Presented 3 December 2003

 

I am sorry that I must read these words from this page to you, but I cannot be certain that I would remember them otherwise.

What I have to say is important to me, and I think I must be careful in the way I say it.

Please forgive me for sending my mind to you through this page instead of directly from my heart.

I am really only speaking to only very few of you, but I donít know who you are, so I have to take you all with me, if you want to go.

I hope I donít make the rest of you uncomfortable.

 

Imagine that you are taking a walk with me.

We are walking out of the Chapel, out around back, up the hill, past the new gym, past the soccer field, right through the pine thicket, past a cluster of beer cans hidden in the weeds, right by the stinking sinkhole dump that not many see, back through the field past ganja plants no longer managed by their expelled owner;

and on we go through the woods to the creek.

We take a seat on a log,

here by the creek,

in the woods,

just you and me,

where we can tell secrets if we choose to.

This is where I share my thoughts with you.

I do not like secrets though.

And what I am about to say is no secret.

I am also telling the faculty this story.

 

I have been struggling with this for a long time.

I donít know if I should tell you these things.

I may be crossing a dangerous line, but I donít know what else to do except to tell you the truth, as best I can remember it.

I believe that plain and simple truth is a powerful thing.

If you donít want to hear it, thatís fine with me.

Please sit quietly though.

Iím pretty nervous.

I have the same feeling I get when I hear someone say, ďHey, my daddy knew you in high schoolÖĒ

It scares me to death.

My past haunts me, and there is nothing I can do about it now.

It is impossible to retract regrettable decisions, but it is possible to overcome them, or at least pretend that you do.

Everything I am about to say is true except the names of my friends.

I changed them.

It is a shame when you canít tell people who your friends are.

But I am not ashamed of my friends.

Just myself.

 

When I was in high school, we gathered in the auditorium one afternoon to watch movies.

State Troopers had come to show us horrible images of death.

Real people.

Real death.

Twisted burned and mangled cars with human flesh dangling from sharp edges.

Washed out films of gaping wounds and screaming crying people.

It was safe driving week.

This horror was somehow supposed to make us drive safely.

All I know is it gave me an eternally haunting image of pretty blond girl with round blue and frightened eyes sucking her bloody lips down her throat because the steering wheel had smashed away her teeth when a drunk driver crashed into her head on.

They were trying to extract her from the car, but she was trapped.

They could not get to her.

She couldnít breath.

The camera man did nothing but shoot the film.

She was smothering in her own blood, and she was beautiful.

I loved her for that moment, and maybe I still do.

She gave her life for me and she never knew it,

but it didnít do me a damn bit of good.

All we did was talk about how cool it was to see guts on the road.

But I still remember that beautiful girl.

Her dying image haunts me.

 

I thought about creating a horrible image like this for you today.

I have heard students say that people need to be scared so they wonít use drugs.

Maybe someday I will perform it.

But I donít know how much good it would do.

 

If someone asked me when I started using drugs, I donít know if I could tell them.

I remember making a conscious choice one afternoon to curse though.

I was known as a real churchy kind of kid at the time, and then one day during a backyard football game I just decided to say, ĎDamní when I got tackled.

So I said it.

ďDamnĒ.

It was weird.

It shocked the neighborhood kids.

 

Shortly after that we moved to another town.

I was a freshman.

Thatís when I remember stealing a cigarette from my parents and sneaking into the bathroom to smoke it.

It was some kind of menthol.

It made me dizzy and I puked.

Pretty soon I was sneaking a smoke fairly often.

I donít know why I did this, but no one caught me or said anything about it.

I kept on smoking for about 9 years.

I still donít know why I started.

 

The next year when we moved back to my old home town and school, and I felt a little out of place.

People had changed.

I saw some guys that I knew before in Boy Scouts that were always cutting up in class and having fun.

People seemed to like them.

I started trying to hang out with them.

They smoked cigarettes too, so we got along just fine.

 

I donít know why I started drinking, but I remember one of the first times.

My friend Austin had an older brother who had a paper route.

His brother hired us to help him erect boxes for the newspapers one afternoon, and he paid us in beer.

We were about 15.

After that he would buy us beer whenever we wanted it.

We all had jobs and could usually afford it.

My friend Austin drank the most, every time.

He nearly always got drunk when there was beer or liquor around.

He always took things farther than the rest of us.

 

I remember leaving Austin on the sidewalk in front of his house one night.

He passed out from drinking and taking downers after school, down by the creek.

We couldnít wake him up and we were scared.

We shouldered him to his front yard and laid him down.

We knocked on his front door and ran to the bushes.

His mother came to the door and screamed.

They took him away in the car.

At school Austin told us that they pumped his stomach.

He said it was scary at first, but then kind of cool.

He nearly died and it didnít seem to faze him one bit.

He still had to get the highest.

 

At the time I was working as a busboy, and I could drink at work after the restaurant closed.

I pitched in on the beer like everyone else.

I could walk home down the railroad tracks and sneak easily into bed.

No one ever asked me about my drinking, except once.

It was the day we took a school trip to have our senior pictures made.

My friends and I all got drunk and stoned.

My friend Austin was the drunkest of course, since he was also taking barbiturates.

He staggered down the side walk as we watched from a distance, too scared to be caught in his company.

We were giggling and thinking it was pretty funny.

ďWhat is crazy Austin going to do next?Ē

He fell into the glass doors of the pool hall and shattered them.

He was arrested.

The next day I was called into the principalís office and asked if I was one of the ones drinking.

I said yes, but I didnít get drunk.

He asked me who else was drinking.

I said I couldnít tell him that.

I got suspended, but I really donít remember my parents being involved.

I donít think they even knew about it at the time.

I was 18 then.

No one ever asked me to see a counselor.

No one seemed to care.

All I knew is that the principal and coaches just wanted to bust my ass.

But I had gotten the best if them.

I had been stoned at least every week of high school, and sometimes every day.

They never knew it.

Or maybe they did, and just didnít give a crap.

 

Oh, did I say ďstoned?Ē

I guess I forgot to mention that I had also started smoking dope on a regular basis.

My friend Kevin had brothers returning from Viet Nam.

They had drug connections and would sell us the strongest pot whenever we could afford it.

We all had jobs and weed was pretty cheap.

$15 an ounce, maybe $30 for an ounce of buds.

I spent my school days on weed, acid, or other drugs, nights working and drinking beer, and weekends hanging around parties at the lake.

All through high school and my first two years of college I was stoned more days than not.

My parents still donít know about it all.

 

I do not tell you these things because I am proud about the way I lived, but there is nothing I can do to change it now.

I am embarrassed and ashamed, and I am ashamed that my son sitting with you is hearing these words.

I was a stupid child making dangerous decisions and staying pretty lucky for the most part.

If I wasnít lucky I would not be here before you today.

I would be dead.

 

I have to stop for a moment, because I see her trying to breathe.

I see her bloody breath leave her beautiful body.

I see the lonely terror in her round blue eyes.

She still haunts me.

She reminds me of my friends.

 

Let me tell you about my friends.

 

My Friend Kevin was the funniest.

He played guitar and was always laughing.

He has done well.

He quit doing drugs long ago, but maybe he still drinks.

 

My Friend Harold has been in drug rehab twice.

 

My Friend George was a literary wit.

A near genius who could shoot down any teacher in a clever style that never got him in trouble.

He was rumored to shoot heroin but I never saw him do it.

He had a nervous breakdown when he was 18 and had to be hospitalized.

 

My Friend Barry is a Viet Nam Veteran.

He was busted for growing pot and served 3 years in the federal penitentiary.

He is a good person, just anti social.

 

My Friend Austin is currently in successful rehabilitation, but it is a constant struggle.

 

My Friend Helen drove straight into a tree and died at the age of 18.

They said it was an accident, but they also said she was drunk or stoned and just had a fight with her boyfriend.

It was a closed casket funeral.

 

My friend Frank died at the age of 45 of heart failure.

I nearly killed him 25 years earlier when I fell asleep at the wheel of my Volkswagen during a night of drinking and smoking dope.

I wrapped us both around a telephone pole, 20 feet off the ground.

Miraculously I only dislocated my shoulder, but I cut Frank up pretty bad.

I fell out of touch with Frank after that, but I heard he never stopped using narcotics and drinking.

He left behind a wife and two little girls.

I was asked to speak at his funeral.

When I stood in front of his mother and looked into her sad eyes, I couldnít think of anything to say.

All Frank and I ever did was drive around and get stoned together.

Now he was gone.

I felt ashamed.

 

What about me?

I thought I was having a great time for the most part, but the parts that arenít great are devastating.

I have many embarrassing, dangerous and shameful stories that all relate to drug and alcohol use.

I spent time in drunk tanks, and nearly lost my mind.

But I was lucky.

I had frightening experiences but lived through them all.

I started quitting things one by one.

Cigarettes, then hallucinogens, then speed, then pot, and finally alcohol.

Each time due to a close call with death or insanity, well, except for cigarettes.

I was just afraid of getting cancer, since a lot of my relatives were dying from it.

 

I met a wonderful woman and fell in love.

I had finally laid it all down by the time my first son was born, over 20 years ago.

I am an alcoholic, and alcoholism runs in my family.

I am too afraid to drink now, but I really would enjoy a glass of wine or a cold beer now and then.

Iím afraid I could not stop at one or two drinks though, and it would be just like high school.

I also thought if I did not drink or do other drugs that my children would not have an excuse to use them, and I would be better equipped to justify my position when I told them I would not tolerate it.

I did not want them to end up like me or my friends.

This assumption was shattered when I learned that my older son was drunk at the prom party when he was a junior.

He may have started drinking before that though.

He still drinks illegally at college and his friendsí houses.

It breaks my heart and he knows it, but he still does it.

Drugs and the friends that you do them with are sometimes stronger than a parentís love.

What else can I do, but love him? I am proud of him for many things, but I am worried about him.

Alcoholism runs in my family.

 

And this is what truly haunts me.

Why did I start using alcohol and other drugs?

Why did my son?

Why do some of you?

There are as many reasons people use drugs, and donít use drugs, as there are in this room right now.

I sometimes analyze my life.

I still canít point to a single reason for myself though.

But when I look back at it, I see that I could always get drugs and alcohol from people that I trusted and admired.

My parents never gave me cigarettes, but thatís where I first accessed them.

My friends, their older siblings and co-workers supplied whatever drugs or alcohol I needed until I was old enough to buy it myself.

And whatís the harm?

I turned out OK, didnít I?

That assumption is my greatest fear.

I was one of the lucky ones.

But my friends were not so lucky.

 

So.

Who are the lucky ones?

I think the truly lucky ones are people who never use alcohol or other drugs.

They can enjoy life without them.

I am so proud of each one of you who has never chosen to use alcohol or drugs.

You should be very proud of yourselves as well.

But I am still lucky, and Iím still staying straight, so far.

It may be weird to think that someone can attend Bonnaroo or a Widespread concert absolutely straight and have a great time without being stoned on drugs or alcohol.

But I must admit that sometimes the music itself actually makes me high.

On good jams I can dance myself into a silly trance.

 

And what does all this repenting have to do with you?

I donít know, really, except it does have something to do with why I am a part of the Care Team.

I want you to know where I am coming from on this thing,

but the round eyed girl that haunts me now also haunted me all through high school,

and she still didnít keep me from wrapping my car around a telephone pole.

So how can I expect this Care Team to work?

 

I donít know that it will, but I simply donít know what else to do.

It bothers me that there is graffiti saying that the

is stupid, and to ďhell with this shit.Ē

I donít know if it is paranoia from someone who is breaking the rules, misunderstandings of our intent, outright ignorance or mistakes on our part, mistrust of our association with the school or what.

You may just think Iím part of the administration trying to bust your ass.

But this is what I can tell you:

 

Although I am part of the Care Team, I am also troubled by it.

The Care Team immediately placed a wall between me and my sons.

I am so very proud of them, and we still get along great but we do not talk as freely as we used to.

This really bothers me.

 

I do not like the Big Brother/Homeland Security aspect of this thing.

I do not like the immediate suspicion that occurs in someone who we ask to meet with us.

I do not like placing students in stressful situations.

I do not like the necessary secrecy that exists.

 

I do not like some of you feeling like the administration is out to get you, and that I am part of that.

Believe it or not, I believe the faculty and administration care a great deal about you, and this community.

If I thought otherwise I would not be teaching here.

I am saddened if you think the administration is against you, but I can understand.

I remember how I felt.

But now I realize the importance of establishing stiff consequences for dangerous and illegal behavior.

It is an extremely tough job to implement those penalties.

It troubles me to see some students act like I did in high school, blaming the administration when they are the ones breaking the rules.

But that is another thing; I really donít know what goes on between students and the administration, just like the administration isnít privy to the details of the work of the Care Team.

If the administration asks how the Care Team is going, I might tell themĒ FineĒ or ď Iím worried about itĒ or ďdrugs donít seem to be as rampant as beforeĒ or some general thing, but I will never provide details about who may be doing what.

The exception is the deal on selling drugs.

I hope you can understand this.

 

I do want to clarify that I am honored to be a part of the Care Team.

The way it is set up isnít totally my idea, but I think it can work.

I think we must be clear on what we want to accomplish.

My personal intent with this thing is simple.

 

I want you to take better care of your self and your friends than I have.

 

I hope you do not cause yourself pain, or have to see your friends go through the pain I have seen mine go through because of their decision to use drugs and alcohol.

 

I know that some of you already have personal stories that are more horrible than my own.

I am saddened by this.

 

This is such a wicked common paradox.

The old ones telling the young to do better.

What a damn cop out.

Why didnít I do it right when I was your age?

How can I hold you to a higher level of responsibility when I screwed up my own life?

 

Itís simply that I donít know what else to do.

This Care Team thing is much more complicated than I would like, due to legal liabilities and crap like that, and the fact that I am not a professional counselor.

I am just a teacher.

I canít even keep my own kid from drinking.

How can I help you or your friends?

Well, I can listen to you.

The Care Team can help you or your friend find someone who is trained to help you.

Remember that you can always approach our Counselor, confidentially, for help.

 

Please be patient with us as we try to get this thing right.

If the Care Team calls you in for a meeting it only means that we have had referrals that we think need to be shared with you.

It does not necessarily mean that we think you are doing drugs or alcohol.

It may mean that we think you may be vulnerable, or simply that someone is worried about you.

Sometimes we misinterpret your sleepiness in class, or your absences.

We may be told something that is old news to you guys.

We are not a drug task force.

We are simply a tool you can use to help your friends, or yourself.

 

So please, do not hesitate to approach the members of the Care Team.

We really just want to help you, and your friends.

 

 

(Edited on December 5, 2003 to remove some personal references, and again in August, 2004 and 2013. At my 30th High School Reunion in June, 2005, I learned of the deaths of 3 classmates.All 3 were said to be intense drug and alcohol users.One lost and arm to infection from heroin use before dying, one died of liver failure from drinking, and one died of a mysterious suicide.In the spring of 2006, my cousinís young daughter lost her life after extensive drug use.)