They gave me an economy size bottle of pain killers when my wisdom teeth were removed; I think I was 16 and it was right before senior year. I was rattling them around in their translucent orange container when my dad called me at my mom’s house. His dad had died, as he put it, and I could either stay with my mom or come out to the valley and live on my own for eleven days until he got back. He promised to stash cash around the house so I wouldn’t starve. I told him there was no way in hell I’d miss the chance, and hung up my phone. My mom asked what he wanted, and I said “nothing, he can’t get me this week so I’ll need to have a friend pick me up.” She never would’ve gone for it, and rightfully so; I hadn’t done a damn thing to earn the trust.
And that’s how I found myself in a dilapidated ’65 Malibu SS heading to the valley with chipmunk cheeks and a pocket full of Percocet. The freedom was intoxicating. It was dusk and we were literally driving into the sunset towards untold adventure. The first party wasn’t that bad. My dad had called to tell me where the first envelope was hidden and I don’t remember how much was in it, but it was enough to completely fill the refrigerator with 40 ounce bottles of Old English like that old-school Dr. Dre video. We stole one of those six foot tall beef jerky tubes and fixed it up with eight hoses so a group of us could beer bong at the same time. It didn’t work worth a shit, but we named it “octopussy” and dubbed it badass. We also had one of those enormous Budweiser banners hanging from the rafters, and I don’t know if it came from the same place as octopussy, but it wasn’t acquired honestly either. Nothing really happened that night. We drank shitty beer and listened to shittier music until we passed out. There were thirty of us at most.
Do you remember those videos they used to make you watch in high school about spreading rumors? You know, you tell two people, and then they each tell two people, and then those four tell two apiece, and so on and so on. The video I remember kept filling the screen with more and more pictures Brady-Bunch-style until there were hundreds of smiling faces stacked on each other. In a nut shell, that’s what happened. It was State Fair time in the valley, and that fair was like a Petri dish for rumor. The parties kept getting bigger and bigger night after night and we were stoking the flames like rabid idiots.
The last party was on a Saturday. That day simply had a different feeling to it; there was a palpable sense of anticipation amongst my little click. Disaster was inevitable and we knew it because the party the night before was on the brink of insanity and every idiot in attendance was going to tell two more idiots and so on. I think we hit a hundred people some time before nine and I should’ve feared the mass of humanity that was migrating to my father’s home but for some reason, I embraced it. All the quintessential clichés usually reserved for unrealistic party movies were in attendance. There were naked women and fighting assholes. We had drag racing and bon fires and an impromptu live band headed by a bass player that’s a tad famous nowadays. My dad’s property had two 2000 square foot structures on three acres of land and by midnight, it was pretty much standing room only wherever you went.
I first started thinking that it had gone too far when people started pissing off the roof onto the people below. I guess they just wanted to clear a path to the front door so more kegs could be brought in but logic gets a bit soggy after that much drinking. The party had turned into a monster and it needed to die. We stabbed it with our steely knives by threatening to call the police, but we just couldn’t kill the beast. I apologize for the antiquated Eagles reference, but it fits.
The police finally did come, but not because we called them. The mile of road out to the highway from my dad’s house was completely shut down from all the parked cars and no one else in the neighborhood could get in or out. The cops had to hike in, and once they saw the size of my monster, they voiced their complaints to no one in particular, looked at each other, and then gave up before hiking back to the highway. That’s when I knew it had gone too far and the taste of fear wormed its way past the pall that a veritable cocktail of intoxicants had draped over my wits.
I retreated. I went as deep into the house as possible, which turned out to be my dad’s bedroom, with a few of my friends to regroup so we could figure out how diffuse the catastrophe. There were about eight of us in the group and we forced everyone else out of the room and locked the door. The best plan we could come up with wasn’t too dissimilar from the one that the cops had used; we were going to give up and let the party run its course. To kill time, we started playing with my dad’s guns.
There was an interior window looking out from my dad’s room into the room with the aforementioned impromptu band, and visible through that window, hanging on the wall, was a painting of a man and a horse in the night. My dad loved that picture. The rider was down off his horse looking off into the night as if he were afraid of what might be coming. One of my friends took my dad’s .45 and aimed across the bedroom, through the window, over the band, and at the horse’s head before pulling the trigger. I’m sure they make kids in high school watch videos about shit like this too, but we must’ve skipped that day.
Of course it was loaded. The window shattered, the picture was hit but the horse lived, and close to a thousand drunken idiots all tried to flee all at once. It was the mass exodus we had been hoping for and all it took was a sacrificial painting. The chaos lasted for a good twenty minutes as people were pushed past and trampled over; it seems nobody wants to be a witness to murder. Cars honked and lights flashed but the police got what they wanted too. I wouldn’t call it a win-win, but whatever. There were about thirty people that were curious or brave or stupid enough to stay behind, and once it was obvious that no one died, we started cheering. And that’s when we saw the alcohol. The party had been BYOB for the most part, and nobody bothered to take that which they had brought when they fled. It was like the treasure you’d find in an alcoholic dragon’s cave. There was enough booze for a thousand people, but there were thirty of us. A few people trickled back in throughout the night, but there was still plenty of alcohol poisoning to go around.
The next morning, I did the only logical thing. I filled the hole in the wall with tooth paste, and fixed the picture with some sharpie. The bullet had gone through a black part in the painting and I had enough spare glass from the shattered window to fix the frame. I later blamed the window on the band (I think I said the drummer threw a stick or something). We spent six hours or so cleaning which was futile and then headed back to the fair for closing day. We didn’t really try to hide much because there wasn’t any point. My dad found a stack of pictures when he got back that demarked all sorts of debauchery but he never said a damn thing. He has since moved that picture at least three times as he’s redecorated over the years, and I don’t think he’s ever noticed my reparations. My buddy never paid me for the damages, but I wouldn’t have either. It’s hard to hold someone culpable actions bred in a moment you made possible.
What if my friend had aimed left and taken out the bass player? The indie rock station on my satellite radio would have one less band to play repetitively. There would’ve been death and arrest warrants and sorrow. What if he never pulled the trigger? I can’t imagine that any good could’ve come from that night if the beast would’ve kept feeding on hormones and bad decisions.
I’m starting to realize that I’m out of luck, and I’m nearly positive that luck is a quantifiable commodity. Everyone says that they did crazy things when they were young, but they usually say it with a fond smile. I don’t. I rarely admit it now that I’ve reinvented myself down here in the Land of Enchantment, but when I do, I let regret take rein of my expression. I’d love to go into further detail just to get it off my chest, but thanks to the statutes of limitation, it would be unwise to put it all in writing for a few years yet. However, I’ll admit that my decisions got poorer and poorer for a five year stretch beginning with that damn party. I’d love to tie this all together with a pithy little comment about losing my wisdom along with my wisdom teeth, but I didn’t really have any to start with. What if I really have let my karmic tank run down to “E”? Maybe I’ve used up every bit of grace that was gifted to me at birth, and now that’s it’s gone, maybe the bullets won’t miss.