Excerpt from Chapter 6 – College Drowned, er, Bound

rick-1969-smIn September, Angela [my girlfriend and soon to be fiancée] began her senior year at Immaculate Conception, and I began my freshman year at Memphis State University as a pre-med student. I decided my lack of mechanical skills wouldn’t be a detriment, because I had no intention of becoming a surgeon. Practicing medicine, in the most blood-free, death-free specialty I could find, seemed at least as good a job as selling insurance or being an accountant. I didn’t particularly want to be a doctor; I wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t know any full-time writers, and it didn’t occur to me to ask the university admissions counselor. Writing seemed to be frivolous, risky, and low paying, so I packed my dreams of literary glory away. Medicine would have to do.

Then, there came a thunderbolt of devastating news. I was just days away from starting classes, when Angela told me she wanted to stop seeing me and date other people. She made this decision at the behest of her friend Cathy. Helpful Cathy set up a blind date for Angela, and she wanted to go on the date. Her decision stunned me. I never saw it coming. I couldn’t breathe. I was dizzy and faint. She would give no additional information or answer my questions. She gave my high school ring back to me, walked into her house, and out of my life.

Panicky, I got in my car, went to the store and bought some beer—a lot of it, and started drinking. I stayed drunk all weekend, and the next thing I remembered, my mother and father were pulling me out of the shrubberies next to our front porch. I had spent the night sleeping in a bush, because that was where I fell when I came home the night before. When the three of us got inside, Dad let go for a moment and I fell. Mom screamed, bent over and asked, “Good Lord, are you okay?
I groaned, “Don’t worry, the floor broke my fall.”

There was silence in the house as I cleaned up to go to my Monday morning zoology class. As I stood in the mirror shaving, I hated what looked back. I was terrified, angry, hurt, humiliated, and sad. Every negative emotion was assaulting me. Where was God? How could he let this happen? Did he not remember I was a special, unique, gifted person? Well, I didn’t feel exceptional. I felt like a loser and a chump and a worthless, less-than-a-man failure. I was in this predicament because I was no damn good. Those negative thoughts I had about myself throughout the years were true after all. This, I determined, was why Angela dumped me. I wasn’t good enough, nor would I ever be.

During my first weeks in college, I was in a fog. I joined a fraternity, but felt lost. Angela, whom I loved more than life, had abandoned me, and it was all I could think about or focus on. Neither the discipline nor the structures of my Catholic school education were there, and it didn’t take long for me to learn that class attendance and studying were optional. My grades toward the end of the semester reflected my new-found, academically liberal attitude. Alcohol was beginning to have ongoing, negative effects in my life, too. I was now going to church rarely, and daily prayer was a memory.

Now that I didn’t have a girlfriend, to survive the terrible rejection, though I believed it to be a betrayal, I started dating. These weren’t girls anymore. They were women, and they were mostly from college. Whether they went to my college or cosmetology college, I didn’t care, but there were a lot of them. I went out with two or three different women a week. I thought I was entitled; in reality, I was trying to strike back at Angela, even though she had no knowledge of what I was doing.

Asking women out was easy now, because I drank beer most nights, and some days also. That took away any fear of rejection. I developed a new dating philosophy as well. I asked out the hottest, most beautiful women I could find. I thought, “If I’m going to be turned down and rejected, it might as well be by a hot chick as opposed to a mediocre one.” If it was a slow night, the mediocre ones would do just as well. I was an equal opportunity Lothario.

Angela was a strict Catholic when we dated, which meant she was, and remained a virgin, and although I struggled with it, I loved her enough to respect her wishes and not force her to do something against her will. The women I was now dating weren’t so religiously pious. I had an exciting, lusty time, but after each one, I felt lonely and empty. My behavior was beginning to spiral out of control. Unlike high school where my teachers demanded my homework, class attendance, and good grades, now, my professors didn’t care what I did—and my grades reflected it. There was room in my life for everything but studying. If my course load that semester had been beer, women, fraternity, beer, parties, more women, and tapping beer kegs, I would have made the Dean’s List. Instead, I made the academic probation list.

My drinking grew more unpredictable now, and my behavior began to change when I was drunk. I never thought I was drunk, though. In my mind, drunk meant slurring your words, stumbling around, and not knowing what you were doing. I rarely got like that. By now, I could drink prodigious amounts of alcohol, but I could “hold my liquor” well. The alcohol’s effects didn’t often show physically, but it sure changed my mood. Alcohol changed my thinking and feelings, too, but that’s what I wanted to happen. Alcohol brought me out of my shell, it made me popular, it made me fearless, and it made me happy. I thought, “Why would I not drink?”

Now, however, things were changing, and I was changing. I was becoming a real Dr. Jekyll/Mr. You’d Better Hyde personality. The quandary I faced was that I never knew which character would show up. Most of the time I laughed and cut up with everyone, and I became a notorious flirt. However, if I thought someone was insulting me or challenging me, I could become surly, angry, and violent in an instant, and this had happened several times once I started drinking. If I felt threatened, it was as though an invisible hand turned up the fire under my cauldron of rage. One night, it boiled over–badly.

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