I should have graduated college in 2004, but I didn’t.
Of course, I should have done a lot of things that I didn’t. I had a good reason though. I was busy trying to be Jack Kerouac. I ended up being a waiter in Syracuse New York. But I was out there, trying unsuccessfully to hop freight trains and taking obscure and nonsensical road trips while writing on a typewriter. No kidding, I was that desperate.
Plenty of my friends were still going to graduate, so I drove down to New Paltz, New York to enjoy my would have been graduation weekend. In retrospect, I never should’ve gone. I was immediately depressed the second I showed up, watching as my friends felt relieved that they survived the past four years with plenty to look forward to while I wasted away my college life working as a waiter and trying to pay off a used two-door Mitsubishi.
Since I had dropped out of college I had lived out of my car, lived with my parents briefly, lived with my aunt, bailed on a few apartments, royally pissed off a roomate, had an affair with the mayor’s assistant, did a bunch of drugs, dumpster dove at Syracuse University, shit in someone’s bed, and had several different jobs, ususally going back to waiting tables. I was in no mood to share my accomplishments.
To be honest I don’t remember much of that weekend at New Paltz. I don’t even remember where I slept. It may have been my tiny Mitsubishi. It was an alcohol-fueled, drug-addled wild few days that led up to the actual graduation, which I didn’t attend. There were parties after, more fun things to do, parents in town to take us out to dinner, fun to be had. I was nowhere to be found. I woke up on day three, hungover and ashamed. I had yelled at a friend the night before and I couldn’t remember why. I had to leave, despite royally pissing off one of my best friends for not being there for her. I left anyway because I can really be a prick sometimes.
I was headed up I-87 to Albany where I could start heading east towards Syracuse and was incredibly hungover. The coffee I bought was not helping and I thought maybe a cigarette would help. I rustled around in my car and found my half crushed softpack of Marb Reds. I bought softpacks because I liked shirts with pockets in them and they fit better. I grabbed and lighter and took a drag. That’s when something went really wrong.
I coughed. Then coughed again. Then coughed more. My eyes were watering and it became difficult to see the road. I tried another drag and the same thing happened. My body was rejecting the smoke. I tried to chuck the butt out the window but I missed and it landed on the floorboard near my feet. I didn’t want to open the window all the way for fear the draft would blow it into the back and light the car on fire.
I kept coughing and it got worse and worse. I needed to pull over, my coughing fits becoming harder and harder and the smoke slowly filling up the car, the smell making me dizzy and even more nauseous than my hangover intended. I sucked in a deep breath to gather a large cough, but no cough came out. I vomited all over myself instead.
It was an odd orange slime and it stuck to my shirt. It smelled like coffee and bile. I started gagging and dry heaving, my car lurching around on the highway. It had all happened so fast that I hadn’t even thought to pull over. That’s when I noticed a thruway stop. I yanked the wheel and cut off two lanes to get off that highway.
I threw the car in park and there were people everywhere and I didn’t give a damn. I opened the car door and fell out, dry heaving and making an awful noise I never heard myself make. I crawled towards the bathrooms, people staring and grabbing up their children truly frightened. The puke was still on my shirt. I stood myself up and went inside.
I washed my face and threw away my shirt. I grabbed a bottle of Coke out of the vending machine and walked back to the car topless. I had, again, done exactly what I wanted to do, and not what I needed to. I was getting a diploma but not in writing like I wanted. It was in self-destruction and lunacy. But some people just have to touch the stove to find out it’s hot. I wasn’t quite done burning myself yet.
This post has been republished on Medium.