You know where this one is going.
When I was 18, I was exploding. I was just like any other suburban white kid. My hormones were raging, My life was filled with wonder and experimentation. I had all of the answers and was more than willing to share them with you, especially if you disagreed. My sense of self-importance was boiling to the surface, and I was ready for the ride. I had opportunities presented to me which would not be made available to the ordinary teenager. And if they were, surely they would not succeed with the ease and grace that I had. On top all of the delusions of grandeur, many of which were not so delusional but staunchly steeped in reality, I was already getting high. I had already decided I was going to "take the road less traveled by."
With a copy of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" on my desktop and a paperback version of the "Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test in the pocket of my faded and torn Levi's, I just felt that I knew I was going to make a difference in the world. My Road less traveled had a soundtrack as well. I still really didn't play an instrument, I think at that point I knew "Dear Mr. Fantasy", "I know you Rider" and "Low Spark of High Heeled Boys" on the bass. But the music was in my head, in my soul. I could feel it...even if my fingers couldn't quite do it.
Back then, I thought I was invincible. Well, I was. I could get high and drink with the best of them stay up all night; fornicate for hours; I could deftly backgammon straight opponents tripping my ass off, go home, take a 90 minute nap, wash my face and be ready to do it all over again.
There is a line from one of the Harry Potter books where Dumbledore says something like..."a time is coming where we must make a choice between what is right and what is easy." I had those choices to make when I was that age. In my post "Third Verse Same as the First" I described one of those choices. I chose to stop writing for the Newspaper to pursue a career in Culinary Arts. Translation - working in a restaurant, I could get high at work. That is an easy choice. Don't get me wrong, I did put effort into it and did excel, but there is that nagging feeling of developing a pattern of behavior which would always lead me to the road not taken.
I was standing in a store today and was watching the clerk behind a counter. She hated her job. To date, I have pretty much avoided or quit jobs I hated because, once again, it was the easier thing to do. I could see the loathe and anguish in her face. I could tell that she used to do something which was much more fun, more rewarding spiritually and financially. She had that look that better opportunities had been presented to her, but for whatever reason she compromised. She was doing what she was doing because it was safe. Perhaps the one who gave her that flashy diamond and bound her with the gold ring was the primary bread winner and her former lifestyle of free spirited travel no longer fit the mold of that of a loving, doting wife. Perhaps kids tied her down or a sick relative. I can only speculate. Perhaps she was just doing it for the check.
It was a lovely afternoon. It snowed most of the day. By the time I had gotten out of the work, the sun had come out and had done its job, for about two hours. And it did it well. There was no scraping of ice or swishing snow off of my vehicle. The shadowed trees still had their silver lining of fluffy white, making for a brilliant outline against the bright blue sky. I looked up at the few clouds left and was reminded of a time when I was a child.
I was a 5 year-old child, lying on my back in the front yard of my Grandfather's house. My brother and sister were there. I should have been more interested in what they were doing, as they were making Ice cream. Homemade ice cream in a stainless steel cylinder sunk into a wooden bucket of ice which was dotted with opaque lumps of rock salt to chill the ice even more, as if that is possible. They were noisily cranking and turning that cylinder, taking turns either cranking or holding the bucket down. They didn't need me, it was a two person operation. I lay on the grass. It had been cut recently, so it had that wonderful earthy smell. I was observing the clouds looking for faces and animals. Any kind of shape would do. There was a billowing cumulus cloud which looked like an ice cream cone. There was another which looked like Pluto, the dog, not the former planet. As I stared at the clouds, I saw movement. I saw little squiggles. I saw tiny moving objects racing around in static and random patterns. I thought they must be water molecules. They were shadows set against the silver screen which the cloud had provided. Shadows rimmed with glowing white electric membranes just swimming along. I tried to follow them but they always seemed to disappear from my periphery. There was a rather large one I kept seeing swim by it was zig zagging back and forth rather quickly. It hung around long enough for me to name it Ziggy. If I squinted a little bit I could see them clearer. It didn't occur to me at the time that this little show I was watching was happening on the surface of my eyeball. I studied these little guys. I heard my Grandmother ask me what I was looking at. I told her "I'm looking at the rain move around inside the clouds." I still wonder if anyone sees these things. I asked Greg, a co-worker, if he ever saw stuff like I had described. He said yes. "They are microscopic things that live in your eye." It sounds so weird when he says it. After all he is just as much a head case as I am.
The last time I saw these little critters, "I was lying in a burned out basement, with the full moon in my eyes." Yes, I was lying in a basement in the South End of Springfield, meaning I wasn't telling the truth. There was a moon and I saw my little friends scurrying along on my eyeball. There was a song playing in my head and I did feel like getting high. I was lost. I was with someone I had little interest in other than what she could do for me and what she could get for me. She came back quickly and I gave her an honorarium for not "beating" me.
Five minutes later I was back in my apartment anguished...I was on the verge of tears. I was depressed about what my life had become. I was desperate to know how I had allowed this to happen. Was this truly the road not taken? Was this the easy decision? How could I have squandered all of my youthful brilliance; all of my favorable press reviews; all of the goodwill I had accumulated in my career?
The tears did come as I repeatedly pierced my skin trying to find a vein. I was crying because I was in pain...I was sick. My stomach was turning inside out. I was sweating. The sickness was exacerbated by the guilt and shame I felt having allowed my self to become enslaved. I saw the blood gush into the syringe and with a sigh of resignation, not relief, I administered the dose. The self medication was a success, and I drifted away. At least I would sleep that night...at the very least, I would sleep.
I am amazed that somehow I found the strength to get away from that lifestyle. Life is life. It is not easy. I found out that I am not unique. And those who informed me of this know. Because they themselves had labored in the lifestyle of active addiction. They are speaking from experience.
I have been thinking about getting high lately. This is why I have to force myself to write such graphic and shameful memories of how things used to be so I can remember. I really don't care what you think of how I used to live. It was a speed bump, a blip on the screen. In a way I have regained some of the youthful bravado I spoke of earlier. I am tired most of the time, but who isn't?
These days I am still faced with decisions. I still intend to walk along the road less traveled. It is infinitely more interesting than any downtrodden littered path or lifeless uninteresting highway. Perhaps I will still make a difference in the world while traversing the span of that route. Wherever it will take me, at least I still have the power to make decisions. Let me continue to choose what is right.
As always, you will find me...Running hard out of Muskrat Flats.
Thanks for reading,