efore I arrived at college, I’d already smoked a joint with my friends earlier that year, so I thought I had a decent idea of what the experience was all about. When the bunch of us had slipped out of school to tuck into a bag of grass my friend Tommy had stolen from his older sister, I was nervous but excited. We were a nerdy and unsophisticated crew, so none of us had ever done it at that point. After driving around for a while, we found a secluded spot to park, under the shade of a giant oak in the vacant lot behind the local stationary store. As we passed it around in Tommy’s beat-to-shit Ford Fiera, the effect was swift. I remember feeling a touch euphoric and silly but well in control. The others had a similar reaction, although I’m sure we were all exaggerating for laughs. We just sat around in those cramped confines, cracking jokes and building ourselves up, like the fraternity of dipshits we were. Nothing bad could ever happen in such goofy company. After we’d killed the doobie, we hit up the drive-thru, and I feasted on a McDLT and a nine piece chicken McNuggets, then the bunch of us snuck back on campus and crashed at our desks like walruses on a beach. All in all, it’d been a perfectly pleasant trip into the senses. The experimentation at college was much darker, opening up a door in my brain I never knew existed, and once I stepped across that threshold, I was never quite the same. The last time I partook, we were all in a group, scattered around the Stygian dorm room like a colony of vampire bats. My roommate Hoyt McAllister, a pudgy shrimp with a penchant for prog rock and Japanese anime, slipped a cassette into the player; Space Music, he said, to enhance the adventure. It began in usual dopey fashion, zoning out to the electronic beeps and whirls emanating from the stereo, staring drooly-mouthed at the imaginary star craft blinking across the ceiling. After my fourth or fifth bong hit, I started to feel ill, and soon after my chest seized up on me. I leapt up from the floor as if I’d been injected with rocket fuel, bolting through the door to get to the bathroom down the hall. I was sure that I was having a heart attack. All I could think about were my parents and how devastated they would be upon hearing that their only child had died under such unseemly circumstances. When I reached my destination, I dunked my head in the sink and turned the cold tap on. Then I disappeared…like I’d been obliterated by a giant eraser. The next thing I knew, I was back in my dorm room surrounded by a gaggle of wide-eyed, pimply pukes.
“You’re ok, you’re just bugging out,” my roommate said. “I’ve seen this happen before with my cousin, you’re going to be fine.”
“How’d I get here?” I asked, my voice shaking. “Where am I?”
“We’re in our room,” he replied with eminent calm. “You’re just bugging out a little bit.”
My heart was pounding so hard it felt as if it was going to bust out of my rib cage and the edges of my peripheral vision had taken on a bluish hue.
“I’m going to die,” I screamed. “I’m fucking dying!”
“You’re not dying, man, you’re just incredibly wasted,” droned a bearded upperclassman, wearing a tie-dyed t-shirt. “You just gotta let it ride.”
My roommate came closer, his face now appearing nightmarish and distorted, like the Mock Turtle in Alice in Wonderland.
“You want me to get the R.A.?” he asked in an annoyed tone. “If I do, you could get kicked out of here, you know?”
“Good decision. We’re gonna leave you here to chill, I’ll check back on you in a little while.”
I didn’t see him again until the next morning, right around the time the effects had all but worn off. After that episode, I never touched the stuff again but it had done its damage. For years I’d be plagued with debilitating panic attacks that would creep up on me out of nowhere. I could be in mid-conversation, on the can, watching the tube, dipping my wick, it didn’t matter – it was indiscriminate. A nasty black cat had taken up permanent residence in the back alley of my mind; he’d jumped over the fence from the other side. That was my parting gift from College. I never even got my degree…the piece of paper decreeing my legitimacy to the world, the bona fides that would allow for a life of respect, one where I wouldn’t have to lick an endless stomp of jack boot soles in order to survive. Maybe it was my fault; hell, I guess it was – a life forsaken on account of one minor misstep. He lives there still by the way, the black cat; he’s mellowed some in his old age. Sure, he’ll knock over the occasional empty tuna tin, or take the random swipe at my jugular, but most days he just leaves me alone.