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When I was eleven, I waited for the school bell to ring so I could go with Sean to this kid’s house to get stoned. I don’t remember the kid’s name; the only impression he made on me was his face: scabbed over, crusted with dried blood all across his chin. Me, unaware of what tact even was, asked him why. He told me that there used to be a pimple there, and he kept picking at it. I guessed he wasn’t too bright. Or maybe he was a genius. After all, there wasn’t a pimple there anymore – but the circumference of the scab seemed a bit overkill for what had probably amounted to just a small bead of pus to begin with. I wasn’t there to look at his titanic scab. In fact, I wasn’t even there for him. I was there for his seemingly unlimited store of green-hued carnal pleasure. The feeling that brought me there, to his house, was my primordial fascination with naughtiness. Marijuana was just a means to that end. I didn’t at that age even like being stoned that much, I just loved the idea of being a stoned eleven-year-old. It was the novelty of it that interested me as opposed to the tool of that novelty. If I were any year above that, I probably wouldn’t even have tried it. After it was legalized, a year later, I never touched the stuff again, not until the eve of my eighteenth birthday, when a coworker goaded me into it. There were several sheriffs in the dining room, and the itch to be dumb and brazen returned. I craved the inside joke of a stoned cook serving a poor excuse for Mexican food to members of the law-enforcement profession. If they were lawyers, I’d probably have pretended to slip and fall instead of smoking the pot, desperate to land refried beans on their Brooks Brothers. In fact, I’d have probably made them smoke the pot if they weren’t stuffy enough to refuse. They probably already do, anyway.
But I wanted to get stoned at eleven so I could be eleven-and-stoned. So, Sean and I walked across a grassy ditch, a small worn dirt path, to the neighborhood across from school. The Kid welcomed us inside, but demanded we take our shoes off. His parents were Chinese, and he’d be damned if we were all about to get geeked out of our minds without first having taken our shoes off before entering his house. He commanded it, as if his parents were primitive gods and we were the primitives offering goods of leather and polyester on a door-jamb altar. If he hadn’t stopped me, I’d have walked right past him to his stash, which I’d already taken mental ownership of. His house was more Chinese than he was, redwood floor and porcelain vases. For a second, it heightened the thrill. It was the closest thing to an opium den that that particularly disgusting rendition of 2010s waspy suburbia could muster. I was going to go up to his bedroom, lured by the blue horses glazed in fine bone china that his mom had bought on clearance from TJ Maxx, when the reality hit that it was all going down right now. I shook a little bit on the inside, but maintained a poker face. On entering his room, The Kid proudly brandished a pipe: a pen cap and casing held haphazardly at a right angle by tin foil. He looked proud of it, so I tried to conceal my suspicion behind beaming joy as well. I’d heard good things about marijuana, everybody does, but burning plastic didn’t have the same tasty appeal, so I was a bit wary. Then, he pulled out the pot in a plastic crystal-looking dome that had once held imported hazelnut truffles but was now brimming with the verdant good stuff. Carefully, he loaded the Bic pen bowl of his Bic pen pipe, pulled out a Bic lighter from his pocket, and paused, looking at the both of us.
“You have to stay here till it’s all over?” he said, but inflected the last word so that the command sounded more like a question. I was confused, and I wore it well enough for him to explain.
“I don’t want anyone finding you after you hit this. No cops, nothing – nobody. This shit is powerful,” he said. I agreed, and because we were all between eleven and thirteen, we’d decided who’d take the first hit by playing rock paper scissors; there wasn’t any other way. On rock, The Kid dropped the pipe and had to sweep all the weed into a nice little line, scooping it back in the bowl with an index card along with dust and tiny strands of hair. In only a moment, the privilege of hitting the pipe first became a guessing game of who’d take one for the team. I took one for the team, being unintimidated by flecks of dandruff and bed lint. They passed the pipe around, and I grew mesmerized by the trading routine that Sean and The Kid invented between them to avoid the now-misshapen melty, hot bowl. They forgot to pass it to me again; I forgot to ask. As they juggled it back and forth, and with each changing of hands, my throat became dryer and dryer as if something both euphoric yet at the same time sinister was boiling in my throat.
“There are helicopters in my head,” I said. They both looked at me with the scarlet slits that had once been their eyes and pointed upwards: I was right below the ceiling fan, which was on. “Oh,” I said to the ceiling as both of them squealed, laughing while trying not to cough. The Kid fetched Girl Scout trefoils from the downstairs kitchen which Sean hogged for himself, scarfing down one after another. The Kid tried to get them out of Sean’s hands so that he could have some himself, but there were only three left that he ultimately handed back to Sean. The sun scorched the room despite the ceiling fan being on full blast, so we decided to go to the treehouse. At least there was a breeze in there.
At the treehouse, we all sat there sweltering but not sweating, arguing over who was going to play music. “The music is important,” The Kid said, “cements the whole thing.” I looked at him a bit funny because the hand motion he used for “cement” looked more like he was squeezing an invisible lemon and hesitantly grinding it into the wood floor beneath us. And that word, “cement.” It sounded way too special to describe what was going on. Three slumped tweens in a treehouse doesn’t call for “cement,” to describe them. It wasn’t exactly a meeting of great minds. In fact, that descriptor was second only to “organic” in how pretentious adjectives could get. Still, nobody was playing music, so I whipped out my phone and went to YouTube on the slow pre-installed browser. I didn’t have a data plan, but this occasion was too special for a data plan. If there’s an extra charge at the end of the month, so be it. Living starts now. I went straight to Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid”, which was a song Sean could get behind but The Kid was vehemently against. He grabbed my phone and put his finger over the speaker while scrolling through his music. He would set my phone down, but pick it back up again when the song he forgot to pause would pipe up again at full volume without his finger plugging it. He kept forgetting to pause it. His forgetfulness apparently annoyed him so much he tossed my phone out one of the windows. It was safe because of the grass, but it was still a severe breach of principle. Sean tried to defend me, and Black Sabbath by proxy, but we independently came to the conclusion that any dissent would mean the end of our pot. So we kept our mouths shut as The Kid went to fetch another pen lid bowl for the pen casing pipe, and a bit more of sticky bud from inside the house. Sean and I stared at each other, having nothing else to stare at or do. We didn’t even know we were staring at each other until The Kid asked what we were up to when he came back and found our eyes locked.
On his return, he didn’t just bring more po. He brought the entire faux-crystal jar of it. In his other hand was a near-full, small bottle of baijiu, that Chinese liquor that’s so rough it almost feels oily when swished around. I assumed that the oily sensation was the clear liquid dissolving the edges of my mouth. I was still very high, but Sean was more high. The liquor didn’t do anything but turn Sean and me both high and nauseous. The Kid tinkered with his phone to play the music he’d been looking for, but eventually stopped trying after several clumsy attempts and no luck. We all pretended that the awkward silence was enough to fill the space that the proposed better-than-Black-Sabbath music would have. The Kid dug around in his pocket and pulled out a pack of his dad’s fancy cigarettes from Hong Kong. They were supposed to have medicinal benefits, but any purported benefits were rebuffed by the health-warning picture that showed some type of indiscernible rot on an unidentified part of the body. The Kid gave one to Sean, who was unreasonably timid with the blinding white stick. He refused to give me one; I was eleven, and apparently that was marijuana age but hardly tobacco age.
Sean was thirteen, so that was a good enough age for The Kid, who was twelve. Sean didn’t want to look chickenshit, so he lit it. I looked over at him as the unholy trinity of sludgy Baijiu, plastic-infused pot, and medical cigarettes turned his face green. He stood up with a slight twirl, but centered himself enough to throw up right in the middle of the treehouse, smothering the pipe bottle and pack of cigarettes in chyme. The Kid hurried us out of the treehouse while he used his shirt to buffer his hand while picking up the shame-soaked paraphernalia. We went back into the main house where Sean continued to spill himself in the upstairs bathroom. He threw up so much that it was almost frightening, so I nursed birdy sips of baijiu to quell any anxiety without pushing myself over to joining him on the porcelain throne.
I decided that I needed to get out, so I left Sean to deal with The Kid. I left the house and walked home, with surprisingly more balance that I thought I’d have. I went to my room, turned on the ceiling fan, and basked in its sobriety-inducing frigidity. I passed out and woke up slightly hungover, but that soon faded. The next day was Monday, and I gave Sean a knowing look as he passed by me in the halls. He gave me a dirty look, but I didn’t mind. I could understand his scorn at me abandoning him. Yet I also felt like a scapegoat for his weak boundaries. Our school was thirty years behind. That meant we got to be taught the normal way, with carryovers and tallies, and we played dodgeball still. But that also meant the school was haunted with ghosts of DARE and Nancy Reagan. I mozied my way to the next class: health. The Friday past had been all about how to not-fuck. It’d worked: over the weekend, I hadn’t fucked. But really, that curriculum depicted women as seductresses that’d ruin your life – with tits, ass, herpes and child support to scare the boys – and how men are suave Lotharios filled with infection and infidelity beneath a California tan that’d render girls unable to be the person the boys would be scared of. The divide-and-conquer strategy got the County quite up there in the teen pregnancy and disease stats, guaranteeing funding to teach the same thing next year because it didn’t work this year. They guaranteed that funding for a decade, unlike Denver, which had to teach about protection. Their curriculum got poorer as a result. The class before that had been about how to not eat food that had been laying out. That lesson was a bit more challenging to someone born into an immigrant family. We rarely used a fridge for things that were cooked that evening, to save energy on snowy nights. But on the Monday, after what seemed to be an Acid Test to three people not yet tall enough to paint the school bus different colors, we were learning a new unit: the perils of drug and drink. I pretended that the lesson was virgin to me. Reaching into my pocket to grab a pencil, my heart dropped a few floors. I’d forgotten that I’d taken a little weed as a souvenir. I felt at it, my hand in my pocket, to make sure it was in fact what I thought it was, and then stopped in a bid to keep it from leaking out of the loosely tied bag. But I was eleven, so the teacher thought I just didn’t have a pencil. She moved closer as my heart raced faster, and plopped a Dixon on my desk. “Don’t you ever come to class unprepared again; you hear me?” I nodded. She went back to her desk and started to teach.