Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Night I Cried Watching "Top Gun"

This "event" actually occurred a couple years ago, when we still watched television. I happened upon a late night showing of the movie "Top Gun" starring Tom Cruise as Maverick, Anthony Edwards as Goose, and the lovely Kelly McGillis as the lovely Charlie, the lovely instructor who captivates Maverick's heart.

Of course I had seen the movie several times over the years. But this night it had a strange effect on me: I started crying. Not like a baby, like a man who has spent decades teaching himself not to cry. (The result of this training, when it fails, is rigor mortis of the facial muscles and a frightening grimace. The grimace may in fact be caused by the unfamiliar burn of tears on the cheek skin. But I digress).

The tears had nothing to do with the death of Goose, who dies when he unsuccessfully ejects from a falling jet fighter. As sad as that scene is, and it is, what broke my tears loose was the realization that I had blown an incredible opportunity in my life.

No, I never had any desire to be a jet fighter pilot. But I wish I had had the desire to do something,  anything as honorable as that when I was growing up. I wish I had believed in something honorable, so much so that I would not have allowed ANYTHING to get in my way.

See, Maverick didn't just decide to be a fighter pilot. He wanted to be the best fighter pilot there was. He wanted to live up to his father's memory, the best pilot in his day, bar none. So Maverick finished high school. I imagine he went through ROTC. Before he could become a pilot, Maverick had to become an officer. So he probably attended the Air Force Academy at Annapolis where he received rigorous military training and obtained a Bachelor of Science degree. Then he could apply for the Top Gun training. Being accepted was not a given! But Maverick was determined, focused, and driven to accomplish his goal. And he did.

He acheived TOP GUN status, the best of the best fighter pilots.
In my high school days there was one thing I applied myself to and I was dedicated, committed, organized and single-minded in accomplishing my goal.

But a "speed-junkie", someone who injects methamphetamine three, four or even five times a day as a lifestyle, is not as honorable as a fighter pilot with a "need for speed".

I took it seriously, though: I was cautious in my acquisition of sufficient quantities of high-quality crystal meth. I was never arrested or even came close. I was never robbed or stabbed or shot in a drug deal gone bad. I dealt with top-of-the-line people in the business for the top-of-the-line product in town. I split the cost and bought in quantities for the best price breaks.

I paid meticulous attention to the fine details of the lifestyle: I used only fresh, clean and sharp U-100 insulin syringes purchased at the pharmacy in packages of 10. I accurately mixed the powder with water and then drew the mixture into the syringe through a rolled-up ball of cigarette filter to make sure I was filtering out any impurities. I almost always used alcohol on a cotton ball to wipe down my inner arm and I was careful about tapping out any air bubbles before shooting.

And despite my lack of chemistry training—I had dropped out of high school at the beginning of 10th grade to dedicate myself to my chosen vocation - partying—I always managed to measure out the correct dose, with an inherent talent for precision: just enough to rush like a bullet to Nirvanna but not enough to blow my heart out through my chest. I was even careful to rotate through my injection sites so as to allow the previous bruise and needle mark to heal unmolested.

Most importantly, I was careful to balance my life: the right dose of fun mixed in to the business of living life. At least in the beginning. I managed to hold on to my job and gain the respect of my co-workers. At least in the beginning. My roommates and I only rarely blew the rent in favor of an eighth-of-an-ounce of crystal.

Ultimately, I ended up living for 2 months in a rent-by-the-week roach-infested motel, rinsing residue from old vials and dull needles for just enough motivation to go flip hamburgers for 8 hours. When I finally escaped the trap and moved back home, it took months for the yellow bruises and needle pricks to heal. It took a couple of years to stop craving the rush. It took a decade to regain my integrity.

See, speed-junkies don't have integrity. They might before that first shot, but not after the second. You still have a choice after the first one: "never again" or, "make mine a double". Take that second one and your life will never be as honorable as it could have been.

So that's why I cried when I watched Top Gun. I made the mistake of comparing myself to Maverick and asking myself, "Why couldn't I have done that?" I hated the answer.

Today, on a daily basis I thank God that he protected me from myself long enough for me to realize that He still thinks of me as a beloved son. And I promise Him that I will do anything to keep my son from ever thinking shooting drugs in a piss-stained men's room stall is okay.