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During my lifetime, there have only been a few incidents which have left lasting ramifications upon me. Moments which have given me an insight into how another may live in emotional poverty, or times when I have truly gained perspective on an aspect of life. These times will be permanently embedded in my memory - and whether it be the heaven from that I cannot be torn from, or the hell from which I cannot escape, I have learnt to accept them. Maybe, someday, I might even discover the full potential for knowledge hidden within.
On the 29th November 2006, another of these incidents occurred. It was not pleasant; it has effected dozens of people and temporarily destroyed lives. But I feel that many people learnt a valuable life lesson that day - and at least, that what happened was not in vain.
It started innocently enough. I do not claim to be perfect; I do not even strive to be perfect, and therefore I am not ashamed to admit that I make mistakes. I am a teenager, we are a breed of animals specifically designed to steal, lie and drink. Through years of misunderstanding and prejudice society is finally learning to accept this. Admittedly, stereotypes are now forming - but you cannot win every battle. Friday nights, for me, mainly involve forgetting of the traumas of the past week, leaving coursework and school behind, and going out and having a good time. Having a good time usually involves alcohol, members of the opposite sex, and seedy little street corners; but predominantly alcohol. And this is where our story begins.
What happened was not particularly a planned event; it had come about through a slightly hyperactive joint conversation with a few friends and I on msn messenger. It was mutually agreed that we would all bring alcohol to school the next day. I have no idea from who this conception originated, or even why, but like many things It seemed a brilliant idea at the time.
Before departing for school the following morning I had raided my parents beverage cabinet and come across a large bottle of sickly strong smelling alcohol. In German it read 'rum.' Having never tasted rum before, and being late for school, I had simply grabbed it in a frantic rush and left. Had I taken more time to investigate I may have noticed that the date on this particular bottle read '1784.' I may also have noticed the alcohol content. But I didn't take the time, and this was my first mistake.
I had ascended the stairs to the second floor of my school that wednesday morning, with a slight but noticeable anticipation for the day's events. I was also aware that my first lesson was ICT, and so it was grudgingly and unwillingly that I had taken a seat and awaited the arrival of our teacher. During this time I had made enquiries into who else had brought something. It was then that I learned that only a few other people had bothered. Some had forgotten, and the others had simply decided it was not worth the risk. Ironically, these people later turned out to have no problem in consuming what had been brought by myself and others. I had endured the rest of the lesson in a slightly disappointed manor, naively thinking that two bottles of rum and a half bottle of vodka wouldn't be enough to cause any more than a slight bit of fumbling and laughter.
Lessons had dragged on for another hour or so, before the bell had signaled the beginning of break. Only now did what we had brought begin to be consumed. We had taken small sips during lessons, but every time it had passed our lips and swirled down our throats we had been close to retching, and afraid that the continues coughing and spluttering might attract attention, we had limited ourselves. Outside, and yet amazingly still within the view of a teacher, we had bravely passed the bottles out among ourselves. At this point six or seven people had taken at least moderate amounts of the liquid, and several people were on the verge of being intoxicated.
The remainder of the day, prior to lunch break, was somewhat screened by a drunken blur. The recent pledge not to drink too much during lessons had been forgotten, and the liquid encased in the bottle had slowly begun to disappear. With each sip our behavior was becoming less dignified, and questions were beginning to arise among staff concerning the way we were acting.
Within two hours, the remaining amount in the first bottle had been reduced to around ¼. Despite the fact that ¾ of a bottle may not appear to be much, I later discovered what alcohol percentage the rum contained and I can tell you that this amount of rum is equivalent to roughly 5 bottles of strong bow cider. We had also been simultaneously drinking vodka.
Lunch was a welcome break from schooling that we, in our current condition, could not possibly take advantage of. It was spent consuming even more alcohol, and then, in a desperate attempt to sober up before last period (which was taught by a very observant teacher) by draining our finances on store bought sandwiches and filling our stomachs.
It was during the last 10 minutes of lunch break, and the hour that followed, that events began to take place. It was during that time that the severity of the situation began to dawn on me, and it was during that time I saw the consequences develop before my eyes.
After realizing that the bell had rung to call students back to lessons, a few friends and I had taken refuge behind a large oak tree to avoid participating in an hour long lecture on geographical locations. Soon after, we were greeted by no less than twenty other students, one of whom was already off her head. Light hearted conversation followed, before a dare was issued. It was relatively simple; the aim being to down as much alcohol as possible in the space of less than thirty seconds. Samantha, a friend of mine, had decided to take it upon herself to accept the dare. I remember her placing the bottle to her lips and tilting it so that sparkling brown liquid gushed past her tongue, down her throat. I remember being thrilled as the contents of the bottle rapidly disappeared, I remember shouts of encouragement. And that was it… We had both walked away from there and I never expected anything more to come of it.
A small percentage of the group stayed behind at the tree, but the majority, including Samantha and I proceeded to lessons. We took the route which runs behind the school to avoid confrontation with any members of staff. At this point I was beginning to notice how instantaneous the effects of the alcohol were on Samantha, but I chose to ignore it. Whilst we were walking, the bottle of rum was still being passed around, for we considered ourselves safe in this part of the school. Oblivious to us, a teacher had noticed our strange behavior and was following us. It was only when a voice from behind startled us, by asking what the contents of the bottle were that made an attempt to scatter. By then another teacher was awaiting our arrival by the main entrance, and a few people, including myself, did not manage to get away. When questioned, we managed to deceive staff with an acceptable story conceived between us. And so, despite the slightly incriminating evidence (I was caught with the bottle in my hand) we were sent to class with a promise that further questioning would follow later in the day.
On our way back to class, we discovered Samantha in the corridor. Within the time frame of less than five minutes her state of mind had visibly deteriorated. She appeared disorientated and her language had become unrecognizable. I was informed by someone who had been in her company during the time we had been apart that she had recently fallen over, as though she had fainted. Despite the fact that I was becoming increasingly worried, we were now twenty minutes late for class, and after forcing a few mutual friends in her form to promise that they would look after her, we left.
Geography passed slowly that day, it was not the topic that bored me, nor was it the method of teaching that had had me uninterested. But my mind was buzzing, I was manipulating myself into the disbelief that anything serious would come of what had happened, and at the same time fully acknowledging how ridiculously frightening the situation was. Around ten minutes after our arrival, Lindsey (one of the people who had accompanied me in providing alcohol) was called downstairs. A note was left in her name asking me to give chewing gum to another person who had been drinking, to mask the smell. The note was almost immediately confiscated, and later handed to a member of staff more involved in the situation. Soon after Lindsey's prompt departure, the very same member of staff returned to collect me. After being handed the note she also removed the student who had been implicated from lessons. During the entire ordeal she remained solemnly quite, speaking only to inform me of the fact that I stank of alcohol. Once we were out of earshot of the class she looked sternly into my eyes and spoke five simple words. Never have five words had such an effect on my future (apart from maybe 'lets have another baby babe'.) Never have five words caused such physiological hardship. 'An ambulance has been called.' My world came crashing down.
I was lead hurriedly down the corridor, down the stairs, into the main foyer. I couldn't take in what was happening. Lindsey and a few other students were sitting in silence there, hushed and frightened. No-one could bear to look at me; I couldn't bear to look at them. Words seemed to pass through me, like I couldn't make myself believe that this was reality, and I had caused it.
As I mentioned earlier, times like these will rarely escape permanent memory. But to be more specific, I think it is mainly a certain moment during the ordeal which makes the memory so distinctive. In this case, that moment would be when Samantha passed me. That moment would be when the fresh aroma of vomit met my nostrils, and the sound of panic-stricken voices met my ears. I will never forget that moment. How her face was soaked in tears, how her head rolled, and her lifeless body hung from the chair. How her lips moved so softly as if she was whispering, when surely she should have wanted to shout. 'Im dreaming, im dreaming.'
After that, I don't remember much. I went into a state of shock. I remember trying to reach for her, how I tried to scream at the paramedics to make her well. But firm hands held me back, and my voice refused to obey me. I know that the same question was being repeated over and over - 'Did you put any substance into that drink apart from alcohol?' I know that they meant drugs. But apart from that, everything seemed unreal to me.
What seemed like hours passed before I woke from that state of shock. During that time I had been questioned by members of staff, by the police, and by the paramedics numerous times. They all wanted to know the same thing, whether I had spiked her drink. By now hundreds of rumors were floating around the school, and it had turned into an epidemic. Friends and family of the effected were desperately searching for answers, and medical tests were being carried out on all who had consumed the drink.
Because the story had spread so quickly, the facts had been distorted. And therefore people believed that I had intentionally harmed her. For my safety I was lead into an office, where the doors were locked. Ignorant to the staff, other students who had also been involved were also in danger. I believe that it was one specific fight that started it off, but soon a riot had spread between the corridors of the ground floor, and it was only after numerous assaults had taken place that it was controlled. Despite the shouting, it was only when the door was hastily opened and closed to allow a few more people in that I became aware of it. After it had become apparent that a gang was waiting for us at the gates, the school decided that it would be in our best interests if we were escorted home by police and questioned further on a later date.
As soon as I arrived home, I collapsed. The entire day had drained me of my spirit, and after throwing up twice (whether out of drunkenness or nerves) I still did not feel any better. My parents advised that I should call a doctor, just to check, especially after the effects the alcohol had on Samantha, but I refused. Instead confining myself to my room and wallowing in self pity. At that moment in time I was actually uncertain as to whether Samantha would live or die. For the next few hours I just hovered, trance like, staring out of the window, hoping, fearing, willing myself to fall asleep. Finally, at approximately 5:30pm on Wednesday 29th November - I received a phone call from Samantha's family. This in itself was an act of human kindness. They informed me that she was going to be ok, and that they would call me back the next day with further information. I put the receiver down, and, overwhelmed with relief, fell asleep.
The days that followed were days of hardship. I am currently suspended because of the incident, and am awaiting an interview with the police. Yesterday - I returned to school for a meeting regarding my future. It is still uncertain. I know for a fact that there are people who want me gone for good, students and members of staff alike. I made a mistake, but I learnt something that day, I learnt the value of life, and how close you can come to loosing it in the space of a second. I learnt the dangers of alcohol, and that it should be respected for those dangers - and for that, I am grateful.
Principles are complicated things. Before Wednesday I would have defended alcohol. I would have excused the dangers on behalf of the fact that it is used for entertainment sake, that life is for enjoying. Life taught me when to stand my ground and fight for something, but seeing Samantha in that wheelchair taught me when to walk away. How can I defend something, when it could so easily have taken someone from me, when it does - on a daily basis steal mothers from their children and children from their futures. In the words of Will Smith - "Never lie, steal, cheat, or drink. But if you must lie, lie in the arms of the one you love. If you must steal, steal away from bad company. If you must cheat, cheat death. And if you must drink, drink in the moments that take your breath away."
*Please note that names have been changed to protect those involved.*