(Photo by Joseph Szabo)
“Get your shit.”
Shelley was yelling at me because our parents left for the weekend and she was stuck baby-sitting even though I was almost thirteen. We were going to New Hampshire and her boyfriend, Bruce, was picking us up any minute.
I ran upstairs and pulled out my psychedelic suitcase, the one printed with ‘Tiptoe through the nasturtiums” and ‘Make love not war.” I didn’t know what either meant but the suitcase colors matched my wallpaper and I wanted it. I threw a Black Sabbath eight track in – what do you pack for the weekend? What had I brought to my dads? I added pajamas, Frye boots and a troll, just in case. As I ran downstairs with it, Bruce pulled into the driveway.
Shelley glared at me. “Why do you have a suitcase?”
“I thought we were going to New Hampshire.”
“For an hour you stupid shit.”
Bruce honked and I followed Shelley out, suitcase in tow. New Hampshire was only a half-hour away, but when I left what I knew I had anxiety. With my suitcase I was ready for anything.
“Hey little Pammy,” Bruce said as he pulled the passenger seat forward so I could climb in the back. “Nice suitcase.”
“Thank you,” I said, and put it on the seat next to me. I took my cigarettes out of my sock and lit one.
Shelley stared at me. “Since when do you smoke? It’ll stunt your growth.” She cared. I sat back, happy.
Bruce drove fast and we were at a state liquor store in New Hampshire in twenty minutes. I smoked two cigarettes in the parking lot while he and Shelley went in. They came out carrying two cases of beer, two cartons of Marlboro's, a bottle of Kahlua, a bottle of vodka and a bottle of something that made my heart plip because I knew it came in a purple bag. My dad drank the same stuff and had given me the bag, which at the moment I kept polished rocks in. Excited, I leaned out the window. “Can I have the purple bag?” I had a homeless Spanish coin collection stuffed in the toe of a sock.
Bruce nodded as he put everything in the trunk then got into the car. He turned to me and asked, “Are you hungry?” I shook my head as my sister got in the car. “We’ll get a pizza after one more errand.”
Twenty minutes later we were back in Danvers and we got off the highway near the mall. This was the historic part of town where houses wore plaques that said ‘1776’ or ‘The Parker House, 1795.’ My new friend Leah lived on this street and her house had a secret staircase behind the kitchen that was tiny and twisty. We drove past her house and pulled up three houses down.
“I’ll be right out,” Bruce said and Shelley and I watched him stroll up the walk of a little white house with blue shutters. Someone must have seen us because Bruce didn’t have to knock – the front door opened as he approached. Shelley and I smoked a cigarette as she stared at the windows then absently looked around. “What do you want on your pizza?” she asked.
“We like mushrooms. We’ll get two.” She looked at the house again and Bruce came down the steps. She looked relieved.
Bruce got into the car and handed me a present about the size of a Grape Nuts cereal box. It was wrapped in hot pink paper. “Don’t open it until we get home,” he said. I love presents and I turned it over and over, dying to know what it was. The wrapping paper was thick, slick and shiny, perfectly taped and smooth. I smelled the box but there was no scent. We got pizzas and hurried home and when we pulled into our driveway I grabbed my suitcase and the pink box. “Hang on a minute,” Bruce said as I headed for the house and he opened the car’s trunk. “Can you carry this?” He held out a three-foot square plastic tray that had a small lip all the way around. I added it to my stuff and brought everything into the kitchen. Seconds later Bruce and Shelley came in carrying the liquor and a large duffel bag. Bruce made two drinks out of Kahlua, cream and vodka that were foamy and rich and smelled like chocolate molasses. Shelley saw me smelling them and said, “White Russians and you can’t have one.” I didn’t care. What was in the present box?
Bruce put the tray in the middle of the kitchen table. He held his hand out for the pink present and I gave it to him. “Sit back,” he said to Shelley and me, then he raised the present and whacked it hard on the edge of the table. There was a loud crack as the box slightly split and he gently placed it in the middle of the tray. Slowly, the present began to crackle, then it began to grow. Sticks and leaves were unfolding out of it as it split apart more and more – it was like those animal sponges that were flat and tiny until you dropped them in water and they puffed up into dinosaurs. This smelled rich and sweet and was turning into a large pile of dried green leaves. Bruce helped the box away from the pile and untangled a branch out. “What you do is pull the leaves off against the way they grow, like this." He stripped the branch of leaves and put them on a clean part of the tray. He then swept a bunch of seeds off the tray into his hand and tossed them into a clean ashtray. "Put loose seeds here.” He reached into the pile and held up a dense cluster that looked like a cocoon made out of leaves and yellow or reddish swirly things. “This is a bud. Don’t break it.”
I was mesmerized as I pointed at the pile. "What is that?"
"A pound of pot. Good stuff, not that five-finger an ounce shit.” Bruce pulled a pack of rolling papers from his pocket and laid a creased paper open in the palm of his hand. With his other hand he teased a shriveled clump of leaves out of the pile and crumbled them into the paper's crease. The paper had a thin shiny strip on its top and he licked it, then with only one hand's fingers and thumb he carefully rolled the paper back and forth, massaging the pot into a log shape. He then rolled the paper all the way up into a joint.
I hadn’t ever smoked pot. Snorting speed was becoming my favorite after school activity and I had even begun breaking the bridge on my cello so I could skip orchestra and hit the woods with Suzy, Leah and Cindy. Bruce took two hits off the joint, passed it to Shelley and she took a hit. He exhaled and gestured the pot wasn’t bad. I reached for the joint and Shelley held it back.
“I’ve snorted speed.” I stared at her, matter of fact.
“With my friends.”
“I better not catch you doing that,” she said and took a long sip of her drink. She finally passed me the joint and I took a hit. It did nothing and I took another. Still nothing. Pot sucked. Bruce laughed, then finished the joint the way I would a cigarette.
Shelley went into her bedroom and put on Mountain's Nantucket Sleighride, a record I knew because I had recently begun sneaking into her room to listen to her albums when she went out. For the next hour we worked quietly breaking up the pound and getting the sticks and loose seeds out. We took a pizza break then Bruce pulled a box of baggies and a scale out of the duffel bag. The scale came with little gram weights, just like the one in the science lab at school, and Bruce used them to balance the scale. He set it exactly to one ounce and I watched as he filled a baggie with a couple inches of pot, weighed it, licked the baggie flap and sealed it closed. He was precise to the midge.
After watching him weigh out half a pound I got bored and started fidgeting. “You can leave,” Shelley said, and I scampered upstairs, put on a sweater, and went out and stood on the lawn. I suddenly giggled, I don't know why. Maybe the pot was kicking in. The sun was going down and I lit a cigarette and looked around my neighborhood. I hadn't seen Janet Craft in a while and I headed toward her house, hoping she was home.