One late afternoon as a high school freshman, I sat on a stone wall in the school parking lot holding my saxophone case and waiting for my mom to pick me up. Maybe I had some kind of after school band practice or maybe I’d stayed for math club? In any case, as I sat there a couple older kids materialized — I’d seen them around and knew to stay clear. Only now I couldn’t, trapped and alone in the parking lot. Where was my Luck Dragon when I needed him? Then a kid in my grade, Eric Adreon, a guy I’d played wall-ball with in elementary school, now stoner jock hanging with these older kids, said, “Hey, man, leave him alone. He’s all right. I’ve known this kid since third grade.” Nothing happened. They drifted away and my mom picked me up. I know: it’s a lame story. But it encapsulates what I saw as a kind of fierce purity and justice hiding inside a kid who scheduled fights at the north field and snuck away during lunch recess to smoke pot from a pop can.
I was surprised recently to stumble across Eric’s self-published memoir, A Dance With Shadows. It’s not an easy book — full of sexual abuse and heroin addiction, some written from prison — and parts could use an editor, but I was surprised to find that, minus the specifics, it tells the story of a geek, someone pushed to the fringe of a Rockwellian fantasy world of suburbia and soccer teams and salmon fishing. Eric’s now a committed single father, finishing a degree in substance abuse counseling in Butte, Montana. Yesterday, I got back in touch with Eric Adreon to chat about his book and see what a geek and a stoner could hash out about living a world apart from the mainstream.
Sundem: We went to Bainbridge Island High School, just off Seattle, which seemed so perfect on the surface yet had major, violent failures including a boy who held a knife to the throat of a teacher at a podium during an all-school assembly and another boy who killed a man in Seattle’s homosexual underground with a hammer. Do you think that a veneer of perfection necessarily breeds an equally strong dark side? What would you say to culture about the way it treats its outliers, especially in the face of recent gun violence?
Adreon: I saw more dysfunction on Bainbridge Island than I ever did while passing the jug with the homeless in Seattle. I think the more you repress the dark side of human nature, the more we create a beast ready to strike. Only in the acceptance of imperfection can we find something resembling perfection. The pressures and expectations placed on kids who grew up on The Rock created a world where their individuality struggled to surface. When it finally found a way, it could be violent. It just wasn’t possible to live up to that image, on your side or my side of the road.
Sundem: In A Dance With Shadows you write about heroin addiction in Seattle in the 1990s — very much the world of Kurt Cobain. I see Nirvana on many lists of geek music. What in this music do you think speaks to both cultures? Does it speak to you now? Did it then?
Adreon: Yes, Kurt Cobain spoke to me, not simply on a drug-induced level but on the personal level of understanding a society that pushes those on the fringe away. I related to his departure into a world that accepted him for who he was, flawed as that may have been. He lived his life as he saw fit and people from all social backgrounds came to respect him for that. However, his message to me personally wasn’t about isolation and pain but about acceptance of imperfection and ugliness. Somehow Cobain made that all right, for me and maybe he helped make that all right for geeks, too.
Sundem: We create the world we want to live in…
Adreon: I spent my fair share of time as dungeon master! I also spent my fair share of time living a fantasy life through less wholesome means. I think everyone on the fringe sometimes wants to escape reality — creating a world where we can be the hero and not the person who feels ostracized. From the outside it looked like I fit in a category, but it was a lot more complicated than that. I imagine it’s the same with geeks. I imagine it’s the same with everybody…
Sundem: You’re almost done with a degree in substance abuse counseling — how has your experience informed the way you would counsel a kid starting to dabble in drugs?
Adreon: I’m not here to persuade a person to take one path or another, but to help people who find themselves on a path they’d rather not be on. Who am I to steer someone away from their own choices? Or try to push someone from the fringe back into the middle if they don’t want to be pushed? Some of my most potent lessons came from living outside society. For me that was using. Other people find these outsider lessons in other ways, just being different. It makes me who I am. Maybe it makes you who you are, too. I simply wait patiently for those who realize that drugs do not sit well with them and then offer a new solution.
Sundem: Thanks for your time.
Adreon: Be well.
Adreon opens A Dance With Shadows by describing a Seattle shooting gallery where a 14-year-old girl asks him to pass the rig. He writes that his “lingering morality pressed hard against the person I had become.” Like my remembrance of Eric in high school, his book contains beautiful, tiny pieces of polished beach glass sparkling on a great grey expanse of sand. Think Basketball Diaries and A Million Little Pieces meets stream-of-consciousness and you get the picture. But outside the addiction memoir, I thought it was worth the read for Adreon’s appreciation of the the things that make all different people the same.