To Your Garden

There’s a little bit of wine left, but I’m supposed to be sobering up now. I worry my tongue between my teeth as I roll the joint. (Grandma says I get that from my dad – the tongue thing, not rolling joints, though it wouldn’t shock me.) I’m trying to be precise, but I’m still not good at this part. Especially when I’m drunk. I lick the gum on the edge of the paper. Its a suitable distraction from more pressing thoughts, except that it isn’t at all.

When I’m done, pleased with my rudimentary attempts, I slide out onto the porch to light up.

* * *

House in an Run-Down Neighborhood

We’re sitting on the front steps of our rental while Azaria smokes a cigarette. I don’t smoke. I never have more than socially, even when I desperately wanted to be one of those punk girls with dark eyes and a cold sneer.

He’s an unremarkable man. He’s sort of rotund and sort of balding. When he comes around the corner from the hole-in-wall bar, I look down at my feet. (I’m eighteen, living outside the safety of my parents’ home and barbed-wire fences and gate guards. Everything alarms me, every man and every corner.)

He pauses in front of us and smiles. “Hey, can I bum one of those?”

“Sure.” Azaria grins as she passes over a cigarette and her lighter. She’s like that with strangers; giving and warm, without a hint of fear.

He joins us on the steps while they chat, but as usual I don’t follow in any meaningful way. Azaria is only ten years older, but she’s got a totally different well of experience. When I was sixteen we would drink while her husband was at work, and she would read me her poetry. I loved listening to her tell the story behind each stanza. I would shiver with excitement as she described the parties and the drugs, the good trips and the bad trips. Even when it was fucked up (often) she laughed through the stories, told them with such a sense of life.

When she gets into conversations like this, with people who could perhaps be my father while talking about decades I wore diapers through, I feel vestigial. I smile and nod. So, I don’t know how he got invited in to smoke a joint, or even how I got invited along.

I’d smoked pot once the week before. In the four months I’ve lived with Azaria, there’s always been an unspoken policy that if I wanted to do it with her, I could. There had been no pressure until there was, after we spent all day dealing with a stalker and a restraining order. Maybe she needed the camaraderie. Maybe she needed the distraction of giving instructions.

* * *

The apartment had a tiny deck off the kitchen – one exit, unless you counted the drop over the edge, and just big enough for a few chairs. The guy sits at the other end from me, Azaria between us. The streetlight at the edge of the block gives us a sort of dirty yellow glow. Some light comes out from the window above the kitchen sink, but we’ve only left the dimmest light on. No need to disturb the sleeping kids.

They smoke for a while, the joint passed between them. When its handed to me, I flounder. My inexperience betrays me – in always has, in every situation. When I first rode a boy, with Marilyn Manson too loud on his speakers, I didn’t even know what his cock looked like. When I held that joint, I felt a similar sense of helplessness and terror.

I don’t know that in another eight years I’ll understand Azaria. Not with the filter of an eighteen year old girl, writing wistfully about the romance of her tragic stories. (They’re always romantic when they happen to someone else.) In another eight years my fantasies of growing up like her will be too close to true; I’ll be jaded and bewildered by who I am. I’ll try to call her and find another disconnected number.

But at the moment, I’m eighteen and I don’t know how to smoke a joint.

Azaria pulls a hit off the joint without hesitation or confusion, then leans into my space. Our heads tilt in the pantomime of a kiss. Her lips hover so close to mine that for a moment I think she will kiss me – before she exhales the smoke slowly into my mouth.

My cheeks flush. I’ve kissed three people. My sexuality is a hypothetical mess, and I’ve never been sure if I’d kiss a woman. (Later, I would.) I still cough on the smoke.

The man at the end of a deck makes some noise, something like a laugh; if a leer had a sound, it would be that noise. Azaria chuckles as she leans back.

I should remember what she said afterwards – something teasing but not unkind, something that made me giggle – but all I remember is the heartbeat’s moment of confusion (anticipation) when she leaned into me.

* * *

In a month I’ll come home from Thanksgiving at my grandmother’s to find the apartment trashed and my bed missing. I’ll sob to my father on the phone; gently, he’ll ask, “Do you want to come home?”

I’ll decide that this place – this beloved apartment that we painted ourselves, a place where space was mine and mine alone – is too drama-ridden, a dead end if I’m going to grow.

When Christmas rolls around, my parents will pick me up before we drive up-state to stay with my grandparents again. I’ll spend the holiday feeling a terrible mixture of relief and heartache.

In three months, I’ll have met the man I’m going to marry. I don’t know it then – he’s dating my best friend, though she’s not that into him.

By the time next Christmas rolls around, I’ll have a job and two roommates in a drafty old apartment. I’ll start to meet the people who weave the social tapestry of my life. I’ll start experiencing the stories that I’ll tell over and over again: Remember how you called me a cunt when we first met? and Oh God, please don’t tell the naked Mario 3 story again.

In four years I’ll be married in a courthouse by a judge I’ve never met. Less than a year later, my family will move to a place so like Madison that it sometimes feels like bookends, or some sort of fucked up and cruel fate. (I don’t believe in prophecy; no one could have seen this coming.)

Eventually I’ll find myself on a different porch, not much larger than that kitchen deck, with a different joint. I’ll cup my hands around the edge as I light and inhale, the cold wind blowing out two matches before I give up and go for the lighter.

I come from Wisconsin, from thick and sturdy stock. The wind doesn’t bother me. It just hurts to watch the fire die.

Ashley M. Hill found her voice in science fiction when her curiosity about technology coupled with the lifelong urge to tell stories. Her interest in social and feminist issues shapes how she approaches the genre. She's pursuing computer and network repair for her day job.

1 Trackback

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.