High School seemed especially daunting to me, not only because of the more challenging classes but also for the characters that I would meet along the way. I still struggled with the fallout of an alcoholic and estranged parent, along with the unmeasurable fear I carried that caused problems with my speech. This next step for me would be a monumental task. My parents had no clue of the pressures that we faced in school, and their coming from an era where divulging secrets was sacrilegious meant we weren’t going to talk about it either. There was an abundance of subcultures, stereotypes, judgements, bullying and drugs to go around which all played a part in the game. My friends from Junior High were acutely aware of this pressure as well, where we looked for anything to help break our apprehension. During a hot summer afternoon we assembled a batch of yucca flux, within a five-gallon pail, on my friend’s front lawn. We threw in a variety of fruit, then added three bottles of vodka and rum, and let it sit in the sunlight for four hours. Without any thought of how much was too much we began eating the fruit and soon became especially drunk. Regardless of this, we felt as though we were finally sharing the same right of passage that had been given to our parents. And after all, it was their alcohol. I began attending the same school that Tommy Chong, of Cheech & Chong’s 1987 movie “Up in Smoke” once had, and during my first year and a half did quite well. The climate at school was highly centered upon where to fit in, and provided selections of either ‘Jocks’, ‘Geeks’ or ‘Heads’, and a few other subcultures that found tension with the rest. I found my home with the Heads, who gathered outside an entrance to the school we affectionately named the ‘California Corner’, as this was our place to relax and rebel against any form of authoritative control. Students there would not only gather to smoke during breaks and lunch hours, but some also participating in a number of private drug deals, which often included marijuana, acid or other hallucinogens, to even cocaine or heroin on rarer occasions. Halfway through my eleventh year I began smoking marijuana, after trying it a few times with my older brother and his crazy friend named Harry. I then decided to buy a five gram vial of weed oil before a Rush concert at the Calgary Saddledome. Sharing some dope with longtime friends from Junior High School was a way of standing out and proving that I had conquered my anxieties. Interestingly enough, I wasn’t the only one overcoming their fears at the concert, as the entire stadium was filled with a plume of smoke. Smoking drugs became a real obsession for me, as this was the most effective way of elevating pain and escaping to a much ‘better place’. Whether at school or in the Marlborough Mall, my friends and I discovered an entire subculture that also depended on the crutch. We took our dope smoking very seriously, where it became more of a profession than a pastime, using it to officiate every occasion, whether that be a birthday, holiday or end of a school day. We made every excuse in the book to justify our habit as part of our perfectly ‘acceptable’ routine. During one particular lunch hour a friend invited me to a house across the street, whereon arrival I was amazed to find the home filled with kids from our school and others, and everyone getting exceptionally stoned. In the basement suite there were hot knives ready at the stove, awaiting anyone who might walk up and chose from a selection of hashish on the counter. This felt very much like a weekend bash, only this was a Tuesday, where I returned to school excessively wasted from our adventure.
Not that I was the only one at school with a drug problem. My Art teacher kept a large bottle of Scope in the bottom of her desk, which she would always take a few large gulps of whenever I went into her office to speak with her. She was very easy going though, and never had a problem with bad breath. And I always got A’s in her class. Art was an amazing way for me to express myself, where I took every available class, until the department created a Special Projects class to keep me and a few other students in the program. Our assignment was to enlighten the interior of the school with murals. My choice was to paint the album cover of Pink Floyd The Wall on a concrete wall measuring twenty feet high and forty feet wide, which separated the entrances to our two woodworking shops. When mocking up the piece for approval from my teacher and principal I conveniently forgot to include the large ass in the painting which resembled the face of a judge, then started the project with a fellow student named Kim and continued to work on it for the next year and a half during art classes and lunch hours. In some places the acrylic paint on the wall was three quarters of an inch thick, and turned out to be an exact replication of the album. With ladders and tubes of paint strewn for thirty feet I sometimes had the pleasure of speaking with an admiring passerby, though some students hated me for my bad portrayal of character. At least twice a week, a student named Harvey would come flying out of the woodworking shop doors and hit the cement wall on the other side of the hallway — usually following with the words, “Get the f%# out of my class!” from his shop teacher, Mr. Paget. One day, during my woodworking class, our bandsaw had broken down, so I needed to use the saw in the adjacent class. I asked the teacher’s permission and began cutting a small piece of Black American Walnut to be used for a split-pediment on a clock I was constructing. With my fingers close to the blade, the instructor called an end to the class, then aimed an air hose directly at the bandsaw table in front of my face. A billow of dust hit my eyes and I shut the machine off, then muttered the words, “you @$$#ole” under my breath. When walking back to my class the instructor insisted that I repeat what I said, then caught-up with me in the entrance to a drafting room that connected the two classrooms. He grabbed me by the throat and began shaking me back and forth, with my feet dangling a foot above the floor. Then, as he shook me reviled, “Don’t you ever come into my f%#!ng classroom again!”, then threw me backward through the air and into the drafting room. When reporting the incident to my instructor, then speaking with the on premises police officer, the constable asked if I wanted to press charges, to which I said no. After all, I had called him an @$$#ole. On another occasion I was so high from smoking up that I couldn’t even get a handle on what I was doing, and spent the entire class dawdling around my woodworking bench with a smirk on my face. My instructor, Mr. Kloppenburg, later called me into his office and asked if I did drugs, to which he insisted that I never do it again during his class. I truly had a horrifying time trying to figure my place and who I was. I know that I was extremely broken, and High School was just a forced display of my public embarrassment.
One afternoon a fellow named Chris who was new to our school invited me to his car to smoke some honey oil. He showed me the vial, which was perfectly clear with a tiny thread of color in the center — obviously appearing as very high-quality. He explained the it had cost fifty-five dollars, which was three times the price of a regular vial of oil, then lit a cigarette and placed a tiny amount on the cherry using the tooth of a plastic comb. Most of this he inhaled, then passed the cigarette to me to inhale the very last wisp. I left the parking lot and worked my way back toward class, then began to feel the effects of the drug. While walking down the hallway beside our old gymnasium I began to feel surprisingly stoned. I sat down on a stack of blue mats outside the gym doors and found that I could no longer see. My vision became completely filled with brilliantly coloured television noise, which carried on for the next half hour, while students walked past asking if I was alright. The problem that I found with smoking drugs was that the more I used to feel normal, the less from normal I became. It caused problems with my sleep, my social life, concentration at school, and exasperated every problem I struggled with, to the point where it discouraged my participation in society, where I fell into a deep pit of despair, separation, and further self-abasement. I was always one of those people you would see at a party, while everyone else was having a good time, sitting at the table in awkward and agonizing silence, terrified to relax or express myself. I struggled with every side effect an addict faces, including anxiety, depression, paranoia, panic, lethargy, insomnia and deep-seated fear. Yet there was something in me that couldn’t care less. If I had been born into a world that didn’t particularly care for me why wouldn’t I want to destroy myself? Drugs were the escape that deadened the nerve and helped me live beyond a broken past, at least for a time. But this also worsened my condition, to where I suppressed my feelings into an impenetrable vault, as opposed to dealing with or getting help for my condition. I continued my habit for three and a half years, to where I became so inordinately despondent that I could no longer speak. Gradually, I began to live in a very tangible hell on earth, where every day was a torture that few could endure. I remember being the last person in the gymnasium to complete my English 33 Provincial examination, to which I received a final mark of thirty three percent. I was so high during the examination that I guessed at most of the questions. Then, when losing my classes in what we called a ‘change mill’ for the next semester, had to postpone my graduation until 1984. When returning to the school after the summer, I found that my painting, along with all the others in the school, had been scraped down to the concrete, after a new Art teacher had come along.
Jeremiah 29:11-14 (NIV) For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”