Hey, kid,” said a voice from behind me.  Startled, I turned to find a strange boy leaning against the apartment building a few doors down from where I was headed.  Confused, I stared at him blankly.  His face was hidden behind eight or nine inches of unwashed hair, and for a moment I was unsure of whether or not he had said anything at all.  But then he spoke again, “Gimme some pizza,” he said.

He was, of course, referring to the pizza I was carrying.  “Sorry… ” I replied, and kept walking.  But he made a second plea:

“Come on man, gimmie some.”

I stopped. “You got any money?”

“No”

“Sorry…”

“Hey, wait…  tell you what…  if you let me have some pizza, I’ll let you smoke this joint with me.”

He reached up with his left hand, and pulled out a rather large, misshapen cigarette from beneath his greasy locks (I assume he had it tucked behind his ear).  I hesitated for a moment; the pizza wasn’t mine…

About half an hour before this I had been at a friend’s apartment, where he, his older brother, and one of his brother’s friends had put together money to split the cost of a pizza.  Having no money to contribute, I offered to go pick up the pizza in exchange for eating some.  They agreed, and so I went and got it as promised.  I considered this for a moment and then, dismissing my guilt and fear of possible repercussions, I accepted the stranger’s offer.

I walked over and (carefully placing the pizza box on the ground) joined my estranged friend where he was now seated, with his back against the wall of his apartment building.  He put the joint in his mouth and lit it.  Unlike a cigarette, the end actually caught fire.  I was mildly surprised by this, but he casually withdrew it from his lips and gently blew out the flame as if it were a candle on a birthday cake.  After a second puff he handed the joint to me.  Which, I eagerly accepted with a quivering hand.

“You ever smoke before?” he asked.

“… No.”

“Cigarettes?”

I nodded affirmatively as I carefully began to draw smoke from the joint.  My new friend nodded with approval and continued; “O.K., well…  Just take a deep drag, but hold it in…  the longer; the better.”  So I did as he instructed.  I inhaled the pot smoke deep into my lungs and struggled to hold it there for as long as I could.  Immediately it felt different than cigarette smoke.  The smoke had a warm tingle to it that almost seemed to burn, yet somehow ,it didn’t really hurt.  It reminded me of how vodka feels on the back of your throat.

A moment later both my teacher and I burst out; I in an explosion of coughs, and he in one of laughter.  “Take it easy,” he said still partly laughing.  Slightly embarrassed, I quickly stifled my cough and extended the joint back to him.  “No,” he said, “Hit it again… just not so hard.”  So, I took a small puff, began to hand the joint back to him and then on impulse (almost instinctively), drew it back to my lips.  I took another, slightly larger, puff and then passed the joint back to my tutor.

This time I held the psychedelic smoke in my lungs for much longer.  My coughing fit had set my lungs ablaze, so the minor burning that the smoke carried with it seemed almost nonexistent.  The growing blur in my head also seemed to mask the pain equally well.  I didn’t exhale until after my associate had taken a couple of puffs and passed our magnificent torch back to me.  This seemed to please him.  “Wow,” he said with a smile, “You’re a natural.”  And maybe I was…

I’ve never been, what you might call, Normal.  As a child I was both exceptionally intelligent (not that I’m bragging), and unusually Independent.  While most kids were hyper-actively getting into mischief, and begging to stay up late, I was diligently watching educational television, and saying things like, “I’m tired, I’m gonna go to bed now.”  I was blessed also, with both a questioning nature and a unique perception of the world around me.

When I was six years old I learned the truth about Santa Claus, and with that startling disillusionment, I subconsciously decided to never again trust anything but my own experience.  I think I was about seven years old when I began questioning the existence of God.  By age ten I had already come to the dire conclusion that there is no God, and that all of us are doomed to endure the misery of life without the promise of some eternal reward.  Its not terribly surprising then that when I read my older sister’s “Health” book I found the whole idea of using substances to bend (or possibly break) the cruel bonds of reality to be rather appealing.  And so it was, that the following year (at the ripe age of eleven) I jumped at my first opportunity to “get high.”

After completing my course in joint smoking, and finishing what seemed (at the time) to be the best tasting pizza I ever had, I reluctantly returned to my friends house.  Where a trio of somewhat familiar, albeit angrily confused, voices were looking for answers.

Where the FUCK(!) have you been? – What took you so long? – Where’s the pizza? – What’s wrong with you? – Did you get the food? – What happened? – What the hell? – What’s on your face? – Is that… blood?!

The fashionable red smear that I wore below my left eye was in fact blood.  A few minutes earlier (due to an unexpected loss of coordination) I had effortlessly succeeded in falling down the stairs that ascended to my friend’s apartment.  It was then that my scarlet pet was born near my elbow, and although it almost immediately ran down my arm to my palm (Where it waited patiently for the “O.K.” from my fingertips to jump to the floor) it had somehow managed to leave a footprint on my cheek.  But, sadly, none of the voices ventured to ask whether or not I was all right.  Which, surprisingly, I was.

I didn’t feel any pain.  I didn’t feel guilty, or scared, at all.  I was warm, my skin felt as though it were pleasantly vibrating, and the whole world seemed to be a little brighter.  I actually felt quite good, and would have been totally content were it not for the overwhelming, and altogether pestering, noise that welcomed me.

Their voices were harsh and angry, and maybe they had every right to be, but their tone offended me just the same. So it was in the same uncaring tone that my mouth ventured to silence them.  Before I even had time to think of some kind of excuse, my disobedient mouth offered its own attempt: “I got jumped.”

For a moment after those rebel words had fled from the prison gates that were my lips, my brain was upset that it had not been consulted beforehand.  However, upon closer inspection of their witty escape route my brain found it to be quite fitting.  I was, after all, standing there penniless, pizza-less, bleeding, and reeking of skunk-like smoke and sweat, staring into the eyes of my justified accusers from beneath my half-fallen lids.  I looked like dog-shit, and my appearance only made my ruse that much more believable.

“Really?” asked one of my falsely concerned judges.  “No,” I said. And then, with the help of that cunning magician sarcasm, I mystically transformed the truth into a seemingly impossible irony; “I got high with your neighbor and ate the pizza, that’s why I’m bleeding.”  I answered the barrage of questions that followed with incoherent babbling that I couldn’t remember if I tried.  But whatever I said seemed to do the trick and I was soon left alone to collapse onto the couch and casually drift into unconsciousness.

When I awoke my eyes argued with the sun for a moment before I felt the icy-chill of early morning guilt.  The realization that I had lied, stolen, and betrayed my friends, in order to get high made me feel very cold, and I began wondering what happened to the warm blanket of indifference that I had fallen asleep under.  My eyes immediately accused the sun, but my heart knew that it was the clock that had taken my psychedelic comforter at some point during the night.  I decided to leave before my conscience forced me to confess.

My eyes fought with the sun all the way back to my house.  By the time I arrived all the noise had given me a headache.  So I laid down on my bed to think.  I laid there staring at the ceiling, contemplating the universe for hours. In the end, I was glad that I had been inducted into the senate of altered states, by a long-haired stranger, who I’d shared a stolen pizza with.  No, I wasn’t sorry at all. In fact, it seemed almost perfect.  I decided that I wanted to get high again…  soon…  higher. How ever, it was three years later, after being forced out of my home by gang-bangers, that I became a full blown pot-head.