Independence Day

Independence Day

From Chicken Soup for the College Soul

Independence Day

I can still hear our prepubescent voices calling out to one another in the camp’s swimming pool. Back in the days when getting our ears pierced and owning Cavarichis determined whether we were cool, the closest we came to cigarettes was fake smoking with pretzels.

We were children who thought we knew everything but really knew very little. Stubborn, we believed the New Kids on the Block and Vanilla Ice were the coolest groups around and couldn’t fathom our tastes ever changing, ourselves ever changing.

The years passed. We graduated from high school and went off to different colleges, where we did change. Some of us became vegans, others atheists. We changed our majors, from Spanish to communications to international relations . . . and some of us began toweling our doors so the RAs wouldn’t detect we were doing hands-on experiments for our drugs and human behavior class.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that my childhood friends have grown up to smoke everything that doesn’t smoke them first. I remember my elementary school had a representative from D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) come and warn us against the dangers of drug use. He explained about everything from shooting heroin to huffing common household products. Apparently his warnings backfired, for I recollect one of my classmates inhaling a bottle of Wite-Out during recess.

It’s not that I expected everything to stay the same. In fact, I welcomed change and was eager to go off to college and begin a new life. I knew some of my friends and I would grow apart, but I never could have predicted how I would feel when I saw one of them snorting coke.

I was visiting a friend at her college and had become aware of changes in her since high school. She now smoked like a chimney, which was actually mild in comparison to the other toxins she routinely put in her body. As she lit up her zillionth cigarette of the day, I made a cancer comment to which she rolled her eyes and flippantly responded, “Well, I guess if I ever get suicidal, I’ll be well on my way.”

We were in one of her friends’ off-campus houses, and, just like the movies, white powder was carefully laid along a mirror and cut with a razor. I was offered a line but shook my head no and watched in shock as my chain-smoking friend expertly snorted one.

Minutes later, bustling with energy, she rambled, “People think cocaine is a really big deal, but now you see it’s not. I’m just really happy and alive right now, that’s all.”

I felt sick to my stomach seeing her like this and hightailed it out of there, spending the night with a friend who had also declined the drug. Personally, I have found cocaine to be especially terrifying ever since childhood, when I read a Sweet Valley High book in which one of Elizabeth Wakefield’s friends tries coke at a party and dies of a heart attack. If the writers intended to scare children away from coke while they were still impressionable, they sure accomplished that with me.

I think how we’ve changed and why we’ve changed since going off to college, and I’ve realized some things. Peer pressure is not like an after-school special where a group of bad kids with a joint surround a younger, smaller kid, saying, “Come on, don’t be a chicken. Try it! You know you want to.” It’s more the internal pressure of feeling like a loser for being scared and wondering whether it can really be that bad if your friends are all doing it.

When you’re living on your own for the first time, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment. (Just look at the number of college girls flocking to the health center Monday morning for the morning-after pill.) A part of me wants to believe drugs really aren’t that big a deal, that you’re only young once and yada, yada, yada. But then I see the death tolls of kids my age and sometimes younger. And it scares me—it really does. I see the flashing lights of ambulances, and it seems kind of ironic that drinking oneself into alcohol toxicity is how we try to show our independence.

When it comes down to it, living on your own is about making decisions—not always the right ones, but, hopefully not so many wrong ones that you lose your chance.

Natasha Carrie Cohen

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