Thursday   September 4, 1997




The Usual Suspects

The script is coming along. I hit the homestretch today: I'm into Act Four. 15 or so pages to FADE OUT and the end of it...and then right back into it for the rewrites.

It's called "Beginner's Luck" and it deals with going back and doing things over again. It's got me thinking about my own past. Like everyone, I'm sure, there are a lot of things I'd change if I had it all to do over. I'd work harder in school, I'd try to be happier, I'd not say the silly little thing that hurt my mother when I was nine that I still regret 25 years later, I'd skip the green-striped polyester pants I wore exclusively in 5th grade... I'd do a lot of things differently. But there's one thing I wouldn't change -- only I don't know when it was.

I was a troubled kid. I don't know why, but I acted out in a lot of very strange, very troubling ways. I was fine right up until about age nine, when we moved to Florida, but then things got really weird in my head. I started doing poorly in school and became very shy and withdrawn and became someone I don't remember or like very well. My troubles eventually led me to alcoholism (which, strangely enough, I think began to lead me out of it) and drug abuse and run-ins with the law. And somewhere in the late stages of those strange times, I came to a fork in the road and, as the saying goes, I took it. I don't know where or when or what that fork was, but it was a crucial moment. One road would have led me into (he said dramatically) darkness, while the other led to where I am today.

The construction on that intersection must have started when I dropped out of high school in my senior year and then moved out on my own at 18. I moved into a "fraternity house" that had been excommunicated from the local community college, and that's where I learned to drink. This house was little more than a drinking club for its members, and boy, could they put it away. And so could I. I remember a couple of meetings where the assembled alcoholics that were my brothers told me that I was drinking too much. I was, but I was also changing. I was casting off the old me and learning to become someone else. I was remaking myself. I started to become more outgoing, found out I was funny, stopped being so damned self-conscious. It was the beginning of who I am today. But there were still problems.

I'd been arrested twice for shoplifting by this time, and now that I was drinking that provided more opportunities to get up close and personal with the boys in blue. I was arrested three times for drunk driving before I finally wised up. I was also irresponsible, which led to another arrest for outstanding parking tickets. I couldn't get pulled over without ending up in handcuffs. The booking officer down at the jail knew me on sight.

But on the bright side there was college. The drinking was escalating, but things were getting better anyway. I wanted to take a class in radio production but they weren't offering it that semester, so I took a journalism class instead. I loved journalism, I loved working on the school paper. I loved it so much that I went to this two year school for four years, writing for the paper the whole time. Finally, for the first time in my life, I'd found something I was good at. And I was still reinventing myself. I was with people who didn't know who I'd been, only who I was. They thought so much of me that they made me Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper.

When I finally moved on from the paper I started doing drugs -- coke and meth -- and went through a lot of the typical shit that brings on, but by that point most of my problems were addiction related, not the stuff from my childhood. I got sober at 24 (January was 10 years) and spent the next couple of years subconsciously working through what was left of the childhood problems. With the help of a therapist I finally put the last -- and worst -- of it to bed just a few months ago. I'm not who I used to be anymore and that makes me very glad.

Even sitting down and putting it down like this, going through it piece by piece as I haven't done in a long time, I still can't pinpoint where that deciding moment was. All I know is that I came upon it somewhere in the fog of alcohol, which was not a short span of time. But as bad as things were for me then, they could have been much, much worse. I know in my heart that if I'd chosen the other road I'd be in prison now, or dead.

That choice is the one thing I would never change.





Copyright 1997
Chuck Atkins