Chip Ellis/Daily Mail

Ever since Littleton, Marlin Runion, 16, won't commit to being a 'goth.' "I don't like the way people treat you when you (tell them you are.)" He only occasionally wears face makeup.

Some students live on the edge

June 2, 1999

By Rebecca Catalanello
Daily Mail staff

They sit over there.

They're the kids in the corner -- the ones back near the commons area, away from the rest of the school.

Today, they're the kids in the wrestling T-shirts with dyed hair. They are the ones who come to school in something other than Tommy Hilfiger and "Abercrombie" T-shirts.

Ten years ago, they were the kids with pocket protectors and calculators.

Now, they're the goths or freaks or nerds -- or they just aren't liked much by the kids who pass them in the halls.

In fact, it's popular not to like them.

"Everybody looks at you funny," said Marlin Runion, 16, a tall, dark-haired teen with shoulder-length locks. "I'm used to it; it doesn't bother me."

Marlin's on the edge at his high school -- or at least some of his classmates think so. After the week of the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., Marlin was called out of class three times and finally was sent home early because of the distractions and discussions his black trench coat caused -- the one he's had since seventh grade.

On this day, his black T-shirt honors The Undertaker, a pro-wrestling personality, and a few black whiskers poke through the white makeup he's painted on his face.

He doesn't wear the makeup every day, but on this day, it is enough to magnify his social position in the school: outsider.

"I don't know if this school has popular kids, but it does have unpopular kids," said Jeff Curry, an unassuming 17-year-old who occupies himself with card games, computers and television production for a school news show.

As he spoke, assessing the existence of cliques in his high school, Curry pointed out the window to where one group gathers. He described the group's interests as a "weird West Virginia mixture of wrestling and gothic."

"They isolate themselves," he said.

To be different

"All my friends have their bellybuttons pierced," said Kelli McGill, 16.

Kelli is a small, pretty, energetic girl whose after-school job at a tanning bed rewarded her with a deep tan -- just in time for prom.

She's on the tennis team, she edits her school newspaper and she's an A-student. Stud earrings line the edges of her ears -- two in one ear, three in the other.

"I want a tattoo," she said. "If I got one on my back, no one would ever see."

"Then why do you want it?" someone asks.

"I think it characterizes you," chimed in Jessica Marshall, a high school senior, who also has multiple piercings in her ears. Both of them acknowledged, though, that their parents would have problems with their getting tattoos.

The fact is, tattoos and piercings are a dime a dozen in the halls of a modern-day high school. Miniature roses and tiny hearts decorate the shoulder blades, ankles and chests of girls as they move from class to class. Boys sport initials and crosses on their biceps and chests. Eyebrows are clasped by rings and tongues are bejeweled with barbells.

Hot Topic, a chain of stores that specializes in teen fashion favorites like body jewelry, and purple and green hair dye, took in $44 million in 1997, according to Forbes magazine. The shop at Charleston Town Center does a booming business.

Amber Henderson, 16, a junior at Herbert Hoover High School, said she even found her sheer, black prom dress at the Charleston store -- not to mention her friend's spiked choker and another friend's black cape, all prom accessories.

Despite the popularity, teenagers still claim that they do it to be different.

"I think it's unique," Kelli said.

People fear what they don't know

Donna Runion said all three of her children began dressing totally in black when they reached Stonewall Jackson Junior High.

"I was a little concerned about how they wanted everything to be black," she said.

When she broached the subject with her children -- now 14, 16 and 20 -- they told her it was for protection.

"They told me that if they dress this way, the rich kids and preppies will leave them alone," she said.

Before they changed their appearance, Runion said, she was always being called about fights at school.

"Now they're dressing in black and people don't call me," she said. "People fear what they don't know -- it's not that he was in a gang or anything."

Runion said that when she heard about the Littleton, Colo., shootings she warned Marlin to be careful about what he said and did. The trench coat he'd been wearing since the seventh grade was likely to evoke some unkind emotions at school.

Still, Marlin wore the coat and, on the Friday after the shooting, Runion received a call to come pick up her son.

"I told (the principal) that if I had dressed him in Tommy Hilfiger, you wouldn't have pulled him out, would you?"

"Still, she brought Marlin home.

Now he won't commit to being a "goth" -- not 100 percent. The label has taken on another meaning.

Since Littleton, gothic styles and Marilyn Manson-esque music have become a scourge. To many, the trench coat has become a symbol for all that can go wrong when angst-ridden teens lose control.

And while some teens cringe when they see their black-clothed peers, others think the new rules are misplaced.

"One of the (Columbine) kids was in AP calculus," said 19-year-old Adam Feldhaus. "Maybe we should also ban upper-level math classes."

So, Marlin Runion won't claim the movement. He dresses the dress, but ask him outright if he's a goth and his answer is mixed:

"Yes and no -- I like the culture and some of the things you do, but I don't like the way they treat you when you say yes."

It's a way to stand apart, he said, a way to be new.

"It's just different."

Article and photograph © 1999 by the Charleston Daily Mail. Reprinted with the Daily Mail's kind permission. There have been [an error occurred while processing this directive] visitors to this page since April 17, 2001.