I was thinking about my first trip through a hallway in a high school. This is years after my time as a student. I was an adult. I was being led to a class to talk about my life’s experience with a roomful of students.
I remember walking through the hallways. I was looking at the school colors and the colors of the lockers in the hallways. I could see some of the students. I could see the banners that draped from the ceilings in the hallway. A teacher walked me from the entryway of the school and down through the hallways towards the classroom.
I can say that times have changed. Kids have changed. To be honest, the kids today look far more mature than they did when I was their age. It was hard to tell their ages. They all looked grown. The girls dressed in a way that would give any father a heart attack—and I should know this because I am one.
Kids are supposed to look like kids. Not like grownups. Some of the boys had beards and I thought to myself, “How?” I couldn’t grow a beard until I was much older. But this is not my point.
I see them, young as ever with so many dreams and so much in front of them. I have seen them in different places too. I have seen them in the classrooms and in the stores around town. I have seen them in hospitals too. They were nearly dead, because hey, “Everybody is doing it,” right?
I saw their pictures along the hallway. I saw their posters and I thought about their prom. This was something that I never had the chance to do. I never went to a real high school.
I see them in their youth and during the times of their life. How precious is this? I see them as a reflection of an experience that I never had the chance to see.
There is no high school experience in the drug culture. There is no driver’s education class or parking lot laughter in therapeutic living. There is none of this. I was “Away,” and meanwhile, everyone else I knew was living their life. There were no first dates on the farm. I was at a place where I had to be up before dawn and jumping in and out of pig pens or shoveling up shit behind the cows in the barn.
My high school experience never involved wood shop or even home economics. No, my choices led me elsewhere. My choices robbed me of a natural process and the common rites of way. I was never prepared for college. I was never prepared to interact accordingly. Instead, I was someplace else. I was on a farm with a collar around my neck. (This means I was mandated by the courts.) Meanwhile, the rest of the world was living and me, I was in a strange state of hibernation. I was gone. I was away. I was a name and a memory in my town and while everyone else my age was getting ready to live; I was stuck in my legal holding pattern until I completed my time in a long-term treatment facility.
As I walked through the corridors of the high school, I felt all of my old fears. I was reminded of my feelings of inadequacy. I was reminded of my discomforts in the classroom and my inability to retain information or to read out loud—in fact, i was reminded of what it was like to even read at all.
I was reminded of all the politics in the cafeteria and the struggles with popularity and yet, my panic was starting to hit the red alert—but it was too late. I agreed.
I agreed to speak with the students to get them to say, “Not even once,” as if to mean that they will never use drugs. Not even once.
I do not believe in this. I do not believe that I will ever stop someone from using drugs even for one time—the one thing I know is that if a kid wants to do something then so be it. They’re going to do it. Come to think of it, the quickest way to get a kid to do something is tell them not to.
The one thing I knew about me is that I was always looking for a way to be cool or feel something extraordinary. I knew that my teenage life was all about image. I knew that I was scared as ever, always hurting, always wondering and always confused about myself.
They wanted me to talk about the drug culture but I had to be honest, I wouldn’t tell them about this. I would not stand up and say things that would advertise the demons. What they don’t understand is as bad as my story is—there’s an attraction.
There’s a need to be the bad guy. There’s an appeal to this because the bad guy is untouchable. Nobody dares to pick on him. No one ever bullies the tough guy or the crazy guy. And that was me—or so I tried to believe.
I would not tell them about the drug culture. Instead, I told them about my feelings. I told them about my fears. I told them the truth about why I did what I did. I didn’t tell them about the rock star fantasies or the gangster images that kids might have.
Instead, I told them about the shame. I told them about the unrelenting guilt and depression. I told them about the anxiety or the memories of abuse. I talked about the fears I’d have while walking in the hallways or going into class.
As different as times are, all of the kids were nodding their heads . . .
I talked about my culture and my reasons behind the demons but more than anything, I told them the truth about Ben Kimmel. I scaled this into one presentation.
I wept in front of them. I showed them scars; and not the scars people show for bragging rights. I showed them my regrettable ones. I showed them my truths that haunted me throughout my entire life.
This is why I chose the drug culture. It wasn’t because I was cool or wanted to be a rock star. No, there is nothing cool about this. There is nothing cool about watching people die. There is nothing cool about seeing a bullet go through flesh. There is nothing cool about holding a tiny substance in your hand and contemplating the high—meanwhile, this tiny substance has claimed the life of millions. And the numbers are growing, not shrinking.
All the awareness and the Drug Free America slogans in the world, along with the so-called war on drugs are not working. We are losing our children. But more, we are losing our adults. We are losing people of all ages—and here’s the bitch about this—everyone knows this and yet, the numbers of death by alcohol and drugs are still going up.
This is why I rarely talk about drugs in my presentation. This is why I talk about my adaptation to culture and understanding. This is why I talk about my cognitive behavior skills. I talk about replacement of thoughts by motivating self through positive actions.
I could not, cannot and will not promote a life that almost killed me. And more, this is the life that robbed me of my childhood.
My depression took away my chances to live and breathe freely. My resentments took away my chance to have regular friendships. My decisions and lifestyle cost me the freedom to do what high school students do. So, with all of my heart, the last thing I would ever do is glorify the gangster culture or the street life.
I always wish I went to a high school graduation. I never wore a cap or gown. my diploma didn’t come until I was in my 20’s and there was no crowd there to applaud my high school equivalency diploma.
I never had the chance to pull in my high school parking lot in my first car. I never had any of this.
After my presentation, I had made a request from the students that I spoke with. I asked them if they could please send me a picture of them on the night of their prom.
I told them, “I never had the chance to see this.”
“It would really mean a lot o me.”
The biggest gift I’ve received was a text message from a few students who were present in this class. I saw them posing for their prom.
“Here you go, Uncle Benny.”
They called me Uncle Benny. . .
No honor like this could ever come with a dollar amount.
This may not pay my taxes for me.
This might not get me out of a parking ticket either.
But at least I paid back for who I was.
At least this helped me to grow into the man I am looking to become.