Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Dark Side

I don't just read books.  I consume them.  It's frustrating for me to put a book down; I want to read it entirely in one sitting.  Lately, to my dismay, I have been doing just that.  Unfortunately this habit has kept me up into the wee hours of the morning, my eyes heavy with sleep, but my mind refusing to give in.  Just one more chapter, I think.  Being engaged in a story is just too compelling.

Creepy much?

In the last few days, I've read two books that I stumbled upon (hey, what a great name for a web crawler!)  Recently a friend from high school in Manila started a Facebook thread called "You know you're from International School Manila if ..." and five weeks later it's still brimming with activity.  I have done similar threads here on this blog, with the furniture, art and food.  This is a virtual high school reunion, without the expensive airfare and hotel rooms.  And we are all, in our minds, still young and vibrant: no gray hairs or wrinkles at this gathering!  

I found out a few things at this e-get-together.  One is that I went to high school with the brother of Michael Hutchence, the lead singer of the 80's group INXS.  My son, who is a walking encyclopedia of rock & roll trivia, was intrigued, much like he was intrigued that I went to college with Gibby Haynes, the lead singer of the Butthole Surfers (yes, that's their real name, google it).  I didn't know Rhett Hutchence at IS, but I was moved to buy his book, "Total XS" which tells the story of his relationship with his brother and the mystery of Michael's death; and unfortunately Rhett's drug addiction.  Losing a loved older sibling was something I identified with.  It all started with a comment he made on the Facebook page: "You know you went to the International School Manila if .. you develop a serious drug problem."  There have been 262 responses as of now, from nodding heads to outrage at Rhett being a "downer".  Up until then we had talked about favorite teachers, skipping school, drinking San Miguel beer.  How dare Rhett say something so dark and depressing?  

Yes, they really exist.

Granted, the school itself was not responsible for anyone's drug or alcohol addictions.  So many factors lurk behind the addictive personality.  I'm not so naive as to believe that "just wanting to belong" is the one and only reason for addiction. But the fact is, there was a lot of drug use going on in Manila.  I've talked about there being no drinking age in the Philippines, and for some reason, many of our parents gave us the freedom to wander the streets of Manila with no supervision.  We were little adults, sitting in bars with cigarettes in one hand, glasses of gin & tonic or beer in the other.  Even if we were at home, we were usually bartending our parents' parties, while watching our role models become more & more intoxicated.

My drink of choice.  With calamansi.

We also lived a transient life.  If we weren't moving every two years (or less) our friends were!  The group that was there freshman year was gone the next.  Best friends lasted as long as their parents' postings.  How to find a sense of belonging in that atmosphere?  You aligned yourself with anyone who was willing to take you in.  And sadly, sometimes that group was the druggie group.  My first marijuana came from my sister, who, in college in Louisiana, had come to visit over the Christmas break.  She met two guys from IS Manila on the flight over, and they were big into the drug scene.  She is the one who told me about people smuggling drugs into the Philippines inside boxes of tampons.  In our back yard one afternoon, I had my first toke and ended up jumping up & down in the pool, laughing hysterically.  I didn't fit the profile; people were often shocked that I smoked.  I had a "goody two-shoes" aura about me, I suppose.  Deep down I think I enjoyed surprising people that way; it made me memorable when previously I had been an anonymous, miserable face in the crowd.  A friend once gave me some pot for my birthday wrapped up in tin foil.  I hid it under my bed, but was horrified a few days later to find that our dog had eaten it all, leaving an empty and licked-clean piece of foil.  I hope he enjoyed it!  Overall, though, it just made me sleepy and the taste and smell was sickly-sweet.  I never felt compelled to smoke; I could take it or leave it.  

I didn't run in the hard core crowd that did heroin or cocaine.  But I knew it was out there.  There were car accidents and overdoses.  Entire families would suddenly and mysteriously leave the country.  I know of at least one acquaintance who died as a result of his addictions.  I'm sure there are more that I don't know about.   There was a darker side.  Yes, it is a downer, but is is reality, and you can't change reality by pretending it doesn't exist.  I'm sure at first some of us just wanted to belong, and a toke of a joint made that possible.  After that the path forked: one way was the way I went: just trying things on for size.  The other way was a far darker journey, from which I, but for the grace of God, was spared.  I will always remember my friend who wasn't so lucky.  But really, was this story any different from any other high school at the time?  Don't all teenagers just want to belong, TCK or not?

Tomorrow: "The Sullivan Saga" by Maureen H. Sullivan.  

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