Chapter OneYOLO, Why Not Try Drugs?
When I was a kid, I loved playing sports. I wasn’t really that good at any of them, but I always gave my best effort. I sprinted full speed with my little arms flailing. I hustled for all I was worth, running and panting and heaving. Even during practice, I gave my all. One year, Coach McGuire drew my name out of a hat to be on one of his teams. After that, he drafted me each year to join both his basketball and baseball teams. He was a great coach and almost every year our team won first, second, or third place trophies.
At some point, I couldn’t help asking him why he kept choosing me, since I considered myself to be one of the worst players on the teams. He said it was because I always hustled, I never did anything halfhearted, and always gave 100% effort to the task I set my mind on doing. He said it was an inspiration for the rest of the team to see someone giving their all and encouraged them to do likewise. I lived my whole life like this, figuring if I was going to do something, I might as well do it to the best of my ability. When I was young, that attitude was applied toward adventuring and any sport or activity that could get my adrenaline pumping. Over time, it applied to my relationship with drugs.
I’m not sure where the belief came from, but I remember, as kids, we would shout “YOLO” (you only live once) or “DGAF” (I don’t give a f***) right before committing acts of fortuitous stupidity. One of my friends would shout "YOLO" and then crap on the doorstep of the scout leader’s tent. Another would break into his neighbor’s car and steal their iPod and, when asked about the act, respond with a nonchalant DGAF. We would shout these words before jumping off a cliff at Lake Powell, before combining copious amounts of drugs into potentially lethal combinations, or before driving drunk to yet another party.
My life philosophy went something like this: If I really only “Live once,” shouldn’t I “Live once” in a way worth living? My primary focus was enjoying myself and having fun. You only live once; why not get turnt, get savage, get lit, get blazed? It never occurred to me to ask if we indeed only live once, so wouldn’t it benefit us to live in a way that lengthens our lifespan or increases its quality rather than decreases it? I was so set on feeling good and experiencing pleasure that even after I started feeling the consequences of my actions, I still couldn’t change the belief that this lifestyle was ultimate. Even after getting arrested, after getting addicted, after the pleasure started to fade and the pain set in, even then I was insistent that this path was superior to all else.
Before I ever tried drugs both of my best friends were hooked on pot. We used to skate and longboard everywhere we went, and we prided ourselves in being able to longboard at the same speed as the cars traveling down our precipitous mountain roads. Our most skillful act was the way in which we crashed. Yes, you read that correctly, we prided ourselves most in how we crashed. As soon as our wheel hit a sizable divot or rock, our boards would immediately stop while our bodies were launched forward at whatever speed we had been traveling.
We would fly face-first through the air looking like Buzz Lightyear shooting for the stars, and then we would tuck and roll right before we hit the asphalt. This roll, if done correctly, would spread out the scrapes across our backs rather than the entirety of the impact directly crippling our hands, arms, or legs. During this season of our lives, there didn’t seem to ever be a point in time when at least one of us did not have a mean road rash on one part of our body or another.
CD, bless his soul, had trouble learning this trick successfully. One time he catapulted himself down what was unanimously labeled “dead man’s hill.” After hitting the asphalt, he slid on all four of his appendages like a penguin sliding down an arctic cap. The bloodied mess of the boy that stood up from that fall was appalling to the naked eye. A woman witnessed it from her window and came running to his aid with medical supplies. She insisted on calling an ambulance, or at least our parents, but good old CD took it like a champ. There was more than a little bit of peer pressure as we shouted at him from the bottom of the hill to man up and learn how to skate so we could meet up with our girlfriends. He got a lot of sympathy from that crash, and he milked it. With one girl under each arm, he happily endured the Valley Grove Carnival with his bruises and scrapes and his quirky little smile.He always did wear that silly smile of his, like there was always something to laugh or joke about. He became my best friend in no time. His family adopted me as a pseudo child and even once checked me out of school for a family vacation to Colorado. Little did I know that vacation would change both of our lives. Upon returning from that short trip, his family announced they’d be moving soon. We would have a few more weeks together, and then my best friend would be gone.
Graham was almost like a big brother to me; we did everything together. We became best friends going through Boy Scouts together. After that, we were inseparable. He was a grade older than me and was in high school while I was still in junior high. He introduced me to all the older kids, and he was the one who suggested that I try out for the high school wrestling team.When I made the team, my life changed, and I’m not just talking about the workout routine. I started taking half my classes at the high school and got connected with all Graham's friends who were older and cooler than me. I’ll never forget the day he introduced me to Cat, who constantly talked about drugs, and as he did, he made them seem like the most wonderful thing on earth. He was a mystical character who reminded me of the caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland, hence the name Cat. He’d sit and hum as he plucked various strings on his knockoff guitar. Later, when I started getting high and listening to him, it always seemed like his head was twirling around on a stick.
He was a drug guru. You could ask him about any drug and he would spout information like an encyclopedia. He dressed and acted like a guru, too, with baggy, wonderful, colorful shirts that drooped from his skeletal body. He had fluffy hair that curled up into a wannabe afro. He spoke with that hippie drawl where he lengthened each of his vowels. I didn’t realize at the time that it was the sound of being perpetually stoned, I just thought he was so cool. He said drugs were a quick fix that made you confident and melted your insecurities away. The permafried way in which he conducted himself made it seem as if he were perpetually floating on a cloud of hookah smoke.
This was his normal state of being. He spoke as the caterpillar did as well, in quirky strums of unintelligible introspection. He spoke about floating outside his body. He spoke about seeing duplicates of everything, as if he had entered a world in which fantasy and clones and flying were all real. He spoke of alternate realities and the trips he had taken to visit such places. He spoke invitingly, drawing us in. It was almost an art, the way he drew out our curiosity and left us wanting and wondering.Until that point, I had never really entertained the thought of drugs, but Cat got my mind wandering, racing off in different directions.It wasn’t just that the cool kids were doing them, and that my friends were doing them. Now there was personal intrigue. I wanted to sit outside my body and look at it. I had always wanted to fly; maybe floating would feel sort of similar. Maybe I did want to get high? Cat said it was only cold medicine after all, and he’d shown me the research which instructed us on safe dosages. As tempting as it was, I had to say no. I was not ready nor willing to try drugs. But Graham kept bringing it up, and when CD, my second closest friend, started using as well, I was constantly surrounded by it.
We used to have sleepovers, and my home was everybody’s favorite place to crash and my mom was everybody’s favorite person to hang out with. To this day, I swear some of my girlfriends only dated me because they liked her so much. We had a projector, surround sound, and just about every gaming system on the market. Sometimes we would stay up all night playing video games. During the summer, we could sometimes finagle our parents into letting us have week-long sleepovers, or longer by bouncing from house to house. It was at one such sleepover that I finally caved to the peer pressure. I didn’t know the drugs would end this season of our lives and launch us into a new one, that drugs would end these innocent and hysterical nights of gaming, laughter, and fun.
CD and I got the pills at the local grocery store and voraciously consumed thirty each, a moderate dose, according to Cat. I’m not sure how many hours passed. We spent the time talking until we were too tripped up to speak sensibly any longer, and then CD got sick and puked. We sat on couches across from one another until the blood slowly began boiling in our veins, more so mine than his. I flipped off of the couch, doing somersaults at what I was certain was light speed. I started rolling around the floor, shooting back and forth across the room, bouncing off the couches and walls.
After a while, I was convinced I was Super Mario. In time, CD joined me in humming the tune. We both waged war against semi-invisible mushroom creatures. This occupied us until I realized that not only was CD no longer with me in the epic battle against these creatures, but in fact, he was himself collaborating with them. He was pointing his phone at me and taking a video. It was a mockery. I pounced on him. He was siding with the little creatures, and as Mario, it was my duty to either jump on his head or throw stuff at him. I gave him a quick tackle and smacked the side of his head. He retaliated with fury, and we scrambled on the floor until a resounding, eerie voice shot out of the darkness around us.“Michael! What the heck do you think you’re doing!?”
We almost jumped out of our skin with terror as we looked in every direction for the source of the voice. For a moment, we thought God had broken through, and it was all over for the two of us. But as our eyes scoured the darkness, we saw the outline of my mom standing in the hallway.
“Your father has to work at 6 a.m. tomorrow, and you are making so much noise that neither of us can sleep.”After she left, we sat whispering for a time until we found ourselves being carried away again. We were yelled at three times that night. The fourth time someone came down, it was my dad coming down in the morning to put on his shoes for work. We were still up but feigned sleep to avoid trouble.
My brain felt like a watermelon that had been split open, sliced up, jumbled around, and spat out. CD and I just sat there, slowly recuperating, trying to catch up on lost sleep and sanity. We had slept late into the afternoon when we were awakened by Graham. He told us that he and Cat were going to trip out together later that night and that they wanted us to join them. I felt sick, even disgusting inside, but I wanted to look tough in front of my older friend, so I agreed. Graham stole enough pills for all of us, doubled the dose from what we had taken the night before, and arranged for us to meet at the house of a neighbor whose parents were out of town. CD puked again, and we made fun of him for not being able to stomach the stuff. He seemed to have some sort of allergic reaction. I, on the other hand, was not so fortunate.
My older sister always told me that drugs drilled holes in your brain. The weird thing was that I knew she was doing drugs even when she told me that. I figured she just told me to scare me off, so I wouldn’t do them too. She told a story about this guy who took so much acid that he thought he was the Kool-Aid Man (a walking, talking pitcher of Kool-Aid). From that point on, he sat upright and was afraid to lie down in case his brains spilled out. He’d been a cool kid, but after that, he went to the nuthouse, never to return to sanity.
Cat and I could hardly move, let alone think. It was our second night in a row taking mass quantities of this same drug and its effects seemed to be compounding. We both kept nodding out as we rested incoherently on the floor. CD and Graham seemed to be just fine, as both of them had puked before the drugs could fully set in. For this reason, they felt like they were missing out on the fun. They wanted to get high too, so they decided to go and get a bag of weed, except neither of them had any money. They kept trying to wake me up to ask me if they could borrow fifty bucks; I was the only one with money because I was the only one who wasn’t a druggy yet. Whenever they woke me, I would merely mumble something and then fade back out of consciousness.It felt like a Tasmanian devil was running around my brain, wreaking havoc with a jackhammer. I didn’t think they were missing out on anything. I was so incoherent, I didn’t know what was happening around me. I only knew we were at the house of a fat kid who hated me. I had nicknamed him "Twinkie" at scout camp when he wore a giant yellow Spongebob t-shirt. I found it funny at the time, but nowI was in the perfect state of being for him to exact revenge upon. Twinkie’s best friend Waylon was there, too. He was the weirdest person we knew.
After a few hours, they were able to rationalize with me. I didn’t want to try weed, let alone spend fifty bucks on it. I’d never spent that much of my own money in a single purchase before, and I wasn’t about to throw that much away for a drug I didn’t even want. But by now, they were begging. CD was spending the last part of the summer with my family as his parents were in Colorado. They had just bought a home there, and he was moving away soon. He told me this would make his stay with me complete, that it would be the best gift I could give him before he left. I kept complaining about it, but quietly resolved to give him the money —the biggest purchase for the best friend— it made sense.
When CD and Graham came back with the weed, they found us even more comatose than before and could hardly wake us up. Eventually, they decided to grab Waylon, hoping he might be able to pull us out of our incoherent stupor. He was drunk, raging, and rambunctious. He popped into the room with his thick spectacles dangling off his face. Before his head hardly had time to peep through the door, his body came scrambling in, arms flailing, knees twerking. In rhythm with the song he was singing, his body dangled as he made his way towards us. Without missing a beat, he jumped on top of the bed and began bouncing up and down between us.
It took us a while before we realized that Waylon, in his erratic dancing, was stark naked. When we saw his nakedness, he began screaming and giggling like a maniac before running out of the room. The next time I opened my eyes, the naked figure was leaping through my field of vision again. He rocketed over me and landed squarely on Cat. The moment he decided to spread his naked body across that bed, it was game over. Up until that point, I lay sick, zoning in and out of reality, but homeboy took it too far. His craziness pulled me back to the present moment.
Cat started moaning; it was his best attempt to shout for help. Even though the jumbled-up noise didn’t make any sense, I clearly understood his message. Without needing further incentive, I hurtled a lopsided fist into the head of his naked assailant.
“Ow, wtf, who the hell hit me?!”
“Wtf guys, stop that!”
Waylon scrambled out of the room like a spider fleeing its crushed web. Blacked out and incognizant, he cried uproariously.When Waylon finally reappeared, CD and Graham were following him. He was rambling now about how he’d tried to wake us up like they’d asked him to.
I overheard him say, “He hit me, can you believe it? He freaking hit me, right in the face! Broke my glasses, damn it... Make them tell me right now, who the heck hit me?”
I was aware enough now to smirk, and Cat also responded for the first time in hours; smiles crept across our faces.Some people have an internal monitor that allows them to analyze when they have taken something too far, but not Waylon. No, Waylon was something else entirely. We endured his absurdities because the laughter that he brought about through them could turn anyone’s day around for the better. He was always dancing, twerking, singing a song, or rapping, his butt was always jiggling in your face, doing some grotesquely personal dance move.
He was always doing something erratic and unpredictable, like leaking giant Tootsie Rolls in the swimming pool or atop someone’s vehicle. He was as white as a cracker and acted as gangster as he could. He was so boisterous and hysterical that he took even the real gangsters by surprise and won his way into their entourage as a mascot of sorts. He wore deep Vs and skinny jeans, a beanie always perched atop his dome. For a while he lived in the dumpster behind the local church; he would shower at our place and couch surf occasionally to keep decent hygiene. It was simply who he was.
By the time they reached our room, CD and Graham had managed to pacify Waylon by promising to get to the root of things. In the end, it didn’t matter. He ran and hid in the bathroom, where he spent the next several hours puking. We thought he had drunk too much, but that wasn’t the case at all. I mumbled to them how much my stomach hurt and how I wished that I could puke, too. The group urged me to smoke some weed, promising that it would help my stomach. I didn’t want it, I didn’t want to do real drugs. Cough medicine was one thing, but... I had to draw the line somewhere.
I looked up and saw CD smoking weed with a glint of crazed infatuation in his eyes, taking hit after hit. I stopped him.“CD, do you really think it will help me?”
He looked at me and said, “It feels good, just trust me. Plus, you’re already high. Just try it, man, it’s just a plant.”I saw my hand slowly outstretch to take the bong they had crafted. They lit it for me and showed me what to do.As I inhaled, the weed and cough medicine fused together in my brain. Everything slowed to an echoing pulse. I tried to stand up but it seemed to take days. People’s voices lowered in frequency, as if they were operating inside a slow-motion recording. I couldn’t figure out how to balance the weight of my torso on top of my legs, so I looked much like a bobblehead on the dashboard of a crazy man’s car as I stumbled in every direction. Eventually, I landed on a trampoline outside, but only had the strength to lie there while the rest of the crew bounced around me. Eventually, they went inside, and I sat there looking up at the stars spinning in circles above me. After an indeterminable time looking up at the vast starry expanse, my friends retrieved me.
They pulled me into a back room and told me to rest up. My gaze fixed blankly upon the ceiling until dawn broke and we were rushed out of the kid's house. I hadn’t sobered up a single bit. My vision was still blurred, and my two-word monosyllabic responses made me feel as if my intellect had been degraded to that of a caveman. I wondered if my ability to think and speak clearly would ever return, or if this storm cloud of incoherency had found itself a new permanent dwelling. We slowly worked our way back to my house, relieved to find that my parents were working. When we finally made it home, I slept for twenty-four-hours straight.
It took me two weeks before I started feeling normal again. I couldn’t speak or think right during this time. For two weeks, I feared I might end up like the Kool-Aid man.
Many of us turn to drugs for a variety of reasons. The real question is, are they capable of doing for us what we hope they will do? I convinced myself that despite the chaos I left in my wake, I always had a good heart. I didn’t harbor ill-will towards anyone. I wasn’t acting in malice, but I could not deny that my “good heart” continually led me to do selfishly destructive things.“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it”—Jeremiah 17:9. (NKJV)