At first there is not much to remember. Our phone number, which mom makes me memorize. Our address, which is where we live. Both have a rhythm that helps me retain the pattern and I can hear the numbers in my head. The world is so small it can fit in your pocket but the world is not to be trusted, not for a little boy.
There is not much to remember but all of it needs to be learned starting with the colors: the word purple with a happy smiling grape, orange with a fruit by the same name. They lower the shades and turn off the lights and roll out the wrestling mats when it’s time to nap and that’s kindergarten, colors and naps and numbers, the alphabet, meeting the world through language and sound, our senses.
And I am an only child so there is a lot of time spent waiting around the apartment for a friend, killing time. Time becomes a barrier to what’s next, something to overcome. Maybe that’s youth, too much time. I am climbing a tree looking down from the top removed from the world I am born into, ready for anything and all.
We have a teacher in high school who asks, if we had to pick between a life of great highs and lows or one that’s more predictable which one would we choose? And I want the highs and lows so I can experience it all. I will use the pain later for source material because I know this is the stuff that makes for great art. And life is too short for “predictable,” I need danger.
It is not long before the drugs. Drugs and alcohol and cigarettes and chewing tobacco and jerking off and shoplifting and starting fires which is actually a crime they call arson. This is how we enter the world as if we are the only ones who matter, because that’s true for a time. At the crossroads between adolescence and adulthood, a period that can last 10, 20 years or more, drugs seem to elevate or enhance our relationship with the world and ourselves. Drugs as a rite of passage to shed the kid brain, drugs to break down the barriers and get to what’s real. Drugs to guide the way and cloud the way when the way is too hard to fathom. Drugs to disconnect from ourselves when we are so sick of ourselves we need a break. Drugs for something to do, drugs for social status, drugs as a lifelong habit, a crowded highway with no obvious way to get off.
So I did drugs like most kids who do drugs, the curious, experimental kids, just weed at first but later anything I could. I read books about drugs written by Andrew Weil. Books written while the author was on drugs, the Beats, the LSD intellectuals, and so on. I came to view the high as an amplification of real life and in that way, it was preferred. Drugs for roadtrips and drugs for the weekend, drugs for Saturday mornings and reggae shows and long walks in the woods. I was not a drug addict despite all this, I had a job and presented myself as a respectable young man but I got high as often as I could which was a lot. So in a sense I was an addict, perhaps in the literal sense of the word, were you to define that word literally. But addict is such a strong word, right?
And now, all these years later, we’re putting our 17-year-old through a substance abuse program because she’s got addiction issues and while it’s mainly just weed, it’s really fucked up her life. I quit drinking 18 months ago and cannabis around New Year’s. This is the longest I’ve gone without getting high in a very long time. Maybe since 1985. And I never knew how smart or clear headed I could feel or how good it is to get deep sleep. It is not a life of great highs and lows but it is a more predictable life. It has taken me a long time to see it this way, because it really does change how you look at the world sober, to see life for what it is and know it’s enough.