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  • Between my newfound engagement in school and studies, and the little day trips Ken, Mary, Mom and I would take, touring around New England on the weekends, I really never even thought about drinking or getting high for those first few months in Connecticut. I came to see that all as just a phase I’d gone through, and now I was beyond all of that. It didn’t seem like that big of a deal to me – I was just finally growing the hell up.

    The girl I was driving to and from school every day, Mary, seemed pretty straight, but she was also very cool. She was into good music, and played guitar and sang, adding to her “Joni Mitchell” image in my mind. She introduced me to some of her friends around the school, and invited me to a little party over at her house on a Saturday night with her friends – no alcohol or drugs, just a bunch of kids who hung out and were pretty damned normal. I didn’t know such kids still existed – didn’t everyone get high?

    They seemed alright - but I was much more interested in Mary. I was playing it cool - there was apparently a boyfriend, but I sensed, from comments she made, that she was getting ready to cut that off. Plus, I figured, if it was really serious with this guy, why wasn’t HE driving her to school and back, instead of letting this new kid move in on his territory, like I was definitely doing? I was feeling confident that the more she got to know me, the more she’d like me, and I would eventually make a move.

    She mentioned a group that met at the Congregational Church up the road on Sunday nights, called the Pilgrim Fellowship (or PF) – just a group of kids who got together and talked, did some skits, and hung out. While it met in the basement of the church, it was a non-denominational group. She said I would probably like it. I didn’t think I would like something like that, but if she was into it, I figured I would get into it. I was willing to do whatever I needed to do to eventually have a shot at getting more into Mary. I really liked the girl, and couldn’t believe she’d taken such an active interest in me.
  • I went up to the PF one Sunday night, and it turned out Mary didn’t even make it that night. They seemed like a pretty cool bunch of kids, so I stayed, just to see what it was all about. David was there, a musician who seemed very cool and somewhat sophisticated, but in a blue collar kind of way. I liked him – he had a good sense of humor. A kid named Tommy came off as very intellectual and more than a little awkward, but there was something mysterious about him, something that you sensed was just waiting to come out of him, and it made you curious what it was. There was a girl there that reminded me a lot of Judy, the girl who’d given me a nice send-off night right before I left Pittsburgh, and I immediately liked her. I was already missing Judy, and seeing this girl there just made me smile – she could have been her sister. I definitely wanted to get to know her better.

    Kevin was the one I immediately pegged as a kid who probably got high. I could tell. I thought that David might, as well, but was sure that Kevin did. He also seemed to me to be full of himself, and a bit overly dramatic about things. But, I liked him, as well. There was a kid named Reed, who at first appeared to be a long-haired hippie – he had the longest hair I’d ever seen on a guy, that went all the way down his back, but he definitely didn’t come off as a hippie, at all. He seemed very down to earth, very logical, but also very friendly, and a tremendous sense of humor. I immediately sensed a deep strength from him – I don’t think I’d ever sensed that in someone else before I met him. I thought it was a strange thing to feel. His girl friend, Peggy, was cute as a button, and just a nice, solid individual, another one I felt like I’d like to get to know better, just because she seemed really cool.
  • What I didn’t know then was, this would become the core of the friends I would consider my closest friends for the next six or seven years. We would all go through a lot together. But, at the time, they were just a bunch of kids who met on Sunday nights, for what reason I still couldn’t figure out, and I liked them. I immediately felt accepted there. Who ever thought that I would wind up hanging out at a church youth group? I’d only gone there because I was interested in a girl – and she didn’t even show up! Funny how life works, sometimes.

    As springtime came, and the weather warmed up, Mary started taking me out to interesting places outside of the town of Windsor, when I would be driving her home from school. Those drives got to be longer and longer. We went up into the mountains and forests of Massachussetts, not too far north of there, and would just drive around and talk. I was sure she was really getting into me. It was always her idea, she’d want to show me this or that, a little swimming hole where she loved to go swimming, her favorite spot to sit and look out over the vista. For a city kid, it was all beautiful and fascinating – and I was growing more and more interested in Mary, the more I got to know her. There was something quite mysterious about her, that I wanted to figure out.

    I was still playing it cool, because I didn’t know what was up with the boyfriend – she wasn’t saying, and I wasn’t asking. I didn’t want to be pushy. I really liked her, and didn’t want to blow whatever it was that was developing between us. She brought up the senior prom a couple of times, just for discussion – what did I think of proms in general, had I ever been to one? I wasn’t really into such things, I thought proms were pretty hoky, so I answered her inquiries honestly.

    Then, on one such drive, she asked if I was into girls. “Whoa”, I thought. “Maybe I’ve been playing it way too cool, here!” I took this as a clear signal that she wanted me to ask her to the prom. It was time to snap out of “cool” mode. So, I said, “Hey, you know what, Mary - I’ve been thinking about the prom. The more you’ve talked about it, the more I’ve thought maybe it isn’t so hoky, after all. I should probably keep an open mind and check it out.” I thought I would see what her reaction to that was, before I sprung the question on her, and asked her to be my prom date.
  • She immediately lit up, and said, “Oh, that is great!” Cool! Now, I’ll pop the question. But, before I could get the words out – they were just on the tip of my tongue – she continued, “I know just the girl for you to take. Her name is Judy - she’s really funny and cute. I think you two will hit it off great! I can’t wait to tell her you’re into going!”

    Nooooooooooo!!!!! I couldn’t believe it! This was all a set-up? Oh, man, how did I read the signs all wrong, here? What the hell? What a conundrum! I really didn’t want to take some Judy that I’d never met, had no idea whether I’d like or not, to some stupid prom, get all dressed up in a monkey suit and feel like a complete idiot for a night. No, no, no. I’d wanted to take Mary. This was all wrong! But, I was stuck. I couldn’t back out. I agreed to take this Judy to the prom. But, inside, I was really pissed. I’d been totally set-up, this whole time!

    I just wanted to get stoned after that. I remembered that my friend Darrell had sent me a joint in the mail a few weeks back. I’d laughed and stuck it in my sock drawer, thinking I’d probably just throw it away, eventually. But, I had saved it, just in case….After I dropped Mary off, I went home, pulled that joint out, went for a nice, long walk, and got good and high, for the first time in months. I didn’t know what else to do! When all else failed, you got high.
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    Photo Credits: Josefa Holland-Merten, Jeff Sheldon, Sven Schlager, Sebastion Boguszewicz, courtesy of Unsplash.com
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