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Drug use is so pervasive in my family that it seems like it’s genetic. It’s the elephant in the room that nobody wants to acknowledge as it tramples everybody. I’m not Freud, but I know that everyone in my family has issues. The kids hate India; the parents hate America. The disparity doesn’t make for great family reunions. The kids are always depressed because they’re not what their parents want them to be; the parents are depressed because their kids aren’t what they should be. It’s the typical teenage scenario: I can’t be what my parents want me to be. Right out of a John Hughes movie. I know my family, and I don’t like it.
Speaking of family, there was a get-together at my house in Andover last summer. It was just my mom’s side of the family; my dad’s side still lives in India. Most of my cousins came with their parents. They’re from California. My maternal relatives are jealous of my father, whom I can’t stand either. He got rich when he started a trucking company. He bought a big house just to rub it in everyone’s face. He’s a prototypical, middle-aged American narcissistic man, desperately trying to avoid a midlife crisis and that anxiety that comes with it (and they say teenagers have too much angst). All of my uncles are just convenience store owners and engineers, so they get a complete demonstration of my old man’s egoism. My aunts, of course, don’t work, which is the Indian custom for women. And Indians feel strongly about custom.
The reunion was on a hot and humid midsummer day. All of my male cousins came, but the girls didn’t. They were all with their white husbands’ families. Anyway, my cousins came to my house, but all the parents had to go to a family-friend’s funeral. So I guess it wasn’t really a reunion, but a divorce. None of the kids knew the person that died, so we didn’t have to go. We all stayed at my house. It felt really good, not having to constantly worry that our parents were going to barge in on us and yell for no particular reason. They shelter us from the real world our whole lives, and then expect us to act like kids forever.
That day, it was the six of us: Sanjay, Arjun, Rohit, Rohan, Vishal, and me. Sanjay was the oldest at eighteen, Arjun was seventeen, and Rohit and Rohan were fifteen. Vishal and I were fourteen. We get along pretty well, considering the age spectrum. Predictably, Rohan suggested that we get high.
“Anyone up for expanding consciousness?” he asked cheerfully. Rohan was the biggest pothead. Arjun also smoked quite a bit, but the rest of them only smoked recreationally. I had never smoked prior to that. I just went along with my cousins because I was the youngest. My parents would have been infuriated by my decision, but I wasn’t too fond of them, so I went.
“That sounds sumptuous,” Arjun piped in.
“I’m in,” Sanjay added. Vishal and I looked at each other and shrugged. Rohit didn’t protest.
I said there was an abandoned shed in the woods behind my house. No one would see us smoking in there because of the woods. I wasn’t eager to navigate through there on that sultry summer afternoon, but I didn’t want to be the only wuss that wasn’t down with pot. I led the way on the tortuous trail to the deserted shack. The branches of the trees scratched us as we walked down the pathway.
The windows were boarded up, and the roof was falling in. I became uneasy as we approached. As I kicked the door open, a rancid stench came flying out at us. It smelled like something had died in there.
“Is this a shed or a morgue?” Vishal asked sardonically.
“Shut up!” Rohan snarled. “It’s the only place we can do it without getting caught.”
“It’s the only place we can die!” Vishal cried.
“Oh, well excuse me, Mr. Vishal Mohandas Gandhi. Would you rather meditate? Naw, you want to go study, right? Make your parents proud? Do me a favor and hang yourself in the woods.” I felt a fire go down my stomach. Rohan was worse than my dad.
“A-hole,” Vishal mumbled under his breath as he turned back home. He was on the verge of tears. I felt nervous when he left.
“You still down?” Arjun asked me.
“What? Oh, I—I guess so. Yeah, I’m down, I guess. But…” There was an awkward silence.
“Don’t you ever…stop and reflect?”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Arjun was clearly pissed.
“I—don’t know. I just think that—that maybe smoking is a waste of time. I mean how long have you guys been smoking? You guys get high for a little while, sober up, and crash down. You’ve been potheads all your lives, and you’re all…you’re all still…” I knew what I wanted to say.
“Still what, you little punk? What are you say—”
The sound of my cry echoed through the vacuous woods, resonating like a bell. All of them were looking at me silently. I wanted to fight them all right there, and tell them that I wasn’t another junkie arrogant punk who thinks he’s an adult but lives in a kid fantasy.
Arjun sighed. “Kid,” he groaned, “do you want to get high or not.”
“I—I—well, I mean I—yeah, I think. Yeah.” I have a way with words.
“Then let’s get this party started.” He took out a shiny pipe, and a Ziploc bag full of what was presumably marijuana. “And the honorary first hit,” he announced with a grin, “goes to our youngest cousin, the virgin.”
Rohan opened the Ziploc bag and started to put nuggets in the pipe. He had a hard time getting them to stay in there. He took a little chunk and shoved it in the pipe as hard as he could, filling the void by force. He handed me the lighter, and then the pipe. It was onyx, as black as night. The chamber was deep, cold, and empty. Like me.
“Smoke up, big boy!” Rohan said, nudging me. I hadn’t even lit up yet, but I could smell something burning. Worried and confused, I turned around to see that Arjun had been smoking his own stuff already, and somehow, he miraculously had set the shed on fire. Of all people, though, this had to happen to me.
“Jesus! What the hell did you do?” someone exclaimed. I kicked the door open and ran. I could smell the smoke from the fire as I ran through the shadowy woods, but I didn’t turn around to look at the fire. I didn’t even look where I was going. Enough was enough. I ran as fast as I could and hoped my parents would be home from the funeral.