I dropped to my knees on my grandparents’ gravel driveway and threw my arms up in defeat. This was the beginning of a long struggle in identifying my purpose. Even today, I’m not quite sure what that purpose is, but I have an idea.
I can’t put my finger on the specific cause, but I’ve walked through life with the burden of inadequacy accompanied by the constant pressure to be something that I’m not. There were brief periods where I found temporary solutions. They didn’t alleviate my problems completely, but they did quiet down the noise.
I started drinking when I was young. I remember the summer nights being warm and the air thick with the smell of horse manure, which blew through the valley on dry east winds. The nights were dark and star-filled, and in them stirred a contagious insanity which awoke our deviant explorations.
We learned to rely on our own observations about the world and decided to believe in our own truths, partly out of pride and partly without choice. We once fought to leave the secluded valley, but in our communion we found plenty of reasons to stay. And we did stay, for a while, but when we left we took our lunacy with us, and it corrupted our innocence and tainted everything we touched for years thereafter.
There was a camp, a summer camp, down the road from my grandparents’, and there was an amphitheater there. The amphitheater was tucked in a corner of the camp, and at night it was hidden in shadow by the surrounding oak trees. On most nights the camp was abandoned, except for a reckless group of local valley kids. One would bring the booze, and one cigarettes, and another a joint, and some rusty capped Coronas stolen from a mini-fridge in some strangers garage. Some brought only themselves, and the oldest brought twenty-four packs of Coors Light and big bottles of vodka.
The beer was bitter, but the vodka proved effective, and with it came content and silence. It was the first sip; that was the first time I experienced freedom. With my doubt and insecurity and judgement gone, that night turned into a blur, which was followed by weeks and years. We were possessed by some dark spell, infected with some strange form of blood lust, an uncontrollable urge to commit the unspeakable. One decision at a time we unraveled in the depths of those dark oak groves, and our lives spiraled out of control.
I dropped out of high school, I walked away from my family, I was excommunicated by my friends, and I spent years exploring a place that wasn’t quite dead, yet not quite alive.
One day, a few weeks before my twentieth birthday, I returned to the dark oak grove buried deep in the church camp. I walked as a phantom overcome by shadow. The innocent boy replaced with a flustered and overburdened broken young man.
I walked through the camp enveloped in darkness and found my way to the old familiar hidden path. I was crying when I entered her room and I took a six pack before disappearing back into the shadows of the oaks.
It was one of those grim moments where two lifelong friends say their solemn goodbyes and part ways forever.
I was resigned to fail. I sat down on a tire swing, my dock on the bay, and lit a cigarette, popped open a beer, and as I did so a light above me went out. The entire world went dark. I just sat there staring into the darkness haunted and speechless, my gaze reflected inward, and I experienced bliss and demoralization in the same instant.
I set the beer back down in the cardboard case and tossed the whole pack into the darkness.
I sat there considering if there was a fight worth having. Just days prior I had dangled my feet off the Coronado Bridge and had a similar conversation with myself. Everything just seemed hopeless. Is there a point from which there is no return? I wasn’t sure then; I’m not sure now, but it was a long walk home.
That next morning the grass seemed a little greener, the sunshine a bit more welcoming, and my purpose less dwindling. Later that week my mom bought me a token with a Phoenix rising from some flames on it that said, “Out of the Ashes of Addiction.”
I rose up and never looked back.