My friend Edan and I somehow got caught up in the quest for cool rebellion. It was an electric summer for the music scene in 1993. Riding the coattails of gritty, raw bands like The Cult, the Pixies and Guns n’ Roses, Nirvana‘s Nevermind had already wrecked the glam rock of the late eighties, and other bands were coming out of the wood work that rode Kurt Cobain‘s trail of mayhem, including Pearl Jam, Soul Asylum, Alice in Chains, Blind Melon and Soundgarden.
Edan and I were listening to all of this new music, and coming of age as well. Puberty was figuratively smacking us in the face. Girls were becoming more and more of an irresistible enigma, and we were starting to develop heroes apart from our parents and the basketball icon Michael Jordan.
Our heroes were found in the ringing loudness of cassette tapes, and a new invention that was starting become common in home sound systems- Compact Discs. Kurt Cobain sang of a world we deeply wanted to understand. We began to be fascinated with the idea of being intoxicated, because we knew all of these guys constantly were. And since I played music I somehow believed that intoxication would enhance my music, and in many ways that’s what I cared about the most- playing and writing good music.
We started by rolling up green oak leaves and stealing my Dad’s lighter. We’d go out into in my backyard and sit in an oak tree (where else???) and smoke oak leaves! We definitely didn’t inhale, but we got the adrenaline rush that came with doing something we knew our parents would think was wrong (or maybe really, just stupid and weird!)
From there it moved on to smoking cinnamon sticks, which weren’t very good at all. It was amazing how silly we were doing these things.
Then we got the hunger to begin trying something truly illegal, smoking cigarettes while we were still only 12 years old. We used to wait by the entrance of a grocery store in town. People would walk in and put their cigarettes in the ash tray outside, some of them still mostly full. We would take the cigarettes and smoke them! Man, looking back I’m glad we didn’t get some sort of Hepatitis!
Edan’s 13th birthday was coming up. It was the end of summer, the beginning of our 7th grade year in school. Nirvana’s “In Utero” had just hit the CD racks in music stores, and we bought it up immediately. With this music as our background soundtrack, we decided to steal a bunch of booze from Edan’s Dad. We stole a couple of beers, we took little plastic bottles and filled them with whiskey, then rum, and then vodka. I paid a 7th Grader about 3 bucks for a pack of cigarettes that was half empty (that would be a cheap price now, but then it was a rip-off!). So we had gathered up what we saw as the most trouble we could get ourselves into to prepare for Eric’s 13th birthday bash.
Edan invited a number of his and my friends to the party. After an evening of walking around on the dirt of an undeveloped area of his neighborhood and smoking cigarettes in the cool Fall evening, we headed back to his house.
When his parents were asleep, we broke out all of the alcohol. I treaded carefully and drank little sips, pretending to be more and more intoxicated, when I was really faking it. One of our friends, Nathan, refused to participate in the drinking. He actually became the prophet of morality for the night. We made fun of him for standing out. I look back and realize it took a lot of courage to do. As a thirty-two-year old man who has been sober for thirteen years, I know that I would be the one to stand out now. Of course, I’d do it without condemning the people that are partying. But then, I was much different, and much more easily persuaded to follow my id.
The night went on, and everyone seemed to be faking it like they were drunk. We all winded down and Edan seemed to get crazier. I suppose he drank a whole lot more than most of us, because a lot of us were just scared to do it. Edan started getting violent and cynical. He came after a few of us physically. I remembered Nathan wrestling him and throwing him to the ground one time. I think the alcohol just got a hold of Edan in a way he couldn’t handle (I mean, what 12 year old kid could?). The night ended with Edan hugging the toilet and vomiting for quite awhile.
We woke up the next morning and I was too naive to understand what had happened. I was seriously mad at Edan for acting that way and didn’t realize how much the alcohol had taken hold of him. Regretfully I shunned Edan after that. It was another step in my quest for popularity, and I was willing to mow anyone down to get there. I turned other people against him and spread vicious rumors about him. And it wasn’t until my eleventh grade year of High School that I came to tell him how sorry I was for that.
Junior High School is a cold, Darwinian arena where “survival of the fittest”, or maybe “coolest” or “meanest” can be the only rule. Those who create the rumor mill and oppress the honest and vulnerable come to prominence. Those who forthrightly navigate their way through the wilderness of confusion get left behind in a trail of smoke. Some of these realities come alive in adulthood, where consumers subversively gnaw and tear at each other’s souls, and bosses subversively undercut and demoralize their employees. Hopefully, we learn from these errors and seek to love our friends, neighbors and enemies, fueled by unconditional love from above. Yet it is the lips of the wise spread knowledge; not so the hearts of fools. (Prov. 15:7) Our very nature is to spread calamity, but rising above it is possible through surrender.
I didn’t realize these things at the naive age of twelve. I would have many years of infamy before being driven towards true assertion.