“What a long strange trip it’s been” is undoubtedly the most tritely overused high school yearbook quote of all time. Plus, four years in high school is neither particularly long nor is it particularly strange. On the other hand, 12 years in college punctuated by an arrest, two years in prison, a raging heroin addiction, a suicide attempt, a broken back (from said attempt), a marriage and divorce (both while in jail), and a three-year suspension — well, that does qualify as both long and strange. Yesterday, though, I finally handed in the final exam for the very last class that I need to graduate.
When I started college at Rutgers in 2002, I never imagined that it would take me so long to finish. But … shit happens. Initially, I took some time off to earn money and figure things out. But “figuring things out” ended up being a euphemism for getting high. After a few years of occasional part-time semesters and sporadic part-time work, I decided to transfer to Cornell. I had sort of hoped that would help me hit the reset button and pull myself back together. Instead, lonely and depressed, I jumped off a bridge and broke my back after the first semester. During the recovery process, I just delved deeper into drugs and when I finally returned to college sans back brace, I had a heavy habit and school became a juggling act of missed deadlines and less often missed veins. Despite that, I generally maintained good grades and was finally poised to graduate when I got arrested in 2010. After two years in prison, I was released in 2012 and Cornell readmitted me for the spring semester of 2014. This past spring, I completed an independent study and an incomplete from before my arrest. (It turns out that completing a paper you started four years ago while high and now have few notes for because most of them were stolen when looters took everything you owned after your arrest is not as easy as one might hope.) Then, during the summer semester, I enrolled in a class about prisons. It was a fitting and deeply symbolic ending to difficult undergraduate career — a career that, at many points, it didn’t look like I’d live long enough to finish.
I didn’t plan to be an addict and I certainly didn’t plan to screw up my life beyond all recognition. But, like I said before, shit happens. Fortunately, recovery also happens. Just over a week ago I celebrate 3.5 years sober. Friday I finished my last class. Monday I start full-time work at a job that I love. Perhaps more importantly, I’ve learned to be happy and to love the life I live instead of wondering about the one that could have been.
It’s been a long, strange trip, and certainly one that I couldn’t have made on my own. I had a wonderful lawyer (sometimes public defenders can be really great, it turns out). He was both a qualified lawyer and a cool person. I had an understanding dean and a couple of amazingly supportive professors. After my release, I was incredibly lucky to find employers who would give me a chance — and particularly lucky to find one who has also become a close friend. Most of all though, I couldn’t have begun to put my life back together without my amazing, supportive, and incredibly forgiving parents.