Friday, March 15, 2019

Getting Straight

In my late teens, when I still lived "at home," I had a friend who lived three houses down whose name was Teresa.  We shared many of our deepest secrets with each other; I had perhaps not been as close to a girl in my life before without actually being romantic.

Teresa started dating a fellow named Brent, who would become my best friend for many years.  I've mentioned Brent before.  Just prior to meeting Teresa, Brent had made a massive change in his life, particularly because he was only 17 when he made it.  He stopped doing drugs.  He had started them prior to the age of twelve and as his habits progressed, he dropped out of school around the 8th grade, he destroyed his health, he'd been kicked out by his parents and he'd done 12 months in Juvie.  He decided he was done with wrecking his life and had decided that maybe he could try living it instead.

First, he lost every friend he had in the world.  When you're on drugs, your support group is also on drugs; and when you leave the drugs, you abandon your support group or they abandon you.  That makes it about ten times harder than the actual addiction.  You want to quit, but when you want to talk about how fucking hard it is to quit, there's no one to talk to.  And everyone you meet otherwise either has a huge problem with your ever having done drugs, or they don't want to talk about it at all.

It didn't take me any time to become friends with Brent.  All told, about an hour.  Brent was likable, charismatic, whip smart, non-judgemental and infinitely curious.  When he entered a room filled with people, he dominated that room.  People drifted to him.  It was a phenomenon that we often commented on and joked about.

I have never done drugs ... at least not in that sense.  At 19, in 1983, when I smashed up my back on a 12-speed and was laid up for three months, I finished off one bottle of morphine.  When I snapped my quadraceps tendon, I took half a bottle of percocet; that was giving me hallucinations so I ditched it and moved to aspirin and moderate pain.  When I saw Pink Floyd: the Wall the week it was released, in 1984, the marajuana smoke in the theatre was so thick it was difficult to see the film clearly.  I'm sure I was high.  This is my total experience with drugs.

Brent didn't have any trouble becoming friends with me.  At the time, I was passionate, fanatic, charismatic, whip smart, open-minded about things that did not matter (like vice) and infinitely curious.  When I entered a room filled with people, I dominated that room.  People feared me.  It was a phenomenon that we often commented on and joked about.

I watched the whole process of Brent rejoining the human race.  He fought much of the battle alone: holding down a job, figuring out how to feed himself and keep a clean apartment, staying clean and fighting the inenviable task of learning how to learn, without having ever acquired the habit.  He dropped out of school at 13.  He had never been interested in school ~ that is why he turned to drugs.  And there he was, trying to figure out how this learning thing worked ... while being friends with a pontificating bastard who had been reading voraciously since the age of 5 and could wax on for an hour about virtually any topic.

It worked out.  In particular, D&D helped enormously.

Brent was perhaps the best D&D player I had ever encountered.  He fit in with my group brilliantly, he strategized like Robert E. Lee, he loved role-play and he was gawddamned fun to play with.  I remember a lot of sessions where the back-and-forth got going so fast and clever that we would end up crashed on the floor, having laughed our guts out, in pain, letting ourselves cool down before getting back into our seats to play more game.  A lot of those sessions ran eight, ten hours.  We didn't want to stop.

I know how much fun D&D can be.

Those sessions, and his will to figure it all out and keep going, got Brent through.  When I think of people who have given up on themselves, who figure that maybe it's too late for them to get an education or straighten themselves out, I think of Brent.

There was one thing that bothered me, watching him through those years.  He smoked.  Heavily.  Two, three packs a day.  It was the one thing that he was holding onto.  It was the one habit he was letting himself have.  Only trouble was, Brent was asthmatic.  We knew where it was going.

You can read about it here: in this article.

It's all true.  I was there.  I was outside his hospital room, with his family, and having bitter fights with my ex-fiancee Roberta, when he was unconscious with his lung collapsed.  That was just days before Christmas, 1984.  They called in a specialist from the United States and for a long time there, it was very touch and go.  He came out of it around New Years.  He stayed in the hospital for a lot of weeks.  When he came out, he had changed quite a lot.

I won't explain how he and I fell out.  He was there at my wedding with Michelle in Nov., '86 and he continued to play in my world for quite awhile ... but it was drifting away more than anything.  He was alive in 2007 when that article came out.  The article makes it all sound logical.  It makes a nice, clean story.

It wasn't.

Life never is.

I told this story because earlier this morning I told Slick in a comment to straighten himself out.  When an old fart says something like that, it's always taken that the fart never did a wrong thing in his life and expects the yung'uns to follow in his footsteps.  It isn't generally understood that what we're actually saying is, "I fucked up too.  Wow, kid, you have no idea the degree to which I fucked up.  The only reason why I'm not totally lost today is because, at the last minute, I hauled myself back from the edge and took some steps that saved me."

We don't say all that, however, because it's embarrassing.  We don't want to relive all that crap.

But hey, we all fuck up.  And if we want to live better, we do what we can to straighten ourselves out.  And like Brent's having to figure out how to learn shit, given that he spent his childhood scoffing at education and treating the whole system as an enemy, straightening ourselves out can be murderously hard.  Really, really fucking hard.

But you just gotta do it.  You just gotta step up to that ledge and jump.  I saw Brent do it at 17.  Seven-goddamn-teen.  Without resources, without friends, without a supportive family, without experience and without an education.

If you have any of those things right now, you're in the black.  Use a little of that capital, gather a little dignity and become a mensch.  You know what that is?  It's a human being.

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