I was sitting on a log. It was fucking huge, my feet didn’t touch the floor. I was rubbing dirt off the top of one shoe with the other. It wasn’t coming off of course, it was rubbing in, spreading through the cheap fabric and leaving a dirty smug smear across my toes.
We were in a copse of trees near the top of what was now a dirt bike track. It hadn’t always been, it wasn’t purpose built and with the years of mud and leaves caked to everything it was impossible to tell if those were mud ramps that had been built or just a bit of hilly wasteland conveniently grown over, smoothed out and then carpeted with last years canopy.
There was half of a two litre plastic green bottle taped to a bread bag leaning against a stump opposite. The tinfoil glinted in the sun, brown and gold where it had been burned, filmed with a fine black soot. The light bounced off the crushed cans and bottle tops half buried in the leaves. A lung. Huge great bags of yellow green smoke, whip the tinfoil off and then -zip! It would be gone. We would watch expectantly, for one of two outcomes. Either that wall of grey fog would emerge from that mouth like a great sigh, almost silent. Or he’d dissolve into a coughing fit while half of us pissed ourselves laughing and someone quipped “you know, coughing gets you higher anyway.”
It was baking hot. Admittedly, here in the trees out of the glare it was bearable, except for the swarms of midges, and every now and then a kid on a bmx would fly past with a generous breeze following close behind. I was watching Ant roll. He was wearing an adidas trackie that looked too big for him. I could never tell if it was intentional or he was just too skinny. He was proud of his rolling. We were all about fourteen, buying little eigths of soap bar for £15, perfecting rolling techniques over the shittest gear you can imagine. We were kids, we didn’t know any better. We grew up fast.
I was staring down a tiny path between the trees opposite. There was a low chain link fence one side, smothered with ivy and starting to sag. There were paving stones but they were buried deep by now. Beyond the tree line the sun beat against the windows of the old psychiatric hospital, long empty, long forgotten. We always talked about going in there, we never did. Where we grew up it wasn’t always the best idea to poke about in empty buildings, no matter how fascinating they were. You never knew who else was using it.
It was there, next to me. In an outstretched hand. My first joint. I was nervous. Would she like me?
I’d planned for this for ages, I knew I couldn’t drink – I’d be caught from the off and my dad would batter me, but this wasn’t the same. Most people just sort of looked and acted the same, if they really wanted to. Maybe this was something I could get away with. Maybe this could be my secret rebellion.
I took it, and I put it between my lips, and I drew in. It didn’t taste of tar, or diesel, or pigs blood or any of the other shit I’d heard went into it. It tasted of earth. Maybe a bit of plastic. But not terrible. The smoke seeped out my nose. Where before the sun had seemed hot and angry, now it was warm and inviting. The buzz of noise behind me dulled and gave way to a tiny fizz in my head that I probably imagined. There seemed to be a thin film covering my eyes, everything slightly hazy, just a little too far away.
We walked back to the estate as the sun was going down in the late evening. The city at the bottom of the hill was just beginning to twinkle with lights, and the giant cranes Samson and Goliath towering out of Belfast Lough blinked steadily into the growing dark. It was still hot, the baked pavement made my trainers soft as I swayed down the dual carriageway. I knew I was getting away with it.
I walked into the house. Mum was on the computer, dad was writing some sermon, or reading one – as he did over and over again. I glided up the stairs, a smile played on my lips. The bedroom door shut.
I grinned to myself, on my bed, and hugged my knees. I ran a bath, I smiled to myself. I hummed while I washed my hair. I was in love, for the first time.
A few months had passed and still nobody was onto me. Except for my little sister, who had the same group of friends and wouldn’t have dobbed me in anyway.
I had a foster sister by then, Mariam. She went to my sisters school, her mum had kicked her out one night so she had come to ours and then never really left. She robbed us blind, and everyone since by the sounds of things, but I’ll always have a fondness for her.
I was out with her, we were pissing about by the white church round the corner. She’d been chased out of there the week before for breaking in and messing with the communion, but it was pretty regular to be honest. We’d sit on the steps and smoke, wait to see who turned up. This time it was some kids off the estate that I didn’t know, but she knew them, and they offered her a lung.
They made one, she hoofed it. They made one, they hoofed it. My turn. And then came the greenest, thickest, dirtiest looking cloud of smoke I had ever seen. It swam in the bottle, a sickly fog. I swallowed. I felt sick already. I hoofed it. Ten minutes later, I needed a lie down.
I lay on the step, with the cool concrete against my face, listening to them piss themselves laughing, and I gave not one solitary fuck. As long as I lay there, on the step, everything was going to be fine. As long as nobody moved me, they could laugh all they wanted. Maybe I fell asleep, maybe they left, but the next thing I knew Mariam was pulling me up and telling me we had to walk home. I was ok, I was just high. Really, beyond a fucking joke, high.
I couldn’t believe she was making me walk home like that. My legs were jelly, I lived about two minutes away. There was not going to be a recovery. I was not going to bounce back in time. We rounded the corner into the street, and I dragged my concrete feet as slowly as I possibly could. We got to the garden path, by now my vision was fucked, everything was blurry and the colour was off.
I looked down, I was on my hands and knees in the porch. My mums feet were next to me.
“Are you ok?”
I must’ve fallen over the front step. My knee hurt. I couldn’t remember getting down there. I stood up, brushed off my knees. Swooned.
“Yeah.” I said and pushed past, trying to get to the safety and warmth of my bedroom. I knew, if I could just make it there, everything would be fine.
I walked up the stairs, it felt oddly mechanical – my body doing things I didn’t feel in a state to control. I got halfway.
“Somebody phoned for you before.”
A pause. She knew I’d have to turn.
“What have you been smoking?”
“I think you’d better go to your room. I’m going to have to speak to your dad.”
What seemed like hours passed before my dad called me downstairs. I had perked up a bit but I must’ve looked white as a sheet. More than anything I was starving.
By this time my parents marriage, unbeknownst to us, was starting to fall apart. Dad didn’t hit us like he used to, he still got angry but it was mostly things that got in his way now. He had other things to be mad about than whatever shit we were up to. Still, I was as terrified of him as ever. He shouted, he tried to instil in me the very real danger of drugs and how they could consume and destroy my life and everyone else’s simultaneously.
I was high, I wasn’t listening, I was just glad he wasn’t screaming. I was just glad I wasn’t flinching, I don’t think I’d have had it in me to duck anyway.
He calmed. Breathed out through the nose. Pressed his lips into a firm line, and then he said something to me that did not register until almost ten years later. He said, “I think you’d better go and have something to eat.”
Even my dad, the baptist, the Puritan, the Calvinist. Even he had had the munchies.