In the Spring of 1998 The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” was high on the charts. My life was a reflection of it’s message.
No change, I can’t change
I can’t change, I can’t change
But I’m here in my mind
I am here in my mind
And I’m a million different people
from one day to the next
I can’t change my mind
No, no, no, no, no, no, no
I can’t change
I can’t change it
I was truly lost in my own mind. I was truly “a million different people from one day to the next”, and didn’t really feel I needed an identity anymore. I was who ever I was around. I was wherever the party was.
I had never felt before as much as I did then that I was literally rolling with the wind. It seemed wherever my feelings led me was where I would go. I had no rules, and no boundaries. My days were a blur, a mysterious haze of the unknown. All up until this point in my addictive pattern I hadn’t really had many “sobering moments”. It’s funny how drugs do this to a person’s mind. The beginning stages of partying came with a few intense consequences… I got busted and arrested. I got into dysfunctional relationships, my grades in school were sinking, and my relationship with my parents was more strained every day.
However, the lure of being high always drew me back in. None of these things seemed like fair enough warnings at the time. I got busted, so I would find a way to lie and sneak around more… which could have potentially gotten me into more trouble but I didn’t care.
I got into dysfunctional friendships and relationships with girls, so I found a way to keep them seemingly functional by lying and partying with these people all of the time. It’s funny when you begin to surround yourself with “drug buddies”. They feel like real friends, but really you’re just on the same substances all the time, and without the substances the connection could be lost. In the middle of the party scene it’s so hard to tell who your real friends are, because everyone seems like they either want something from you or are out to get you.
My grades in school were falling apart, but I was convinced that it didn’t matter. I assured myself that I would probably be a famous rock n’ roll tragedy someday, like Jim Morrison or Jimi Hendrix. Who needed good grades when they were headed for a life beyond anything school could offer? I didn’t have a plan to go to college. I wanted to get high and make art. I didn’t care anymore if I made some great impact on the world, and if I did, it would be my own ascent to notoriety and subsequent fall to chaos and oblivion. Or… I would work at a Burger joint or something…
My relationship with my parents almost seemed non-existent. They were workaholics. At this time in our lives they fought and swore at each other all of the time. We never talked. We avoided each other at home. They never asked me how my day was going. I would leave the house all night and come home at 10pm, which was my curfew on school nights, and 12pm, which was my curfew on weekends (I realize how lenient this was now!) Normally, I would show up an hour late. My Mom would get in my face about it, and I would blow her off and go up into my room. I was behaving like some adult far before his time, though in so many ways I was a little boy.
Junior year in High School was certainly a time when all my peers were beginning to think about their “future”. People all around me were studying hard, signing up for college courses they could take in High School to get ahead of the time, and starting to look at where they might apply for colleges. I, on the other hand, was the guy with a bong and a guitar. Though to be honest, I hadn’t played the guitar much lately… Secretly, I resented my peers as they moved forward in life, and left their trail of dust in my stoned face.
And beyond all of this, psychedelic drugs were now a part of my life. At the time I was convinced that LSD was some sort of window into a new world, a spiritual door. I resonated with people like Timothy Leary and Ken Kesey who seemed to think that LSD opened up ones mind to the hidden spiritual forces within and without. During late 1966 and early 1967, Leary toured college campuses presenting a multi-media performance “The Death of the Mind”, which attempted to artistically replicate the LSD experience. Leary said the League for Spiritual Discovery was limited to 360 members and was already at its membership limit, but he encouraged others to form their own psychedelic religions. He published a pamphlet in 1967 called Start Your Own Religion, to encourage people to do so. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timothy_Leary)
Much like Timothy Leary, I wanted to show people about my new religious experience. I was ready to turn others on to this weird drug, and really believed that I was helping them. It seemed easy to adopt this religious view at the time, because I grew up being told to find or create my own spiritual path. There was no thought that I could blaze a legitimate trail to any sort of salvation or redemptive love during this period in my life. If I would have known what was about to transpire in my mind in the next few months, I may have thought twice about the journey I was undertaking.
The Orchestra, under the leadership of the sweet and gentle Mrs. Bush, was to take a bus trip to Chicago to compete in a regional orchestra competition. My good friend Mitchell and I were both in the orchestra together, along with a number of our friends. Of course, I hatched up a crazy plan to turn this entire trip into a psychedelic experience. We had an 8-hour bus ride, and 2 days in Chicago. The choir would be travelling from Cleveland to Chicago too, right in a bus behind us. My girlfriend at the time, Harmony, was in the choir and on that bus.
Since I had embarked upon the LSD experience, Harmony and I began to experience turmoil in what seemed to be a close friendship and dating relationship. After her bad reaction to the first time I had taken a trip, I had decided to keep all my trips a secret. Since that time I had done acid about 3 times, and never told her. In my mind I was hoping that she would eventually decide to try it herself and then she would join me. I figured until then the secret would hurt no one.
So naturally, I told all the friends who were dropping acid with me not to let the secret out to Harmony. This is how a ball of lies begins to spin out of control. It’s like a snowball at the top of a mountain covered with snow, and as it rolls on in turns into an uncontrollable avalanche. The torrent hadn’t arrived yet, but the momentum was building.
So we set out for Chicago on a high quality bus, which the orchestra had completely for ourselves. The inside of the bus looked like the interior of an airplane, comfy seats, bathrooms, and wide windows. I was thinking at the time that this would be an amazing “trip”- with the double meaning intended.
I had sat next to Mitchell, and our friend Adam, and older friend Dirk, who was a senior and deeply into the drug scene. They had all agreed to try this crazy drug on the bus ride. It was an 8-hour trip, which was exactly how long the drug would usually last. Mitchell, Dirk and I took some. Adam was pensive. The bus hit the road towards Chicago.
As mine began to kick in I had a conversation with Adam. He wasn’t sure he wanted to try it. “I just don’t know, Ben!” He said. “I mean, everybody knows me as this good Catholic kid who loves Jesus and gets good grades… but I have this side of me that just wants to get high and now even try this… what should I do?”
Adam must have been looking for a reason to go against his conscience. After all, he was asking me, Benny White, to give him advice on whether he should keep being a “good kid”, or delve more deeply into the abyss.
“Look man.” I said, “If anything at all bro, this stuff will make your spiritual life better. It’s the most amazing experience someone could ever have. Who knows, maybe it will bring you closer to Jesus!”
I can’t believe the things I used to say. If I would have known that Adam would have become immersed in the drug scene and given up his faith in Jesus, maybe I would have had a different piece of advice. I was like the serpent at the tree of knowledge, and it wasn’t long before Adam put the little piece of paper on his tongue and joined us on our kaleidoscopic bus ride.
It’s important to say that I had no real deep thoughts about God or the afterlife during this time. Jesus was just a vague religious figure to me. He didn’t have any significance as anyone with deity or preeminence- those things were open to the eye of the beholder in my view then. If I ever had thoughts about God, they were strange, creative, random ideas about who He/She/It might be. I didn’t know or think of God as a person that could be understood. The only times that I had thoughts about any moral failing and desperation were moments when I had upset my girlfriend, Harmony, or when I was having a moment of self-loathing. These moments may have driven me to some form of penitence, but if things went back to smooth sailing for me I would quickly be able to return to a state of wanton hedonism. I didn’t care about cosmic consequences or some type of divine purpose, because I was ignorant of these things.
I imagine that we came off like a bunch of goofy fools to every other participant in the Hudson High School orchestra on that bus. But when someone is that high, at times they can be completely unaware of their surroundings. I don’t remember much, but I’m sure we were blurting out things that made no sense and acting crazy.
There is one thing I remember vaguely. We stopped at a rest stop to get lunch, and the choir bus behind us stopped too. Harmony approached me and asked me to have a cigarette with her. I nervously agreed, feeling out of control.
As we spent time talking I must have been babbling in strange riddles and acting scary and zoned out. She asked me what the heck was the matter with me. I told her I had smoked some pot before the bus trip. She looked at me with suspicion. The lies continued.
The bus made it to Chicago. We spent time hanging out at the hotel, of which I don’t remember much at all. I do remember that night though. We had more hits of acid with us, and were planning on taking them when we visited the Art Institute of Chicago. Mitchell and I were always the impulsive and crazy ones though. As we were coming off of the other trip, we decided to take 2 hits each of this other stuff we had… at midnight. We were rooming with Adam and another friend, Brett Smith. We didn’t tell them what we had done, though they obviously figured it out later.
They were sharing a bed and Mitchell and I were on the floor in sleeping bags. As they tried to get to sleep the acid kicked in. We were up all night giggling like little boys, and mocking Adam and how he behaved on the drug while we rode the bus. He had heard every word we said, and they had gotten no sleep because of us. Mitchell and I stayed up all night, hallucinating in the dark… looking at the streetlights casting shadows on the wall. We got up in the morning as the sun came up, and walked into the parking lot, feeling like we had been through hell.
Adam confronted us about how we had slandered him the next morning, and we felt like jerks… sort of. We were so high we thought he couldn’t hear us. Hard drugs really do make one unaware and careless about other people’s feelings.
Mitchell and I hadn’t entered slumber land for an entire night, and we were then carted in a bus to downtown Chicago. Mrs. Bush unleashed us on Michigan Avenue, the main drag of metro-Chicago, and told us to meet back at a certain time to visit the art museum. Mitchell and I were completely out of it. Dirk thought we were idiots for taking LSD the night before, and he was certainly right. I was about to be introduced to a new drug as the effects of sleep deprivation psychosis kicked in.
Dirk had these little pills that went by the name of “Adderall”. He crushed one up for me and told me to snort it, and it would keep me awake. These were prescribed to kids who had ADHD, and had methamphetamine in them. He told me it was a light version of speed, and would keep me wide-eyed. I told him, “Dirk, I’ve never snorted anything before!” I had always sworn that I would never do anything like that. Dirk assured me, “Don’t worry man, it’s as harmless as a cup of coffee bro.” For some reason I believed him. Again, in the mind of an addict the consequences are never clear, but just the immediate gratification of the moment.
I snorted 20 mg. of Adderall and woke up instantly. We went to the Art Institute and Dirk and Adam took acid. The museum was certainly filled with incredible art, and they mocked us more for not waiting to do the drug there. Adam had forgiven us, at least in appearance, for what we had said about him the night before. We trudged our way through the art museum, a bunch of unhinged teenagers as we were.
Later that night we went to the orchestra competition. It had been a long day. I had blown my mind apart with drugs, and was rapidly deteriorating from the Adderall. It came time to give our orchestra performance. We waited for our turn to set up, and before long it was time to play.
The melody of the strings lilted in my mind like a cacophony of slithering amphibians and gooey pudding in my mind. I was so out of it that I couldn’t even make out the refrains and changes in melody. This was odd for me, because music had always been such a passion of mine. But I hadn’t even written a song in months… my life had become engrossed in the LSD experience. I was lost. I was floating like a dingy feather into the ethereal wasteland of the stratosphere.
These thoughts rolled through my mind, and all of a sudden everyone was staring at me… “Your cue is coming up!” Dirk whispered to me. Before I could even think where we were in the piece, I took the handles of the Zildjan cymbals in front of me, and clanged them together with great force… completely off beat. Mrs. Bush stared and me in shock, and rolled her eyes. Everyone in the orchestra tried to keep from laughing. We got last place in the competition.
We got a night of sleep that night, and it wasn’t nearly enough. Then we awoke early to head home the next day. I hadn’t barely seen Harmony the entire time we were on the trip. I was avoiding her for fear she would find me out. We did make a stop on the way home and I found her. She looked so mad at me I almost couldn’t look her in the eye. I had been doing more of Dirk’s Adderall to try and stay alert. Harmony came up to me and looked me straight into my bloodshot, dilated-pupil eyeballs and said, “Ben, you look like crap. You look like you got run over by a truck.” Of course I back-peddled. “Oh Harmony man… ha ha… I’m just all tired and stuff.” I said this as I was in a rushed speedy frenzy. “Ben…” She replied, “What are you on? You don’t even seem like yourself! I feel like I don’t even know you anymore!”
“Look Harmony, I’m cool! I’m just tired, ok?”
“Yeah whatever Ben! You’re a LIAR! That’s what you are!”
“Fine! Just leave me alone then!”
(Of course there were many variegated epithets used in our dialogue which I’m not displaying here.)
We boarded the bus and continued our ride home. I was more depressed than ever. Would Harmony dump me? Would she find out that I was snorting pills and eating acid every weekend? There had to be a way to keep her in the dark, I thought. My whole life was beginning to collapse. Everything that mattered to me was crumbling. I looked out into the rainy night and the streetlights that lined the route 80 turnpike. The “Welcome to Ohio” sign rolled up past us. We were on our way home, but in so many ways, I was further from home than ever.