I started off smart, just not that smart
Long before I was searching up the CDC and vape deaths, I was told I was smart. My whole life I’ve been told I’m smart. People say things like “Oh, you’re the smart one. If anyone can figure it out it will be you.” and “You think you’re so smart, you try it.” Simple platitudes from people who don’t care about the outcome for me, want to see me fail, or believe I will eventually succeed.
The thing is, I actually am smart. Not in the way Einstein, Jobs, or Bezos is. I’ve never developed new forms of math, created a world-class company or become a billionaire. I’m smart, not a genius. Systems and interactions come easily to my mind. I retain information in a way that dumbfounds many I come in contact with. But instead of simply rambling about how great I am, let me list some of the things I’ve accomplished that makes me believe I’m smart.
At 14, I was a senior in home high school before I dropped out to work at McDonald’s. For two years I worked there 40+ hours a week for $5.50 and hour. I worked the back booth from 7am till 3pm every day (except for the days I covered my siblings shifts). My mother didn’t trust me to handle my money and confiscated everything I made. The only compensation I got was 2 $1 bills each work day to buy lunch with. Often, I would wait hours after a full shift for my mother to pick me up from work. My mom banned me from leaving (because I was a minor) until she got there. But several times she simply forgot about me until almost closing time (11pm). I eventually had a depressive breakdown at 16 and tried to throw myself from a moving vehicle.
At 17 I had enough and ran away from home. I rode a bicycle 17 miles down a dirt road until I reached Highway 50. I threw the bike over a 10 foot fence and hitchhiked over 100 miles to a friend’s house. It only took my parents a few hours to locate and retrieve me. When my father arrived to pick me up, I got a lecture from my friend’s dad about how “good and hard working” my parents were and how “selfish and petulant” a child I was. For an hour I sat there, berated by this man as my father said nothing.
On the long drive home I told my father “You cannot keep me at the house. Eventually you and mom will look away, fall asleep or otherwise get distracted and I will be gone again. I’ll do it as many times as it takes.” When we got home to my waiting and furious mother, I repeated my mantra. She said “Nobody is willing to take you in. You will just end up giving blowjobs on the street.” I told her that a church friend would and she tossed the phone at me. “So call them up and prove it.” she sneered.
I called my friend and asked for his mom (who was familiar with my situation). When she was on the phone I put it on speaker and asked “My mom says that I can live with you if you are ok with it. Can I please stay at your place?”. Tears welled up in my eyes then and every time I think back to the moment that she said “Absolutely. You are always welcome at my home Adam.” The shock on my mother’s face was palpable and I reveled in it. Minutes later I was on their doorstep with a duffel containing every item I owned.
I worked that summer for a truck wash and saved up everything I could. By fall, I moved in with my older sister. I lived with her, paying rent and working at the truck wash for the next few months. Eventually I scored an opportunity to work while traveling the nation. A family friend owned a mechanical bull company and they needed workers.
I traveled from coast to coast, met celebrities and eventually became the manager of my own team. But I was only 17 and as soon as my mother found out (my sister told her) that I was working out of state, she called up the owner. She threatened to report them as aiding and abetting a runaway if they didn’t bring me back and cut me out. The next day I was back in my home town and unemployed. I paid rent and lived off my saved wages for the next 4 months.
I eventually got my job back at the truck wash and lived with some friends for a bit. When I was weeks from turning 18, I got a call from my grandparents and they offered me a place with them. At first I declined but the next night my roommates put dog shit in my bed as a practical joke. When I returned the favor, I was savagely attacked. The brutal physical assault made me rethink my decisions and a few days later I was on my way to live with my grandparents. I got a job at a McDonalds down the street and lived happily with them for the next couple years.
I went back to school at 20 and earned my diploma. Not my GED, my diploma. I did it so I could enroll in college. I applied to an electrician trade school and was accepted. I moved from Oregon to Florida and excelled at the program. Unfortunately, the school was shut down by the government for misappropriating school funds shortly after I arrived and I never got to finish.
After that, I managed to convince an aeronautics company to hire me on as an airframe build technician. Despite having virtually no interest in aviation, I was smart. Within a year I managed to become the Lead Build Tech for the company’s flagship design. I became a master composite fabricator and designed/built many experimental parts for private and military aircraft. I helped build multiple race planes that went on to win their class in competitions like the Reno Air Races. But the company became a casualty of the 2008 financial collapse. After that, I moved in with my dad for a little bit. I took on some temp jobs to cover the rent he charged me and eventually saved enough to move out. The day I moved to my new apartment, I lost my job and eventually had to move back in with family in a different state.
I thought about joining the military and even took several tests to see where I would fit within the corpse. I did well enough that the Air Force recruiters hounded me for months, and the Navy kept trying to get me to work on Nuclear Subs. I eventually decided against serving for a variety of reasons but I knew I couldn’t work temp jobs forever.
I’m smart enough to get into college
I applied for and was accepted to college 7 times in my early 20’s. Community colleges, state colleges and several for-profit colleges wanted me to attend. My entrance tests showed that I was in the top tier. My math, reading and writing scores were all above 95%. But I was broke. I never earned enough to live and pay for school. I tried to apply for financial aid several times but because I was under 24, I was considered a dependent and legally had to provide my parent’s income information to qualify.
So I did what any smart person in my position would do and asked my parent’s for help. All I asked for was their tax info so I could submit the paperwork. I didn’t ask them to pay for my classes, cosign my loans or anything besides provide me the information I needed to complete the paperwork.
That was the first real time that I began to despise the words “you’re smart”. You see, my parents refused to divulge the info. Before, during and after their divorce, they simply refused to tell me what I needed to know to move forward with my education. So, I wasn’t able to apply for financial aid and had to drop out of every class I qualified for. They always said the same thing when I tried to explain the situation, “You’re smart, you’ll figure something out.”
They were kinda right. I did eventually “figure out” hot to get my financial aid squared away. I had to wait until I was 24 and no longer needed their help. On my 24th birthday I submitted the paperwork and that summer term I enrolled in my first college classes as a community college. By this time my math skills had diminished significantly and I had trouble with basic algebra.
I signed up for classes and even managed to find an apartment across the street from the school. The best part was that my financial aid was high enough to cover the costs. I was married at the time so dorms were not an option. Unfortunately, I had to put the deposit and first month’s rent down before I could move in (A total of $1400). But financial aid doesn’t pay out until weeks after school starts. I could pay them back within a month, it was just wouldn’t arrive in time for me. It felt like a case of bad timing.
So I reached out to my parent’s once again. I explained to them that I would have the money but I needed help for a couple weeks. Both flat refused. My mother told me that she couldn’t help because she was just getting ready to put a down payment on a new million dollar home on a golf course. My father told me that he couldn’t help because he was about to drop tens of thousands of dollars on musicians for his new music CD. So I never got the apartment and had to travel 100 miles a day to attend my first year of classes.
Over the next 4 years I never failed a class. Sure, I quit a few for time and monetary reasons. But I never once actually failed. I earned my associates degree and was accepted to the state college where I also maintained an undefeated record. I took courses as diverse as: Organic Chemistry, Vector Calculus, Constitutional Law, Anthropology of Food, Game Theory, and Surveys of English Literature. Never once did I fail or have to retake a course.
While I never failed, I did end up struggling. I managed to use up most of my financial aid before finishing my bachelors completing prerequisite classes. My goal was to be an engineer but I was running out of funds fast. Then tragedy happened. My aid was delayed and I was forced to pay for my classes out of pocket if I wanted to keep attending. I tried everything I could to work around it but until I came up with $2000 cash for the school, I couldn’t enroll in any more classes.
I was out of options so I swallowed my pride and reached out to my parents again. Two weeks, that was how long I needed to get my funding released and pay them back. But once again, I heard the words that have haunted my adult life “You’re smart. You will come up with something.” they told me. So I dropped out of school, got a job at a printer repair shop down the street and spent the next 2 years working to pay the school back that 2 grand.
I’m just not smart enough to keep a job
When the printer repair shop closed, I found other jobs for a bit. Eventually I managed to get on a team launching a cannabis dispensary. As the assistant manager of the facility, I handled most of the day-to-day operations. But shortly after the shop opened, a new manager was brought on. It only took the new manager a moment to decide she didn’t like me. Within 2 months, she fired me for being a man. I qualified for unemployment and settled out of court with the company afterword. I used the settlement money and state aid to start my own business as an online content producer. Unfortunately, it took me a while to get my first paying client. I worked pro bono for 6 months and despite my best efforts, we lost the apartment.
My wife and I eventually had to move back in with family. This time it was with my grandpa and grandma who had just purchased a small, 3 bedroom home in a nearby city. The day we moved in, I got the call from my first paying client. The pay was minimal but unlimited. So I started working 60-70 hour weeks on my computer. Unfortunately, the relationship with my grandparents deteriorated quickly and less than two months after moving in, my grandpa threatened to shoot me in the face if I set foot back on his property to get my stuff. A police escort ensured that I was able to get what little I had left but I was homeless.
An old friend offered a couch and I took it. Over the next 3 months I worked my ass off, getting more clients, writing on a tablet from McDonald’s or park benches. I uploaded my work through my mobile hotspot and saved every penny I could. By the end of the third month, I managed to save enough for a deposit on a small 3 bedroom house of my own. I was working 80+ hour weeks but I didn’t really complain. I was my own boss, had my own home and was getting ready to start growing my family.
For the next two years I maintained a 40-60 hour work schedule writing for a variety of online outlets about cannabis. As time went on, the work got tougher and tougher but the pay never improved. I never had enough money or energy to advertise, no one I tried to onboard worked out. Then my wife became pregnant with our first (and so far only) child. Six months into the pregnancy, she quit her job and it was on me to make the bills. I bashed my head against the work, trying to make enough to support us but my work started drying up.
When my wife finally had the baby, I began working at night. That way she could be a stay at home mom, taking care of the baby during the day and I could monitor the baby during the night. It went on like that for six months before my biggest client ran out of work for me to do. My income dropped to unsustainable levels and I could no longer make the rent. With no family living nearby and no money, our options were limited. I talked to ever family member I knew and only one had room and was willing to help us out.
So I sold almost everything. My cannabis growing equipment, my computer, my Magic the Gathering cards, my shoes. On the day before we left, I was literally giving my things away for free. The only things I refused to sell were my car, my pipes (nobody wanted to buy them), three sets of clothes, and a china hutch that my grandparents had passed down to my dad and he to me. Whatever didn’t fit in our Buick got packed into a tiny storage shed. Then we made the 1000 mile trip to live with my brother in Southern California. I wouldn’t be able to consume THC openly any more, but my baby and wife would have a roof over their heads.
Or smart enough to get myself out of a rut
Once in SoCal, I purchased a potato of a PC and managed to find a few odd writing jobs. I wrote for some MMA sites, I ghost wrote several books and the occasional cannabis photography gig, I still worked at night to watch the little one and spent months barely seeing even the people I lived with. I managed to save up enough to get my old computer back.
Eventually, even that work died off, nothing replaced it and I fell into a deep depression. Despite having people in the house, language barriers and inner-familial drama made it difficult to even have a conversation. So to keep my mind occupied (and hopefully bring in SOMETHING), I re-enrolled in University. But instead of traditional classes, I enrolled in accelerated online courses. I was able to transfer some of my previous credits and a 4 year IT degree was only projected to take me 2 years to complete. The only caveat is that I wouldn’t have enough time or energy to work a job and get good grades. After talking to everyone in the house about the situation, I got the green light and started my coursework.
My wife didn’t want to go back to school but she realized we needed more money in the house. My Navy doctor brother bought his first house at this time and we all moved in. He needed help with the mortgage but my Father-in-Law (FIL) promised to make up whatever my brother couldn’t pay. Together they obtained a massive home a little ways outside LA and we all moved in. But it didn’t take long for my FIL’s poor money habits to rear their ugly head. Months after my brother signed the papers, my FIL announced that he was moving to Europe.
When my FIL decided to abandon the family and move to Europe, it looked like we were going to lose the house. So my wife enrolled in a nursing certificate program. Once she completed the program she started working at a senior care facility. Her entire first paycheck (and every paycheck since) went to mortgage, internet and other utilities. Despite the long hours and menial pay, she managed to be the difference in paying the rent.
While my wife completed her certificate program and began working, I became the main child caregiver for our daughter. After nearly a year and a half of life, I finally got to spend daytime with her. It’s hard to be depressed when you have a 1 year old smiling at you. But instead of being the start of something great, it quickly became even more isolating. My wife was now gone most of the day and almost every hour I wasn’t caring for her I was working at the computer or sleeping. I managed to get some recreation time when everyone else was asleep but with so little money, I couldn’t afford to get anything new. So I played video games.
With hundreds or even thousands of hours racked up on the video games I did have and no way to obtain more, I started vaping more. I still didn’t have much money so I had to do my best to make whatever we did have go as far as possible. The cheapest method for consuming THC on the down low for me turned out to be vaping. So I purchased the cheapest vape cartridges I could find and used them to help me ignore the growing isolation I felt. It only took a couple months before disaster struck.
One day I woke up at midnight with a burning belly and an odd sensation in my neck. After simultaneously puking and shitting myself, I started experiencing extreme hot and cold flashes. I didn’t sleep that night and the next day I started feeling worse. I had no fever but also no appetite and my neck felt like someone was slowly choking me. I couldn’t get enough air and I realized something was truly amiss when I broke into a panting sweat peeling an orange for my baby girl’s breakfast. I checked my O2 intake later with my wife’s nursing equipment and saw that I was at 87% and had a heart rate over 120 at rest.
I am smart enough to know when I’m fucked
I was in a bad spot and nobody was there for me to communicate my distress with. I tried to tell my wife, but she was so tired from working extra long that day that it didn’t register. As we got into bed that night I tried to explain that I was really sick but she fell asleep before I finished my first sentence. Realizing that I was virtually alone, I began to think about my options. The words of my parents came back to me that day “You’re smart, you’ll figure something out.”.
Well, I am smart. Maybe not a genius, but smart enough to connect some dots. I began researching my symptoms online. The pressure in my neck was where I started and by the end of the night it seemed like I had an infection or thyroid cancer. Given that I had no fever, no respiratory congestion and only some of the symptoms of thyroid cancer, I determined I didn’t have the right answer yet. As my wife woke up to go back to work, I told her through gasping breaths what I had learned. “Jesus.” was her reply before she had to get ready and leave for work. I spent the whole next day at the computer, looking for something that covered all my symptoms but nothing else.
I eventually found my way to the Center for Disease Control’s website looking at info on the recent string of vaping related deaths. I had every symptom they listed and nothing they didn’t. I fit every parameter they listed. So I put my vape down and spent the rest of the day in bed. It was almost impossible to stay conscious at that point. I kept drifting off and had no energy to even lift my head. Through the; delirium, the hot and cold sweats, and the growing pressure on my windpipe, I did my best to care for my little girl until her mom got back from work that evening.
Believing that I was affected by the mysterious vaping disease, I decided to experiment on myself. I put down the vape and refused to use it. I expected that if I was right, stopping vaping would shortly lead to an improvement in my condition. With nobody consistently there to monitor my health and me being terrified to rack up emergency room bills, I committed to giving myself four days away from the vape.
I spent the next two days in bed, unable to even sit up in a chair without feeling like I was running a marathon. But the longer I went without vaping, the better I felt. I then had my wife begin taking my vitals and she saw how whacked out they were. Instead of my normal blood pressure, I was hypertensive. Instead of getting 95-99% of my oxygen I was barely reaching 90%. Instead of my normal 68 bpm, my heart never dropped below 120, despite being still for hours before. I felt like I was dying of suffocation but nobody else seemed to think it was more than a flu or maybe some pneumonia.
Slowly over the next few days, I began to improve. My blood pressure went back down, my oxygen levels started creeping back to 93% and my heart slowed to only 90bpm. My hot and cold sweats became less intense and common. My fingers stopped tingling and I was able to speak in complete sentences without gasping for air. After 4 days without the vape, I was able to walk down the single flight of stairs without having to stop. The pressure around my neck still hasn’t gone away but it stopped progressing.
I didn’t dodge a bullet, the thing hit me and hit me hard. But I was smart enough to know what to look for and able to learn how to deal with it. Now I’m faced with a new challenge. I’m still isolated, still penniless and still sick. The lack of THC in my system has left me with a brain that is more active than before but still just as flawed. The problem is that I’m still in the same mental and socioeconomic boat I was in before my lungs crapped out on me. It’s just compounded by the fact that I may have permanently damaged my lungs and heart.
I need help. I need human interaction. I need something more to live for. But more than that, I have nothing to occupy my mind and distract me from the solitary situation I find myself in. My games are mind numbingly dated, my child can’t put two words together yet. My wife falls asleep hours before I do. I have nothing to help me drift off to sleep. Nothing to keep the dark thoughts at bay during the long nights. Nothing to strive toward during the day (other than teaching my child). Being smart isn’t enough.
I don’t want hand outs. I don’t want pity. I need a hand up. I need something to do. I just don’t know what that is or how to achieve it. I feel lost, directionless, and alone. So alone…