Spring 1985 exploded in technicolor.
The sky seemed bluer, the grass greener, the girls prettier.
The winter had been the darkest I had known. I was depressed. I had dropped out of college a year earlier to care for my younger brothers and sisters after my mother had a debilitating stroke. I was 19 and felt like I was 40. I was trying to manage my mother's $400 per month disability check from Social Security to feed, clothe and house the family. Everyone was drinking or drugging from my mother on down to my 12 year old brother. The darkness culminated on March 27th when my 45 year old Aunt Rosie died of a burst brain aneurysm, the same thing that had handicapped my mother. The day we buried her was a quintessential day in Boston for a funeral, cold, windy and overcast. The next day was sunny and in the 80's causing the leaves to burst from their buds. Spring had come just in time.
Spring has always had an energizing effect on my psyche. This spring I was downright manic. When my mother had her stroke I had to sell my car to pay back student loans that came due the day I left school. When my aunt passed we "borrowed" her car. (My Uncle Mac and my Grandmother who lived with my aunt had no use for a drivers license living in Boston and using public transportation their whole lives). After not having a car for a year, being able to go out your front door and drive anywhere is like being an ex-con who can drop the soap in the shower with out worry. Relief and liberation.
Having a vehicle made it easier to bring my mother to doctors appointments and grocery shopping. It also enhanced my social life (its easier to date when you can pick up a girl in your car insted of her riding on your handle bars). I had turned 20 on March 1st which made me legal to drink in Massachusetts; I was grandfathered in when they turned the drinking age from 18 to 21. I was legal and had a vehicle. I spent the next month maniacally shaking off the fog of winter. My buddies and I were taking advantage of my new found mobility partying everywhere from Stockbridge to Boston.
One night in late April I received a phone call from a friend, Tom Sogard, I had worked with at Camp Howe in Goshen, Massachusetts. After catching up on things he proposed that I join him on a cross country trip. I told him that I was broke, but he insisted that I could borrow the dough and either pay it back when I had it or work it off at his brothers hotel in Killington Vermont. I had a little buzz going and the thought of escaping the previous years hell made it easy to say yes without considering any consequences. He told me he'd drive down from Vermont in the morning and we could make our preparations. I hung up with him and there was a knock on my door. My friend Jimmy was at the door with news of a kegger down on the Connecticut River. We smoked a bowl and headed for the kegger. Within minutes of my phone conversation I forgot about the impending trip.
The night was typical. Drunkeness. Talking to girls. Trying to hook up with girls. Getting shot down by girls. Drinking more to cover up the embarrassment of getting shot down by girls. I headed home about 1 AM. As I drove by my friend Ishmiel's apartment I saw him standing on his porch. He beckoned me with a wave and I pulled over. He invited me in for a game of chess and a bowl. After a few hours we finished our game of chess and our weed. I left my car in front of his house and stumbled across the parking lot to my apartment and passed out on the couch.
I was rudely awakened by a loud knocking on my door. It was 7 AM and I felt like I was still drunk. I pulled myself up off the couch and shuffled over to the door. "Are you ready to go?" Tom bellowed. I stood there with amnesia. I knew I had spoken with him about going somewhere, but where? I feigned lucidity. He came in and sat on the couch. "I figured that we would go to Eastern Mountain Sports to buy a tent a sleeping bags, then we can go to that camera place on Main Street to get slide film, I've got the route planned out. We're going to take the northern route through Niagra..."
He asked me to go across country. I reminded him I had no money and he reminded me that he said it was all set. He wanted to go to get breakfast. I told him I had to shower.
As soon as he left I went to my mother's bedroom and woke her up. I told her about Tom's proposition and surprisingly she thought it was a great idea. She even offered me $200 she had in a savings account she hadn't told me about (I didn't find out until I withdrew the money that the withdrawal left her with $1.98 in that account). I then tracked down the next most responsible sibling in the family, my sister Christine and informed her that she was in charge (my brother Mark who is two years my junior was partying too much, my other sister Deb had moved out to live with another family, sick of the situation and my brother Greg was still only 12). She may or may not have responded, but I didn't care. The torch was passed. That was the point when I felt truly alive; the sense of anticipation was electric. I spent the rest of the day with Tom buying supplies and mapping out our route. We went to bed early, him on the couch, me on the floor. I fell asleep sober that night for the first time in months.
(more to follow)