History of Love and Drugs: A Midterm

by Laura Carey


I want you to feel what I felt.  I want you to know why story-truth is truer sometimes than happening-truth. ~ Tim O'Brien in The Things They Carried 

Interpret the following statements and determine which are reliable memories of actual events or are otherwise true.


  1. One Christmas day when I was nineteen I was smoking a joint of Acapulco Gold in a Volkswagen on a rainy mountainside in Mexico.  I remember looking up just as the driver – a shadowy acquaintance – was rounding a hairpin turn, and I screamed at God because the windshield wiper didn’t work and I couldn’t see anything beyond the hood.  We were going to die.  We were going to fly off the road, plunge down the precipice, flip on the rocks, and be crushed below.

  2. We didn’t die.  The windshield wiper on the driver’s side was working just fine, and the driver maneuvered the turn safely.

  3. None of that happened to me at all.  It happened to my sister.

  4. When I was a baby my sister became a princess every night, and I stroked her hand through my wooden crib bars while she slept beside me in her twin bed.

  5. My sister’s bed was pushed away from my crib.  I couldn’t reach her.  My mother must have suspected my love.

  6. Later, when my sister had just the right white poorboy shirt, just the right white go-go boots, then later still, when she had the immaculately embroidered Mexican shirt and the perfectly worn cords, I reached my fingers out again into her closet, and stole her clothes.

  7. When I was five I loved Billy Niles, and he loved me.  Wendell Killjoy liked me, too.

  8. Billy Niles cut Wendell’s head with the edge of a phonograph record over his love for me.

  9. Lisa, the little girl next door, told me that Billy cut Wendell’s head with a record.  She was a known liar.

  10. Both Billy and Wendell did love me, more than any boy has loved me since.

  11. Five is a romantic and tragic age when your boyfriend drowns in the community swimming pool.

  12. Five is a fresh and innocent age, a time when you have no sexual feelings at all.

  13. My children are not safe, and I have lived through their deaths many times in my imagination.

  14. When we first moved to September Drive – the three-bedroom, two-bath, all-electric-kitchen house – I was three or four years old, and our new friend Billy Niles got out of our wading pool when his mother said it was time to go.  He ran into our house wet and then a brief ten seconds later came out dried and dressed.  It was magic.

  15. A fairy was just inside the screen door and touched Billy with her wand.

  16. I was distracted by a blue dragonfly during the few minutes it took Billy to towel off in our bathroom and pull on his shorts and button-up shirt, so I was fooled by the compression of time.

  17. Billy drowned in the community pool when he was five.

  18. Billy lived to be a teenager, and then killed himself with a gun to the roof of his mouth even though he was cute and popular.  I was no longer cute, and certainly not popular, but I stayed alive.

  19. Billy’s mother (who scrubbed off her guilt in the shower four times a day because of her affair with Billy’s swim instructor) had imagined Billy’s death a thousand times, believing that she could stave off doom, or at least gird her loins.

  20. Imagining the death and funeral of a precious loved one, playing it over and over like a phonograph record, does not prepare you for the real thing, nor does it prevent it.

  21. At my five-year reunion, I was shocked when a female acquaintance told me that I’d had the reputation of a reds pusher in high school.

  22. In 1973 selling illegal narcotics was a felony that could get you life imprisonment.

  23. I was a reds pusher in high school.

  24. I did not sell reds or any other drugs in high school, although while in college I did sell a few lids of marijuana just to make ends meet.

  25. I never did that.  I have always been afraid, and good.

  26. It’s a lot worse to smoke marijuana when you have children than when you do not.  My mother tells of a young woman who was so stoned that she forgot her baby in the bath and he drowned.  Or that she slept with a lot of men and felt nothing.  Either way, she’d ruined her life.

  27. I almost never smoke marijuana these days, and I’m still not sure what reds are, although I think they’re in the barbiturate family.

  28. The benefits of marijuana (memory loss) do not outweigh the long-term drawbacks (the dulling of passion).

  29. Barbiturates make you sleepy, when what you really want is a feeling of euphoria, of well being, a belief that the tiniest lifting of your heart, like a dragonfly lifts off from a pool of water, is preferable to the turbulence of passion.

  30. My mother threatened to kill herself on Christmas Day, 1966, although it sounds false to say so.

  31. On Christmas Day, 1966, my father left us for a thin woman named Stephanie.

  32. One Christmas, my mother grabbed the car keys dramatically, pretending that she was going to commit suicide by driving off a cliff or into a telephone pole.  She wanted to make my father reconsider his decision to move out.

  33. I froze that day, and have never completely thawed.

  34. I floated away that day, and have never completely returned.

  35. Years later, my sister escaped to Mexico and left me alone with my mother.  I spent most of that year stoned on marijuana, never even considering reds.

  36. One morning my mother woke me by beating my face with both of her hands.

  37. My mother once emerged from the shower, only to find there were no clean towels in her bathroom.  Furious, she ran into my room where I pretended to sleep.  I looked so defenseless – her dear child, more raw at fifteen than at birth – that she tiptoed back out and silently prayed to God to help her love me.

  38. I went to school that day with my first black eye, and the pain subsided three years later after I ran my Volkswagen into a telephone pole and a doctor gave me codeine.

  39. The pain subsided when I stole codeine from a friend’s medicine cabinet.   I reached my fingers in and stole only a little bit – much less than what I believed should be mine.

  40. I did not feel ashamed.  I was still afraid, but no longer good.

  41. I was good, but no longer afraid.

  42. I married a man who spent his dead wife’s social security money on marijuana.

  43. My husband looked like Billy Niles – especially around his sexy, half-closed eyes – but he was a marijuana addict, and couldn’t match Billy’s passion, nor mine.

  44. Right around the time I decided to leave my husband, around the time I’d rejected the idea of killing him with a tire iron after he splintered my dashboard with his fist due to my backtalk, a little boy swerved his bicycle in front of my car, and I hit him.

  45. The boy died.

  46. A cry for help froze in my throat.

  47. I snapped into action and saved the boy with CPR and mouth to mouth.

  48. He didn’t die.  The windshield cleanly cracked his leg; the blacktop rent his ear.

  49. His life wasn’t ruined. 

  50. My life was ruined.

  51. When my sister and I were little girls, we sat in the back seat on the way to Stockton for Christmas, our hands stuffed into matching white muffs, our patent leather shoes shining in our eyes.  From the front seat our mother told us her memories.  The only one I still believe is about the car accident in 1945 when she heard from what seemed like a mile away the moans of a boy who would later die.  My mother ran to him, her dimpled legs ten times stronger than before or since.

  52.  I only believe the one about the tarantula who crawled over my mother’s infant chest as she slept in her crib.  Her mother entered the dusty room just in time to swipe the thing away, saving my mother’s life, making mine possible.

  53. I didn’t believe the one about the neighbor lady whose terror gave her the strength of ten men when her little girl was pinned under a Volkswagen, allowing her to lift the car and save her daughter’s life.  But I believe it now.

  54. Foster families earned money during the Depression by taking in little girls whose mothers had to work.  One of them made my five-year-old mother eat soup alone at the kitchen table while the blood relatives ate mutton together in the dining room.

  55. My mother never did commit suicide because, as she said, what would become of my sister and me?

  56. My mother was only pretending to be despondent.

  57. My mother stayed alive because she’s a survivor.  She was the one who, at age five, called her father on the telephone and begged him to come home from his girlfriend’s house, to rejoin the family, while in the background her mother listened in a stupor to the great martyr Stella Dallas on the radio.  My mother had survived the beatings, the little sister who was prettier but who would someday leave her own six children in a motel room while she ran off in a truck with a cowboy from Turlock.  She had survived Stockton and learning shorthand and being fired from her own secretarial job because her boss found soda crackers in her desk drawer and understood she was pregnant.   She wouldn’t die now, just because my father was leaving.  Stella Dallas, after all, hadn’t killed herself, despite her banishment:  she’d held her frowzy head up in the rain and watched her daughter’s wedding through a drizzled window.

  58. When my sister lived in a sun-drenched Mexican beach town, she had access to strong marijuana, and she once sent me a joint wrapped in a bikini she had crocheted herself.  When I opened the package I felt as I had years ago when I tried to reach her princess hand through my bars.  Where was she?  She was pushed across our room, across the landscape, her long fingers working the yarn against a background of warm white sand and green ocean.  I was ashamed of all the years I’d stolen clothes from her closet, and now here she was, making me a bikini and sending it to me with a little bonus wrapped inside, and it was almost as if I were reaching out again, yearning to wear her life.

  59. I was too stoned for memories, my mind frozen from the dry ice of drugs. 

  60. When I opened the package I was reminded that my sister was the loveliest, most daring, talented, and exotic person I had ever known, and that my own life, a high wire act of amphetamines and answering phones at the insurance company, lacked passion.

  61. When I was five, boys liked me because I was cute.  I liked boys and encouraged them, having not yet been flashed by a molester in a Volkswagen while walking home from the seventh grade. Until that pubescent afternoon, I had considered boys to be friends, an attitude that today is caught in my throat.

  62. Boys have never liked me much.

  63. Euphoria is the absence of pain.

  64. Euphoria is the memory of love.

  65. Euphoria is the loss of memory, sometimes caused by taking drugs.

  66. Euphoria is a lifting above the street on blue wings, looking down on the twisted child with the blood already caking his earlobe, the boy who smacked the windshield then slammed to the pavement when you hit the brakes, whose sister with the giant thighs is screaming from the sidewalk.  She is knock-kneed and wearing running shorts, and you’re hovering serenely above, looking down on the turbulence, knowing that the boy merely broke his leg, will go home and enjoy the attention, that his sister will make him a chocolate milkshake that will taste all the better because he’s on codeine.  You, on the other hand, will have nothing but a glass of vinegary wine and it will not be enough to keep you buoyant.

  67. Euphoria is knowing you have a stash of at least a month’s worth of drugs.  And they can be anything really – even reds, although codeine is better.

  68. Passion is another word for euphoria.

  69. Passion is the opposite of euphoria.  Euphoria has more to do with the absence of jarring feelings, while passion throws you this way and that.  And it is not reserved for adults; in fact, children are the most passionate of beings, and as adults we can only dimly recall that we were once, and daily, swept away.

  70. When Billy Niles got out of our wading pool, this is what happened:  He ran to the back entrance, and as the screen door swung wide, a fairy tapped him on the head with her wand to make him dry and dressed.  Billy, accustomed to magic and so not a bit surprised, scooted back out through the door before it closed, and there he was, so beautiful he took my breath away.  I knew magic was in my house, because I felt passionately about Billy, about how  he swam, how he ran, and I’d imagined a thousand times that his every move was affected by the touch of a wand.  I imagined him kissing me, even though I was only five.  I knew then more about love than I do now. 

  71. If your mother threatens suicide, the best course of action is to freeze.

  72. It’s best to call her on the telephone and beg her to come home.

  73. If your mother threatens to kill herself, lift off for good.  Serenely watch cars crash below you.  Serenely watch children drown.

  74. If your mother threatens to kill herself, step aside.  The threat is the deed itself; you no longer need be afraid.

After working as a newspaper reporter and editor, Laura Carey spent 32 years teaching high school English, Journalism and Creative Writing to high school and college students in California, Spain and Brazil.  She now lives, writes and makes art in Northern California near her two grown sons, friends and family.  Her fiction and nonfiction has appeared in Colorado Review, the Phi Delta Kappan, Literary Reviews, the anthology Brasil Brasilonia and numerous newspapers and magazines.


February 2018

© 2020 by The Esthetic Apostle