It was late June and I was 14 years old. My older brother, mom and I were driving to my Grandma’s in upstate New York. My mom turned off the radio in the middle of a song and said sternly,
“Guys, listen…no weed. Got it?”
“Not me,” I said. My brother didn’t say anything.
“Thomas?” she said to him.
“Tee-hee-hee,” he said in a high-pitched voice.
“Got it? I’m not joking. It makes grandma very upset.”
“Yes, mom,” my brother said. He seemed annoyed. He was being a brat. I knew he was going to smoke anyway. He probably smoked an eighth a day at the time. My grandma hates weed and associates it with hippies. She also hates hippies.
I heard my brother zip open his backpack and we smelled his weed in the front seat. I looked at my mom and smiled. My brother saw me smile and laughed. My mom rolled her eyes and laughed too. She was turning 50 that next week but was having her party that next day. It was her high school classmates (whom she had seen maybe three times since high school), their kids, my siblings, aunt, grandma, and I gathered on my grandma’s lawn. I was not excited to dress up or mingle.
My sister, to avoid losing the whole weekend, was driving up in her car. She was in front of us.
That next morning my grandma was microwaving frozen bacon. My aunt and siblings were still asleep. My mom walked downstairs and sat next to me at the kitchen table. She kissed my head and hugged me around the shoulder. I leaned my head against her. She asked if I want a cup of coffee.
“Yes, please,” I said.
My grandma pulled out a few photo albums from my mom’s junior high and high school years. In most of the photos she was wearing overalls and old-man glasses. My mom asked me to make a party playlist on my iPod for her.
“No problem,” I said and went upstairs to get my iPod.
I made a playlist that was mostly songs my mom probably didnt’t know, except for “Wonderful” and “Not That Girl” from the play Wicked. We used to listen to Wicked in the car all the time. I got the soundtrack when I saw the play in the 4th grade with my best friend, when I also bought a t-shirt that said “popular.” I cried when I lost it.
A few hours into the party I realized Wicked was a bad choice. It was really sunny and everyone was standing in small clusters on the lawn. It was weird to have dramatic Broadway music sound-tracking tipsy people. My sister told me to change it to “Tweezer”. I put on “Bathtub Gin”. I walked inside to get my sunglasses.
I was standing alone by a bush when a really short man came up to me and handed me a flask of blackberry flavored brandy, which was foul. He said he was a retired marine. He put his hand on my shoulder, leaned into the side of my head and said “Our little secret,” about the flask.
“Call me Special Ed,” he said. His voice was deep and cigarettey and he spoke like a major in the army. My mom called me over from where she was sitting. She told me to get a bag of ice from the garage freezer.
Walking out of the garage, I saw Special Ed and my brother in the driveway. Special Ed was handing my brother the same flask, whispering into his ear. My brother looked amused.
My sister, brother, some kids I didn’t know, and I were sitting on coolers and lawn chairs playing “Kings” under a canopy thing. My grandma’s neighbor’s kid, Jerry was watching.
“Yooooo! Come join the real party!” my brother said while holding up his beer like he was cheersing Special Ed, who was sitting under a different canopy thing. I laughed to myself at my brother’s long hair.
Special Ed smiled, nodded, and came over. He sat down and said, “I’m wasted!” I laughed and thought about how my grandma always seems to find it funny when people are drunk.
Special Ed flipped over his first card.
“That’s categories,” my sister explained, “choose a category and we all have to say something that belongs under the category you said. No repeats.”
Special Ed curled in his lips and scrunched his eyebrows. He stared down for maybe 20 seconds. I laughed to myself. I hadn’t expected a silence that long.
He looked up and shouted, “Meow Mix!”
I laughed abruptly.
My sister said, “Salmon Feast.”
“He wasn’t joking?” I thought, and said “Chicken-Liver Dinner.” His turn ended quickly since no one could up with many cat-food flavors.
My sister flipped a card that said “pick a date”. Whoever she chose would have to drink every time she did. She chose Special Ed.
“We’re dating!?” Special Ed said. “That means we’re gonna have sex, bitch!”
My sister laughed hard, I think out of shock.
“When I got a hard-on,” Special Ed said while jerking-off his arm, “everyone can see it! You women! You can hide it! But us men, no! We can’t!” He nudged my sister like he was saying, “You know what I mean.”
I stared at Special Ed with a neutral expression imagining him and my sister having sex. I looked at Jerry, who was 10. He was smiling but seemed kind of nervous. I wondered what he was thinking. Special Ed talked for some time about his boner then stood up. He walked out-of-view behind my grandma’s house, I thought probably to the creek.
About an hour later my aunt was lining hot dogs and burgers on the grill. It was still really sunny. She seemed stressed. She sometimes gets stressed about things involving guests.
A lot of people I didn’t know were standing around her. She looked like the life of the party. The people were waiting for their food and awkwardly mingling. “It never ends,” I thought, thinking about my own awkwardness. My aunt served the food and the people went back to their clusters.
I heard a car door slam and looked toward the driveway. It was Samantha, my aunt’s friend, and her husband Billy. She and Billy were walking slowly with their arms linked. She had cancer. Her skin was yellowish and her hair looked extra thin.
My aunt sat down with her and Billy in the shade and told my sister to make Billy a hotdog. My sister was drinking probably her third rum and coke out of a red Solo cup. She put a raw hotdog on the grill and we all, except Special Ed who was talking with his girlfriend in the driveway, start to play “Kings” again. Special Ed looked nervous and I felt bad. His girlfriend had her hands on her hips. I think she was about a foot taller than him.
My brother told me he saw Special Ed peeing on my grandma’s boat when he walked back there to sneak a cigarette.
“God damn it, Lucy!” my aunt said. “You can’t even pay attention for five minutes!”
“What?” my sister said.
“You burned the fucking hotdog,” my aunt said, putting another raw hotdog on the grill. She was grunting and mumbling and being really expressive with her eyes. She seemed drunk.
“What? No!” my sister said. She fell for no apparent reason while jogging toward the grill. She got up quickly and said, “It’s fine!”
“No, Lucy, it’s burnt. You know, you can be a real piece of shit sometimes.”
“If you’re so picky you should’ve cooked it yourself!” my sister said. I saw Special Ed walking out from behind my grandma’s house and imagined him peeing on my grandma’s boat.
“You’re a bitch!” my aunt said.
My sister grabbed the burnt hot dog off the side of the grill, took a bite and said, “It’s delicious! Billy would have loved it!”
“You’re drunk!” my aunt said. She grabbed the rim of my sister’s red Solo cup and pulled it toward herself and some of the drink spilled out. My sister pulled the cup toward herself. My aunt let go. My sister stumbled backwards, then walked away laughing, still holding the hotdog. I had never seen them treat each other that way before. I wondered if their relationship was changed forever. I looked for my mom to tell her what happened.
It was about an hour later and my sister was asking me something about someone named Mark. Her cheeks were pink and she was smiling.
“Yeah.” I said. “He’s nice.”
“Pretty hot for a morgue guy,” she said.
I smiled. He runs a funeral home.
“Don’t you think?”
I nodded and walked towards my mom, who was talking to a woman with an indistinguishable tattoo on her boob.
“And this is the baby!” my mom said. She grabbed my face and kissed it really hard. I thought that this was something she may not do in sobriety. I shook the woman’s hand and she walked away.
“Isn’t this amazing!?” my mom said while smiling and circling the party with her eyes.
“Special Ed’s hilarious,” I said.
“Who?” she asked.
“He told you to call him Special Ed?”
I laughed. “Yeah,” I said and someone slapped the side of my head. It was my sister. “Can you believe Mark married that chick?” she said.
“Mary is so nice,” my mom said defensively. “In high school, she was the only one with a pool.”
“That literally means nothing to me,” my sister said. I laughed. She turned to me. “Will you do me a huuuge favor? I’ll love you forever!”
“Worst deal ever,” I thought.
“Sure,” I said. “What do you need?”
“Okay, I need you take that bottle of rum,” she said pointing towards the bar, which was a table, “and fill this cup up half way.” She handed me a solo cup. “Then the rest with coke. Can you do that?”
“Yes, mam,” I said.
On my way to the bar I saw Scott, the husband of the only high school friend my mom keeps in touch with, turning in circles alone. He looked concerned.
“Hey Scott,” I said.
“Oh, um, hi. Uh. Yes. Have you seen Carol?”
“No. I’m sorry,” I said. “Do you want me to look for her?”
“That’s okay,” Scott said then continued scanning for his wife. He was most likely hammered. I felt bad.
I wanted to make sure he wasn’t too lost before I left him. I looked at his face. His mouth was moving.
“What?” I said.
“Sorry?” he said.
“Oh, I thought you said something, I couldn’t hear.”
He stared at me, still moving his mouth. He seemed to be uncontrollably mumbling. There was nothing for me to do. I walked to the bar and made my sister her drink.
It was getting dark. I was carrying around my sister’s drink. I couldn’t find her or my brother. I called my sister’s cell, then my brother’s. Both times it went to voicemail. I smelled weed and assumed they were smoking somewhere hidden nearby. My grandma noticed the smell. I told her it was probably just the creek. “It is attached to the gross Hudson River,” I said, thinking about my sister’s friend who once got a UTI kayaking on it.
“No, it’s the insect repellent,” my grandma insisted.
My mom’s old classmate was talking to me about some bed and breakfast when I heard my sister call my name. I ignored her. She grabbed my shoulder from behind, saying my name, cutting off my mom’s old classmate.
“Will you come inside with me for a second?” she asked.
“Just come inside,” she said like she was annoyed.
“I’ll be back in a minute,” I said. I followed my sister to my grandma’s driveway.
“Where are you taking me?” I asked.
She didn’t answer.
We stood behind my grandma’s car on her driveway and my sister pulled out her pipe, giggling. My grandma’s neighbor from across the street, Annie, started to walk over when she saw us from a distance. I told my sister to “put it away”. Annie is around my mom’s age and I hadn’t expected her to condone weed. I was afraid she was going to say something to my grandma. My sister said it would be funny.
“Yeah… if I wasn’t getting tested I’d smoke a FAT ONE,” Annie said. At the time she worked on an assembly line in a munitions factory. I smiled then thought I might look worried.
My sister laughed hard, “I know what ya mean,” she said.
“Grateful Dead, eh?” Annie said pointing to my sister’s T-shirt.
“We’re total deadheads!” my sister said loudly.
“I saw ‘em twice or three times. Driving that train, high on cocaine…” She sang their big hit. She’s not a real fan, I thought. I noticed a pick-up truck passing slowly and imagined being murdered. I realized Annie was hugging me and vaguely remember her saying something about wanting to wish my mom a happy birthday. She smelled like beer. She walked away.
“Woah, she smokes,” I said.
“Of course she smokes,” my sister said. I rolled my eyes because I didn’t think it was that obvious. You burned the fucking hotdog.
My sister took her last hits and we walked back to the party, which didn’t smell like weed. I wondered if the wind had blown in our favor. I said, “Thank you,” to no one in particular.
We walked over to my mom who was sitting with whoever was still there. My sister leaned backwards to put herself in a chair. She was a little too far to the right of the chair and it tipped over. She fell on top of my mom’s friend. Only a few people noticed.
It was around 11:00 and everyone was gone. I sat in bed eating fried dough that Jerry and I brought back for everyone from a small carnival up the street. While there I asked Jerry if he’d seen Special Ed.
“He was too drunk and my mom had to drive him home,” Jerry said. I thought about Special Ed and how strange he was. I was kind of tired. I really just wanted to sit in bed and watch TV.
My brother was on the opposite twin bed like a starfish. His sneakers were on and his feet were on the ground. I decided to tuck him in. I grabbed his shoe and he sat up looking at me with his eyes really widely opened.
“What?” he said defensively. He looked scared. I imagined him projectile vomiting and laughed.
“I was just gonna take your shoes off.”
He looked around like he was stressed and confused.
My aunt walked into the room.
“Hey,” I said.
My brother opened his eyes wide again. I was afraid that my aunt was going to be mad my brother was so drunk. You can be a real piece of shit sometimes! He probably thought he didn’t look fucked up when he opened his eyes really wide. My aunt laughed at him. “Hey Sara,” she called to my mom downstairs, laughing, “come here!” My mom came upstairs and looked at my brother who looked worried and annoyed.
“He finished a 30-rack Joan said,” said my aunt.
My mom laughed hard and I couldn’t tell if she had given me a mean look or not; I was worried someone said something to my grandma about the weed. My mom and aunt went back downstairs. My brother took his sneakers and pants off. His long hair was frizzy and knotted. He got into bed and immediately fell asleep. “A 30-rack? What a champ,” I thought. I also saw him taking down various mixed drinks. I fell asleep watching “Cops”.
This post is part of Tao Lin Day. To read more posts in this series, click here.