Some summer days, it is nice to just lie around, sweating, thinking about first times. Your first time – on a basement couch or maybe a dorm bed or outside on a humid night like tonight – and there you were, changed. Muscles slack, eyes heavy-lidded, a new heartbeat, breathing fully, deeply…
Mine happened about three weeks into my high school career. It was me and four junior girls. What an experience!
Wait? What? No! I’m talking about the first time I got high… Not that, perv…
I am lucky enough to have had three first times: The first, first; the first after seven years totally sober; and the Bowlpack That Changed My Life – they were all pretty amazing as far as life experiences go.
The scene: Late September, 1986. Think of (or better yet, download) those classic teen movies they still show late nights on all the movie channels – lots of corduroys, jean jackets, and those high-waisted pants that, by way of some horrible Reagan-era repressive magic, made tushes all but disappear. It was Friday night. My freshman football teammate’s mother was in Hong Kong; his cousins P and J, three and two years our elder, were holding down the fort. By nine o’clock, there were at least 50 kids at the house.
Next thing I knew, J and three of her friends had my arm and were leading me out to the screen porch to smoke. I was beside myself. It was a beautiful evening. We had won our first game that afternoon, and the world was suddenly soft and warm and smelled like perfume and hairspray. I didn’t even care that the fashion industry had turned everyone’s posterior parts into pancakes. Then, the pipe was passed to me. My boy Oatsie’s older sister sparked the lighter and told me to breathe in.
I had been headed this direction for a while. I grew up on the fringes of dozens (if not hundreds) of gatherings of my mom’s nine younger siblings and their friends, and a few full-scale bashes that took place while my grandmother left the house in their care, and smoking weed seemed like the most normal, natural thing a teenager could do. I knew that the shit they were selling in the D.A.R.E. program was nonsense. A couple weeks earlier, my parents had discovered the small stash of roaches I had collected in my top drawer. I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do with them, but I was definitely a rookie and not savvy to the fact that they probably made my room smell like a burnt skunk tail.
Now, I was drawing myself a lungful of smoke and floating off to a place that felt like home. Everything about it was oddly familiar. The smell was pungent, earthy, and reminiscent of every time my relatives and their friends got together to celebrate an event, a holiday, or a walk in the woods. The cloud of smoke I exhaled a few seconds later also felt familiar as I watched it join the other clouds in the room, creating our own little biosphere in this sitting area behind the garage a block-and-a-half from the school I would spend the next four years in, learning about everything that crossed my path, and trying to figure out what life was all about. I looked around and saw smiling faces. I was smiling.
In this dream called life, there are some days we would travel back to, if given the opportunity, perhaps to change the way things happened, or perhaps to have the chance to bask in the perfection of a situation one more time. That night on West Ridge Road was everything I wanted – freedom, possibility, and a feeling that allowed me to soar while keeping my feet safely planted.
Every once in a while, when I drive through that neighborhood, I think back to that kid, so many me’s ago – a new me, starting onto a new path, everything about to unfold before me, a chest full of weed smoke, a roomful of pretty girls, a smile on my face – and I smile again.
Christopher Gallagher lives with his wife and their four dogs and two horses. Life is pretty darn good. Contact him at [email protected].