Once, during Welcome Week of freshman year, I slept in a bramble patch outside the Central Campus Recreational Building. It was 2 a.m., and I was walking home with my friend. “I’ll be right back,” I said, wandering into the bramble patch. “Don’t leave.”
He did leave — thanks, Greg — but to be fair, I was already asleep in a fucking bush. It was the beginning of the tradition of me falling asleep in places that are neither comfortable nor appropriate.
Sophomore year, I went on a camping trip with some friends. One night, after just two hard ciders, I climbed into a canoe and pushed myself away from shore. “So long, assholes,” I yelled at my friends. “I’m fucking Pocahontas.” Except that I didn’t have a paddle, and my friend Kenny had to swim to the middle of the lake and tow me in.
So when I came home last week to find some kid sleeping in a chair on my lawn, I tried to be forgiving. I walked right by him and into the house. It was 7 p.m. on a Monday. I’m not Mother Theresa, and I was too busy for that shit.
I asked Kenny if he saw the kid in our yard — apparently Kenny found him on the street.
“He was gonna get MIP’ed,” Kenny said, making coffee. “You’ve been there.”
Kenny was always taking in strays. He has a natural social instinct that I don’t — not that there’s anything wrong with chatting with strangers. It’s just not for everyone, in the same way that autoflagellation isn’t for everyone. Or pulling teeth.
We went outside and checked on him. Kenny asked where he lived. “Close,” he slurred, over and over. “Real close.” That didn’t do much for us, but we each took an arm and started walking in the direction he pointed us. “Just over there,” he said. “Real close.”
Ten minutes into the walk, I started doubting his understanding of “close.”
Kenny and the kid were getting along splendidly, though. He wouldn’t tell us his name — pretty shy for a guy we let sleep on our lawn — but he was a senior at the University. He liked craft beer and the Seattle Seahawks.
“What were you drinking tonight, buddy?” Kenny asked.
“I wasn’t drinking,” he said.
He wouldn’t tell us what he was on — that didn’t bother Kenny and I, though. College kids experiment. So what.
I don’t want to exoticize hard drug use. (That? Here?) Nor do I want to broadcast the suffering of one young man — if you’re out there, I’m sorry. But when we talked it seemed like you had a lot to say. And I think your story is important.
We sat him down in Burns Park around 8 p.m. — he was basically dead weight at this point. He could hardly keep his eyes open, but he kept telling us the story. It sounded rehearsed, as if he’d been over it in his head before he had someone to listen.
“I tried it three years ago. I was just looking for something. I think it really started when I started smoking, though. I started smoking when I was 14. And I was high all the time. I think because I started so young I don’t know how not to be high. So then I was on pills. My doctor said it was OK, you know? Because I have anxiety. But I think I have anxiety because of the smoking. I don’t know. It gets harder to find that thing you’re looking for,” he said. “It gets to this point where you don’t even know what it was in the first place. You don’t know what you ever were looking for. But I was doing really well, with this — I haven’t used in three weeks, did you know that?”
We were sitting on a bench and some kids were playing on the playground not far from us. It struck me, as I grabbed the guy to keep him from falling forward, that this was the closest I’d ever been to a hard drug addict. He looked a little like me, actually.
It was dark. He was falling asleep on Kenny’s shoulder. Out of options, we took his phone and started calling numbers. “No way,” said the voice over the phone. “I can’t deal with his shit today. Tell him to call someone else.”
Another friend did come — “I have someone important in the car. Don’t fuck this up for me, man,” he said.
We helped him into the car. As we closed the door, he grabbed Kenny by the shoulder.
“Don’t ever do prescription pills,” he said. “It only leads to heroin.”
It was 9:30 p.m. Kenny and I had a bowling game in 20 minutes. Our housemates would be mixing drinks — everyone drinks heavily on bowling night. For me, it’s the only way I can deal with my utter lack of talent. If we hurried, we could make it back to the house in time to play catch-up with a few shots. But we stayed on the bench a little longer. All the kids had gone home.
“I thought he was just drunk,” Kenny said.
Would it have been better if he was just plain, old-fashioned fucked up? I don’t know if one sort of fucked up is better than another. He was using heroin for the same reasons a lot of us drink, anyway: to feel comfortable or relaxed. The difference is campus culture allows one sort of passing out and not the other.
We bowled sober — for that night, at least. I’m sure we’ll be back in the partying mood soon. But Kenny’s been staying in a bit more. So have I.
Tom West can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.