I was a sophomore in high school when I learned that I had peers more enthusiastic to drop acid than pick up a basketball and participate in gym class for a grade.
But their lives were none of my business, people told me. My peers called me a snitch because I didn’t want to watch them fall apart. Others, usually adults, said that because I knew this information, I was responsible.
It was hard to decide which people I agreed with because they both were correct. Their lives were none of my business. If they overdosed on narcotics, contracted an STD, found themselves pregnant, or even died, that was technically, by definition, not my problem.
But the principle still stands: I was a friend. Because these people would divulge anything and everything to me, did that mean I should take advantage of the situation to possibly save their life, potentially destroying it at the same time?
Well, I didn’t know. I still don’t, really, years later.
Most of the time I felt responsible and guilty for these people’s mistakes, and it ate me up inside until I could barely breathe. I allowed myself to become so involved in their lives, even though they hardly gave mine a first thought, let alone a second one.
But if I chose to tell someone about the things they did, because I cared about them, then…
Then, I mattered. I was the cause of all their problems: the reason they were almost arrested, the reason they were grounded for weeks, or the reason they were expelled from school altogether. It was hard for me to swallow that responsibility.
On one hand, I would rather see my friends hating me than dead. I would rather see them grounded and miserable. I would rather that the alternative, which was hearing about them seizing alone in a dark room, too scared to call for help because they took the wrong the wrong drug.
On the other hand, it still hurts to be ostracized by friends because they thought you couldn’t be trusted.
I guess it had all come down to this: did I mess up someone’s future or did I let them do it themselves? I never really settled on one side or another. I stayed in the middle, telling my mom the worst of things and letting her decide if she would report any of it to the principal or the police. Eventually, a lot of the people I was most concerned about found their way into trouble on their own, and several of them learned their lesson and turned their lives around.
Not everyone, though.
Some of them just got better at what they did. Some of them dropped out of school or were expelled. Some moved away to a different district with their other parent or a different guardian who would be all right with their reckless life choices. Some disappeared and no one knew or cared where they went. The teachers seemed to be the only ones with an inkling, but even they forgot after a while. That was how it worked.
Junior was no different. My friends and I had started calling her that when we were sophomores.
I learned later—around the beginning of senior year—that she dyed her hair for sport, hated the public-school system, hated the world, it seemed. Most importantly, that she was more human than any of us could have guessed.
She dropped out in the middle of her junior year. I wish I could say that my friends and I noticed the day she stopped coming to school and counted everyone after that.
We didn’t even realize she had been gone until I almost knocked her over at a party that I’d been dragged to. Even then, I’m not sure Keith and Rodger knew that she had been gone for over a year.
It was then that my journey I thought I’d completed actually started. I had been in love with a girl who broke my heart. I’d thought I knew pain when I was sidelined while my friends struggled with the early stages of drug addiction. I’d finally hit puberty. I was sure I’d land a girlfriend that would love me forever, and we’d be high school sweethearts and go on to grow old together. I thought I was prepared for whatever life threw at me. I was sure that I was ready for college, ready for life. Junior year had brought me so many things, I was convinced that I knew it all.
My mind raced with the excitement of being on the brink of my last year of high school, on the verge of a new beginning.
Just as I was starting to let go of my insecurities.
My friends were telling me that I was making them look bad at this party and I started thinking, “fuck it, what’s a little fun?”
Just as I was starting to believe that things were falling into place, I spilled my beer down the front of my tenth-grade obsession, and it started all over again. Tenfold.