Some Seriousness

11 Jan

I grew up in a town where there was pretty much nothing to do between the ages of 12 and 18. So much so that the biggest teenage pastime was selecting the food-serving/entertainment venue of your choice and loitering… for hours. You selected where you would hang out based on your classification and/or popularity status. It broke down kind of like this:

  • Taco Bell – This is where the “cool” people were. I could never quite figure out why their love of tacos was so great but if you wanted to find all of the jocks, cheerleaders and their lackeys… they were here. Sitting on the trunk of a car or on the beds of trucks (only a select few would actually have vehicles) eating burritos and cinnamon twists until the wee hours of the morning.
  • The Bowling Alley – This is where the rich kids hung out. I went to a school that was weird in that the student parking lot had nicer cars in it than the teachers’ lot. We had some generally wealthy people at our school (compared to the area… a half a million for a home doesn’t seem like much in some places, I know. But, here that was pretty much the same as owning a solid gold toilet.). They liked the bowling alley for the parking lot and the arcade. They would all show off their cars to one another and eat pizza all night long, stealing unfinished beers off of empty tables.
  • The Gaming Shop – I did frequent this one from time to time when I needed to change it up. Especially since it was only a couple of parking lots and an intersection away from my usual haunt. Here there be geeks. Playing Magic: the Gathering, Dance Dance Revolution or getting a LAN game of CounterStrike going was what these guys lived for. I say guys because there were about 5 girls in total (including myself) that would actually hang out  there. The place had snacks and TONS of games along with the occasional comic book and movie nights on the weekend.
  • The Patio Coffee Shop –  Man alive. These kids were all headed straight for Burning Man the SECOND they turned 18. Bongos, guitars and cigarettes. The self-styled “bohemians” loved this place. It was right on the lake and had a big outdoor patio with a small stage where they would hold random performances, impromptu poetry… the whole sha-bang. I really only went there occasionally but I did put in a few appearances and knew the regulars well enough to hang out without any objection.
  • The Book Store – These quiet nerdy kids didn’t so much “hang out” as they did “individually congregate”. They were all there… but none of them were talking. They all had their faces stuck in a book and a cup of 3 hour old coffee that they were still sipping.
  • The Park – How much skateboarding can you get away with before you get run off by the cops? These “skaters” were out to find out. All evening they’d terrorize the local greenery and attempt to look cool while continually falling on their asses before heading to McDonald’s when it got dark.
  • The Waffle House – So once you’ve covered all of the other categories and sorted all the people into their little groups you’re always left with some oddballs who don’t exactly fit into any one category (or any at all). Also known as the bottom of the barrel. All those people hung out at Waffle House. Including myself. It cost exactly $1.10 for an endless cup of coffee (The price went up as the years went on) and you could smoke inside. And we did. We would sit for hours just drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, talking and being generally bored. It was almost like a club. Whenever a whole bunch of “actual customers” would show up we’d migrate to the parking lot or (as we got older) someone’s apartment/house/parent’s house. There was a whole crowd of steady regulars that hung out there. You could show up on any day at pretty much any time and know someone. It was cool in that being a loner teenager in denial I could always feel accepted and like I wasn’t all alone. It was uncool in that as we got older we didn’t stop hanging out there… and the habits of the crowd only got worse.

By the time I was 18-ish a lot of the girls my age had kids, the boys had all seen the back of a cop car once or twice, a few of them had completely obliviated themselves with weed, and yet others had started down a road that would eventually lead to several bouts of rehab, AA, jail-time and the like. Not that everyone was bad or was getting into trouble. And a few people even began to break off from the group and move on with their lives to (usually) better things. It just amazes me that it went on for so long. They would all move into apartments together in groups of 4 or 5… the apartment would become a party-hub and eventually be torn apart by drama. I think the weirdest thing is to think that if I drove down there right now… there’s probably at least one of them still there.

The groups stayed pretty solid until I was around 20 (most of the people there were at least a few years older than I was). That’s when the big splits began to happen. When it fractured into smaller groups who didn’t get along with one another. We began to lose people to addictions and laziness… and the funerals began (car accidents, motorcycle accidents, etc.). As we got older it was no longer all fun and games and something to do on boring weeknights after school. I slowly began to realize that this was life now. This is what and who we were. And it was serious.

I ended up in a relationship that was, shall we say, less than healthy. I smoked 2 packs a day and he and I would rarely get along… eventually it came down to what has been termed by a couple of therapists I’d seen as “mentally abusive”.  After that I was broken, lost and had nothing to do but move back home and in with my mom and her new husband.

I settled back in to the Waffle House. Showing up every night, going out drinking on the weekends, and smoking myself into submission. It was so easy to not care when no else cared either. My friend, who I’d often thought of as probably the best friend I had, had begun his descent into serious and dangerous alcoholism starting with him causing an accident while driving drunk. Despite all my best efforts over the following couple years to encourage him to stop and try to get him to take care of himself in the end all it did was destroy what was left of our friendship. Luckily… when I had moved back home I began talking to Shawn on the internet. We talked on the same forum and had known about each other for a long while but had never really spoken. I was drawn to him immediately. He seemed to understand the way I think (a strange task in and of itself). He encouraged me to work to better myself instead of falling into the same “auto-piloted” rut of failure and apathy that I and all my friends had fallen into.

Eventually I flew out to California to help him move to Louisiana and about 6 months later he proposed to me and we were married a year after that. Since then with his help and support I’ve stopped smoking, I’m losing weight on a healthy diet, I’ve cut all contact with the negative influences that had driven my life for so long, I’ve held a job consistently and have worked to continue advancing in my life and career. He really is my knight in shining armor.

This started out as what was going to be a post about the quirky inner workings of the high school social system but it’s come down to this instead: You are never stuck. You are never defeated. You are never too old to make changes. You are in control of your own life. The system doesn’t own you. The “Man” doesn’t own you. Every day is what you make it. Take charge of yourself and realize that even old friends can be bad friends. Old habits can be bad habits. And both can be eradicated. Do what is best for yourself and you will be so much happier. I told this to so many of my friends as they faded into their addictions… It didn’t help. They just hated me for it.

Although, I miss some of my old friends, they’re not the people they used to be. They’re addicted hollow and burnt shadows of who they were. And in the end even though I’d give the world if I could save them, they wouldn’t do the same for me and they certainly wouldn’t do the same for themselves. Realizing this was the best thing I ever did. It set me free.

You may think that giving up on them was wrong of me. Sometimes I do too. But, they never wanted or accepted my help. I can throw out a life preserver to someone who’s drowning but if they refuse to grab it and keep gulping water instead to spite me… am I helping? Or making it worse?  I’m only human.

Sorry for the heaviness. I’ll skip the to-do list for today.


4 Responses to “Some Seriousness”

  1. Sajib January 11, 2012 at 12:32 pm #

    The system doesn’t own you.

    I wish everyone knew this and ‘the system’ would be able to f*ck with us.

    Great post!

    • Ashley January 11, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

      Very true! And thanks!

      One day I hope people will figure it out.

  2. laughingpromises January 14, 2012 at 12:14 am #

    “You are never stuck. You are never defeated. You are never too old to make changes. You are in control of your own life. The system doesn’t own you. The “Man” doesn’t own you. Every day is what you make it. Take charge of yourself and realize that even old friends can be bad friends. Old habits can be bad habits. And both can be eradicated. Do what is best for yourself and you will be so much happier.”

    I love this.^ There are so many people in this world that need to know this, and you said it perfectly.

    • Ashley January 15, 2012 at 7:00 pm #

      I just wish people would listen when you tell it to them…. but c’est la vie. Maybe I should rent a billboard and put it up there. Maybe then they’d listen.

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