When Mom found my stash like she had drug dog senses or something, she made a huge deal then called me into her bathroom, my sack in one hand and the cordless in the other, threatening to call Dad, which of course she never did.
“You know why I’m doing this, right?” she said, pulling up the toilet lid.
“Because drugs fry your brain?”
“It stops progress, Miranda.”
I watched as my twenty-five dollar allowance swirled around in the blue Ty-D-Bol and couldn’t help but think about that commercial from the 80s with the eggs and the frying pan, and then the one with the angry dad with the porn ‘stache and the box of cocaine.
“You think this is funny?”
People said it would take a few times to really hit, but the first time I smoked up I felt it hard, the way I always felt everything. I met Dylan by the Coke machine at the pool in Dad’s apartments. He was kicking around a hacky-sack with the other skater kids in his crew. He had longish brown hair that kind of flipped out at the chin like all the cute stoner boys, and blue eyes like Jordan Catalano. I wanted to be like Angela Chase, smart and different and deep, someone you had to get to know to appreciate. I wanted him to notice me like Jordan noticed Angela, so I hung around until he finally did.
At his place we passed a joint back and forth and listened to The Cars. He said his mom didn’t care if we smoked weed. He said they got stoned together, but that no one was supposed to know. He kept calling the joint a “hogleg” and I thought this was hilarious even though I tried not to act like it. We made out anyway, and being high made it feel like I was moving through water.
I wasn’t the only one who got a boyfriend. Mom found one, too— at Church. She started prancing around the house, all come-to-Jesus, like the popular girls at my school did when they were getting laid. I’d catch her in my closet, trying on my bodysuits with the snaps at the crotch, turning around in the mirror to check herself out. She bought a new car, a red Celica convertible that she drove around with the top down, listening to Ace of Base.
I called him “Gortie” because he looked like the Gorton’s fishsticks guy, the one on the box, and because she had no idea what it meant. “He’s not my boyfriend, Miranda,” she said, but I knew what was what.
Gortie wore large cable-knit sweaters, a cabbie hat, and he smoked a pipe that smelled like cookies. He called her by her full name, Joanna—not Jo, or Joey, what my dad called her—and every time he said Joanna, I wished his head would explode in a million fishstick pieces.
When I told Dad Mom had a boyfriend, he acted like she had been a high school fling or something, and not his wife of fifteen years. “That’s wonderful!” he said and then got all serious and misty-eyed, the way he got when he talked about his sons from his first marriage who were in their thirties and never called.
“I just want her to be happy,” he said. “That’s all I ever wanted— is for her to be happy.”
Dylan lived with his mom Caren, just the two of them, in the apartments over by Little Romeo’s.
“Aren’t you just cute as all get out?” she said when Dylan brought me by. She poured us Jagermeister into crystal wine glasses.
“The boys’ll tell you to shoot it, but I like to sip.” She held up her glass. “Cheers, hon.”
It tasted syrupy, like licorice and herbs, but there was something about it I liked. She served it cold, which made it seem exotic, and said it was “medicinal.”
“Where you been hiding Miss Swish?”
“You go to Jefferson?” she asked, and I nodded.
“You in Algebra?’
“Yeah,” I said.
“See, Dylan? You’d be in Algebra if you’d just study for five minutes.” She turned to me. “This one wasn’t barely born and he was talking in complete sentences.”
“Novels practically. ‘Mummy, would you please roll down the window?’ all proper. Used to scare the hell out of me.”
I was feeling the buzz, and was trying to think of something clever to add, something that would show I too thought Dylan was smart, but I didn’t want to weird him out or anything. “It’s like I knew what a little shit he’d be!” she said, and thank God he busted out laughing right then because everything became cool after that. He gave my shoulder a little squeeze, and when I looked over, he smiled in that way that always made my heart flip, like I might puke or something. Then he sparked a joint, and I wanted to stay there for as long as I could in that apartment instead of going back home, wherever that was anymore.
The year before, when Mom and Dad made a big thing about going to Jalapeno’s and then slid into the same side of the booth, I knew what was coming. Sure as shit, they dropped the divorce between the queso and our enchiladas, (“very hot plate” the waiter warned), and by the time the sopapillas arrived, they’d moved on to custody (one week his, one week hers) while I stared at the strip of red vinyl between them.
“We’ll always love each other,” Dad said. “We’re just not in love anymore. Does that make sense?”
“You’ve been divorced,” I said. “Does it make sense to you?”
My two half brothers looked just like him, both with his ‘fro hair and dumb eyebrows. “Together, we make a full brother,” they joked when I was a kid. They used to come over on Christmas Eve, and I’d get squeezed between them for photos, Dad in the back with his arms outstretched awkwardly around us while Mom tried to fit us all into the shot. Now his sons were married and one of them had kids. I hadn’t seen either of them in years.
After Jalapeno’s, Dad dropped us off because he’d already signed a lease and moved his Rent-a-Room furniture into his new pad while I was at school. He actually called it that: his new pad. Said it was just a few miles away, practically in the neighborhood, with a swimming pool and my very own room.
I always thought I’d be one of those girls who waited for true love, but by the time sophomore year rolled around I was tired of waiting and had pretty much decided true love was a joke anyway. So Dylan and I skipped class one day and did it on my new bed at Dad’s new pad, while the elementary school kids across the street laughed and shrieked through afternoon recess.
Dylan’s dick kept slipping out.
“Is it always this difficult?”
“Well when you’re bleeding that fucking much.”
He grabbed a towel off the floor and stuck it under me. Then he held my hips and found his way and pumped into me a few times. When it was over, I thought I should say something, something to commemorate the moment, but all I could think of was “I need a cigarette.”
Afterwards, we did a couple shots of Dad’s freezer vodka.
“Does this mean I’m your girlfriend?”
I said it like I was kidding, and maybe I was.
He shrugged. “I like you. Does it matter what we’re called?”
Later I followed him back to his apartment, back to his bedroom where his friends were already hanging out. Jason was cutting up coke with a credit card on a full length mirror they’d placed on the floor. “Ladies first,” he said.
“She doesn’t do coke,” Dylan said.
“I want to try it.”
He looked doubtful. “Seriously?”
“Well that’s a fat rail, dude,” Dylan said. “Give her a little less.”
“It’s fine,” I said and sat down on my knees. I tied my hair back and leaned forward, watching myself in the mirror like it was some kind of stupid after-school special. Inside, I was shaking. “Whatever you do,” someone said. “Don’t breathe out.”
I took it like a pro.
I liked that Dylan was surprised, liked that the guys were now regarding me as someone to be regarded. I also liked that as everyone got high they sprang to life, the rabbit holes of conversation to get lost in. I told a story about some fishing trip with my grandfather, and Jason said it was beautiful.
When I had to go, Dylan looked annoyed at being interrupted, but he got up anyway and followed me to the front door.
“You better walk Miss Swish home!” Caren called from the kitchen.
Outside I said, “It’s okay, you don’t have to.”
He hesitated. “You sure?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“Sounds like a trap.”
I didn’t say anything.
“I’m joking,” he said. “Everything’s so serious with you!”
“I know. I mean, I’m sorry.” I waited for him to kiss me. He didn’t.
“I’ll be fine.”
At Mom’s, all the nice china was spread out across the dining room table like a hurricane had hit. In the den, two dessert plates covered in crumbs, two snifters half full, the espresso set that only got used during holidays, a couple of empties. Everywhere, the smell of Gortie’s pipe smoke.
Upstairs, the water was running. Ever since Dad left, Mom had taken to soaking in the bath for hours before bed, armed with Frangelico, the phone, and a pack of Parliament Lights.
“You’re home early,” she said when I came to check in.
I sat on the edge of the tub, took one of her cigarettes and lit it. She’d been crying. “What’s wrong with you?”
“Looks swank downstairs.”
“We broke up.”
I hadn’t gotten used to the idea of my mother dating, so I sure as hell didn’t know what to say about her breaking up. “Who dumped who?”
“Nobody dumped anyone, Miranda. It just didn’t work out.”
“I’m sorry,” – even though I wasn’t. I was relieved. I handed the cigarette to her. “Y’all decide this tonight?”
“No. It’s complicated.” She sighed. “Dinner was good. Really good. I made those prosciutto-wrapped figs everyone always wants. The ones with the goat cheese. Then Chateaubriand, cooked bloody just the way he likes. For dessert, tiramisu and the brandy the Olsons got us years ago. It was still unopened.” She kind of laughed. “Your father hates brandy.”
She paused, smoking the cigarette.
“He liked the tiramisu. He wanted seconds, so I gave him some more, and when he was through, I stood up and said, ‘Well, it’s been lovely,” or something like that. So then he got up and thanked me for dinner, and we hugged goodbye. And that was it.”
I imagined Gortie, his pipe drooping between his lips, leaving our house for the last time while my mother gave him the boot.
“He went back to his ex. Said they were getting married.”
“No shit? Wow. What a jerk!”
She took another drag before handing it back to me.. “No,” she said, shaking her head. “He’s not a jerk. He just didn’t know what he wanted.” She looked sad. “Who does?” The skin underneath her eyes was all puffy, like two little earthworms, and without her makeup she looked both old and childlike at once. “I just wanted him to know what he’d be missing.”