It was late July of 1996, and “Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth With Money in My Hand” was #1 on the alternative rock charts. Not far behind was Stone Temple Pilots’ “Tripping on a Hole in a Paper Heart”, a modern psychedelic rocker, and Beck’s “Where it’s At”- an genius hybrid of minimalistic alt-rock and hip-hop done by the white grandson of a Vaudeville performer.
This had been an interesting summer. My parents, in the midst of their continual fighting about money, had certainly moved ahead financially. We bought a nicer house closer to the High School in Hudson, Ohio. It was actually within walking distance. One positive result of this was my removal from old surroundings. Some of the neighbors around me who perpetuated my drug habits were now absent from my every day life.
On top of this, our high school band, “Mulberry Tree”, was facing some strain. Our drummer, Duane, had disappeared from our existence for the summer. We found later that he was hanging out with his older friends, and had really gotten the love bug for an older girl. I suppose I would have done the same thing were I in his shoes.
But in our youth, me and the bass player of Mulberry Tree, Mitchell, took it personally. We started writing our own music, which had more of a progressive-rock edge to it. We wrote 6 to 9 minute long opuses, which were deeply influenced by prog bands like Yes, Rush, early Genesis (with Peter Gabriel), Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, and King Crimson. We were also certainly influenced by Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots, Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne.
Yet the removal of Duane and his older friends from our little rock star utopian dream world severed us from the ability to acquire marijuana. We began to experiment more often in the cedar lined shelves of our parents’ liquor cabinets.
Mitchell would come over on Summer Evenings, after playing baseball all day, and we’d conjure up some form of liquor or beer. We’d fill ourselves with it to the point of buzzing or being intoxicated, and then we’d congregate in my basement, which now had a full drum set, guitars, a bass, amplifiers, a keyboard, PA speakers, and a little recording studio with equalizers and mini-speakers. It was every thing a young rocker would dream of. We’d record our original music, with me on drums, and rhythm guitars, and Mitchell would play bass and lead guitars. We’d mess around with over dubs and share doing the vocal tracks. We created some great material when the alcohol wasn’t disabling us too much.
We ended up connecting with an older girl named Madeira in our circle of friends. Mitchell had a love interest in her, and I had a bit of one, but knew that it was only right to allow my friend to pursue his interest before mine. Our first connection with Madeira was at one of her parties. Her parents would leave town and her 21 year-old sister would buy enough beer to kill an army of kittens. She’d invite her sphere of influence into her den of high school freedom, and we’d partake of the spirits.
Now, I haven’t touched a drop of alcohol for two years, and have never been legally drunk, because the only drinking I did past the age of twenty-one was a beer or glass of wine here or there. I was floored by Ephesians 5:18 that says; “do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.” I want that fulfillment and joy that can come from sobriety and being filled with God’s presence. But at the age of fourteen going on fifteen, I dug debauchery. The dictionary defines debauchery as “excessive indulgence in sensual pleasures”. This was my M.O.
The first party we attended at Madeira’s house began with Mitchell and I sharing a 12-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, and ended with both of us laying like fools on a bathroom floor, vomiting what seemed to be an endless ocean out of our insides, and professing of our bro-mance friendship love for one another. People say and do completely silly and regretful things under the influence of alcohol to be sure.
Later, Madeira had invited us to hang out with her and go bowling. She obtained a bottle of 40 proof (1/2 strength) whiskey and 2 bottles of Boone’s sparkling wine for our voyage. We made it to the parking lot of Stonehedge Bowling Alley in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. Madeira was 16 and drove us there. Mitchell had a learner’s permit because he was 15, and I had no sort of driver’s license because I had just turned 15. We certainly had no plans for a designated driver.
We decided to drink the alcohol before going in to bowl. Mitchell and I drank the whiskey, and Madeira drank the Boone’s. Mitchell and I managed to finish the entire bottle, which was ½ strength but a large quanitity, especially for 15 year-olds! Madeira finished both of the bottles of Boone’s. We stood outside and smoked cigarettes as the deeply inebriating effects began to destroy and flood our minds. Mitchell and Madeira ended up further away and I was on my own smoking. I saw them kiss. Madeira later got so sick that she started throwing up. We never made it into the bowling alley to bowl…
So we had a serious dilemma. Madeira was in no state of mind to drive. Mitchell had a learner’s permit and half a bottle of rot-gut whiskey in him. I had the same amount as Mitchell and no license. We collaborated with great wisdom and intelligence to have Mitchell drive us home. “We’d take a back-road highway- Route 91, and avoid the Route 8 freeway. That way we’d stay away from potentially getting pulled over.” So we thought…
Mitchell drove us home as Madeira laid down in the back on my lap. She was feeling terrible and not in the best place, but still my feelings for her were there… hidden underneath the surface. I looked out the window into the beautiful summer night sky. It was July 29th, 1996. The stars were out. What were we doing? Were we crazy? I held back my feelings for Madeira. I hoped that we wouldn’t get in deep trouble. Things weren’t looking good.
Mitchell drove through Cuyahoga Falls, then Stow, and then we were close to the border of Hudson, Ohio. All the way he kept turning around to us in a fit of adrenaline. He spoke loudly with a slur, “I think we’re going to make it! Everything is gonna be ok!”
When we crossed the border into Hudson, a cop car pulled out of the darkness. Flashing lights beamed in behind us. Mitchell began to freak out. “Oh no! Oh no oh no!!! What are we gonna do? What are we gonna do?” He yelled. I responded, in my inebriated tone, “It’s all good man, just tell him you’re taking us home and Madeira has the flu man!”
Mitchell pulled over. The cop shone a flashlight in from behind us, making our adrenaline spike up. Mixed with the alcohol, the feeling was numbing and terrifying. The cop came up and addressed Mitchell, “Son, do you realize you were driving without your headlights on?” Mitchell flipped and started apologizing. He got out of the car and admitted he didn’t have a real license.
Everything else seemed to flash before our eyes like a nightmare. Mitchell getting a sobriety test, then getting cuffed and put in the cop car. The cop pulling me and Madeira out of the car and cuffing both of us. Two back-up cops showing up and taking all of us separately… isolated from one another… They put me in the back of a cop car alone. I was drunk, only 15 years old for 9 days, and breaking curfew. An accomplice to under-age drunk driving. I don’t remember all the details in the haze, but I was definitely weeping like a little child in the back of that cop car.
Later that night at the police station, our parents would come and pick us up. I was too drunk to remember any of the conversations. But I do remember when my Dad brought me home, and my Mom was waiting at the door. It was about 3 am. She didn’t say a word to me, she just wound up and slapped me hard in the face. The numbness of the alcohol combated the physical pain. But the emotional pain and shame were magnified.
I went up and slipped into a drunken slumber. I would be grounded again for another month. I would be enrolled into Oriena House for substance abuse counseling. I would have to serve community service.
“Burden in My Hand” by Soundgarden would enter the soundwaves of the summer of August, 1996. I would write songs in my month of grounding that were reflecting on my own addiction and desperation. What would my Sophomore year of High School hold for me? Would it be a year of reformed salvation? Would it be a spiral into degradation? Time would tell, but the words of Soundgarden certainly reflected my current state.
Follow me into the desert
As thirsty as you are
Crack a smile and cut your mouth
And drown in alcohol
Cause down below the truth is lying
Beneath the riverbed
So quench yourself and drink the water
That flows below her head
Close your eyes and bow your head
I need a little sympathy
Cause fear is strong and love’s for everyone
Who isn’t me
So kill your health and kill yourself
And kill everything you love
And if you live you can fall to pieces
And suffer with my ghost