On May 15, 1975 my crazy Mom uprooted my family from our home in Rock Island, Illinois and moved us to Makakilo, Oahu, Hawaii. Her husband and our Dad, Mike Scheck, had died of cancer a year and half prior to our move, and Mom felt we needed a new life to get us all out of our extreme grief.
I was the Scheck child in the deepest throes of depression and grief. I was the youngest and hardest hit by Dad’s long illness and death; before he died I was a vivacious and athletic Tom Sawyer kind of kid who’d fallen into such abject despair that I grew fat and nearly comatose as I stumbled through life miserably. Worse was that I started wetting the bed nearly every night because my nightmares were so horrific. Much worse was I’d become almost obsessively suicidal, but luckily they were just thoughts upon which I’d not acted yet. I rejected god and religion, and most of my childhood friends were perplexed and frankly repulsed by what I’d become, fat and weird and depressive, though none would say anything because they at least understood my grief. Mostly they tried to help me, but I was in a deep, dark hole. I think there’s no doubt my Mom moved us to Hawaii to save me.
Remember the scene in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy is catapulted by a tornado out of the dull, dark, black-and-white Kansas and steps into the technicolor brilliance of Oz? That’s how it felt when our United Airlines 747 jet landed in Honolulu and we first walked out of the airport and drove to our new home in my brother Mike’s Mercury convertible. It was, literally, paradise on Earth, at least to my depressed, pathetic, tubby, twelve-year-old self.
Hawaii is so incredibly beautiful when you first experience it through your senses, the sight of the lovely, lush, hyper-green mountain ranges on both sides, and in the middle the most beautiful flora and fauna you could ever imagine, all surrounded by the aqua-blue Pacific Ocean, moreover your sense of smell is literally assaulted by the gorgeous scents of the fresh plants and flowers and fruit trees and salty-sweet ocean breeze; the feeling you get is so magnificently exhilarating that you feel like you’ve died and gone to the very best version of heaven you could ever imagine. I spent my first hour in Hawaii hyperventilating with utter joy as we drove to our new home. This ain’t Kansas, Dorothy. It was 180 degrees different than the Rust Belt shithole we left behind in Rock Island, Illinois, and all the tragic memories that hung over it like a foul, tepid swamp mist.
I was saved already. That first hour in Hawaii awoke me from a dark nightmare that had lasted about 18 months and nearly destroyed me. It was like a shot of adrenalin to overdosed junkies near death that causes them to almost leap up from their deathbed. I was vividly awake with a gigantic gasp of air. Arise, you fat, depressed little bed-wetting Lazarus! You’re alive!
Our house was located on the southern foothills of the Waianae Mountain range on the western side of Oahu that overlooked Barber’s Point to the southwest and Honolulu and its ubiquitous and massive former volcano Diamond Head far (about 25 miles) to the east. Our house was about 1000 feet above the ocean and about two miles from it, and was situated on a steep hillside, with a gigantic back porch called a lanai that was on stilts about 15 feet above our back yard, with a breathtaking view of the Pacific Ocean that still makes me smile some 45 years later when I think about it. There were days when we could see schools of whales in the ocean below with the telescope mounted on our rail. There was a huge mango tree in our back yard that yielded fresh, delicious fruit every few months and smelled divine. I could sit on our lanai for hours and never feel bored or sensory deprived.
My brother Mike was in the Navy and stationed at Barber’s Point Naval Air Station, and he and his Navy buddies were renting the house when my Mom visited him just after the previous Christmas. Now that they were all getting out of the Navy and leaving, the house was ours to live in, so Mom moved there and rented it for us. Mike left a few weeks after we arrived to make a motorcycle trek across America with his best Navy buddy Nick, which took the whole summer. He left behind all of his furniture and possessions, especially his massive stereo system he’d bought when he was stationed in Okinawa, with a powerful amp, turntable, reel-to-reel tape deck, and quadrophonic speaker array that created the most perfect audio experience possible. Dude, it was the shit, Moreover, he and his Navy buddies left behind all their albums, acts like T. Rex, The Allman Brothers Band, Doobie Brothers, Yes, Pink Floyd, Bowie, Alice Cooper, Little Feat, Rolling Stones, et al. It was a treasure trove of great music from that era.
They’d also, and probably not on purpose, hidden their pot stashes all over the house like a stoner’s Easter egg hunt. I literally found joints and buds hidden in every nook and cranny of the house. I was only 12 and had never smoked anything before except an occasional cigarette I stole from my Mom. All I needed was the chance to try it for the first time.
One day I stayed home alone while Mom and my sisters were out shopping and my brother John had left to play tennis. In this “Home Alone” experience I cranked the Doobie Brothers album What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits on our stereo, opened all the windows in the house, and sat on our lanai to smoke my first joint with my neighbor and best friend, Danny Cunningham, who had a Hawaiian mother and a white, retired Army Master Sergeant father. Danny too had never tried pot, so this was going to be an amazing experience for us both.
So, wow, how cool was it that my first pot high was in Hawaii, with an amazing view of the Pacific Ocean, coupled with the most amazing aromas a human being could ever smell, and with a really cool record playing on the stereo! The pot was pretty potent shit and in no time Danny and I were blazed out of our minds, dancing around the lanai like idiots, laughing like crazy and feeling weirdly, magnificently, and spiritually awesome. Bliss to the max. The rest of the day we sat at Danny’s house listening to Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album while we polished off two more joints.
I wish I could have bottled those intense feelings and drank them whenever I felt low the rest of my life. It was as if those last two years of nightmares, grief, anxiety, depression, and suicidal tendencies I felt pretty much all the time were lifted and exorcized like I had been possessed by a demon and I was now free. It would take me years to be whole again, but the momentum was finally shifting; after this day I not once had suicidal thoughts or wet the bed ever again, and I was moving in the right direction to the light away from the darkness.
No shit. It literally saved my life: Hawaii. The pot. The amazing music. Look at the healed me a year later, smiling, happy, sane (and probably high!). That which does not kill me makes me stronger. Goddamn right.
Thank you, Hawaii, marijuana, and The Doobie Brothers.