Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Lesson

Son, take a seat and let me tell you a story about me and my father when I was about your age. It was summer, just like it is now, and my friends and I would wait all year for the free, warm days where we could frolic by the drying creek bed and tell each other ghost stories late into the night. Those were truly the days: the air was clean, the only thing cold were the wars, and that was the summer that Penny Dingleheimer kissed me behind the five-and-dime.

One day, my friends approached me on the hilly meadow that bordered the Narrows. They ushered me behind a thicket of shrubs, and showed me what they had in a brown paper bag. My friend Scotty had swiped a pack of cigarettes from his uncle's bedside drawer. There were four left in the pack and he wanted each of us to smoke one at the same time. We had no matches so we scampered into the forest and used our scout training to light a small flame using the sticks and dry leaves from an old, wide Poplar tree. I had my first puff, and as the black smoke reached my lungs, every organ in my body pushed forth to reject the bitter taste. I hacked up phlegm that my sinuses had stored deep inside my head from months prior. It was an awful, guttural feeling, but I didn't learn my lesson. I kept inhaling until the smoke no longer burned my throat. Even though the taste was rank, I liked the way I felt holding it and the way my friends looked at me there in the weeds.

We sat there until we felt the smell had dissipated and then we each made our separate ways home. I stopped by Mr. Gregory's store on the way home, as I often did to buy a chocolate milk and a comic book. You wouldn't remember that place, son. It's a goddamn Sur la Table now. Anyway, Mr. Gregory was helping an old woman bag up her groceries at the front of the store, and didn't notice me as I slunk to the side of the counter and grabbed a sealed pack of unfiltered Chesterfields. They fit easily in the back pocket of my shorts and my heart raced as I approached the counter.

"Chocolate Milk, young man?" Mr. Gregory was amicable as ever as he reached into the ice-chest. I nodded my head and dropped a dime onto the counter. "No Spider-Man, today?" He grinned at me as older folks will often do to young persons your age. I kept my head down and grabbed the carton and rushed out. I didn't look back, though I doubt Mr. Gregory had anything but an expression of satisfaction on his face.

I didn't have a plan at that point of where to put the cigarettes, or if I even would have opened the pack. Perhaps I would have chucked them over the fence into the Buchanan's yard. Maybe I would have buried them in the backyard so future civilizations could have discovered them. It doesn't matter now and it didn't then. As soon as I came home and run up the stairs I heard my father's bellowing voice.

"What's that you got in your pocket, there?"

I was caught and couldn't keep the deception going. I just stood there and allowed my father to approach me. He had his hand on my shoulder and he whispered in my ear.

"Take it on out, boy."

I did and held it in my hand behind my back. I still couldn't look at him. He took the pack out of my hand and swiveled me around by my shoulder. I kept my head down.

"Come with me."

We went into the backyard and he sat me down on the old tree stump that had been there since before I was born. I made sure me eyes came nowhere near his face as he unwrapped the pack and revealed all twenty cigarettes.

"You're going to smoke every last one of these," he said.

And I did. We sat there until it had been dark for several hours. My mother would look out at us from the kitchen window every so often, but kept her distance. She knew what he was doing and was not about to object. I smoked until I could hardly breathe without feeling the tar fumes whirl around my head. The bile kept coming up in my throat, but I suppressed it. I wasn't about to let my father beat me. It was no use, though. I was defeated. To this day, I can't smell cigarette smoke, even for a moment, without thinking about that evening when my father taught me one of the most important lessons of my life. You only have one body, and you'd better not get it on your bad side.

Which brings me to you, son. You can imagine my surprise when I come into your room and find you with a smooth kilo of pure South American cocaine. That's intent to distribute, son. What in God's holy name are you thinking?

Well, I'm not going to let your body get the better of you. I'm going to sit here and you're going to snort every last ounce of that sweet nose candy. How do you like that?

Alright, let's get started. No use delaying it. Cut that up finely, now. No, no, you're going to do it all yourself. Here, you can use my Mastercard. Chop it up now and make those lines full. No skimping.

There, how does that feel? Like you thought, huh? You like them goofballs, don't you? Well, the fun's over. Go ahead, do another line.

Goddammit, boy, this is for your own good. Head down, nostrils open. There you go.

How about three in a row this time? You can do it off the toilet seat if you want to feel like a real rock star. You won't be feeling much like rockin' and rollin' in a few hours, let me assure you.

Son, really, dancing on your bed isn't going to solve this problem. Put your pants back on. Keep going.

There you go. Don't worry, that's just a nosebleed, happens all the time when you're hooked on blow. Long way to go still. Don't lay down, that's not going to help one bit. Come on, boy.

Son? Get on up, now. This isn't the woods, you can't play dead.




1 comment:

It's Mom said...

"Son," said his mother, "You can write!"