Monday, May 19, 2008

The One-Hit Wonder

You know, there are times when my classroom does actually feel like youth group and I have to consciously adjust my brain to stay in "public school" mode. It's so easy to just sort of fall into conversation with a group of kids when everyone is comfortable and secure, and the temperature is right and the planets are aligned and Saturn's moons are in the house of whatever.... Anyway, there are these really special, magical moments that happen and I think, How in the world can this happen every year for the next 30 years (Or 10, depending on when I win the lottery)? A certain amazing day will happen and it's impossible to figure out just how it happened, what came together so perfectly to where we all sort of looked at each other and had an "aha!" moment. There was no formula that could ever be followed again. One of my mentors, my "boss" in YWAM, used to talk about the fact that we had to really, fully live in the moments when we were praying together as a group because that exact mix of people, that precise combination of hearts and minds and spirits, would never happen again and we were called to pray and think together for such a time as this; to fully exploit right now because right now will never be again. Ever.

Brother Dave said it this way: Some people say "We should do this again sometime," and I say, "We cain't. But we can do somethin' similar."

Anyway, that is only a small part of what I am thinking of tonight. I'm thinking of how beautiful the rain sounded as it started to pound down on our roof tonight and wondering what it sounds like in the house we nearly bought, where we would be tonight if everything had worked out. I'm thinking of the fact that Caroline has a head cold and says that she gets them every year at the end of the year because of the stress of it, and that has me worried because I do not have a cold and that must mean that I'm doing something wrong. You know, Worst Case Scenario Girl. But it's okay because I have this funny mark just under my right eye that is driving me crazy, so of course I think it must be skin cancer like Leisha had in the fall, so that should tide me over until it goes away and I decide to believe that it must be in remission....

But the big thing I'm thinking about is one of my dear friends from high school. I won't say her name here and I'll barely describe her, but the thing I'm thinking about is the fact that she has lost her mind. And I'm not even kidding. That inspired my thinking about my classroom and the nearly-youth-group vibe that happens in there because sometimes they ask me about my past (this serves several purposes for them: a) they're naturally curious, b) it kills serious time if they can get the instructor off task, c) it's fascinating, I think, for them to think of us outside those cement walls-- totally messes with their paradigm). I have nothing to hide, but I always want to avoid glamorizing any mistakes I made, and my past is my "testimony"-- Jesus can't be cut from that story.

So I'm careful. In conversation with them before or after finding out that I spent the first 5 weeks of my senior year in rehab, I discover that I really appear to have been a fairly clean-cut person and I was-- I was also a really, really good liar. I was an addict who wanted my teachers to like me and didn't want to be identified as one of "those" kids who were potheads or sloppy drunks who started fights after school. Our group of friends partied but we managed to make good grades, be liked by our teachers, and go to pretty good colleges (though I had the distinction of flunking out the first go-round). Various drugs and alcohol messed some things up for me, but Jesus bought me, redeemed me, cleaned me up and set my mind at peace again. He rescued me. That's the important part of the story, but not the most interesting to my depraved captive audience with whom I must be incredibly careful (public school). My story ends well: I'm happily married, ensconced in a rewarding career with years of world-travel and fantastic stories of the faithfulness of God under my belt. I have a nice car and am well-read. So see? We can do all the drugs we want to do right now-- we'll sew our wild oats and then work everything out later like you did.

Some of these guys really think this. They really do.

But then there's my friend from high school. I should tell you about her. She was hilarious. She was beautiful and smart and strong and, though she was a year behind me, I admired her. I admired her strength of character-- she wouldn't smoke no matter how I pushed her at parties-- and her strength of humor, even in the face of alcoholic parents who fought viciously and famously-- everyone in town knew it was bad. She nurtured everyone in her life: parents, younger sibling, friends. You name it, she took care of us. She was loud and funny and sharp. She knew what she wanted to do with her life-- she was going to be a journalist or a psychologist, and she would have been fantastic doing either thing. She drove sober when the rest of us drank. She did not permit smoking in her mother's car. She studied a little and made great grades. She was dependable. She was the life of the party. She yelled louder than anyone else at soccer games, but she was as gentle as a nurse with her special needs sister. She was simply one of the most fantastic people I have ever or will ever have had the good fortune to know.

And then she dropped acid at a party.

My friend who had been straight as an arrow, refusing to smoke pot or anything else, had begun to drink heavily in college and let her guard down. I wasn't in Georgia at the time-- I was already in YWAM and living in Oregon. I remember where I was sitting the day she called campus and told me that she had just gotten out of a mental institution. She had taken a hit of acid-- I don't know if the amount she took was too big or corrupted or what (you figure, you've got some idiot making this crud in a lab at Tech and selling to his buddies for beer money. You can't ever tell what you're going to get, right? I don't know for sure if that's where it came from-- it's been some 17 years and that's the rumor I always heard), but it sent her over the edge.

I had always heard that just one hit could be the end for some people. Every time I did it I swore to God that if He let me come down from that high that I would be a missionary (and eventually followed through)-- I was petrified of being that one person who pulled the "bad hit." And here I was on the phone with this friend I had lost track of for about 8 months and she was telling me that it was because she'd been in the hospital working off a bad trip.

The next time I saw her, I grieved like someone had died. And that's the story I want to tell my kids when they ask about drugs. I want to tell them that she dropped out of college and went to live with some scum bag in a roach-infested apartment. That she had been arrested for beating up a family member and was currently on probation for it and that she was supposed to take these meds (I can picture her shaking the white bottle at me) but they didn't do any good so she'd stopped. "What are they for?" "Oh, they figured out that I'm bipolar." Somehow, her disorder was either exposed by this hit of LSD or was provoked by it-- not sure and neither was she. All we knew was that one day she was my lovely friend with an incredible head of hair and the most contagious laugh I had ever heard and the next she was... one of those bystanders on an episode of "Cops." We sat on plastic chairs on the pine straw bedding along her duplex "porch" and listened to the 18 wheelers fly by on the expressway and talked about books and old friends and boys.

I cried all the way home.

I tried for a season to figure out a way to be friends with this new person living inside my precious friend's mind, but it was harder than anything I had ever experienced. Part of it was the change in me-- I had become a Christian and was really different, too-- but she had become hostile and acidic in her wit. She was living with a boy we would never have even eaten lunch with in high school and talking about having his babies. I had lunch with them at Pizza Hut one day and felt like I was in a dream. I remember looking at him and hating him for what he was doing to her. Then I realized that she was an accomplice to it all. She was in love with him or something. Every time we talked on the phone, her emotions ran the gamut. A conversation that began with laughter would end with her on some pointless tirade. It was exhausting and impossible and I think it was hard for her, too. We didn't understand each other any more.

We have kept in light touch over the years since. She has developed a strained familiarity with her disorder, though I suspect that she spends more times off her medication than on, and having worked with students with the disorder I now understand why she does it, though I am no more able to make her take her meds than I was with them: it's personal. They can pick the life they want to live. Meanwhile, they alienate themselves from the people they need and their moods plummet to incredible depths of darkness when the loneliness comes crashing down.

Where is that girl I knew? Is she buried deep under the rubble of that life in there? Or is she gone for good? Has she been permanently squashed under years of building houses on sand only to watch them crash down over and over and over again...? Is she in there at all?

I find myself alternately looking for her and hiding from her. I love her but she terrifies me now. She is so clearly unstable, I do not ever know what to expect from an encounter with her. Our last conversation, many months ago, was bizarre in the extreme: she told me that she had information on a friend that I had been having lunch with a few days prior (she ran into us-- she had never met my lunch date). She said, "Watch that one, Sam. She is definitely after your husband. I can't tell you how I know, but I do. Trust me on this." She didn't know my friend, had only met my husband once, and she was fully dedicated to this delusion. It angered me and saddened me and blew my mind.

This is the story I want to tell my kids when they ask me about "druggin' days." I want to tell them that every glamorous notion they have about drugs is a lie and that they have no idea if they will be the one to buy the bad batch of LSD and end up like my friend; I want to show them my real life before and after-- cool, smart, cute girl turned serious mental case with a personal life that would bum you out if you knew all of the details. I want to make them feel how desperately sad I am to watch her unravel in bits and pieces and be unable to do one solitary thing for her. All because she got drunk at a party and let her defenses down, saying yes to a drug she had always said, "Uh, hell no" to before.

But I'm not sure how to do it in a way that wouldn't take four years to tell. Even now, it's late and I need to go to bed but I can't get her off my mind and I haven't told the story well at all-- it's sadder than this, more horrifying than what I've written. But I'm afraid she'll read this and recognize herself, though I often think that this woman doesn't even recognize her own reflection in the mirror any more.

Her story isn't over-- my hope is that she will live. That something will happen. That she'll come out of her trance. She is currently hiding from everyone, so there's no helping right now. But my permanent and honest testimony is always this: It's Jesus. It's Jesus. He's the only way out. He was my only way out. He can be hers. Oh, Jesus Jesus. Hold her tightly to You tonight and whisper deliverance to her ears. Save her tormented heart...

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