The Life and Times of a Total Loser (Part Five)


Alright, I’m gonna give a refresher real quick. For anyone just joining the story, you should know that you’ve missed some pretty heavy stuff that this recap couldn’t possibly do any real justice, and I’ve got a lot of ground to cover so I can’t really waste time on attempting the impossible. My name’s Dave, I’m 31 years old and I’m a total loser. I’ve been wreaking havoc all up and down the east coast for a good 15-20~ish years now. There’s outstanding warrants in a few states along with thousands of dollars owed in fines and court costs that I highly doubt are ever getting paid. They definitely aren’t receiving a check any time in the foreseeable future, that’s for sure.

Technically I’m a diagnosed sociopath, but that doesn’t mean what you think it means and I don’t have time to explain it. I’d clarify that it’s actually called “Antisocial Personality Disorder” but “Antisocial” doesn’t mean what you think it means either. All of it translates to me being a thieving, manipulative, deceitful, and emotionally abusive bastard but the story hasn’t quite gotten there yet.

My childhood was sorta rough, but lots of people’s were, and my story doesn’t stand out as one of the worst I know of by any means. I was loved, which means a lot. Middle school was when I started to break bad, then around the 8th or 9th grade the sorta shitty life lessons I’d learned up ‘til that point were crystallized into a really shitty outlook on life by a fairly traumatic event. By the time I dropped out of high school at 16, I’d considered myself caught in an all-out war with society for more than a few years, and even before we went to war, society and I weren’t really on friendly terms. 

I got a weed charge, then missed the court date, which led to the court asking about my truancy. I’ve always believed honesty is the best policy, so I told them the reason I didn’t go was because I didn’t wanna. Then they explained that was against the rules, I basically said something along the lines of “Yeah fuck the rules and fuck you for thinking I give shit”. They were less than enthused with that response, so they put me on probation. From there, I failed a piss test which got me put on house arrest, and then I failed another piss test while I was on house arrest. That little chain of events got me sent to a place called “Mountain Manor” that claimed it was a rehab. In reality, it was just a place the courts could send kids like me to lock us up without having it count as sentencing us to a juvenile detention center when they went around and took their tally of that sorta shit. While I was in “rehab” I turned 16; that’s when I dropped out of school but I’d actually stopped going about 2 years before that. 

Did you know that if you skip school too much, they expel you? I’m not kidding. They really do “punish” kids who refuse to go to school by telling them they can’t go to school. Or at least they did… I can’t say if it still works that way.  If they haven’t figured out that this is like punishing a heroin addict by handing them a needle and a gram of dope yet, I’m actually kinda worried about the future of our country, now that I think about it.

When I got out of rehab, the State of Maryland decided I was too much of a pain and they didn’t wanna deal with me, so they sent me to live with Mom who had remarried and moved to Akron, Ohio, from my hometown in the DC suburbs.

The last chapter of “The Life and Times…” left off around the time I dropped out of high school. It glossed over a lot of important stuff at the end, so we’re gonna say that recap ends right here and fresh story begins as soon as this sentence ends. 

One thing I forgot to mention is that once I got locked up in rehab and the drugs got out of my system, I did start to feel physically better and really back then I was in a lot of emotional pain and just plain terrified of the world. I decided I’d give the whole ”get sober and be a good boy thing” while I was in the rehab, and I meant it honestly. So much happened so fast back then that it’s really hard to decide where to go from here. I guess I’ll start on the first drive to Ohio, since that seems symbolically significant or some shit. Up until this point in my life, I’d lived in two different DC suburbs that were about 20 minutes apart, and the vast majority of the 16 years was spent in the same house in the same neighborhood. The first time I moved away from that house even temporarily it crushed me.

Looking back, I hated the neighborhood I grew up in and the most of the kids I grew up with there, but that house was home and that six-hour drive to Ohio might as well have been a rocket to the moon. On the drive we talked about my plans for the future, the rules of the new house, and all the fun stuff the family was gonna do together. Obviously, you can’t spend an entire six hour drive pretending you’re the Brady Bunch, so when we broke up these picture perfect happy family moments with drawn out silences, I’d nap or stare out the window. 

I remember there’s this spot on the turnpike high up in the Pennsylvania mountains where the road runs along this sorta cliff I guess you’d call it, and you can see down into those open valley that seems to go on for an eternity before finally rolling up into another mountain on the other side that probably had an even better view, I bet. The view is always better from wherever I’m not standing. At least, I’m pretty sure it is. I wouldn’t know because I’ve never actually stood there. Up until that point I was blissfully unaware that we were even on a mountain really. My step-dad had told me that we were driving through the Appalachian Mountains, but since I’d never seen anything like that before I guess I didn’t understand what he meant. One minute there’s a rock wall on either side of the car, then we just rounded this bend and my jaw literally dropped. It was like an entire new world of possibilities opened up. I still get a little touched whenever I drive that little stretch of I-76.

It was a pretty welcome distraction really. I remember those silences were agony. The plan for the future was I’d get my GED and enroll in the University of Akron as fast as possible. This fuggin’ terrified me. I said it in past chapters, but there’s a really intense pressure to succeed academically in my family and to me it felt like it was especially high. I felt like out of my two brothers and I, I was the one who was supposed the be the genius that our little crew would compare to my genius older cousin Von. I also worried about Von’s approval, since I always looked up to him as a sort of intellectual mentor as well as a cousin. That constant pressure on academia wasn’t made any easier by how absolutely terrified I was of college. I didn’t even attend high school, really. I wasn’t even due to graduate for another two years if I had. Mentally I was a middle school kid still, and I was forced to face down the challenge of higher education.

My step-dad Ken and I didn’t get along very well either. I’d never liked him, and I blamed him for my mom “leaving me” and going to Ohio. I also indirectly blamed him for me getting ripped away from my lifelong home in Waldorf. Those rules I mentioned were a lot stricter than the ones I’d been accustomed to living under my Dad’s roof; my constant state of rebellion had basically made it so there were no rules at Pop’s house. Ken was a real stickler for the rules and had an outlook on life that was all about discipline and structure which I assume he got from the time he spent in the service. That turned all the otherwise fun-sounding plans we were making for camping trips and vacations into a plans to take the family drama shitshow that resulted from the two of us being too close to each other for too long on tour so we’d have new scenery and a fresh audience for a few episodes.

The real pressure came from within though. I was so devoted to proving I’d turned my life around, and my main motivator at this point in my life was AA and my sobriety. Succeeding in school was a secondary objective that had to be accomplished to prove I’d made the 180 degree turn in life that I’d built into the narrative of my first lead. 

For those not familiar with 12 step programs: One of the meeting formats is a speaker getting up and telling their story for 15 min to an hour, which is called a lead. They generally don’t let people do that until they’ve got a year sober, and the first one is considered a huge milestone. I’d lay in bed and fantasize about what I’d say in my first lead, and constructed this elaborate Oscar-bait narrative about an intellectual prodigy who hit rock bottom with addiction, only to turn around and transmute that abject failure into unprecedented success with the magical power of the 12 steps.

What I realize now is that setting the bar as high as I did back then was basically guaranteeing failure, but at the time I believed that in order to achieve, you only had to believe. I’ve learned that belief is part of it, but that belief is only useful if you’re believing in something realistic. Being driven by sheer will to believe in some clown shoes fantasy isn’t gonna make that fantasy a reality, it’s just gonna make you delusional. 

So that was the drive.  We got to Ken’s house in west Akron and it wasn’t three days before me and Ken were at each other’s throats. Ken was definitely a did, but I think part of it was my fault, honestly. I didn’t know what to do with myself unless I was bucking authority and raising a ruckus about perceived attacks on my personal freedom that I’d invent to justify bucking authority and raising a ruckus. Ken was more than a willing participant though. Just like I’d invent attacks on my freedom so I could raise a ruckus, he’d invent challenges to his authority so he could put his foot down. 

Really, in a way we were the perfect pair and the two of us both got exactly what we needed. Both of us were sober in the sense that we attended AA meetings and didn’t ingest mood or mind altering substances, but we were still addicts. We were addicted to self-righteous rage and indignation, and the two of us made sure we always had our some waiting on tap whenever we needed our fix.

The next major event I remember after the drive and the arrival was a camping trip to a place called Cook’s Forest, Pennsylvania about two weeks after I moved to Ohio. The camping trip was a big gathering for the NE Ohio AA crowd. Ken, Mom, and I were all in AA at the time and the two of them wanted to get me linked up with the in crowd so I’d have people to hang out and get sober with. That definitely worked out more or less as planned, and I met my first AA sponsor “Brendan”(fake name). I remember two of us hanging out for like a day straight talking about God and sobriety and exchanging philosophies on life. He was jokester. He didn’t really prescribe to the whole philosophy about life being a serious matter for serious people that people try to sell you after they shit in your cornflakes and suck the fun outta life. We made fast friends because of that.

I actually just realized I told this story in reverse, and that was the second day. The other thing that was special about this camping trip happened on the first day: This camping trip was when I lost my virginity. 

I dunno how hitting this particular milestone in life went for you, but I’m gonna be honest, I was underwhelmed and disappointed. This tale began playing out immediately after we pulled up on our lot in the campground and started pitching the tent. The site next to ours had a family with two teenagers, a girl who was 2 years younger than me who went by the nickname “Smurf”, and her younger brother who I believe was also named Dave, but this was 15 years ago. Smurf had a real name but I forgot what it was, and her brother had a girlfriend who I thought was dead sexy. 

Smurf and Dave’s girlfriend start whistling at me and letting me know they thought I was a pretty princess while I was unloading our truck, and as soon as my family had our campsite set up, I went over to the neighbor’s fire pit to get to know them a little better. We flirted a bit, or at least we tried to.  It was some of the most awkward, unpolished, and painfully straightforward banter ever. Back then, I think we were all just pretty stoked about getting laid, but in hindsight, I feel like I need to be retroactively embarrassed for us 15 years later because somebody has to be ashamed of what happened around that campfire that afternoon. Eventually, the parents from their camp came and pulled them away, and we all agreed we’d meet up at an AA get-together/dance thing that was happening later that night.

Immediately, the whole dynamic was awkward. Behind the scenes of the neighbor kid’s camp, Smurf had essentially claimed I was hers. I, however, wanted to bang her brother’s girlfriend (I guess I’ll call her Blondie) who also seemed into me.  The brother was chasing after some other girl who was also staying at the campground but obviously had no interest in him, so his girlfriend seemed open to exploring other options just to spite him. However, these two other random dudes just appeared outta nowhere, and for reasons I’m unsure of, they felt they had some authority and declared themselves the hook-up police. There would be no cheating on partners.  I was supposed to hook up with Smurf because she had thing for me and she called dibs, and thus the random chick Smurf’s brother was into would then be left open for them to strike-out with. Blondie and I kept trying to sneak off with excuses like “I’m walking to the bathroom” or “I need to stretch my legs”, but whenever the two of us left the campsite for more than 5 minutes, the hook-up police gathered up the posse and started a search mission. Meanwhile, I was also kinda leading the Smurf chick on ‘cause I like being told I’m pretty.

Eventually, I just gave up and snuck off into the woods with Smurf. She wasn’t too terrible looking, but I can say with certainty that she didn’t end up as a supermodel either. We made out with about all the finesse and delicacy that we flirted with. Eventually, I ended up pantless on my back.  Smurf said that since she’d bumped the uglies before, I should lay on my back and let her handle the hard part of the job. 
I’m not exactly sure how descriptive I’m allowed to be on a publicly-accessible Squarespace blog with no warnings of adult content, and even if that weren’t holding me back, I’d probably think of some other excuse for avoiding a better description than this. Straight up, I can’t make the sexy-talk without sounding like a 9-year-old who was just given the birds and the bees chat by their socially awkward 13-year-old cousin who just started taking sex ed. The scene continues down the logical course from where I left off, and the magical experience I was told would change my life was over in under a minute. We hung out in the woods cuddling naked for 10 or 15 minutes before some a couple biker AA dudes pulled into the campsite next to our magical corner of the woods.  Their headlights scared us into panic mode, so we grabbed our clothes and bolted.

It wasn’t what I’d been told it would be, and it definitely wasn’t what it coulda been, I’ve since learned, but it was what it was. I set myself up for a lot of the disappointment by being so caught up on Blondie, I’m pretty sure. Smurf felt like a consolation prize, I guess.

After Cook’s Forest, Brendan and I started hanging out a lot. He’d take me to meetings or we’d go see a movie or sit at his apartment playing video games. It got me distance from Ken, and since he was my AA sponsor, it helped support the insane fantasy narrative I had in my head at the time. We did stepwork and really this was my first foray into not being a total piece of shit. I’m still working on not being a piece of shit 15 years later, and I wouldn’t truly realize what a piece of shit I was til 10 years after this, but I at least recognized there was a problem and was working on it. The good thing about this little sponsor-sponsee friendship was it created distance between me and Ken.

The GED/AkronU plan also went into motion after Cook’s Forest. Step one was taking the Pre-GED so I could take the GED. I don’t mean to sound arrogant or egotistical or anything like with this next claim; this is just a fact I’m stating and I don’t think it necessarily means I’m better than anyone: I am extremely fucking intelligent. I got a perfect score on the Pre-GED, so the State of Ohio let me skip taking prep classes and waived my payment for the GED test. Basically, since they knew there was no way I’d fail, they removed all possible barriers between me and taking the test because I made their statistics look better for them.

The next test was the ACT. So, in that last paragraph, I said I don’t think being naturally intelligent makes me better than anyone, but 15 years ago that fact turned into the most arrogant little shit you’ve ever seen in your life. Mom got me a study book specifically for the ACT. She even tried tutoring me a few times because she wanted to see me succeed because she knew I wasn’t gonna auto-demolish the ACT the way I did the GED, but my stance back then was that I’d never studied for a test in my life before that point and I wasn’t about to start. The only prepwork I did was I taught myself trigonometry literally the night before the test. I stayed up all night to do that, so I only got 2 hours of sleep and didn’t have time for breakfast because I overslept my alarm.

Without studying, without breakfast, and without sleep I still cranked out a 29/36. For people who aren’t familiar with academia, that’s fucking unheard of. 29/36 sounds like I missed the high end by a lot, but really that’s higher than 90% of people score. Most of that 90% I outscored studied for months, took prep classes, and made god damn sure they slept and ate breakfast the night before they took the test. The portion of the test I performed best on? The trigonometry I’d taught myself the night before. Like I said, I’m a pretty intelligent guy. Sometimes I consider spending a month preparing then going back to take the test legitimately just to see how I’d do, but there’s no real reason for it other than stroking my ego, so I just assume I’d get the 33-34 that people consider the de facto perfect score and leave it at that. (Nobody ever actually gets 36/36)

However, all my natural intelligence was basically useless once Fall rolled around and I started attending classes. My entire life, I never studied or did homework and breezed through school anyway. I learned quickly that shit doesn’t fly in college the way it does in the public education system. I also hadn’t attended school for about 2 ½ years prior to this and jumped straight into a full 15 credit-hour course load. I intended to major in Business Administration, but really I was just knocking entry level universal prerequisites out with all the courses I enrolled in except one. English 101, College Algebra, Econ 101, and Sociology 101. I remember a week before the deadline for us to drop classes I went in for a Sociology test and didn’t know a single god damn answer. I had never once in my life been in a position where I didn’t know every single answer on a test, and suddenly I knew none… and had a 250 pg book to read and write a 3 page essay on within the next week for the same course… in addition to attending the normal lectures and doing the associated reading/day-to-day homework for that… while also trying to play catch up in Algebra… all as I desperately tried to keep my head above water with some C’s in the two courses I wasn’t outright bombing.

I passed Econ and English *barely* and had to drop Sociology and Algebra because it was all just too much. Once the semester ended, I didn’t enroll for the spring.

Because of the way academia is hyped in my family, it felt like my entire life was over and I was an abject failure. My little fantasy AA “First Lead” narrative I’d been building in my head for months also collapsed. I also got my driver’s license somewhere in all that mess, and my older brother enlisted in the Air Force and gave me the ‘97 Ford Ranger he quickly replaced with a much nicer vehicle when he got his signing bonus, so I now had the freedom of a license and car for the first time in my life, plus a now wide open schedule.  It all got combined with the feeling that I just missed the all-important shot Eminem kept telling me I only had one of. 

I didn’t immediately turn into a trainwreck caught in a downward spiral or whatever. I did start slowly drifting away from Brendan. I’d met another dude through our little friend circle and the two of us ended up hanging out a lot instead. He was closer to my age than Brendan, and like Brendan he was a jokester with an irreverent attitude except he was also bitter and cynical.  This spoke to me even more than Brendan’s stupid lame positive attitude. If you’ve read my essay “Well… That Was An Experience...:”, then you know this dude I was starting to run around with to avoid my sponsor as “Shitbag McDouchernose”. If you listen to the podcast, we went with his real name, Larry. Either way, this dude ended up being my best friend from the time of these memories I’m re-telling all the way up this exact second. Really, he’s the only friend I’ve had this entire time. 

If you were hoping for the story where I achieved lasting sobriety, I’m sorry but that’s not how the tale goes beyond this point. A couple months after dropping out of college, Larry and I started smoking pot together. Shortly afterwards, Ken threw me out because I wasn’t working or going to school plus word eventually got around to him that I wasn’t sober anymore. I ended up living on a couch in Larry’s Mom’s garage, smoking pot, playing Counter-Strike and Smash Bros. Melee, and doing as little as I possibly could while still keeping a roof over my head and food in my belly. I’m not sure how long it was before Larry’s Mom told me the free ride was over, but I know I lucked out on the timing, because right as she did that, my Dad decided he was gonna sell the house I grew up in and move to Florida.

I immediately took the opportunity to go live with Pops. Once I had moved away from Maryland and he was six hours away, I realized that he actually meant the world to me, so getting to be under the same roof as him again sounded like a blessing. Plus I missed the the level of freedom he let me have, and honestly Papadukes really spoiled me with whatever the fuck I asked for on top of all that.

I spent a year down in Florida smokin’ pot and playin video games. Pops was my only real company for the most part. Eventually Craig, my best friend from the high school days moved in with us as well. Dad basically saw him as a step-son by this point in our lives. I went into autopilot mode in Florida, and there weren’t really any major events in the year after leaving Ohio when I was 17, and where I’m gonna pick the story up next time, the year a little after I turned 18. For now, I think that’s about all I’ve got for this chapter. Spring ‘03 to summer ‘04 was an eventful ass year, now that I think about it. 

Take it easy, muh dudes. Cya next time.

Dave BarlettaComment