The transition was very sudden and swift and seemingly irreversible. One day, I was quite comfortable in the path of my life. Wafting through high school, putting up with the insanity and abuse of my parents. Then, suddenly, it all became disagreeable and I sought any means by which to change it all.

Often I have blamed the influence of my friend, Roger. In hindsight, I realize he was just a means to an end. The end was to escape the vast shame and confusion I had grown up in, and he gave me options I have previously thought out of the question. 

The first thing he did was to ask me to question the belief-system which I carried. This was not too difficult to do, and I remember clearly the day when the first serious wedge under the faith I had had my whole life got shoved in. 

"So, you really believe this born-again Christian stuff?" he had asked me.

"Yes," I had said, without hesitation.


The way he asked why, with the confidence of argument that he always had, had rattled a door inside me that had long been shut. Perhaps, I became conscious for the first time that there was a door to be rattled. Of course, there had been other instances I realize now. My parents had changed religious ideas so much since divorcing that I was quite confused from the outset.

This was the first instance where I was under the influence of marijuana. 

Surprising myself, I replied, "I don't know."

There isn't much detail I recall from that moment visually, other than the fact that I was strangely cognizant of the clothesline of the sheriff's house, which was directly behind the place where we went to smoke pot during lunch break at high school. This, of course, made the experience sweeter in our minds. I vaguely remember Roger's appearance in those days. I know that his dirty blond hair was longish as was his coat.

"Haven't you ever thought that there might not be a God?" he asked.

Of course, I had thoughts along those lines, but never did I think that particular idea. I recalled nights when I had thought extensively about the possibility. Of course, such a notion was never discussed in the household in which I was raised. It was a thought that I always associated with long rides back from visits with relatives. These were often the mellowest times I had. My parents were usually too tired to fight, and I would take to pretending I was asleep in the back of the hatchback. Staring up at the tree limbs rushing past the stars, I would contemplate infinity. All the endless blackness. And the question that often disturbed me in these times of was, "What if God never existed in the first place." The idea that there could be any existence without God had never occurred to me. But the idea of there being no God and no existence would take hold of me at these times. I would drive myself into sort of trance state contemplating the idea of there having never been anything. The idea of pure and absolute, unbroken, eternal nothingness. In such times, a vast dread would infiltrate my body. But it never possessed me. Somehow, I was capable of riding out and rising above this dread. It was like watching a horror flick. Just a movie.

Now, for the first time, I contemplated the idea that there could be existence without a God. And this notion tipped the scales in favor of the dread at last. For that dependence which I had always felt to the Creator now was threatened by the new rising doubt in my mind. I honestly have to say that this was the beginning moment of the terrible fear that would come to dominate me for many years thereafter. There was really no one looking out for me.

I had to take another hit of the joint, of course. "You don't believe in God?" I asked.

"No, why would I?" he scoffed. "The whole problem with people is that they have a hard time accepting the idea that there is no life after death. Well, in my mind, it's no big deal. People just die and they're dead. So, what?"

"That doesn't scare you?"

"No." He took a big hit, held it until his face started to redden, and blew it out. "I took a psychological test once. In it, you are asked to picture yourself in a white room with no doors or windows. Then, you are asked to describe what kinds of feelings come over you as you picture this. You know what I felt?"



I, of course, now pictured myself in that room. No windows, no doors, no exit. It was sort of the opposite feeling from that I had whenever I would picture the godless nothingness in the hatchback. I felt trapped, impotent, doomed. There was nothing to run away from or to fight and that was the worst part. No solution to the fear.

"Yeah, I was bored," he told me. And I believed him. "When you're dead you're just dead. That's why I want to have as much stimulation as possible while I'm alive."

This reasoning made perfect and terrible sense to me. I realized I had lived quite a sheltered existence. Here I was, at the age of fifteen, and a whole series of suppositions now raced through my mind bringing the whole light of my previous reality into shadow. I realized that despite the horror of the idea of a godless universe, that the belief in no God granted one a certain power. If no God, then no absolute right and wrong. Morality was no longer a set of codified rules, but something I would need to determine on my own. But on what grounds?

"How can you tell the difference between right and wrong?" I asked him.

"What I do is I act as if there were a God," he said. This threw me for another gigantic loop. "Basically, I do the right thing. If there is a God, He would be pleased with my behavior. If there isn't, then I still feel good about what I've done."

"So, you have a conscience?" 

"Sure, I know the difference between right and wrong. As long as it's not hurting anyone, it's the right thing to do."

I checked my watch. We were on the verge of being late. "We should head back. You want me to carry the joint?"

Roger was always nervous after he smoked pot. I would become incredibly calm myself, in the early days. He nodded and gave me the joint. As we headed back towards the school, I noticed he was doing the twitch for which we always made fun of him. In class, he would be a wreck when stoned and would twitch in his face and hands.

Nancy Reagan said No! and there were anti-drug and anti-drinking posters hung in the hallway. One I can't forget was titled "One for the Road." It depicted a teenage boy missing most of one arm. Another was titled "School Daze" and displayed the glazed-over face of someone terrifically high. I imagined at the time that no one could tell if I was high. Perhaps not. But Roger was rather more obvious. One time, after we had tried this amazing shit that we got from the rich kids in the Park, he had been called out of the class by the teacher. I, however, was never called out, never got red or droopy eyes. I thought at the time that it was solely because I handled pot better. Now, I realize that the teachers may have considered me a person of little potential and turned a blind eye. However, I was an honor student so to this day I simply don't know one way or the other. Never mind, the point is I got all the way through high school as a drug dealer and never got any heat about it. 

That day proceeded the same as most, except now I was an atheist. We somehow made it through chemistry class without being ejected for our constant chortling and antics. The teacher was a recent college grad, rather dorky, and mainly wanted to be liked. It was a good class not to cut. Our last class was French and we had just gotten a new teacher who was very serious with us. I had retaliated against her by tossing her books out the window when she was writing on the blackboard and later by bringing razors and wire into the class and creating sculptures. This last act nearly got me expelled. I was forced to go to counseling instead. My counselor had terrible breath.

Anyway, more about that later. Aknad had a great setup for us. He lived right off school grounds and was allowed in the firehouse across the street because his brother was a volunteer. They had a beer machine in the firehouse which took a quarter a beer. So, Roger and I would bring in fistfuls of change so that Aknad could buy us a sack full of beer which we would enjoy throughout the day as our schedule did or did not allow. 
At Aknad's house, Roger became more relaxed and started to act oddly. He took Aknad's suction cup gun and starting shouting, "McGuyver!" shooting at a poster of Richard Dean Anderson that Aknad had hung on his closet door.

Aknad had more pieces of pipe that we would fit together in order to create various smoking implements. This was quite an in-depth activity while stoned and sometimes we would all be totally quiet for an hour, trying to put together a crazier-looking bowl than the other guy. When we had first met Aknad, he had never smoked pot. Then, one day, that all changed. He tried pot with his brother and suddenly it became a pivotal point of his existence. He set up an aquarium in his room with multiple cannabis seedlings sprouted in it. And he got this huge box full of potential bowl parts. He was a huge happy man. 

"You guys got to try this stuff," he told us.

Aknad produced a bag of marijuana that was darker than any I had seen before. "It's chocolate Thai," he said. He let me examine, sniff, and pull apart his special herb. It was tacky, rather thick with resin, and actually did seem to smell of chocolate. 

"My brother got it from his connection. You wouldn't believe this guy. He is such an expert on pot that he can take a hit off of any joint and tell you exactly what variety it is and where it was grown. They've got acres of stuff growing upstate."

This pot was different when you smoked it too. After I sampled it, I saw or thought I saw little planets flying around my head. Roger tried it too and claimed to become very paranoid. "Oh, my God," Roger said. "This stuff is evil. I don't think I can go back to school."

"That's good," I said. "Because class is over."

"Oh, yeah," he said. Then, he picked up the gun again. "McGuyver!"

A little while later, after I had purchased a quarter of Aknad's chocolate thai, we went to my Datsun 310 to drive home. It was an unforgivingly ugly vehicle. Once in the car, I pulled up the rubber around the stick shift and stashed the weed. Then, I put on Jimi Hendrix and we headed home. It was raining, so, of course, I had to drive like a maniac. The roads near where I went to high school were among the most dangerous in America, so I enjoyed giving my passengers a good scare. This despite the fact that I had wrecked my first car on a rainy day just like this one.

Roger kept getting angry at me for the way I took the curves over Sterling Forest Mountain and I kept pretending to relent, only to start up again moments later when he was a little relaxed again. He swore and promised he would never let me drive him again and I knew he would because we always smoked on our drive to school.

When I got home I was not very tired. As usual, my mother did not question my state of intoxication whenever I actually was intoxicated. She was blaring her Christian radio station that she listened to every minute she was not with her church group and I just nodded and waved as I walked through the kitchen and headed up to the solitude of my room. Once there, I turned on my Commodore 128 and started playing "Strip Poker" which was about as close to a girlfriend as I got in those days. It was a computer game with three different simulations of woman you could undress with the right hand (of cards). In order to keep my mother and sister out of my room, I had to use a coat hanger wrapped around the doorknob and the closet doorknob. Then, I would stick books between the closet door and the jamb to tighten the hanger. Strangely, my room was the only one without a lock.

I spent hours and hours on my computer in those days. I had taught myself basic programming and assembly code and would create text adventures which usually involved getting Loni Anderson into various compromising positions. In my teenage mind, she was the perfect woman. In the game that I wrote that day, I had Loni Anderson in that white room with me. There was no exit and eventually she would have to submit to my pleasure.

My mother knocked on the door I don't know how many times while I worked at this game. It wasn't until dark that she began to knock with more insistence. "What are you doing in there?" she asked.

"Nothing, I'm just reading," I said.

I was very against the idea of her coming into my room at will. Often, while I slept, she had come into my room with her Christian brethren. She would hold prayer meetings at our house. After they would whip themselves into the requisite amount of furor, they would come up to my room to cast demons out of me with the power that the Holy Ghost instilled in them. The Holy Ghost, as they told me, gave them many powers. One was the ability to talk in tongues, another to heal, and another was divination, or the ability to see and control demons. My mother often told me that I had these demons inside me and would go into her tongues talk to pull them out of me. Anyway, after a few occasions of my mother invading my room while I slept to pray over me with her strange friends, I had taken to locking her out more and more often.

Tonight, however, she wouldn't stand for it. She kept knocking on the door and then pulling at it. However, after many failed attempts, I had finally perfected my coat hanger lock, and it wouldn't come free despite her repeated attempts. 

That was when she started hitting the door with a hammer. "I won't have you practicing witchcraft in my house. I can't allow you to bring demons in here."

After she had yanked at my door the first few times, I had climbed into bed. I had decided that if she got it open, I would pretend I was asleep. But, something inside me just snapped that night.

I found myself getting up. I say I found myself because suddenly, I didn't feel so much like myself at all. I was really angry. I opened the door and starting screaming at my mother.

"What the fuck are you doing, you fucked-up bitch?" I began. "I can't stand it anymore. Why the fuck can't you just leave me the fuck alone! I'm not doing any god-damned witchcraft in my fucking stinking fucking room! Fuck you and you're fucking house..."
Or something to that effect.

At that point, I really did feel possessed. I was angry, and someone had to pay. The words coming out of my mouth seemed to make no intelligible sense to me. All I remember is pulling the hammer out of my mother's hand and waving it around, breaking several things with it. My mother attempted to pick up the phone, threatening to call the police, and I pulled the phone out of the wall. I realized I was only in my underpants but I didn't care. 

I grabbed my keys and rushed outside into the cold night without putting anything else on.

I got into my Datsun 310 and starting driving. The rain had turned to snow and the roads were slippery. I was low on gas. So, without thinking too much about it, I decided to head to the 7-Eleven. I drove into the center of town, pulled up by the gas pump, and walked through the snow into the 7-Eleven in my undies.

The cashier, who was a fellow student, didn't seem too surprised. "What's up?" I asked him.

"Nothing," he said.

"Five dollars on pump 1," I said.


The fellow student was John Murphy. He was a huge chubby kid. Both him and his brother worked at the 7-Eleven. Often, I shoplifted while he worked. It was easy. My cohort in crime, Eddie, would distract him by walking behind the counter and pulling out a hunk of cold cut meat. "Lookie here at this meat," he would say, tossing it up and down. While John Murphy would try to get the meat back from him, Eddie would wink and I would pick up several cases of beer and walk them outside. Weird, but effective.
I went back outside to pump the gas. A car of girls went by and honked. I waved merrily.
I got back into the car and started to think about my future. There was no future. I was a disease. A corruption. Bad for society. I had to be stopped. The immune system of society would recognize me as a virus that could spread bad ideas around and it would seek to isolate and destroy me. I saw it all clearly. I would need to turn myself in. No sense in fighting all of society.

So, in a short time, I started to head back to my house, first of all taking a final hit of marijuana and then tossing my stash and bowl out of the window. Sure enough, when I got back to my house, two police cars were parked in the front.

I was fearless as I walked back inside. I decided that I would simply go along with whatever lay in wait for me. The game was up. Blown. There was no exit. A little rubber room was waiting for me, no doubt. 

I had to walk all the way up to my room to find them. There was my mom, telling the police what a bad person I was. There was a male cop and a lady cop. They seemed nice.
"John Murphy," I found myself saying.

"Well, hello, son," the male cop said. "You ok there?"

My mother had her arms crossed. You would have thought she had something to feel guilty about.

"Sure," I said. "Never better."

I sat on my bed. "You seem kind of spacey," the female officer offered.

"I feel a little tired," I said.

"Your mom been telling us you are kind of depressed," said the guycop. He held up an empty bottle of Advil. "She said you were talking about taking all these pills. Have you been feeling down?"

"No," I said. "She's lying. I just take those for hangovers."

"Er-well," he went on. "She doesn't want you to stay here tonight. Now, you have two choices. You can either go down to the jail and spend the night there. Or we can take you to a nice place where they can help you start feeling better. Which would you like to do?"
"Well, I don't like the idea of going to jail much."

An image went through my mind. I remembered my grandmother telling me that in jail they turned off the lights and the rats would nibble on your toes. 

"Well, if you come with us we can take you somewhere else," the policelady said.

"Where?" I asked.

We were going to the Arden Hill Mental hospital. The ride there seemed like a dream. I couldn't quite believe it was happening. And all because I didn't believe in God. Well, it was fate, after all.

Once there, I was taken into a receiving room where a young man with a Mickey Mouse shirt on gave me some paperwork to fill out. The police asked if I was ok and then left.
I had to fill out my name, social security number, address and whatnot. Then, I had to put the reason why I was there. I wrote, ''Because my mom is nuts and I was given the choice of going to jail or going here. Here seemed like a better idea.''

When I was done, I handed the paper to the Mickey Mouse Man. He looked it over and then handed it back to me. "Excuse me," he said. "Could you please put down the real reason you're here."

"That is the real reason," I responded.

"I mean, put down that you wanted to hurt yourself."

"Oh, ok," I said. 

I wrote, ''I'm here because I wanted to hurt myself, or at least, that's what I'm being told to write.''

He looked it over again, munching on some potato chips. "It's good," he said.

Yes. And it was "good." This was only the beginning of my pains. But things were in motion, taking me to places I had never dreamed possible before I made the dreadful mistake of thinking. But the world has ways of correcting such things, as I would soon discover. For, although fate loves a fool, the world hates a questioner.