The Vocabulary Lesson
“Hey, Dana, are you a virgin?” blurts Jesse from across the lunchroom table. I look up from my mashed potato’s and gravy. She’s grinning. So are all the other fourth graders sitting around her. I have no idea what a virgin is. But I dislike the word and it sounds like she’s accusing me of being something bad. “No way!” I say, “I’m not a virgin!” Laughter erupts and my face flushes hot. I’m so embarrassed I want to slide under the table. I sit clueless as they all laugh at me.
After school I tell David what Jesse had said. He takes me – and a stolen pack of Mom’s Taryton 100’s from the freezer – into the old playhouse on the front lawn. He lights a cigarette. He can do this because he’s 13. He explains what a virgin is as if he’s “the” authority on sex.
“A virgin is a girl who’s never done it before.”
“Done what before?” I ask quizzically.
“Let a guy put his thing in your thing.”
“Like what we saw on the train in Spain.”
“Yuck!” I had admitted to Jesse and her friends that I’ve done that disgusting thing. I am more embarrassed at this moment than I was in the lunchroom.
“Here, take a drag off the cigarette,” David said, “like this.” David shows me how to do it. “It’ll make you feel better.” I suck smoke from the cigarette and my lungs catch fire. I cough and choke and accuse David of trying to kill me.
Then, it happened.
“David! Toad! Come on, it’s time to go,” Mom hollers from the front door. Oh crap. We’re busted. We have to go somewhere in the car and we reek of smoke.
“Don’t worry,” whispers David. “She smokes so she won’t smell it on us.” He’s a lot smarter than me.
We climb into the back seat of the Mercedes, waiting, faking innocence. Mom gets in behind the wheel, turns around, flares her nostrils, and drills her sharp brown eyes into us. I shake with fear.
“Have you two been smoking?” David and I stare at each other deciding how to lie because we hadn’t corroborated a story, because the smart one said Mom was immune to the smell of smoke!
I panicked and blurted, “Yes . . . but I just quit.”
Mom laughs out loud and I relax a little. She composes herself, gets serious and lectures us on the evils of smoking. I remember thinking, but “you” smoke.
What Do You Smoke?
As kids we explored the rocky shores of the lake and collected little pieces of cottonwood from the trees that lined the bay. We’d light the ends with stolen matches from the gray cabin and suck in the smoke through the stick’s porous gut. I refused to inhale because it hurt my throat before it ever got to my lungs. Even as a wimp, I still felt cool and glamorous mimicking my Mom, and pretending to be on the cover of a magazine.
Mary Jane was extremely popular when I was in school. Every morning I knocked down a wall of marijuana smoke just getting in the door at McClure Junior High. Even at the lake, the place where Mom took us to escape the horrors of the city, there was Mary. One summer my cousin asks me to hide his baggie of pot for him. I am disgusted because I am just 15 and he is a year younger! Anyway, I agree to do it and I hide it in my plastic Tampax holder in my crocheted shoulder bag. After a day or two I realize I still have his pot, and papers. I am curious. I shove the baggie into my jeans pocket and take a solitary walk into the woods.
I roll a clumsy joint, bulging with cannabis and threatening to burst. I light the end, take puffs and wait for something to happen. In the process I scorch my eyelashes. No, I don’t know how. I roll another one, smoke it, wait. Still nothing. I get bored. Deciding that smoking pot, or anything else, is a stupid thing to do and a huge waste of time, I emerge from the woods and return to the cabin.
When my cousin asks me for his baggie, I hand it to him. He holds up the nearly empty bag and has a conniption fit.
“Did you smoke all this?”
“Well, yeah. But it’s not very good because I didn’t feel anything.”
“Shit! You must have done it wrong. This stuff is Maui Wowie. You can’t get any better than this! I bet you didn’t even inhale.”
“I can’t inhale! It hurts.”
He walks away shaking his head. He never again asks me to store his marijuana stash.