I remember at 17 thinking that maybe I finally figured myself out. For the first time ever, it felt like I might even survive my childhood years. After an arrest on alcohol related misdemeanor at 15– big surprise, right? and seriously thinking about killing myself at 16, this was a welcome change. Drugs and liquor were kept at bay(temporarily), I had shed the friends who didn’t care about me and I started hang out at gay clubs and kiss boys. Yes, there were wine coolers. Yes, that’s the year I met my old pal cocaine, but this is me were talking about. No tale of my childhood would be complete without the proper party favors. Besides, they hadn’t turned on me yet and I still had everything under control. Well as much as a 17-year-old can have everything under control. I had also finally found ways not to piss my parents off and was generally pretty happy. Don’t get me wrong, life was nowhere near perfect. There was still a lot of homophobia at my redneck high school. The nicest thing I can say about the place is that at least “faggot” was properly spelled when it was scratched into the outside of my locker. I was never going to fit in. I was never going to be the most popular person in school. But for some reason, all of it didn’t matter. I remember walking down the hallway, days before the year ended with sun on my face, thinking to myself, “Nobody here matters. My life will be so much bigger.” I had hope for the first time in a long time. It was something I wanted to hang onto. So the next few years, I chased hope and happiness onto the floors of discos and raves, throughout Europe and across the country far away from vandalized lockers and people who didn’t matter.
I don’t know why on this summer day at age 40 I’m thinking about that 17 year-old. Perhaps because it’s the 17th day of blogging. Maybe because this time of year reminds me of a lot of teenage high jinks. But I think if he could see me now, he’d be happy. See despite everything that’s happened over the last 23 years, hope has survived. In fact, I’d like to thank him for showing me how to have it in the first place.
In 1986, my family moved to Golden. I was 13 going on 14, going on old enough to know better but too young to give a crap. When we got to the little cow town, I scored a best friend who knew who the Smiths were, who knew all the alternative kids in town and who knew how to pour a drink. And thank God because I was ready for one.
At 14 the daily stresses of being not like my perfect brother or as interesting as my glamorous older sister or as cute my younger brother coupled with the exhausting duties required of my full-time position as Family Disappointment began to wear me out. So when my junior high best friend mixed us up a pair of screwdrivers one day after school, I was thrilled. Now I had been warned by my father who at that time was sober for a few years and given the “we have it in our family” discussion by my mom and knew I shouldn’t but the thing was I didn’t care. I wanted to leave my awkward body and this foul-smelling town for a few minutes and a screwdriver sounded like something that could do the trick. And it did. We got drunk and listened to the Smiths and Bowie and my best friend went outside his comfy suburban home and puked in the snow as I watched shivering and trying to keep my equilibrium at bay on the ice. I remember thinking “This is it!” This was the tough rock and roll moment that I had dreamed about. Well except for in my dream I was in London and not in Golden, Colorado. And I was probably hanging out with Chrissie Hynde or Debbie Harry or Morrissey in my dream. But shitty screwdrivers in suburbia and barfing in the snow were as close as I was gonna get.
My first drunk lead to many more with that same junior high friend. We were even arrested for stealing peppermint schnapps from the general store our freshman year! Ridiculous. I mean stealing schnapps? You can’t even give that away to most people. But that’s how this drunk and junkie rolls- by any means necessary. Even Schnapps. By the time I was 16, i had done acid, smoked pot and taken ecstasy. Orange juice and vodka weren’t my gateway drugs though. I’m my own gateway drug. My intense desire to not be present opens the doors for all kinds of idiotic choices. From a fistful of Klonopin at a goth club to No-doze and wine coolers before my junior high dance, there’s no combination of chemicals that I’ve ever turned down. I’m an equal opportunity addict. I’m the Ellis Island of drugs and alcohol. Give me your poor, your tired, your schnapps and meth.
Of course, drugs and alcohol didn’t erase the pain of being a teenager. It probably made it worse. I struggled to find happiness. I was always getting caught in some lie. I never finished anything. I got fired from horrible degrading jobs I didn’t even want. I thought of killing myself but knew I was too lazy and self involved to even do that right. But that was then. I still love the Smiths. I still have days where I want to evaporate and vanish for a few hours. But I remember I have things I want to do and places I want to see and stuff I still want to learn. Or as Morrissey himself once said, “Everybody’s got to live their life and God knows I’ve got to live mine!”