Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

The Desire For Exclusion

The first time I drank a whole beer was at the party after the senior prom. I didn't go to the prom itself, but was persuaded to attend the party -- a long story, that -- at the very end of the school year. And so I found myself drinking five "pony" Michelobs, observing my classmates and their dates -- including the astonishingly hot Sylvie, my friend John's younger sister -- operating under varying degrees of influence, and staying up all night for the first time when I didn't have a deadline.

As innocent of sin as I was, however, I had long nurtured a fantasy of myself as someone with a taste for exotic intoxication. Shortly after I started at Queen Anne School in the seventh grade, I entered a phase in which The Beatles were my sole musical fixation. I listened to their records over and over and I read as much as I could about their career. I was particularly fascinated with the band's psychedelic era, which began in the wake of Rubber Soul and petered out around the time of the so-called White Album.

At some point during the intense misery of seventh grade, I began to picture myself in a boat on a river, staring up at the marmalade skies. That was 1980-1981, the year of the hostage crisis, when the burnt-out shell of the Sixties was torn down to make way for the urban redevelopment plan of the Eighties. But there were still reminders of a time that both frightened and fascinated me. A number of the seniors in the school still looked like the pot-smoking longhairs that had scared me when I was in elementary school and had to accompany my mother to PTA meetings at Palisades High School. And that's because, as I later found out from my friend Roy, they were pot-smoking longhairs.

The year before I arrived, Roy's older brother Glenn had been part of a contingent that held a bong hit contest as a fundraiser for the class trip and didn't feel it necessary to keep that fact a secret. 1980-1981 wasn't that wild, but the Student Council President was a hard-partying slacker that the school's administration grudgingly tolerated.

All that changed at the start of my eighth grade year. A number of seniors were expelled from the school for smoking pot in the first month of school. Suddenly the dress code was being enforced and short hair was the order of the day. But it was that turning of the tide that served as the inspiration for my fantasy. The grave voices of teachers discussing the expulsions, the stricken look of the remaining seniors, the way the scrutiny of the powers that be was now palpably upon all of us -- they turned me on.

Still miserable beyond belief -- or at least what I can believe myself capable of putting up with today -- I began to daydream of the day when I, too, would be "disappeared" from campus. And so, my Beatles phase still in mind, I gradually hashed out the details of a fantasy in which I would be expelled from school for having a trunk full of LSD.

Mind you, I didn't even know what form LSD came in. I couldn't even visualize a trunk of it. Nevertheless, the fantasy persisted, through the ups and downs of the desert floor I traversed in my passage from seventh grader to twelfth grader. In the end, I was able to replace this impossible-to-realize dream with one I could make real, in which I was able to expel myself from the school through the power of imagination, by writing something for the last issue of our school news magazine -- that's what the long story hinges on -- and doing what I could to absent myself from other school activities.

And then I gave in and tried to experience a "normal" high school graduation after all. Instead of disappearing completely from my classmates' lives as I had planned, I found myself nursing those beers -- I still remember how unpleasant they tasted -- and waiting for the sun to rise. By the time I made it home, my parents and sister were gone. I grabbed a blanket and went to sprawl on the backyard lawn, wondering if I had managed to get a hangover or not. I distinctly remember musing on my expulsion fantasy as I lay there, being annoyed by the heat and humidity, blades of grass poking through the blanket and my clothes to remind me why one doesn't sunbathe in a Maryland summer unless one is at the beach.
Tags: autobiography, home, memory
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