Everyone settle in and get comfortable. This story isn’t going to be one of my cutesy chasing my wife Kim, or even one of my stories where I attempt to be funny while retelling a fun memory. No, this will be a story of cleansing. It’s a story of a dark chapter in my life, one I wish I really didn’t have today, but I guess all of our experiences serve to form who we end up becoming. Some of you reading this might even have experiences much darker or of longer duration than mine. We either learn about ourselves from them or we slip further and further, deeper and deeper into a dark chasm from which perhaps we never crawl out of.
In 1973 I was ending 9th grade, soon to go into the summer. On the first day of a Spring study hall, a good looking kid with long, Greg Allman white hair sat down across from me. His name was Colin and was in 8th grade. Colin and I had one thing in common from the get-go; we both enjoyed cutting up and trying to make others laugh. Study hall was typically monitored by two lucky teachers who would split up so as to cover more territory in an effort to catch us would-be troublemakers in an act of class disruption. Disruption typically came in the form of me making a dripping sound from my throat or Colin raising his voice into a high falsetto of “baby alright now!” and then putting his head down on the table to act like he’s asleep. Childish acts like these always got a good laugh from our classmates. Teenagers will laugh at anything that upsets a teacher.
After some time, Colin and I began hanging together as friends outside of school. He had an older brother and a mother. I don’t know where the father was, but recall that his parents were divorced. His older brother was good looking and according to Colin, had a lot of girlfriends (I did see a couple of different girls there occasionally). He was several years older than Colin and had all the ingredients for a ‘cool’ role model for Colin. Oh, and he was a heavy pot smoker. The first time the topic of smoking pot came up was at Colin’s house.
So one day while at Colin’s, his brother and girlfriend were getting high and invited us to smoke a joint with them. Colin had smoked before so immediately accepted. What was my excuse? I have the benefit now of trying to look back 40 years to figure out my motivation. Was it peer pressure? Maybe a tad, but I can’t blame it on that because it didn’t happen just once. No, in hindsight I’d have to say I thought I could break rules without consequences. I still believe today in taking a calculated risk that won’t hurt others. I’m sure I was excited by the risk taking aspect and the notion that smoking pot was ‘cool’. All kids want to be at least ‘somewhat’ cool – fitting in with various cliques is what makes up most of our tribulations as kids.
I didn’t get high that day. I was told that it works that way for some people, that it takes two or three times. Apparently the THC, (which is the drug in marijuana that gets you high), has to be absorbed by the lungs and perhaps I did not hold in the smoke long enough. This is a scientific deduction I am making after some extensive, (60 seconds), research on Yahoo Answers. As mentioned, I liked taking risks so after taking the initial step of the first toke, I had decided to get the experience – I was in for the long ride home.
My very first high from pot happened the second time I smoked with Colin at his house. I used some newspaper delivery money (read me) to buy a small ‘nickel bag’ for me and Colin. It was called a nickel bag because it cost $5. A dime bag was $10 then and a full ounce ran $20 to $30 depending on the particular quality and demand. An ounce was also called a four-fingered lid. It was four fingers because if you had it in a plastic sandwich bag, an ounce was approximately the depth equal to about 4 fingers of a hand. I had to look up the reference to ‘lid’ and apparently pot used to be sold out of old Hellman’s large mayonnaise jars. An ounce was approximately the amount which would fit into the lid – go figure…Mary Jane with a side of Mayo.
Most of the readers here likely have experienced an experiment with marijuana of their own, but for those of you who haven’t I will try to describe here how it made me feel. First there is ‘the giggles’ – everything is funny. This reason alone will often keep people coming back to pot. Who doesn’t like giggling? Next up then is ‘the munchies’ – everything tastes good. Everything tastes good, but in particular, junk food is fantastic. Scientists say that the THC tends to increase our sensitivities to scents and flavors, (especially White Castle cheeseburgers and Taco Bell burritos). After the munchies stage comes the sleepy phase. This is the last phase for your weed high. After laughing your ass off at 1,000 stupid knock-knock jokes and then eating ice cream and an entire large pizza, you’re ready for 10 hours of deep sleep. No violent crimes on pot – laughing, eating and sleeping…that’s weed in 3 words.
Over the summer of ’73 Colin came over to our house more often and I to his. He lived on the same street as my childhood friend’s Grandma so it was not really that close to my own home on Prytania. But something else very important occurred during the summer of ’73 and that was meeting Betty (read me). So I was nowhere near becoming a ‘burner’ yet. Betty was very important to me so my time over the summer and into the wintertime was split up between my neighborhood friends (read me), Colin and Betty – Betty being my primary priority.
After Betty broke up with me, things went downhill pretty quickly. I was very depressed and when you’re depressed, escape is easy when you have access to marijuana. I had been spending less and less time against my schoolwork and more and more time with Colin. I had great grades in 9th grade but they began slipping with the first toke. The killer was my 4th quarter of 10th grade. Most of it is a blur today, but the following paragraphs are a few things I remember (possibly not in any order).
When you smoke pot as a 10th grader, you very quickly find out who the other pot smokers in school are. One’s name was Jimmy. Jimmy’s favorite place to sneak in a smoke was a secret hiding place. Directly overhead, right before one of the gym entryways was an opening up into an overhead crawl space. You could jump up and catch hold of a rail, pull yourself up and park yourself up above the students walking underneath. We’d sneak up during lunchtime, sneak a smoke and then head to the lunchroom to buy a couple of their delicious coconut-soy brownie snacks. If neither of us had any cash, we’d bum a buck from someone. Anytime we did this, I made certain I paid the person back the very next day. For some reason, that was more important to me than staying straight at school. Jimmy was a good kid, just temporarily misdirected, (like I was).
High school pot smokers have a knack for finding each other, even if they don’t go to the same schools. Maybe it’s ‘shrubbery sonar’, but you know how when you’re walking with your toddler and your toddler spots another toddler and they’re drawn to each other by instinct? It’s sort of like that. So it was that my first long term girlfriend, Diane (read me), knew that I was smoking when we saw each other one day in our alley. She and I would occasionally sneak off together to get high.
One day Diane called the house and my mom answered the phone. I was upstairs and heard my mom yell up to me – Diane Mathews is on the phone for you. I answered the phone and Diane said – hey, my boyfriend scored some awesome Columbian…you want to go smoke one? Me – sure, I’ll meet you out in the alley.
We met in the alley and Diane said she knew a place where we could go. It was someone’s open garage just up the street. We went inside and got comfortable on a stoop together. She reached into her pants, (the most common hiding spot), and pulled out her bag. I had brought the rolling papers so I did the rolling. We lit it up and within one quick toke, I began feeling the THC. That’s how it was with ‘the good stuff’. It hit us so hard that we couldn’t even finish it. I recall feeling vulnerable. I was missing Betty like crazy and I guess I used getting high as an excuse for reaching over and kissing Diane. She kissed back, but despite the strong buzz, she was sober enough to know she shouldn’t because she pulled back after the kiss. I remember her saying “that was nice, but I can’t – I have a boyfriend”. I said I know, and I’m sorry. We’re high, let’s go back home.
I think previous to this day, my mom had been growing suspicious because I had been spending more and more time with Colin. She didn’t really know anything about Diane except that Diane was older, more mature than I. I’m sure her radar was on high alert then when she saw me walk out the back door, meet up with Diane and start walking up the alley. When I returned, I was so high that all I wanted to do was go upstairs and sleep it off. My mom was having none of that though as she followed me upstairs and was rattling off a dozen questions. Finally she asked me straight out what we were doing and I blurted out – “we were smoking weed”. Mom took a swing at me with her right hand, I blocked it and she left crying. I went to bed and slept.
In hindsight, I know when I had hit my personal bottom – it was when I began smoking by myself in the mornings, before school. This was the 4th quarter of 10th grade – my bottoming out. I’d walk by myself and a block before my junior high school, (which was on the route to high school), I’d park myself in an alley, sitting against a garage door. I’d smoke one and then head to school. Typically I’d fall asleep in class, hear the bell ring, get up, stumble high to the next class, fall asleep again. Some days I’d skip out of some classes with Jimmy. This went on pretty much every day during the last quarter of school. It shames me to think that anyone from school might remember seeing me like this. Likely though, I was invisible to them.
1974 was an odd year for rules at school. We had this weird rule that year where we were allowed to miss something like 1-2 classes out of the quarter, for every single class…without an excuse. Teachers ignored the students and we ignored them. Only one teacher expressed an outward concern for me, Mr. Huth. He tried speaking to me but I would have none of it. However, he passed my name off to a counselor who called me to her office one day. It was 2 weeks before the quarter and school year would end. It was close to the end of the day. I remember being straight and I remember the conversation very well. She introduced herself but got right to her point; she was being very blunt. Rob Wyatt – do you know that you were 7th in your class at the end of 9th grade? Do you want to know where you stand now – 107th. High school is over in 2 years. What are you going to do then? You were an A student and this quarter you’re going to be a D student, really? And with that, she basically said the meeting was over and that I could come to her office if I wanted to talk.
“That” was the logic I needed to hear. Previous attempts to reason with me had failed. Not my mom’s crying, not Joe’s coaching with me that pot could lead to more addictive substances and certainly not my own thinking that I could handle myself. I was a very linear thinker as a kid, one of the best mathematics students in the school. Today I like to think that the counselor was smart enough to figure out for herself what to say to me that would resonate with my reasoning and would make an impact. It certainly did; for a few weeks into the summer, I met with Colin and told him I was going to quit, cold turkey I guess you could say.
The act of quitting smoking pot was actually easy. What was not so easy was ‘starting over’, trying to fit in at school. When I smoked, I had acquired a network of pot smoking friends. Other kids at school had learned to look at me as one of ‘the burners’ too. So when you announce that you are defecting, there is a time where you’re looked at by the burners as a “narc”. Some of them wouldn’t even nod a hello in the hallways – fine by me, but lonely. The only friends I had who still treated me the same came from The Alley (read me 60 kids). Betty had been broken off from me a few months ago and over the summer I worked to ‘re-set’ my thinking by trying to find odd jobs and only hanging out with my neighborhood friends.
This is when I met Joe (read me) who was to become my best friend in high school and would later stand up for me in my wedding party. Joe lived two blocks away and had begun coming down to our neighborhood to play pitch with us. Pitch is a Hamilton card game, very similar to euchre. Joe was well connected and well liked among his classmates, a very good athlete and he and I had similar senses of humor and objectives for the future. His credibility amongst his circle of HS friends allowed me to slip into a couple of circles with him. This was a great blessing for 11th grade because I was alienated by the burners and had alienated myself from my own classmates. Not until close to the end of our junior year after I had been dating Kim (read me) did I finally feel like I was beginning to fit in again with my classmates.
Where are the Kids Today?
The nice thing about social media of today is that we can look up people we wondered ‘whatever happened to’. Colin looks like he’s doing just fine today, a good job and a son. Jimmy turned out to be a cousin of a very good friend who tells me that he got himself completely turned around as well. Perhaps it was just a growing-up phase some of us had to go through in order to find ourselves and our way in this crazy world.
Do I have Regrets?
Of course! But our pasts, our actions, our behaviors; they’re all part of who we are and how we came to be. I have had a great life! I found my wife at the age of 16, have celebrated 36 years of marriage and have 3 wonderful boys. I have achieved my most major life objectives which I established for myself many years ago. My wife and I were both very driven and we executed against a long term plan that panned out quite well. I am wise enough to know today that our fates can be altered by the slightest of change of circumstances, so I don’t sit here today and wish for things I could have done differently. Had I not taken that first puff with Colin, I might not have held my grandson in my arms last month. That is how everything is interconnected with itself – one tiny alteration has the potential to put in motion a completely different chain of events.
So let me frame my regrets more as “things I wish I could have done and would not have altered anything else in my history”. Well I don’t regret not finishing up around the top of my class – I’ve never really cared for that type of recognition. I do however wish that I were more ‘engaged’ with my class. I would like to have played organized sports. I also would like to have gotten involved in extracurricular activities – clubs and maybe drama. I think I would like to have been in a play or two. There are a few people in those circles that I was close to as a child and wished I had not separated myself from in high school.
Maybe I am no different than anyone else. Maybe we’re all haplessly, aimlessly moving through our tender years, bumping into each other, trying on different outfits, seeing which ones fit and which ones don’t. Or maybe some of us figure it all out much earlier while the rest of us have to learn via trial and error. I’ve had my share of error and I will continue to make mistakes………..or maybe not.