I always tell my kids: The hard road will get you home. This is about that. . .
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I was raised in the Catholic Church — confirmed, baptized, did the altar boy gig, and attended parochial school for nine years. The religion — as in the ritual — didn’t stick, but the underlying concepts were embedded. Back then, the Mass was in Latin. But when you see a lifesize statue of the crucified Christ hanging over the altar each day, watching you, who needs words?
I tease my Mom that the worst influences in my life were acquired in Catholic school. And as you will see, they almost killed me. But in all fairness, it was through Saint Joseph’s that a rudimentary knowledge of the Gospel was planted.
Early on I acquired a love for books and drawing, but neither could keep me from trouble. If ADD existed back then, I had it. However, my Dad, having endured much hardship and abuse himself, repeatedly exorcised the affliction from me with a leather belt. In retrospect, he wanted the best for me — only his alcoholism inflamed his anger. But neither his stern eye nor my giftings, could save me.
Even though I memorized and rehearsed my confessions to the priest, none of it was true. Heck, how could I keep track of all my lies and bad thoughts anyway? Besides, weren’t the beatings absolution enough? I was convinced that one day the priest would reach across the confessional, seize me by the collar, and call me out for the fraud I was. But despite the religious facade, a part of me remained sincere.
So I was one of those kids that thought a lot about God. Maybe thought is too light a word — more like brooded. You couldn’t tell by the short attention span and scripted confessions. But I would lay awake at night and ponder the existence of God. How can He have never been born? How can He be everywhere, all the time? Is He watching me? (Maybe this is where my insomnia started.) Either way, the absence of answers kept me sleepless, and drove me into a world of make-believe; books and art — and eventually, music — became an escape, a retreat from pain, a sacrament unlike any the Church had to offer.
It was that volatile tension between religious superficiality and existential yearning that drugs stoked.
Shortly before graduating St. Joseph’s, my closest friends, under the tutelage of their older brothers, began to smoke pot. I resisted for a while. But once I gave in, the dam burst. My first year in high school — fresh out of the Catholic cloister and now a convert to cannabis — was a whirlwind. Within two months, I had taken LSD and by graduation, the entire family of hallucinogens: peyote, psilocybin (magic mushrooms), THC. It quickly became less an experiment, than a lifestyle, as marijuana and amphetamines became a daily ritual throughout high school.
Meanwhile, something else took the place of God — rock music. Thank goodness we didn’t have iPods back then or I’d have been plugged in 24/7. As it was, I spent the little money I acquired (much through illegal or unethical means) on rock albums, rock concerts and drugs. At the time, I would have been unable to articulate my spiritual yearnings or how the drugs and music anesthetized the pain. But somehow, that strange brew would lead me home.
I barely graduated high school (my Dad didn’t attend my graduation) and shortly thereafter was kicked out of the house. I bounced around through lots of odd jobs, mainly night shift work. My brain was fried, my aspirations paltry. Needless to say, I stopped attending Saint Joseph’s and began to explore religious “options” — ones that did not require confession to a priest or abstinence from drugs. Inevitably, my thoughts drifted East, into occultism and mysticism.
And then God knocked.
Several months after graduating high school, six of us loaded into a Chevy Biscayne driven by one of my friends from Catholic school. We aimed for the local mountains, armed with barbiturates and a half-gallon of vodka. The cocktail of drugs and alcohol did its job. By night’s end we were wasted and, as foolish, godless, teenagers are wont to do, we piled back into the car and headed down the mountain road. Within minutes we were whooping up every wide turn.
But the turns just kept getting wider.
We made it halfway down the mountain. At Bonita Falls, the driver skidded into the opposite lane, pulled out, and over-corrected. We hit the gravel shoulder, hydroplaned, and plummeted off a 30 foot cliff. I still remember watching the headlights disappear from the road and dissolve into black empty space. The whooping stopped. Warm summer air, combined with eerie silence, filled the vehicle during freefall. We hit the riverbed, glass and metal exploded, the car rolled twice and landed upright.
And no one moved. . .