I was in private school up until my 10th grade year, when I switched to public school. Up until them my exposure to black people, let alone the "black experience" was limited to weekends when I would I attend Jack & Jill functions or church functions. I was the girl at cotillion on Friday, the African American Museum Saturday morning and a fish fry at the church Sunday afternoon. Somewhere around 7th or 8th grade, boys became important. At that time, I was still at an all-girls private school. The private boys' school up the road had 2 black boys in my age range. By the time we hit 13 (having been thrust together at every function since age 5) we were thoroughly sick of looking at each other. My crushes would have to come from somewhere else.
It was about that time when I became active in Methodist Youth Fellowship (MYF); if you grew up in a black church you had one of these. All the "youth" were put in the Youth Choir, MYF, Youth Sunday School and whatever else they could dream up to keep an eye on our young behinds. It was at an MYF meeting when I first met a guy I'll call Terry. Terry was young gifted and black. He was tall, athletic, quick-witted with one of the greatest personalities I had ever seen. He was gorgeous. That stereotypical good-looking guy from back in the day – light skin, wavy hair, big white smile, chocolate eyes fringed with long lashes. A room was better the minute he walked in it. He literally had a light about him. I had a little teen girl crush.
This was back in the day when we were very much into matching our clothes. Terry would rock a pink polo shirt (collar flipped up just so), khakis, pink socks and loafers and be the coolest dude in the room. He could sing, he could dance and he was a genuinely nice guy. He was SO athletically gifted that college scouts were already coming to look at him play football and run track in 8th grade. In today's terms, Terry was a rock star. We were friends in the way that early teenagers can be. Giggly, gossipy, bike-riding pals who shared a love of green apple Now-or-Laters.
Somewhere around the beginning of ninth grade, Terry started hanging around the wrong folks and liked a "faster" kind of girl to hang out with. He told me I was a "good girl" and if I wanted to stay that way, I need to leave him be. Even at fourteen I knew when someone was telling me something for my own damn good. I stepped back (way back) but was a little concerned. I'd seen enough afterschool specials to know that wrong crowd = no good end time and time again. People whispered that he smoked marijuana and stayed high. I didn't know what that meant back then but it scared me to death. All I knew what that sweet Terry's personality was not the same and he no longer appeared to care about anything.
Somewhere between tenth and eleventh grade, Terry apparently got hold of some bad stuff (I never knew exactly what it was but the story was it was a joint that was laced or dipped in something serious) and his mind was gone. I mean, gone baby, gone. Gone like he couldn't put full sentences together any more. I remember one event where he stood at the back and did jumping jacks for an hour and a half straight. At one group overnight, he curled into a ball under the refreshment table and refused to come out. At a choir rehearsal, he started singing Prince songs and couldn't stop. They had to call his mother to come get him. I recall trying to get him into a friend's car one night and in our struggle he looked at me and said my name. His eyes were completely dead and blank and he said my name more like a warning than the beginning of a sentence. I freaked out. The Terry I could trust was gone, completely replaced by someone or something I did not know. After that, I didn't spend any significant time with Terry and was never alone with him again.
As the years passed, the church grapevine kept me updated on Terry's life. I don't know if he ever graduated high school. He started selling drugs and went to jail. Got out more addicted than when he went in. He spent time in and out of rehab. He went back to jail got out again. I think he had a job for a minute. Last story I heard was that Terry had moved back home with his parents. He was arrested walking down the street in broad daylight carrying a neighbor's big screen TV. Because it was his umpteenth arrest, I believe they threw the book at him and he's on serious lock until the 33rd of Neveruary.
I didn't need a lot of parental warning to stay away from drugs. My father's father, in his mid-thirties, was in the middle of a card game when he felt tired. He lay down to take a nap and never got back up - instant heart failure. My father battled heart problems (requiring a quintuple bypass) in his later years. Heart failure is what eventually killed him. The name Len Bias stays etched on my memory. So I always feared that the slightest strange chemical would kill me where I stood. I was always positive I was going to be that one in a however-many that tries something for the first time and keels over. (I'm over-dramatic like that)
But primarily, if I was ever tempted to even light up the sticky-icky – I thought about a beautiful, brilliant young man with his entire future ahead of him replaced with an empty, vacant shell with nothing left to lose or care about. Terry became the cautionary tale of worst case scenario that hit a little too close to home for me. So yeah, I understood that drugs are bad and illegal and all those common sense things but really instead of Just Say No, I thought – remember what happened to Terry?
I was called 22 types of stuck-up, prissy snitch in college (and after) for skipping on any of the puff-puff-pass type activities. Even had one guy tell me, "You can't live your life motivated by fear." To which I replied, "Is it fear to not put your hand over a flame if you already saw someone get burned? Or is just a smart healthy respect for the damage that fire can do?" He shrugged and walked away. Um-hmm. Peer pressure be damned.
So that is today's Lesson Learned: When you see someone's light get extinguished, you don't need to step into the same wind storm. I have a love of life. And with exception of a social drink, a time-of-the-month painkiller and mood-enhancing chocolate, I tend not to want to go through this one life I have chemically impaired. Let's keep things crystal clear, shall we? Well... these are my thoughts anyway.
Thoughts, comments, insights? The floor is yours, BougieLand.
UPDATE: Before one more person sends me a note advocating the wonders of weed... this is just ONE WOMAN'S decision to decline. Ya'll do whatcha want. You're all grown.