You’re fourteen, a freshman, second week of high school, backpack full of homework destined for the bottom of your desk, and Badger is sprawled next to you on the bus, his grin about splitting his face.
You forcefully ignore him, to get him riled up, then finally ask.
“Weed, man!” he whisper-shouts in your ear. “Two, like, ounces or something. I’ve got this little bag…”
He reaches into his pocket, and slap your hand over his.
“Are you an idiot?” you hiss.
Badger pulls his hand out and starts tapping at the window. Your stomach lurches in anticipation. You swallow hard, and try to resist the urge to hug Badger in gratitude (that is not you guys’ thing at all).
At your stop, instead of inching your way home to the perfect house with the perfect lawn and the perfect nursery for the perfect baby, you and Badger head the other way, towards the park with the almost-always abandoned barbeque pit. It’s November. Nobody wants hot dogs on a fucking Thursday afternoon in November.
“Look, Jesse, this is the real thing!” Badgers cries out, triumphant, as you enter the shadowed oasis under the trees.
He pulls out a small plastic baggie and tosses it over. You stare at the greenish-brown mass and smile slightly.
“So, where are the papers?” You ask, handing back the bag.
“Papers?” Badger says, like it’s some gibberish from Spanish class.
“Shit, man. Papers-“ You mime a sheet of actual paper. “To roll. To smoke it.”
“Oh… right…” He nods, then stares off at the pit full of charred logs.
You take a deep breath and resist the urge to sock your friend on the head.
After a trip to the shady, warm-smelling corner store a bit more downtown, you do a take two, this time in Badger’s backyard behind the shed.
Badger lights first, his thick fingers a little wobbly.
“Man, this is…” He inhales, coughs a little, then nods, his eyes widening.
You quickly do the same, light the tip of your roughly-rolled joint, and suck in a lungful of what feels like fire.
It feels good, even before the effects begin to hit. You’re being cleansed or scorched with something new.
Badger is already out of it, and soon you are. The two of you spend ten minutes carefully watching a bird hop from branch to branch, the occasional giggle slipping from Badger’s lips. You’re silent.
Marijuana is awesome at making your brain blank for so many blissful minutes. And soon you have a steady supply, the occasional $20 slipped from Mom’s purse combined with Badger’s after-school pizza place tips add up to at least weekly sessions behind the shed or in the park or even, on one daring occasion, in your room with the window cracked all the way.
You’re a new man, you think to yourself one morning as you stand in the greyish dawn waiting for the bus. Then a pitiful feeling sinks down over this, but still, it helps you get through the day.
You slip down into your hoodies more comfortably now, and the sharp edges of all the things that used to cut into you slide away, because when you’re high, you’re there and nowhere else, nothing can hurt you, you’re safe. Invincible.
And when you first do crystal, the first time the whole old world shatters, this stuff is the shit, it’s amazing, man, you gotta have some of this. Badger is face down on some guy’s sofa, you’re sitting in the corner, surrounded by older strangers who are kissing and/or shooting up and/or starting to fuck right there in the open.
And it’s a thing said a thousand times before, but you’re never the same. And you’re glad for it. So fucking glad you could cry, and sometimes do.
You’re a junior, and your chemistry teacher is the kind of guy who wants to be a hardass, but doesn’t always succeed. Mr. White, with his fucking Aztec in the handicapped spot. You walk into class stoned for the first time in October. He can tell, but you don’t fucking care what he thinks. He gives you back a quiz, another C+, and you refuse to meet his eyes, all concerned and shit. School is worthless, and White most of all.
She’s a senior when you’re a sophomore, and wears navy blue and black, thick mascara, face thin and pale. She likes to draw intricate and indecipherable symbols on her backpack. You lean against the bricks out beyond the school, pass joints like pieces of tissue paper, soft and easy. It’s June, and you can almost taste the free nights, wandering around the neighborhood and driving out into the desert with the guys, blasting music, getting high, getting away. She’s new, but fell into the group quickly enough, like she was always there.
Four o’clock rolls around, and everyone else has drifted away, and it’s cloudy but dry, the smoke sitting in the air for ages before it slowly dissipates. The late bus has just rumbled out of the parking lot when she asks you for a light. When you pass her one she kisses you, and you kiss her back, and it tastes like marijuana and tobacco and school lunch, like something both out of a can and growing from the dirt. It makes your breathing strange and caught, she takes your hands with her smooth, small, cold hands, and makes them strangers, and it’s deserted so somehow you do it right there, think fucking but it seems too vulgar, even though you’re both those wasted youth druggie kids anyway, the ones that police officer warned about in a dim, dusty classroom five years ago, one of those useless DARE sessions.
She’s smooth, so smooth and with scars up her arms but nothing else, no tattoos or anything, no rings of needle marks. Your body is clean, too, embarrassingly free of battle wounds, money’s been too tight to score anything worthwhile in a week. You’re both innocents, trying so damned hard not to be.
When it’s getting dark, you get dressed and she gives you a ride home and as you close the door in front of your perfect suburban house with the perfect yard and perfect parents, baby brother, sprinklers, all those fucking marks of success from which you stick like a black sore thumb, she passes back the lighter, and kisses you gently good night. You stand on your front stoop and watch her drive off into the night, and squeeze the lighter in your hand until it stops hurting and feels like it was always part of you. Then you go inside, slip up to bed, ignore the happy family dinner scene that is relieved to not force your part in at the end of the third act. Jake gurgles happily, spits up peas, and his eyes follow you up the dim front hall, but your stomach is too empty and your brain too loose to notice a damn thing.
At the graduation party you walk out the front door right after cake with Badger and Pete. You’re an adult now, the piece of paper handed to you, the birthday passed. You smile so wide your lips crack, and that night you all get drunk in the desert, shout freedom until the words lose all meaning, dance around a campfire and look out at the mountains and feel a sense of immense scope, you’re just an ant and the mountains could eat you up, or, more likely, ignore you for all time. They can handle that. You feel your mood slip, which has been happening more and more lately. Grab another bit of meth, and let that do the job for you. Back to normal.
Collapse on the hard ground and sleep it off, until the sun rises and you find them passed out in the car. The mountains seem to be watching you, and they don’t like what they see. Look down at your rumpled dress shirt, tear it off, slip on a hoodie, and drive back into town with a confusion and paranoia that has nothing to do with drugs. Once you’re in your bed you slip into a dead sleep that strips all worry away, until you wake at dusk, your mouth tasting like piss and the dread back and gaping.