost my mom about two hours before meeting them. They just had kind and outgoing souls. There is a feeling you get from engaging a stranger in an appropriate manner that can leave both parties feeling better about their day. I think we need that now more than ever.