All right, buckle up kids. This one’s going to take a while. It’s embarrassing and I’ve hesitated to get into it. That being said, I can’t believe I haven’t told this story here yet. It’s one of those life-changing moments that I’ll never forget. A Flitcraft Episode if you will.
I was a total mess. Senior year of high school. I smoked weed and drank daily. Hell, I used to take swigs of port wine in the morning before school. Weed, whatever. Weed’s good for you. But the alcohol was becoming a problem.
Somehow I managed to keep my grades up. I guess school just wasn’t all that challenging. I ended up graduating and going to college and whatnot. So this story isn’t exactly a cautionary tale.
I was heavily into indie rock and punk. I have blond hair, which I grew out to shoulder length dreadlocks. Real dreadlocks. Knotted up nappy hair in big chunky ropes. I guess I was a stoner. At least I looked like one. I wore ratty jeans with a white t-shirt. I added a flannel in cool weather. This was the 90’s after all.
Around this time I became obsessed with Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation. I had a dog-eared copy of the Dharma Bums that I must have read a dozen times. The lifestyle those guys led fascinated me. Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady and William Burroughs. They made alcoholism and drug abuse seem genuinely cool – the kind of shit creative people were into. So I drank and smoked weed and ate over-the-counter uppers. In retrospect I honestly think I was cool.
I’m getting off track. What I’m trying to explain is that I was a drunk. I was no where near the path to happiness and success. I was having fun and doing well in school, but I felt isolated and out of control. This was my mindset the day I hit bottom.
It was a random evening after school. Late spring or early summer. The sun was out and I was surrounded by friends. It seemed like a perfect day to waste some time outside smoking cigarettes and listening to music, so we piled into a couple of cars and headed toward the nearest open field.
We ended up a few miles from my family’s house in Tampa. I drove my mom’s car with a few other kids riding along. We parked on the edge of a large clearing, where we sat under the shade of a few trees. We were surrounded by a couple acres of undeveloped land. Car stereos blasted Pavement or the Flaming Lips or Mercury Rev as we knocked back a couple of beers, smoked a joint and bullshitted about nothing. Like Lou Reed might suggest – it was a perfect day.
As the sun started fading, we knew it would be time to head home soon – even though none of us really wanted to leave. The main road was all the way on the other side of the clearing, a half a mile away. We all reluctantly piled into our cars to start making our way home – to make the requisite appearance at the dinner table.
The first car took off toward the road, the driver revving his black pickup truck’s engine, spinning his wheels in the grass. The second car followed close behind – a yellow Honda Prelude. That driver took it a step further, curving off to the left, then to the right, carving a dirt path in the grass field as he spun out onto the road.
I was in the driver’s seat of my mom’s white stick-shift Mustang. A friend rode shotgun with another guy in the backseat. I was about to get moving when I looked over at my passengers. We all sort of nodded in unison and agreed we should put on our seat belts. Driving slowly and cautiously toward home was not an option.
We buckled up and I floored it. Grass shot up behind us as the car finally caught some grip. We tore off through the field and I curved left. The car spun out and bounced around on the uneven ground. I swerved back over to the right. The car’s rear passenger-side wheel lifted up a little as we spun around nearly in a full u-turn. I turned back toward the main road and started picking up some real speed. Maybe twenty yards from the exit, I pulled the steering wheel once more, trying to spin us around in a full circle. Instead, the driver’s-side front wheel dug into the earth.
The car twisted like soft metal as the right rear wheel lifted high off the ground. The front end of the car dug further in under the pressure. It all happened in slow motion. The car slowly upended itself, rolling over. In a split second, the car was completely upside down – chassis hanging out in the open air, windshield smashed into the dirt. A fucking Ford Mustang. 25th anniversary edition.
The glass of the windshield was folded in, just inches from my face as I hung upside down, held in by the shoulder strap of my seatbelt. I looked back at my friends and saw they were in the same situation. Just inches from death, dangling by a nylon strap.
The car’s body was crumpled badly enough that we had to kick the doors open to get out. Once outside we did what any logical teenagers might do do rectify the situation, we tried to flip the car over with our bare hands. Three teenage boys. The thing didn’t even move. I remember even picking some grass out of the rims, hoping it wouldn’t be obvious what had happened.
I soon realized we were completely fucked. We walked maybe a mile to the nearest house so I could call my parents for help. This was way back in ancient history before high school kids had cell phones.
We walked back to the scene of the crime to wait for my parents who said they’d call a tow truck. When we arrived, the car was not alone. A single police cruiser was parked nearby, and the cop was patiently waiting to have a word with me.
He sat me down in his car where he asked a few questions. Luckily there was no property damage aside from the Mustang. And I didn’t appear drunk. He took down some information to submit his report as we waited for my parents to arrive.
My mom and dad both showed up. They were followed by a tow truck as promised. The driver flipped the Mustang over and got it ready to cart off to the shop. We all knew there was no saving it. The thing was totally crushed.
My parents were relatively calm through the whole ordeal. I guess there were so many details to deal with, they didn’t really have a chance to freak out. A cop, a tow truck driver, a totaled car, and three embarrassed teenagers. They had their hands full.
That night after my friends made their way home and I climbed into bed, I immediately knew life was going to be different. What was I doing? I was acting like a complete asshole. Getting blackout drunk in downtown Tampa and sleeping on a park bench with the homeless, nearly getting arrested in Ybor City for open container violation at age 18, knocking back a handful of ephedrine I bought at a shady truck stop thinking it was the same as Jack Kerouac eating goofballs. Those are all stories for a different day. The point is, I was a wreck.
So as much as I loved my friends and even though I was having insane amounts of fun, I knew I had to make a change. And for some people this might be the weird or shocking part of the story: I didn’t decide it was time to quit drinking or doing drugs. Instead, I decided to focus on school without necessarily cutting back on my addictions.
I cut nearly all contact with my friends, electing to spend evenings in my room reading with a joint or a bottle of port wine in hand. I focused on English and science and Buddhist philosophy, with a minor in getting wasted. A couple months later I graduated with Honors and enrolled in college. I didn’t even wait until fall. I started right away that summer.
Three years later, I graduated college – again with Honors. There are plenty of stories to tell about those few short years and I may get to more of that eventually. The weirdest thing to me is this: I had such close friends in high school. People I spent hours and hours with every day. People who knew all my secrets. Then one day I crashed a car and suddenly decided it was time to move on. I completely dropped them. It wasn’t until maybe 15 years later that I finally came back in contact with some of the old group. And that was mainly due to MySpace and Facebook. Things certainly have changed for all of us since then.
I heard recently that there were some rumors about me back then. I sort of dropped off the face of the earth after that day, so people guessed that maybe I ended up in rehab or even tried to kill myself. In reality, I simply vanished – moved away to college and cut all ties to my old life. It was the first of two Flitcraft moments in my life. The other happened nearly 15 years later. Another story for another day I suppose.