Time of my life

This isn’t a story about how my first boyfriend ever was Tré Cool from Green Day. It’s about how I met all of my friends.

I picked up my first Green Day CD when I was 12. Shenanigans was a collection of B-sides and rarities, a few covers, one unreleased track. When I pressed play on my CD player, I was a child. When the album was over, I was a teenager.

Perhaps Billie Joe’s gravelly angst or Tré Cool’s razor sharp drums or Mike Dirnt’s distorted bass were responsible for the transformation. Most likely, though, it was the tortured Americana lyrics about love and death and stench and rot. The Spice Girls hadn’t sung about laughing at the funerals of their enemies or falling off the wagon or teeth dropping out their heads or wanting to die cos everything sucks. I was 12 and you know what sounded way more fun than 2 becoming 1? Slamming down tequilas, vomiting out car windows and plowing down old ladies.

I was just as besotted with the album art; pictures of the band spray-painted on a wall, their expressions sultry and shifty, hoods up, hair spiked. I fancied each of them violently. The paint dripped down the wall and the spray cans were discarded on the floor. Clearly, Green Day do not clean up after themselves. This band don’t give a fuck, and henceforth, I decided, neither would I.

My mum was unimpressed when I stopped putting my laundry in the basket and dumped it on the floor instead. I tore down all my horse posters and swapped my Animals and you magazine subscription for Kerrang! I used my pocket money to buy black nail varnish, fishnet tops and drumsticks and spent my evenings drumming along to Green Day songs on my pillows. When I nailed my first drum solo I shed a happy tear.

One day in spring 2003 I went on www.greenday.com and discovered the band uploaded audio messages for their fans. They dated back a while so I spent a few happy evenings at my clunky desktop computer, foam headphones on, listening to my heroes jabber on about their thoughts and feelings and what they did that day and the new music they had coming out. As I listened I’d wish really, really hard that I was a badass babe from the Bay Area, not a big-toothed school girl from south London.

One evening I came across an audio message that changed my life forever, which sounds like a cliché, but in this case is not an exaggeration. It altered my world permanently. Looking back I don’t think it was some chance discovery; it was a bolt of pure fate designed to pluck me out my bland reality and plonk me down somewhere significantly more interesting.

The audio message was from Tré Cool. He was super excited because he’d just got a new email address so his fans could email him. trecoolisfine@hotmail.com.

I was shaking when I typed the email. I wrote that I’m a huge fan of Green Day and that actually I really really love him in particular because he’s just the most incredible drummer and I’ve started drumming because of him and I hope soon I will get my own drum kit and my biggest dream is to see Green Day play next time they’re in England and thank you for reading this you’re sosososo awesome lots of love Alice.

Afterwards I went about my evening and ate my chicken nuggets and drummed along to Hitchin’ a Ride and watched Coronation Street.

Before bed, with my mum’s permission, I logged on to my email — ihateavrillavigne431@hotmail.com — and almost had a heart attack when I saw a reply from Tré Cool sitting in my inbox.

Re: Hellooo!
Heyyyyyy Alice! It’s so nice to hear from you. thank you for your email! I hope you can catch one of our shows sometime too. Where in England do you live? Rock on. Tré

My poor mum. She found me staring at the computer, pale and stiff as a board, mouth slightly open, eyes wide and catatonic. She was concerned, she remembers, because I wasn’t blinking.

“Ali? What’s happened? Are you okay?”

I turned to her, slow and unseeing, then back to the computer.

“Ali?” She stood behind me. I pointed to the screen and that’s when I broke. I started jabbering and hyperventilating and saying “Green Day” and “Tré Cool” and “oh my god” over and over again. I had to be tended to like a Victorian lady suffering a turn. My mum put a damp tea towel on my forehead and gave me a glass of water. When I took a sip, it spilt everywhere.

— — —

Before Green Day I was a bookish, big-toothed child. My mum’s friends said I reminded them of a character from an Enid Blyton book. Not because I had curly brown hair and freckles, but because I was exceptionally cheerful. At age 12, before Green Day, I’d march through the school corridors in my olive green uniform grinning from ear to ear and hollering a cheery “hullo!” to anyone who made eye contact. Socially I was at the very bottom of the pile. I had been allocated zero cool points. But I really, really liked English Literature and until Green Day happened, books were all I cared about.

Before Green Day I wore printed leggings and matching blouses. I owned purple platforms which I wore on special occasions such as going to car boot sales on Saturdays or visiting my grandmother on Sundays. Before Green Day I was an indoor child. I’d spend most of my time ploughing through my reading pile, at times actively agitated by how many books I wanted to read and how little time there was to read them.

Towards the end of year 7 my group of friends started talking about music. One of them had an older sister who was very cool, and she liked punk. The words System of a Down and Rage Against the Machine and Blink 182 started floating around my consciousness. I wasn’t sure what to make of it but I got the sense that things were moving, stuff was happening, identities were being formed. I certainly did not want to be left behind. It was 2002 and I did not have access to music channels on TV, but my dad gave me money to buy something from HMV. Out of thousands of CDs, it was the only one I picked up. I didn’t find Shenanigans. Shenanigans found me.

— — -

My friends at school wouldn’t believe me until I showed them the email. We had to wait until first break before we could sneak into the IT room, and when I logged on I nearly fell off the chair. There was another email from Tré.

Re: Re: Re: Hellooo!

Heyy Alice!
Coooool I love London, that is such an awesome city! We played there last year and had a rad time, although I sprained my ankle jumping off a speaker hehe. British fans are wiiiiild!
Talk to ya soon
Tré

Mrs Smith was alarmed to find us collapsed in a pile on the floor, screeching and hyperventilating.

“What on earth is going on?” She said.

— — — —

The first few emails from Tré were standard fan to rockstar exchanges. I, of course, replied to every single message he sent, even if he didn’t ask me a question, just to see how long this could last.

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Helloooo!

Heyy Alice!
So cool you started drumming, just promise you won’t use me as a role model hehe. I started when I was ummmmmm let’s say maybe 9? I was a hyper-active kid and needed to release my energy somehow haha. Do you have a drum kit yet? Lemme know if you need recommendations
xx Tré

For my friends and I, the internet was a form of adolescent rebellion. We got hotmail and music taste at the same time, so our email addresses were hyper-concise extensions of our personal brands. As you can see, I had developed a severe disliking for Avril Lavigne borne no doubt from a pit of spitting jealousy, as had 431 people before me.

Our parents couldn’t fathom the internet which made it a safe and private space for adolescence to unfurl. I’d spend most of my spare time talking to friends on MSN Instant Messenger. Somehow we hadn’t quite covered everything during the eight hours we’d spent together at school and needed the evenings for further discussions.

The internet was a space to talk to boys without the agonising self consciousness of being physically present. I could type witty sentences and deliver them impeccably. I could present a polished version of my personality minus the gawky teeth and guffawing laugh. On the internet I could hide and shine at the same time.

Being a 12 year old girl isn’t much fun. I was becoming aware I had a social currency that depended entirely on whether or not the opposite sex found me attractive. I went to an all girls private school in Streatham, and in this world boys were nice to girls who were rich and stick thin with straight hair.

Secondary school in England is like a social version of The Hunger Games. If you do not establish yourself as cool within the first year you will forever be branded a loser (i.e. dead) until you leave school and get a second chance at university or the workplace. My friends and I became acceptable in a misfit kind of way, because we listened to Nirvana and hung around South Bank at the weekend.

Around the time I became pen pals with Tré, some of the girls in my group started hanging out with boys from a neighbouring school. Suddenly it was all they could talk about. Who fancied who and who got fingered when and what exactly is a hand job. I knew I didn’t fit in. No amount of eyeliner or fishnet tops or Green Day hoodies could hide the Enid Blyton character beneath. I tried to suppress her but that exceptionally cheerful grin gave it away.

The boys could sense it. They took a disliking to me and my friend Anna in particular because she was taller than all of them. Once, sitting in the park, one of the boys took my shoe and threw it in a bush. I laughed and chased after it as if he’d been flirting, but I got the message. I wasn’t what they wanted. Go away.

One afternoon, hanging out on Streatham Common, a new boy turned up. His name was Freddie and he had spiked brown hair and bright blue eyes and he was, in my opinion, fit. We chatted and he seemed kind and shy and asked me more questions than any of the other boys ever had. The next day at school someone told me he thought I was cute. I was so happy I could burst. I did fit in after all. I spent the day imagining life as Freddie’s girlfriend.

That night when I was sitting on the sofa with my mum watching Coronation Street I got a text message from a boy called Dan that said:

Lol Freddie doesn’t think you’re fit you dumb cunt

— — — — — — —

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Hellooo!

Heyyyooo Aleeeeceoooo

Hehehe don’t know what’s happening but I am so hypeEeR today!!! Me Mike and Billie are in the studio working on some choo-choo-choons haha omg I saw the cutest British Bull Terrier today and it reminded me of you cos you’re Bri-ish right?!?! How are you?! Hope you’re goooooood!!
xx Tré

— — — — — — — —

I came to expect the emails, which were becoming increasingly friendly. Our blossoming friendship didn’t feel forced — it felt strangely natural, like I was speaking to someone entirely on my level. Tré Cool clearly saw something in me that the boys in the neighbouring school didn’t. He saw someone worth getting to know.

At home, after school, I got into the habit of refreshing my emails every ten minutes. My mum, again, was unimpressed. Back then the internet and the phone line could not coexist and every time my mum picked up the phone to call Sandra all she could hear was EEEEE-OOOOO-EEEEEE-OOOOOOOEEEEEEEEE.

“Ali!” She would bellow up the stairs. “Get off the computer!”

I’d sign off reluctantly, checking the phone line every five minutes until she was done talking. MSN was fun, but when I’d log on to find an email from Tré it felt like my world had been lit up by a thousand suns. He’d respond every day, sometimes twice a day. I was living more than a fantasy, because it was really happening. My grey life, spent on cluttered busses or in my rectangle school, in colourless classrooms where owl-eyed teachers scraped platitudes on blackboards and told me I wasn’t listening. Where bells dictated my every move and free time meant standing in a huddle on a concrete field under monochrome skies until the bell said it was time to go in again. All of it, suddenly, had a California glow. It was like I lived in two dimensions. One was dull and desolate, a place where boys found me of no use or consequence. The other sparkled and danced like the bay of San Francisco, a place where rockstars ask if I’m okay.

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Hellooo!

Alice!!!! Do you have Yahoo Messenger??? Me and some friends chat on there allll the time, add me! Trecoolisfine@yahoo.com
xx

— — — — —

The chat sped along so fast I could barely keep up. It felt like Tré and his friends had known each other for years. I kept quiet, watching them type, noting how they used correct spelling and grammar. The text language I’d thought was cool suddenly became impossibly lame. I resolved never to spell anything incorrectly again.

trecoolisfine: Alice!!!!!!!
trecoolisfine: Welcome!!!!!
glitteratixsparkle: Heyyy Alice!! I’m Charley!
hyper_mia: Heyyyy Alice
adrienne_armstrong: Hey!
trecoolisfine: Alice we were just talking about Billie
trecoolisfine: he’s been sick all week
adrienne_armstrong: too much Jim Beam [eye roll]
ihateavrillavigne431: Hi guys! nice to meet you 😀
trecoolisfine: Mikey and I are holding the fort at the studio
trecoolisfine: can’t do much without Billie boy though

It took a couple days to figure out the dynamics of the group. Glitteratixsparkle was a girl called Charley. She was 14, a year older than me and lived just 30 minutes away in Croydon. Mia was 15, from Sydney, and had confidence I could only dream of. There were two young girls from Florida, Adrienne, Billie Joe’s wife, and then there was Tré.

It didn’t come up as strange that the members of Green Day plus spouses were chatting to a gaggle of teenage girls on the internet because that would’ve spoiled the magic. Instead of asking questions, I dived in head first.

I was hooked to the group chat from day one. Soon I was so immersed in the online world of Green Day and friends I could think about nothing else. I’d sit at the gargantuan desktop computer all evening, from 5pm until 9pm, pausing only for dinner. The conversation would stream for hours and I didn’t want to miss a single second. Mike Dirnt and Billie Joe Armstrong were soon added in, and after the initial stage fright I’d chat away confidently, pouring a personality I didn’t realise I had into the text box and finding, to my surprise, that it was totally accepted. At first Billie or Charley or Mia would chide me for not using proper grammar or for dumbing myself down. It was a habit I’d picked up from the world outside, but they hammered it out sharpish.

bjarmstrong: Alice, what are you doing
bjarmstrong: We know you’re smart
trecoolisfine: Yeah quit pretending you aren’t

In lessons I’d sit in a hypnotic state of daydream, wide-eyed in disbelief at this phenomenal good luck of mine. Meanwhile my friends were ‘going out’ with boys from the neighbouring schools. But those relationships were laced with venom, my friends forced to navigate that toxic space between being frigid or a slut. If a girl our age were to succumb to the pressure of sex, it would be made public knowledge instantly. When it happened to other girls we’d laugh loud and we’d laugh hard. Short gasps of relief that it hadn’t been one of us.

As much as I could, I stayed away. Where once I’d wanted approval from this confused gang of children, I didn’t need it anymore. I was getting it elsewhere.

— — —

trecoolisfine: Aleeeeeceooo
trecoolisfine: how are you doing??
trecoolisfine: keeping up with the group chat okay?
ihateavrillavigne431: Hey Tre! Yeah I’m good thanks, keeping up
ihateavrillavigne431: what have you been doing today?
trecoolisfine: ugh not much just trying to keep Mike and Billie from tearing each other’s heads off
ihateavrillavigne431: how come?
trecoolisfine: I dno sometimes they just go through these periods where they’re like at eachother’s throats the whole fuckin time
trecoolisfine: I get caught in the middle and I hateeeee it
trecoolisfine: Anyways
trecoolisfine: What’s going on with youuuu
trecoolisfine: How’s the drumming??

— — -

We spoke so often it was like we had our own language. We had private jokes, certain words we used, ways of spelling things. We’d say “OMB” instead of “OMG” because B stood for Billie and Billie was God. We gave each other nicknames. I knew all about Charley’s best friends at school and what festival Mia went to last weekend and what songs Billie had written that week. But the star of the show was Tré. As my 9pm bedtime crept up each night my heart would sink knowing I had to wait another 18 hours until I could speak to him again.

Soon I wasn’t able to adhere to my prescribed bed time. My mum would kick me out the computer room at 9pm, I’d brush my teeth, get into bed, shout good night, turn the light off and lie there in the dark until she’d climbed the stairs and shut her door. Then I’d throw the covers back and creep along the hallway, back into the computer room at the end of the hall.

My adrenaline would pound as I’d turn the computer on, waiting for that almighty vroooooosh noise and then a loud beep. I’d hold my breath, body tense, petrified my mum would bang her door open and come thundering down the stairs. But the beep would be followed by silence.

The computer would load so slowly I’d want to put my fist through it. The icons on the desktop flickered into existence like blinking grandads waking from a nap. Recycle Bin first, then Paint, My Computer, My Documents, Internet Explorer, my brother’s Godforsaken FIFA 95 game. After five never-ending minutes the computer would stop hyperventilating, take a big sigh and calm down. Time to dial up the internet.

There was no way to control that unmistakable racket. I was raised atheist, but when that dial-up reached fever-pitch I’d close my eyes and pray to God, any God, that my mum wouldn’t hear the white noise from her bedroom.

At last Yahoo! Instant Messenger would spring up on my screen. Seeing Charley, Tré, Mia, Billie and Mike online felt like walking into a cosy pub on a cold day. A message from Tré had the same effect on my heart as a defibrillator. I was more than thrilled. I was fucking enchanted.

trecoolisfine: Aliiiiiiiice
trecoolisfine: yaaaaaayyyy
trecoolisfine: you came back!!
trecoolisfine: I missed you
trecoolisfine: We missed you I mean hah
trecoolisfine: liiiike me and the others
trecoolisfine: annnnywho
trecoolisfine: I’m glad you came back
trecoolisfine: where’dya go?

I was going to sleep at 2 or 3am most nights. The buzz of what Tré had said the night before kept me awake at school, although sometimes I’d nod off in afternoon maths. In German I’d use both index fingers to drum along to Basket Case. “Alice!” Fraulein Casset would yell. “Hallooo?! Wo sind deine Hausaufgaben?”

About six months in I stopped talking to my friends about Green Day. Something told me it wasn’t for real life anymore. Plus they were deep in the midst of their own obsessions. But they couldn’t trust those boys. My obsession felt deeper, more magical, bigger, more real. Because even though I couldn’t see him, Tré made me feel seen.

— — — — — — —

trecoolisfine: Heyyyyyyy you
trecoolisfine: I’m so glad you’re online
trecoolisfine: today’s been weeeeeeird
ihateavrillavigne431: Heyy ❤
ihateavrillavigne431: what’s going on?
trecoolisfine: I dno just feel weird about something
ihateavrillavigne431: do you want to tell me?
trecoolisfine: yeah I do poop but
trecoolisfine: I can’t 🙁
trecoolisfine: They’ll kill me
ihateavrillavigne431: who will?
trecoolisfine: Mike and Billie
ihateavrillavigne431: okayyy
ihateavrillavigne431: can I guess what’s happening?
trecoolisfine: Let’s talk about something else
trecoolisfine: How are yoooou
trecoolisfine: I missed you

— — — — — — —

I met Charley in real life the winter of 2003. She brought her friend Kelsie, I brought my friend Hannah, and we met in Wimbledon because it was 15 minutes from both of us.

Charley was exactly as I imagined. Small and loud, bright and funny. She had straight blonde highlighted hair and sparkly eye-shadow. Not long ago, in front of other people, Kelsie reminded me what t-shirt I was wearing that day. It had a girl in baggy jeans with a speech bubble next to her face that said: “What Attitude Problem???”

The closeness I felt towards Charley extended to real life, too. I was 13 and very shy, she was 14 and very gobby. We clicked in a big sis, little sis kind of way. We saw Spy Kids 3D and afterwards we found an abandoned shopping trolley and spent the afternoon rolling Kelsie up and down the high street.

— — — — — — — —

trecoolisfine: okay but you just have to promise you won’t say anything okay?
trecoolisfine: it’s driving me crazy and I can’t talk to anyone about it
ihateavrillavigne431: of course I won’t say anything
trecoolisfine: Billie and Mike…
trecoolisfine: oh man I
trecoolisfine: okay sorry sorry
trecoolisfine: Billie and Mike are kinda
trecoolisfine: Okay I don’t really know how to say this
trecoolisfine: I think it’s been going on for like a while
trecoolisfine: Like off and on
trecoolisfine: But yeah the two of them are kind of like..
trecoolisfine: sleeping together
trecoolisfine: and it’s so fucked up
trecoolisfine: cos I guess it’s been going on for a while
trecoolisfine: but Billie really loves Adrienne as well and he won’t tell her
trecoolisfine: and recently Mike’s just been going like crazy getting super upset and shit
trecoolisfine: urgh Alice 🙁 I don’t know what to do
ihateavrillavigne431: oh my fucking god

— — — — — — — —

Lauren Jo was Billie Joe’s niece. It was complicated how Billie Joe’s sister came to live in the South West of England, but we didn’t make a habit of asking questions. Lauren Jo wasn’t online very often but when we did chat it felt like she was one of us. She was 15 and about 4 stone overweight with big eyes, thin lips and short dyed-red hair. Her profile picture on Yahoo chat was taken from a high right angle. She had a side lip piercing and wore an Operation Ivy t-shirt.

One cold day, early in 2004, Charley and I went to see her. Lauren told us the name of a station a few stops beyond Portsmouth but it was more than a few stops. We kept going and going for so long Charley and I thought we’d missed it. The train stations were getting increasingly run-down, the suburbs more bleak. Eventually the train pulled into a grim and featureless station. A gang of ratty kids sat huddled around a decaying metal bench, swigging cans of K. Apart from that the platform was lifeless.

Lauren met us at the station. She was gruff and shy compared to her warm online persona. She gave us quick hugs and walked briskly through the faded streets past terraced houses, run-down newsagents, fish and chip shops that smelt like fermented oil and DIY stores with filthy windows. An American might say we were in the middle of butt-fuck nowhere, on red-neck territory, in white-trash land, but in England we just call it a shit-hole.

Her front room smelt unclean. The carpet was blue and sticky and her sofa looked fatigued. Her cousin Toby, a 16 year old punk rocker, sat hunched at a desktop computer in the corner. He had spiky black hair and a sharp, pimpled face. He barely looked at us when he said hello and then never spoke again.

Charley and I were excited to be in close proximity to Billie Joe’s family, but it was starting to make no sense. Is this really how Billie Joe’s sister lived? Why didn’t she have a nicer house? Lauren’s grandmother came in and offered us something to drink. She couldn’t have been over 60. She eyed Charley and I suspiciously and told Lauren to follow her into the kitchen. We heard sharp words being exchanged, but couldn’t hear any of the details.

Charley and I sat on the battered sofa. When Lauren came in with three glasses of vimto she looked sad, so Charley and I chattered away, filling up the empty space. The house felt cheerless and lonely, no place for Billie Joe’s niece. I was desperate to leave after five minutes and suggested we walk around town and see the sights, or lack thereof.

I don’t know what Charley and I expected from that visit, but the afternoon held nothing of the magic we’d imagined. It seemed strange that Tré, Mike and Billie were family to Lauren, because they set my world alight and hers had no colour.

— — — — — —

trecoolisfine: omgomgomgomgogomgomgomgomg
trecoolisfine: omg
trecoolisfine: you’re heeeeeeeeeeerrrrrreeeeeeejhkhkjhfkjskfs
trecoolisfine: ok ffhsly o have. a secrey
trecoolisfine: secret11!!!!
trecoolisfine: yand you need too promise me ypuw not tell anyoeeeeee
trecoolisfine: I’m kind a dunnnkkkrrrrrrr hehehehehe
ihateavrillavigne431: Haahaha omg Tre!!! What happened???
trecoolisfine: I’m frikkkkinnne wasted and I need to tell ypu something ok??????
ihateavrillavigne431: haha okayyy
trecoolisfine: I just feel like
trecoolisfine: Alice
trecoolisfine: I..
trecoolisfine: You’re all I can think about

— — — — — —

School was getting better. I was becoming more confident. My writing had improved because I was spending every spare moment typing proper sentences online. I felt empowered because Mia and Charley had my back, like two virtual older sisters. I was becoming increasingly disgusted with the little group of boys my friends hung out with, sickened by how they spoke to my beautiful friends. I understood what respect looked like. Every day a member of Green Day asked how I was doing and listened to the answer. These rock stars were demonstrating that the coolest thing I could possibly be was kind.

But then something terrible happened. I was on the computer after-hours, chatting to my best friends Green Day when my mum’s door flew open. She came pounding down the stairs. She ran into my bedroom, but I wasn’t there. “Ali!!” She charged into the computer room. I’d turned the screen off but it was too late. There was nowhere to hide. “Ali what the FUCK are you doing. It’s 2am.”

The next day there was a lock on the door.

I lost my shit. I lay in a little puddle in the bathroom wailing. It felt like she’d amputated all of my limbs. I scrawled maniacal notes in my diary (which my brother later read and continues to remind me of) — How could she do this to me????? She can’t stop me from speaking to Tré!!!! I WON’T LET THIS HAPPEN!!!!!!

That night I lay in bed, imagining all the chats I could be having with Green Day, all the fun I was missing out on. It was torture. I thought hard about how to get around this.

My mum’s DIY skills were limited. I wondered if, perhaps, this development could work in my favour. If I was somehow able to get back into that computer room, it would be so utterly insane, so far-fetched, so fucking ridiculous, that my mum would never suspect it. She’d just go to bed every night safe in the knowledge that the computer room door was locked. That the little hinge she’d screwed on and secured with a padlock was impenetrable. She’d just go straight to sleep.

I crept down the stairs, into the kitchen and opened the drawer where we kept the screwdrivers. We only had three, and I took all of them up with me. The streetlights poured through the bathroom window. The first screwdriver was too big but the second one fit right in. I spent a good couple of minutes convulsing with glee and then unscrewed the hinge lock so it dangled off the door. Five minutes later –

trecoolisfine: heyyyyyy you ❤
trecoolisfine: I missed yooooou
trecoolisfine: where ya been?

— — — — — —

Now might be a good time to formally and publicly apologise to my brother. He slept in the room next to me, so he wasn’t as oblivious to my night time escapades as my mother.

One evening after school, a few weeks after I’d commenced my nightly military operation to break into my own computer room, Max pulled the plug.

“Mum, Ali is sneaking into the computer room at night.”

“Max, don’t be insane. There’s a lock on the door.”

“She is!”

“No I’m not. Max. You’ve lost it.”

“You’re such a liar!”

“Mum, he’s gone crazy.”

“Don’t worry Ali. I believe you. Max, you’re grounded for telling lies.”

— — — — — —

Summer 2004. My relationship with Tré had become so intense it seeped into every waking moment. We were in love, just like Charley and Mike and Mia and Billie. But we hadn’t said it yet. Each night was a mounting crescendo of stuttered sentences and accidental slip ups. The strength of my feeling was overwhelming, the excitement so profound it bordered on painful.

I’d walk around school in a rosy haze, love hearts for eyes, my imagination already logged on to Yahoo. My mind was like a broken record with Tré Cool on loop. I’d say his name under my breath walking from lesson to lesson, so submerged in the idea of him it felt like I was underwater.

The thing is — I knew by then. I must have. But it didn’t make any difference. As long as I didn’t know for sure, then there was a chance it was real.

— — — — — —

trecoolisfine: Alice ❤
ihateavrillavigne431: hey you
trecoolisfine: hey
trecoolisfine: listen
trecoolisfine: there’s something I need you to know
ihateavrillavigne431: what’s up?
trecoolisfine: I dno what to do
trecoolisfine: I just feel like
ihateavrillavigne431: are you okay??
trecoolisfine: I can’t hold it in anymore
trecoolisfine: It’s driving me crazy
trecoolisfine: Alice
trecoolisfine: I..
trecoolisfine signed out

— — — — — —

Charley and I found it weird when we weren’t put on guestlist for the upcoming American Idiot shows but we bought tickets anyway. We chatted on the phone a lot, and one Friday night that spring she invited me round to her house for dinner in Croydon.

My hair was dark red and Babyliss straight. When Charley opened the door I could hear a hullabaloo from her dining room. There were 3 girls in there, all wearing bras over their clothes. I knew Kelsie already and Charley introduced me to Cami and Kelly. I was so shy I could barely speak, but I watched and listened closely. I’d never heard banter like it. They were all outrageously loud, unspeakably confident. They pointed and screamed, hurled insults at each other and then threw their heads back, laughing.

They must’ve wondered about this teenybopper who appeared out of nowhere and stared. I don’t know how I could’ve made any kind of impression, but I must have because the next weekend Cami invited me to her house. They liked interesting music and did photoshoots in their spare time and drew crass and genius pictures of each other in strange scenarios. I’d met the funniest, most interesting women on earth. They didn’t give a fuck about boys. They were self-assured and empowered and henceforth, I decided, I would be too.

Charley and I came to a non-verbal agreement that we wouldn’t mention how we’d met.

A few weeks later Tré said it, finally. It took two or three days for me to realise — earlier in life than most — that the build up had been the best bit all along.

— — — — — — — — -

glitteratixsparkle: they’re never online at the same time
glitteratixsparkle: and last week Billie sent me a studio recording of them messing around
glitteratixsparkle: and I saw the same post on a Green Day forum
hyper_mia: yeah this whole thing reeks of bullshit
hyper_mia: we gotta do some investigating
Ihateavrillavigne431: I’m gonna try and get access to that trecoolisfine hotmail address
hyper_mia: okay cool
hyper_mia: I’m gonna send their IP addresses to my friend
hyper_mia: he can tell us where they’re talking from

— — — — — — — — -

One of the Florida girls emailed Green Day’s PR agency to report activity on Tré’s email account and they responded to say Green Day categorically do not use email to speak to their fans.

You’d think this would crush us, but actually the timing was perfect. We were ready to give up the ghost. We were growing up — 14, 15, 16 — and Charley and I were friends in real life now. Mia was studying for exams and dating real boys. We were all starting to feel slightly embarrassed about our relationship statuses with Green Day.

The three of us, of course, were determined to find out who was responsible for this monumental operation. All those accounts, lies, fabrications, storylines. It must have been a full-time job.

— — — — — — — — -

It’s 6pm in Sydney and Mia’s just put the kids to bed. She hasn’t changed much. Her skin’s just as smooth as it was when we were teenagers; her eyes are still innocent and blue, her hair blonde and angelic. “It’s funny my username was hyper_mia,” she muses, “because I’ve just been diagnosed with ADHD.”

We don’t remember the last time we spoke, but it must’ve been about 16 years ago. Our time with Green Day didn’t end abruptly. There was no explosive confrontation or collective blow out. After we figured it out, the most important thing in the world just faded and morphed into something else. It was just as crucial a chapter for Mia as it was for me, but for her it ended with the group chat. For me it was only the beginning.

Had we ever believed we were speaking to Green Day? Maybe, at first. But deep down we’d probably known the three biggest rock stars on planet earth had better things to do than spend 8 hours a day talking to 14 year old girls on Yahoo! Chat.

“I was a very, very depressed teenager,” Mia says. “And at that time, I was very isolated. Just by myself, in my illness. My family had no idea what to do, they didn’t know what it was. It wasn’t like it is now, where we talk about mental illness.”

During the Green Day years, Mia remembers skipping school for an entire month. Her mum was working constantly and didn’t know what to do, so she just let her stay home. Mia flew under the radar and didn’t get in any trouble. No one understood what was wrong with her, and she didn’t understand herself. During that time there was only one thing that made her feel connected.

“I was sitting at home alone in my room in the dark, too depressed to leave the house,” Mia says. “I was catatonic. If I hadn’t had you guys to talk to, I don’t know if I would’ve survived high school. If I didn’t have that…” She breaks off. “I think it saved my life.”

— — — — — — — — -

hyper_mia: guys you’ll never fucking guess what
glitteratixsparkle: omgomgomgomg
glitteratixsparkle: whaaaaaaaaat??!!??!?!?!!?!
hyper_mia: my friend searched the IP addresses
hyper_mia: Firstly, they all come from the same place
hyper_mia: So like all 3 accounts are the same person
Ihateavrillavigne431: Who?!
Ihateavrillavigne431: This is too much
glitteratixsparkle: I know who it is
glitteratixsparkle: I bet you any fucking money
hyper_mia: It’s coming from Portsmouth

— — — — — — — — -

“I remember a tiny little house,” Charley says. “And walking into the living room. And Toby, Lauren’s cousin, was there in full grunger gear. Black spiky hair, Green Day hoodie, baggy jeans. He was super cagey and cringed out that we were there.”

That must have been the point where we realised we weren’t speaking to Green Day — but we decided to keep going, because it was feeding something inside us. It didn’t matter who it was, because we were still living it. We were still learning and growing and feeling like the luckiest girls on earth.

“It was fucking engaging,” says Charley. “Even though it had to be bullshit, it was intriguing. I don’t remember taking it really seriously or getting upset. I just remember camaraderie between you, me and Mia. It was like a game, a very engaging game. We were obsessed, but it never got dark.”

“I think the most interesting part about the dynamic was that it was a girl doing it,” Mia says. “There was no malice. I think she needed it as much as us. As a way to connect. Because what was she getting out of it? We were getting a fantasy. We were living in a fan-fiction. We were speaking to them every day, and as long as we didn’t know for sure if it was them or not, we could live it. But for her — she was aware she wasn’t Green Day.”

“And why was she only speaking to girls?” Mia says. “Was that part of her working through her sexuality? Maybe she didn’t have those female connections. Maybe she couldn’t find friends who liked her for her. So to have people talk to her all the time, to receive messages, to feel wanted and needed, she had to create this fantasy life. And it wasn’t crude. It wasn’t cruel. I’d like to thank her for what she did. It really was special. We walked away better people.”

Charley doesn’t think Lauren will ever admit it was her. “Because none of us were lying about who we were. We were telling the truth the whole time. We were being ourselves. We became real life friends. Whereas for Lauren it’s so much more embarrassing. There’s so much more at stake because she was lying and fabricating three different personalities.”

Charley and I saw for ourselves that Lauren was lonely. “She found a way to make all these friends and got a bit wrapped up in it all,” Charley says. “The thing is, it had to be someone our age because it never ever turned sexual. There was never anything like that. It was purely emotional. But if we hadn’t been balanced and had our own friends, it could’ve got really weird.”

“Oh my God,” Mia’s jaw is on the floor. She’s staring at the camera. “I just remembered — Billie and Mike were fucking!”

— — — — — — — -

The film Catfish came out in 2010, so we had to wait 6 years for a word that summed up what happened. I tried to speak to Lauren about it. I sent her a message on Facebook, but she replied saying it wasn’t her, that she got sucked in just like us, that she was duped by a fake Green Day too. She said she’s busy with her kids and doesn’t have time to talk. Just as Charley says, it’s too embarrassing to admit. But Lauren saved us in various ways. I wonder if she realises she was the architect of my life.

Charley and her friends scooped me up and took me in. As our online obsession waned, I spent every spare moment with Kelly, Cami, Charley and Kelsie. I stayed with them all weekend, every weekend. I kept a toothbrush at Cami’s house. They called me Little Alice and helped me grow up. They introduced me to boys, kind ones that looked me in the eyes and asked how I was and listened to the answer. I was shy at first, but it wasn’t long before that personality I formed online took shape in real life and that magic bled into my weekends. I’d sit in lessons daydreaming about going to the pub, about drinking snakebites, hurling insults, throwing my head back and laughing.

Everyone I know, I met through Charley. They’re still my best friends. I speak to them every day. I went to university with Kelsie. I went to Charley’s wedding in 2017. They threw my 30th birthday party this summer. Everything I’ve done since I was 12, all of it, stems from that audio message.

They only started asking questions a few years ago — at the pub or at a house party, in a club or at dinner. Tom or JP or ATG or Lucy or Alex or Shanta or Dave or Carly or Theo or Will or Louise or Shell or Kez or Jam-es or Fritzy or Aaron or Andy would say “wait a minute — you went to school in Streatham, and you’re not even from Croydon. So how do we even know you?”

And I’ll take a deep breath and say “Have you got a minute? I think you better sit down.”

–Alice Austin

This story was originally published on No Filter Zine.

London born, Berlin based club culture & nightlife writer

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