My mother started her life in Austin TX. My rebellious life started with the same namesake. While my beginning with drugs started when I was in High School, there was another gateway that started much earlier…. I never had the gateway drug of pot – my gateway really started with smoking – just regular cigarette smoking.
My best friend in 5th and 6th grade was Austin. Austin was a “bad boy.” He would get kicked out of class, yell at teachers, talk back to his grandma (whom he lived with at the time because his parents couldn’t handle him). I thought he was so cool! Austin was thin with kid muscles already showing. He liked to do push-ups and lift weights. He had straight jet-black hair that would fall into his eyes while he was talking, and he would blow it back or sweep it back with an oh-so-cool hand gesture. He dared to do anything.
I didn’t dare to even look at adults wrong. I think mainly because I’d never really been mistreated by them; I had great respect… And fear…
I never really got in trouble as a kid. I mean, I had small run-in’s like everyone. Got scolded for a small lie, came home late, or missed a homework assignment, but I was never in real trouble. I never remember being grounded. My connection with Austin wasn’t because I felt like we were kindred spirits – it was because I thought he was exciting. Austin also introduced me to smoking when I was about 10 or 11. Of course, I didn’t really smoke. He would give me one and I would puff on it and feel like behind closed doors, I was a rebel too.
If an adult had caught Austin smoking, I’m sure he would have told them right where the bear shits in the woods. I was still at a point where if I had been caught I would have ended up a pool of blubbering mess. In my head I dreamed being like Austin, but all I could really do was follow him around. He wanted to play army – it sounded fun so I held out my index finger straight, with my thumb up in a gun-like form and started going “Pew! Pew!” He laughed and said that isn’t what he meant… He said we were going to go on a mission.
We wandered up by the school and he had a backpack with a couple of flashlights, and some rope, and a knife. He pried the lid of a grate in the sidewalk up and moved it to the side. He lowered himself down in the hole and said “Our mission is to get to the other side of the street. There are bombs on the ground so we have to go under.” I kept looking around sure that someone was going to come running up and yell at us. But I was in the army now. I needed to put these childish fears away. He went down and pushed his backpack in front of him through a drainage tube. He had given me a flashlight so I went down after him. He was about half way under the street and my body was ringing with fear and excitement! I wedged myself down so I could army-crawl through the tube after him. I moved through with calculated precision, altering knee to elbow like a pro. I was smooth. I was important. Our mission was important. We had to get to the other side and this was the only way. I was so lucky to have such a friend! A brother-in-arms. We had important work to do. I was about half way under the street when my knees came up faster than my arms had moved. OH FUCK! I was stuck. I was jammed up – I couldn’t moved. I couldn’t get my knees back out. I couldn’t get my arms to go forward. I was frozen. I kept trying to lift the street up with my back. I couldn’t breathe. I tried to squeeze myself up, back, forward, anywhere and nothing was happening. I started screaming. I’m not in the army, I’m just a little kid. I’m stuck in this pipe and I’ll be here forever! I’m going to die. Die in this pipe. Oh my God, how did this happy. I don’t want to play anymore! I started crying and screaming. They were going to have to dig up the street to get me out. Could they even do that? How long would that take? Days? Weeks? Would the cost have to come out of my allowance? How many weeks would it take to pay them back. My mom was going to be furious I was doing something so stupid! But it won’t matter because I can’t breathe. I started sucking in air at rapid rates – I only remember breathing in – I can’t remember breathing out. How much air is in this pipe? Could it run out? All of a sudden my knees un-wedged just a little behind me and like a mad man I started reversing my way out. It felt like hours, but I didn’t care as long as I was moving. I got to where I had lowered myself and pushed back up through the sidewalk and stared taking huge, deep, deliberate breaths… I was sure Austin was going to realize how uncool I was and stop wanting me to go do things with him, but he reversed back out too and said, “You know what? I think the pipe gets smaller as it moves, so neither of us could have gone. That was kind of scare huh?” He put his hand on my knee. He didn’t tell me it was ok that I had cried, or anything like that. He just said we should go do something else. He pretended like nothing had happened. I loved him for that. He could have laughed at me. He could have found someone else more brave than I to go do things with. But he didn’t – he decided we should go play sword-fight.
I loved him. No – this wasn’t a first crush or anything like that. I didn’t have any sexual feelings at this time in my life. I just knew I loved being with him. He made me feel important. He defended me to other “cool kids.” Just being anywhere around him made me a cool kid. So when he first offered me a cigarette, I took it. I wasn’t curious about smoking. I thought it sucked! My uncle smoked and I thought it smelled bad and looked crappy. Some people have said they thought smokers always looked cool. I didn’t. But I didn’t care – I was entering a point in my life where I didn’t allow myself to have my own thoughts. It was very simple math to me. Me <= Cool. Me + Austin => Cool. Everything Austin did was cool. Everything I did with Austin made me more cool! So I took the cigarette and just puffed… I didn’t know any better. It’s not like I studied this crap! Austin went back to visit his mom, brother, and step-father. One day he told me he got stoned while he was visiting – his brother had got some pot. He told me all the stories about how it felt. Then he said he also tried something called crystal. This is where I tell you that I kind of lied before… I told you I’d never heard about meth, which is mostly true. I remember he said he did crystal but that didn’t mean anything to me. I kept picturing him holding big Fortress of Solitude memory crystals and running around crazy. When meth was introduced to me it was “crank.” I didn’t know it was essentially the same stuff – just different purity levels. I didn’t really ask about the crystal – I asked about the pot. I wanted to know what it was all about. This was something I had heard in school – and as far as I knew if you smoked pot you go crazy and think you can fly and would jump off a building.
He laughed – he said he just felt really, really relaxed. I told him I wanted to try it. I really didn’t, but I felt like this would be our new “mission.” We never did smoke pot together, but my interest was a little piqued about the experience. Not really for me – but so that I wouldn’t be surpassed by Austin. I already felt like I was surpassed by him and I didn’t want to have to fall too far behind.
While I was not in love with Austin, not in a romantic way where I hoped we would have sex and get married and adopt a child and live happily ever after – this did however shape so much of my later life. For as long as I didn’t know who I was, I was ready to start following anyone who even appeared to know who they were. I wanted someone who could lead me on missions and I would see the world with their back always firmly in view. See, as long as someone else knew who they were, I didn’t have to figure out who I was, and therefore nothing I got involved with was really my fault. It was everybody else’s…