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  • The now regular panic attacks shot huge holes into the confidence and optimism I had been experiencing since the move. I would have given anything to have been able to go back to the way I was before the move – back to being the guy who would throw a huge party in his parents’ house without a second thought, who would start food fights in the school cafeteria just to liven things up. But I couldn’t go back to who I was, then. I had changed. I’d begun to care about things. I’d taken on some responsibility for my life, and begun to give a shit about the people around me, family included. I was now keenly aware of how my behavior impacted them - especially my little sister, Mary. I realized she looked up to me, and was trying to be cool, like me. She was only ten years old, but she seemed like ten going on sixteen. She was already so much cooler than me, and just didn't know it. I felt a responsibility for her. I’d never really cared about things like this before. Damnit, I’d grown a goddamned conscience!

    I’d also had this “intellectual awakening”, reading up on Thoreau and Emerson. I’d become a deep thinker, a reflecter. This had never been a problem for me before. I could go months without ever cracking a book. Now, I was constantly reading, and I found myself thinking about everything. I was beginning to see how things were connected, how actions had consequences, and I’d grown a desire for my life to count for something. It almost felt like I was now infected with this disease, this desire to live, really live, now. Thank you, Henry David!

    I knew I was coming late to the table, but I was there, now, and I wanted to do something meaningful with my life. I had definitively decided I would go on to college, instead of joining the Navy, after I graduated. I had an unquenchable passion for learning, now. But, after years of goofing off, I really had no discipline, I didn’t know where to start. I wanted to learn everything, now. There was such an urgency to this new desire.

    My buddy from Pittsburgh, Cy, encouraged me to come back for my old high school’s graduation there, so I flew back for that. I was hoping that that would snap me out of my recent funk, but I found that it was true what they said - you can never go back home. I was from there, but it no longer felt like my home. Where I used to be the guy who livened things up, always up for a good time, ready to rock and roll at a moment’s notice, now everyone was taking me so seriously, I just couldn’t stand it. I just couldn’t seem to have a good time at the graduation parties. If I drank, I didn’t get drunk, just more introspective, and when I got high, I just got more paranoid and would ramble into long, intellectual dialogues that nobody wanted to hear. I couldn’t wait to get out of there, and back to Connecticut. Everything that had happened there was now part of the past, and I needed to go figure out my present.
  • I still wasn’t sure I would graduate with the rest of the class, until a few days before graduation. But, my hard work in the 11th hour of my education paid off, and I was able to walk on graduation day. I was really thrilled about that. The Graduation ceremony was held in the football field of the school, on a beautiful June evening, and I doubted that many of those graduating could appreciate even being there as much as I could. It was a minor miracle, for sure! For that one night, I felt elated, and an overwhelming sense of relief. This would be just about the last time I’d feel good about anything that entire summer.

    I ran into my youth group acquaintance, Kevin, again, right after the graduation ceremony. He asked if I was planning to make the rounds of the graduation parties. Being a new guy in town, I really didn’t know where most of them were going to be, but I had a car, which he didn’t, so we teamed up to hit all the parties. I hardly knew any of these kids, so I felt less pressure to do or be anything other than myself, which was good, since at that point, I was pretty damned confused about who that was! Kevin, who always seemed to show up with chemical solutions to my confusions, still had a stash of organic mescaline, along with some kickass weed.

    We got high before we began to make the rounds of the parties, then at some point in the night, we ingested the mesc. I took less this time, just a half a hit instead of the two hits I’d done for the prom, but the result was pretty much the same - a really strange trip. Much of the night, it felt like I was on another planet, or that I was an alien on this planet. I was not from here. Everything was strange and unreal, and I just went from party to party and melted into the walls, and observed all the people, and since nobody really knew me, nobody fucked with me. I saw some really strange things that night, but it wasn’t fun, nor funny, and I just wanted the night, and the trip, to be over.
  • At the last party we hit, I did run into someone I knew – Martha, the girl whose old house we had moved into, was there, though she was not graduating. She was just finishing up her Sophomore year, but since I was young for my grade, I was only about a year and a half older than her. That night, still tripping my brains out when I ran into her, I felt an incredibly deep connection to her, that really kind of freaked me out, though not necessarily in a bad way. She had eyes that seemed like they could penetrate right into your soul, and could see me for what I really was. I felt like she knew me better than I knew myself.

    She looked at me from across a room, and I had the sensation that everything else going on in that crowded house full of graduating partiers just slowed down to a complete stop, and there was just her looking at me, with the brightest smile I thought I had ever seen. She was so fresh, so simple, yet so fucking smart. Her smile just lit up the room. I kind of shyly waved at her, from my spot on the wall which I’d been doing my best to melt into. I was right by a stairway, and she made her way over to me, and sat down on the stairway and started talking to me. Even though I knew she was straight, she had such a cool head, I didn’t think she needed to get high, and she didn’t seem to mind that I was obviously quite high.

    She seemed genuinely interested in me, which surprised me, since I had had very little interaction with her, after she’d dropped the keys off to us at her old house, our first day in town. I’d spent most of the next 2 months pursuing her friend, Mary, until that bubble had burst, and I’d just been working my ass off to try to graduate, and at my waiter job, when I wasn’t studying. But, in that moment, for the first time, I realized how fucking beautiful this girl truly was. She seemed to have the coolest soul, and I felt like she was letting me see right into it as we talked. She was so open, and refreshingly honest and unassuming. At one point, as we talked, she laughed and said, “You’re pretty stoned, aren’t you?” I admitted that I was, and she laughed and said, “That’s cool. You’ve earned the right to be. Have a great night. Maybe I’ll see you around?” I still hadn’t made a connection that there might be something there between us. I’ve always been pretty dense about these things. I was still thinking of her as being a Sophomore and me a graduating senior, and we’d just had a nice encounter at a party.

    As we drove back through what now really seemed like an alien planet, on the way back to Windsor, Kevin asked me about her. “You seem pretty interested in Marty – she’s a dynamite girl. She’s not dating anyone, you know.” I heard that, but just shrugged it off and told him I didn’t date girls that young. He told me she wasn't as young as she seemed. I knew what he meant.

    Little did I know that that "young girl" would wind up becoming my muse, for years to come, my initial inspiration to be a writer...but, I'm getting ahead of myself. I still had the absolute summer from hell to live through before she would enter back into the story.
    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    (Author's Note: It seems more than just a little ironic, given last night's news of a beloved entertainer's suicide, that I find myself back at the point of my first serious suicidal period in my storytelling, which is where this is leading. Why do I write about these periods, repeatedly? I remembered a sense, as I emerged from my first really dark period, a time I thought I would never escape alive, a commitment to myself to share my journey from that place to a place of wanting to live again. It felt important to do, like it might be a way to make a difference. Older and wiser, I know that we never know what difference we make, really - all we can really do is follow our instinct, follow where our heart leads us, and hope that we can be a force for good, and healing, and maybe make a difference in the world. As Jackson Browne once wrote - "Go on ahead and throw some seeds of your own, and somewhere between the time you arrive, and the time we go, may lie a reason you were alive, but you'll never know.")
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