Tuesday, May 06, 2008

slippery slope


I was eleven years old when I had my first drink. No wait, I think I’m exaggerating. I was twelve. It was 1987 and I was a student at Aptos middle school in San Francisco. I was in seventh grade.

By this age, I was already cutting class. Once I got to the level in education where my subjects were separated into six, one hour classes, I began ditching school. It made it easy. First period, whatever it happened to be, was written off. I think I maybe passed one first period course in my entire academic lifetime. By my second year in middle school, I had figured out just how many classes I could skip without automatically failing myself. There was a strategy to it. It was the classes’ right before and right after lunch that would prove most valuable. And I pushed the boundaries of attendance and tardiness as far as I could while still receiving a passing grade. By the time I was in high school, I went to whatever class I wanted. Usually deciding weather or not to stay according to the amount of pretty girls in it or if I liked the teacher. But I’m getting ahead of myself. We’re talking about seventh grade.

My best friend then was this Mexican kid named Thomas Leon. He had made the transformation from geek to chic in the summer between elementary school and junior high. He began coming his hair backwards, and grew a long, curly shag that fell on his shoulders. His frame swelled with fresh, new muscles. Suddenly his jaw was squarer and his jeans hung looser and more casual from his hips. His voice got deeper. He started attracting girls.

He was with me when I had my first drink. We were ditching our fourth period, the one before lunch.

We never left the school when we cut class. We would lurk around the hallways, ducking around corners and peeking around others. We would look into the windows of other classes, trying to be sly, until the teacher would notice are heads squashed against the tiny window pane. Then we would scurry off, giggling, looking back to see if the door opened. Mostly we would hang out in the stairwell, talking about all the girls we were going to French kiss and tagging on the wall. On this day we were trolling around the lower level of the school, where the furnace and the janitor’s closet and, most importantly, the bookroom was.

The reason the book room was so important was because we knew Rukiya Robinson (a girl that, upon reflection, I realize was pretty awesome, but at the time just seemed over weight) was working in it that day. Me and Rukiya were friends, even though I knew she had a crush on me. I had continually deflected her advances (of course, also giving her just enough to keep the crush going) while pining for another gorgeous, popular, and wholly unattainable girl named Aiesha (who was also her best friend). But we still talked on the phone almost every night, and had about as intimate a plutonic relationship in seventh grade can get. Ultimately she was the first girl I ever French kissed, and ironically enough it was at the top of a hill over looking the city right in front of Aiesha’s house (who herself, was sharing a kiss with Thomas at the time). But this is an entirely different story. Let’s get back to the bookroom.

That day Thomas brought a bottle of tequila with him. I forget if it was planned, or if it was a surprise, but when we met in the yard that morning he pulled it from his backpack, grinning evilly, and said, “Look what I stole from my aunt’s party last night. It’s still got the worm.” He held it in the sunlight and tilted the bottle so we could see and right there in the dark golden pool at the bottom was a pale green worm. It was only about an inch long. My eyes must have fallen from their sockets. I was genuinely thrilled.

I had never wanted a drink before. My mother didn’t drink. Every now and again she would have some wine at a party or if a friend was over, but she never had alcohol stored anywhere. She was a smoker. And no one else in my family drank. Except at church. The only regular drinking I saw was by bums on the street and on television. But when Thomas showed me that bottle, and I saw the sun glint off its glass and that swollen greenish worm float at the bottom, I knew I was going to drink it. I had to.

So we arranged to meet at the bookroom during forth period. I knew Rukiya would be working and she would let us drink it there, hidden from any staff save the indifferent janitors.

We each took swigs straight from the bottle, passing it between us and laughing at the violent grimaces on our face after each swallow. Rukiya was smart enough to pass on this particular crime, she was already nervous because she’d let us use the bookroom to drink in, so it was just Thomas and I, passing the bottle back and forth, challenging each other to take bigger pulls. There wasn’t much tequila at to begin with, but what was there we finished off. Thomas got the worm, swallowing it whole with his last sip, and then we hid the bottle under a pile of dusty boxes we were sure it would take months, if not years, for someone to move.

We were both slightly drunk when we finished. Of course, we acted ten times as inebriated as we really were. I fell into a fit of giggles and fixed an exaggerated slur into everything I said. Thomas kept laughing and pushing boxes over while Rukiya scrambled to pick them up and yelled at us to keep it down. When the bell rang we spilled from the bookroom laughing and stumbling, our echoes bouncing from the empty hall walls like our noodily bodies as we headed into the school yard excited to brag about our adult excursion.

Now remember, I had adopted a spotty record of attendance, so I always had detention. Almost every other lunch period I would spend the first half of the break following the assistant principal and picking up trash while he pushed a huge garbage can around barking warnings to the kids. This was one of those days.

I sobered up pretty quickly when I got in front of the AP, though I whispered in a loose, dramatic slur to my fellow detainees just what state I was in. We strolled around the yard, with me making sure I stumbled around in a sensational fashion behind the AP’s back so that everyone could see how out of control I was. Every now and again I would pick up a loose wrapper and throw it in the garbage can while trying not to make eye contact with anyone. By the time we were done I was tired and hung over. I spent the rest of the day half asleep in class.

After school we made plans to do it again the following week. It’s been a slippery slope ever since.

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:gray matters: by jkg is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at downtownalleys.blogspot.com.