When the Best Thing Turns Into the Worst Thing



I'm standing with Anne in the kitchen. The windows are flung wide open. It's a beautiful evening. We're sipping wine and we're staring at the gate buzzer.

Right on cue, the little white speaker crackles.

“We're here!”

Anne presses the reply button and returns a tinny “Coolbeans.” She looks at me and says, “It's going to be so classy” and I grin at her. Tongue sticks out the corner of her mouth, she’s digging in her pockets for her gate remote. I beat her to it. A gaggle of students duck under the gate as it’s rolling upwards. One of them turns back and waves. A mom in a white Toyota says Be Good and pulls out of the driveway.

Smell of warm cheese. In the lounge it's me and Carry and her guy friends of friends from Durban and Jill Rhodes and Anne and Darren Waters the housemate and also copious amounts of bubbling cheddar.

I feel like an adult. Usually when we host a gathering it involves beer spills, broken glass, and at least one chunder in the garden. But not this time. Tonight is Fondue And Then Poker Night. We lean across the big dining room table dipping chopped veggies in the little fondue set. We chat and pour more wine and laugh at Jill Rhodes who's adamant about no wine, only Fanta Orange. It’s all civilized. We’re rehearsing for one day.

I smile at Anne. “We're so classy.”

Nodding, “So. Classy.”

Most of the veggies are gone. All that remains of the cheese is a whiff of umami goodness. We bring out the dessert items. The first slab of chocolate bubbles away. There's marshmellows and slices of apple and Marie biscuits and cheese cubes and tomatoes and bits of bread and all of our sticky fingers and all of these items get dunked in warm chocolate and then scoffed.

Johnno from Durban is like a human conveyor belt. Right hand deposits a dripping sweet 'n sour Dorito (yup) in his mouth, left hand’s already dunking the next item. It's not long before the second slab goes in.

It's madness. Nobody's using cocktail sticks or cutlery of any kind. A third and then a fourth slab disappears. Every last bit of chocolate is mopped up. We ease back into our chairs. There's a collective groan. We are stuffed. We are happy. We talk about good times. Still totally classy.

One of the Durban okes explains how epic the Durban weed is. Then he strokes his broad chin and he says, “Like what if we had this fat joint going round?”

Oke number two: “Bru!”

Oke number three: “Lank kiff, hey.”

I glance at Anne and at Carry. Tonight is their baby and there's supposed to be a few hands of Texas Hold'em up next.

But…

I mention well there just so happens to be a bankie in my possession. And some Rizla. Oh and also a pipe.

“So we totally could go do exactly that.”

The okes from Durban cheer. I am their hero. Even Darren Waters gets caught up in the excitement before he remembers to be boring and mumbles “I have varsity tomorrow” and vanishes up the stairs to his room to play Starcraft 2 online alone.

Anne rolls her eyes. Dammit, man. Her and Carry and I've been plotting to get Darren drunk since he moved in. To see him unfiltered. So close! Anyway. Next time.

I wave the rest of the gang down through the back door past the washing line. Up the two steps into my little room. Put on some downtempo electronica. Open the tin with my ID book and the bankie and some cuttings wrapped in paper from last time. I give the Rizla to one of the okes. A pair of scissors, a sheet of paper. He starts rolling like a pro. The mood is lekker.

The oke takes his time so I pack the pipe and light up. Big drag. Hits the spot immediately. I billow smoke and cough “Yeeees please!” and everyone laughs.

We puff and pass. The pipe makes a tight circle, starting on the bed, spilling over onto the big chair, the little chair, the floor and finally Jill Rhodes leaning with one foot up against the cupboard.

My fingers feel like peanut butter and there's a tingling across my lips. It's on. I sit back and I watch the merriment unfold. The music is good. Real good. Everyone's smiling. Everyone's joking. This is my favourite thing.

The oke snips a rectangle off the Rizla box, folds in into a filter, sticks it in.

“My boys! What a beaute.”

He holds up his handiwork, eyeballs it.

“She’s a fatty.”

One of the okes says, “I like fatties.”

Another oke blurts out “Phrasing!” and hilarity ensues.

The oke's ears go bright red (the oke who likes the fatties) and he hits the other oke on the shoulder.

Muse on the speakers. Fish in the sea-ea-ea-ea. You know how I feel.

I go to the kitchen and I pour a jug of water. I bring as many glasses as I can manage and put them on the floor in the middle of the warm tight circle. I’m buzzing hard now and my hips are loose. I get what dancing is all about. When I'm stoned is the only time I do.

The light seems so very yellow and suddenly I giggle and I realize what the Coldplay song Yellow is all about (I took my turn, oh what a thing to have done, and it was all yellow). I giggle and I bop my head and I really get it. It's so simple. He got real high and everything looked like this; a yellow filter over everything. Then he thought about Gwyneth and wrote a song.

Carry says where's Jill. I shrug and I crack open the plastic case of the Led Zeppelin DVD Kimmy gave me for my birthday and I slip it into my computer and I load up The Song Remains the Same filmed live at Madison Square Gardens. Robert Plant croons into the haze and Jimmy Page works his chordal magic. Behind me the conversation fades away and one by one the circle is absorbed into the wizardry. I'm grinning like a rainbow because tonight couldn't get any better. The kick drum, the bass guitar winding round. A groove that is a legend. I’m sucked in, one of the stoned faces in the crowd, buzzing with every note, climbing that stairway to heaven.

Carry is shaking my shoulder. Her face is serious like a Darren Waters face.

“Jill is fucking out,” she says.

I blink at her.

She drags me to the door.

I'm on the step outside my room. Jill Rhodes is prone in the dark on the concrete between my door and the house. She's not moving. She's dead. I look and I don't understand and then there is only pure, raw shock.

How can this be? It's...tonight. Tonight is a blessed night.

Carry's dragging me forward and I'm next to Jill and she's not dead she's breathing really fast like she's sucking at air and missing. She's not dead. She's just definitely dying. I have no idea what to do. I panic. Anne's also there and she's standing staring and Carry is handling this very well, she's telling Anne we have to phone the ambulance, we have to phone Jill's mother.

A hundred different scenarios race through my head, all of them bad; police vans and jail and my dad's disgust. Thinking about when he called me last Sunday and while we spoke he got all worked up and he told me about giving anti-drug talks at the school and it’s such a problem and the tone of his voice when he said the police searched the students.

Jill's making these short, sharp little gasps and Carry's insisting and I'm frozen and Anne takes out her cellphone. She’s shaking her head and she's staring and she's thinking probably about the last few months and about the strain between her and her own mother and about the funeral she's just come back from. Anne dials Mrs. Rhodes but then she just can't and she holds her head and she sticks the phone out at Carry who takes it.

Ring, ring. Ring, ring. Ring, ring. Ring.

“Hello Anne.” I hear the soft tinny voice very clearly.

“Hi, Mrs. Rhodes!” It’s Carry.

“Yes, Anne?”

“Um.” Carry pauses. Then she just blurts it out. “It's your daughter. She's having a panic attack. She's here at our house in Riverton Road.”

“Okay.”

“Can you please come?”

“Yes. I'll be there now.”

That click-rustle sound. Then dial tone. All I can think of is blue police lights.

I go to my room and I am frantic. Tip the black stuff in the pipe bowl onto a tissue, find the stub of the joint. Grab the bankie and after three tries I press the seal shut shaking and then I run to the bathroom and I scrunch up the tissue and I drop it in and I pull the flusher chain. It swirls and bobs and does not go away. My asshole clenches. I yank the chain again and I hold it down until there's no more water and no more tissue. I grip the bankie and I hold it over the water as it refills. I don't want to flush it but I have to but it's such a great batch where will I get more okay no I'll hide it they'll never know. I race to the kitchen and I open all the cupboards and I stick my head in them thinking where where where ah yes the teapot, no one looks in the teapot. I shove it in and close the lid and push it to the back of the shelf. Close the cupboard. Turn around. But then I think no no what if they do look there better split it in half yes okay so I open the cupboard and slide the teapot back out and I find a Ziploc bag and tip out a thumbful in there and I seal it why am I shaking so much. Then I shove one bag back in the teapot and the other one down at the bottom of my box of Corn Flakes and I close all the cupboard doors and I'm buzzing so hard and I try to look cool and my heart is racing and the gate grinds open.

I go outside. Someone's put the light on. Jill is still on the concrete but she's sitting hugging her knees and Anne is next to her and Carry is standing there holding the cellphone. The Durban boys are gone. The door to my room is wide open. Bare bulb hanging from the ceiling. What about the smell. Reedy guitar solo.

Mrs. Rhodes strides towards us. Martin is with her. He's wearing a golf shirt and he stands next to his mom and he's very stiff and he folds his arms. It's the first time I've seen his serious face for real. He only pulls a serious face to set up a joke, but now it stays that way and it's weird.

Mrs. Rhodes smiles kindly and she looks straight at Carry and she talks to her only and her voice is flat and hard.

“What did she have?”

There is a moment where nobody says anything.

“Jill.” Black eyes boring in. “Jill.”

From between her knees Jill Rhodes says, “Wine. Fanta. Um, water...”

Gives a weak laugh, glances at her brother. Martin's face is unreadable.

Mrs. Rhodes still smiles softly. The black eyes whip at Anne, back to Carry. Silence.

Then in this very small voice Anne says, “Ah.”

Everyone turns to her. Her face is in knots.

“And, ah, and weed. A little bit.”

Mrs. Rhodes nods and says okay. She takes her daughter's elbow and she waits for Jill to get herself to her feet. The gate is still open. Jill stands up. She hugs herself and she looks at the ground and her mother leads her to the car and we trail behind them. On the driveway Martin takes me to one side.

“Is that all she had?”

“Yes.”

“Did she have anything else?”

“No.”

“Are you sure?”

“Dude.”

“David.”

“Yes. That's it.”

He's gripping my triceps and he's looking right in my eyes for too long. His lip is curled and he turns away from me and he gets in the car. The big shiny SUV reverses into the road and drives away.

I'm thinking about how Mrs. Rhodes called Carry “Anne” the whole time even though Anne was right there and how can it be that she can't tell them apart because Anne and Jill know each other from high school and she hangs out at the Rhodes' household often and was it on purpose, but that's just weird, but if it wasn't then that's even more weird.

I look at Carry and at Anne and there's a moment where maybe we're going to laugh because it seems okay now. But we don't. And then it gets very not funny very quickly. We go inside and we close the gate and we stand in the passage outside the kitchen. There's this heavy jelly under my ribcage. Maybe we talk but mostly we just wait there and feel terrible in a line in the passage.

At some point Leah gets home and she sees us sitting in the passage and we tell her what happened and she laughs at us and there's this gleam in her eyes. When she smiles maybe it's the weed still working but it's a cruel smile.

“Up here, druggies,” she says and she snaps a picture. “For the wall of shame.”

She studies the photo and says no David looks mean so she takes another one. She disappears up the stairs. Ebullient. Like she just won a competition.

We sit there. It gets very quiet.

There's nothing to say so I mumble 'night and I go to my room and crawl into bed.

Between waves of mosquitoes and feeling like there's an anchor inside I can't sleep. Keep hearing sirens in the distance, can't tell if they're really there. First time I'm paranoid. I get it now, why some people don't touch the stuff, why people parrot “it can mess you up.”

This feeling is the worst. Something eating at me, my own mind. There are all these bad thoughts and they keep coming and it's torture. This is a bad trip. So confused.

Confused because it started out as the best trip ever, and now it's needling self-judgement without end, it's horror, it's fine sensitivity to everything but everything is shit. Negative thought loops.

Realize this.

Realizing it makes no difference.

Can't sleep.

Cruel. A punishment.

For what?

I can't sleep.

I wonder where is God.

Torture without explanation. The purest form.

Wonder why when we sat in a circle in my room and we lit up it was the very best. That feeling. The deep kind that runs through bones and brain and settles in your heart. Like my soul singing yes.

Something fundamental. Sure.

But. But.

if (I was right) {

why this;

} else {

what else?

}

Loop without end.

Because the broken boolean is God.

Earlier tonight I knew it was God who told me this was okay, this was right, because how he talks is he talks into the deep place that feels right beyond reason. Okay. But okay then so how did this happen?

Thing is, I knew it was right. But now it is wrong. What does that mean about knowing? What does that mean?

I search for that place again, I probe, but the voice is void and the absence only echoes.

If this is a lesson, I do not recognize it. I do not understand. If this is a message. I do not understand.

Where are you?

Now is the time to communicate.

Now, right now, is the time for guidance. If I am on the wrong path, tell me. I will listen. I'm asking for guidance.

Don't tell me I'm right and then desert me an hour later when the path gets torn up beneath my feet and I have no sandals.

There is something here. Something. I feel the edges. Can't quite grasp it.

I want to sleep. I do not sleep. What do I not see. Blue flash on my wall. Help me. Help me. Please. I want to sleep. Please. Please.

I wake up and the light is so soft and my head is crystal clear.

I sit up.


I look at the sun squares on the wall. How they’re angling. The rough paint makes the straight lines bumpy, but only from close up. Moment of perfect present.


The house is still. I'm the first one up. I make breakfast.

I sit in the sun on the landing and methodically press soggy Corn Flakes into my mouth.

There is a weight and it is labelled responsibility. It’s new, unpleasant. It is also permanent. It is what you should feel. You should feel this and enforce it and you must keep it there. To be a decent parent, worker, citizen, spouse, adult.

Adult.

Chew. Swallow.

The night could have taken so many different turns. To second guess is pointless. I know this. Stating it does not help. The fact is I caused it. I feel like shit.

Swallow.

If God was there then it was when I stood on the step and knew she was dead but she wasn't. When I bent over her and she was dead she was breathing. Those are the moments. Follow those branches and they lead somewhere I am wrong about everything.

Chew. Mush.

I think about Dad. I think about being Christian. What that means. The decision that some things will not happen. Self-censorship. Last night. Some paths remain shut. Last night would have been a poker night. That is (that would be) the only outcome. Close off some paths forever by shutting them out of your mind.

Inviting your children to be Christian, it’s a gift you can offer, to soften their journey. You narrow the number of choices, narrow them to what a long march of people have already proven works just fine. The gift is predictability. Ease the horror of the infinite, constrain it. Trust in tradition, in the forefathers’ formula. Swallow your cereal. There we go. Good boy. You don't want to be a Good Boy? Believe me, boy, we are better off with wills less free. Just believe me.

Anne joins me on the step.

She looks over the rim of her mug at the garden, says, “Jill had her stomach pumped.”

I nod.

“She's okay. They left her in the hospital but now she's at home.”

We should go visit her.


We don’t. Duh. Two days later I'm sitting at my computer. I should phone her, that is The Right Thing To Do.

Right? But, I don't.

SMS then. No. Not right. Not enough.

I open Facebook. I find her profile and I look at her pictures and then I click to message her. This is what I write:


Jill.

The other night was one of the worst nights of my life. Every morning that I've woken up since then I have felt like shit.

For my role in the evening I am deeply, truly sorry. For what that's worth.

Hope things are ok at home, with the parents and the bro and such.

Hope you are ok, too.

There are some events in life that push us apart and some that draw us closer together. I hope that in time we will all grow to see this as one that tightens our relationships.

David


I read it over once and edit where the red squiggles are then I click Send.

What has stuck in my head is the way Martin pulled me aside. Like he was waiting to get me alone, like he'll only believe the words if they come from a guy. From a male mouth. Awkward. When I rephrase it as “a man's mouth” it just doesn't ring true.

How I'm so self-critical, already the experience is twisted into some reflection of me and the kind of man I am.

What also stuck in my head is Anne, when she said and some weed. Her voice then. Like it cost her something.

I think, Nothing for me for a while now.

Maybe just muffins at home.


The next day I get a reply from Jill.


Dave

I am just as sorry to have put you through that. It really was a scary thing to have happen.

I dont blame you or anyone at all, it was completely my decision and my fault, and thankfully it turned out alright.

Sometimes these are good wake-up calls, we now know what to do in the situation, and i know to be a lot more careful, i was just completely naive. I was also quite stressed, so I should have definitely been far more careful, as I know that that can have a bad affect with weed.

Please dont feel shit. Really no reason, it was completely my complacency. I hope also we will all be aware that health is such s fragile thing. I didnt realise how easy it is, to be in a bit of a dangerous situation, and its difficult to abstain altogether obviously but we need to always make sure there are freinds around who will phone etc.

Anyway thank you so much for the email. I hope I will be invited back sometime?! really enjoyed spending time with you all.

love,

Jill

.:.







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