Old School

Old School

I might have missed the bag, not seen it at the bottom of the laundry basket. A feather weight, so small it didn’t cover the palm of my hand, the leaves crushed to a uniform powder. In my day pot came in actual baggies, folded over, secured with a rubber band and was full of stems and seeds. This tidy little bag with its tiny Ziploc, the pot in a neat green rectangle, could have come from a doctor’s office.

I knew it was pot, even before I smelled it, by the color, a dry green. Natural, we called it. An herbal.

I figured Jason, my son, would have bought it from one of his friends and I thought I had a pretty good idea of who that might be but I told myself I wouldn’t say anything about that. If I try to tell him who he can and cannot associate with, it’ll just make him stubborn.

When I was his age, fourteen, I’d been drinking and drugging for two years, but Jason’s not me. Kids his age, even good kids, I reminded myself, are going to experiment. The important thing is not to overreact, make too much of it. Let him know I took it seriously without scaring him. I want Jason to feel he can talk to me about whatever is going on with him.

It took me awhile to figure it out, didn’t see what you’d do with something ground so fine but then I realized you’d use it to cook something. Edibles. We’d had an in-service at work where they’d told us what to look for when we checked inmates in.

What worried me, I would tell him, and calmly, because I was motivated by concern for him, was that when you eat it, you can’t be sure of how much you’re getting. There were those people in Colorado who died from cannabis lozenges. I’m not being mean, I’d say. This is dangerous shit, Jason.

I got worked up, handled it like a fool. I knew I should have talked to Mindy first, not just come out with it.

Mindy had made spaghetti. The sauce was out of a jar but she’d sautéed an onion in the pan first and I guess it was supposed to be nice, a family dinner.

The attitude was coming off Jason in waves, and, though he hasn’t had much use for me lately, I reminded him I was off tomorrow, asked him if there was something he wanted to do with me.

“Nothing comes to mind.”

I pulled the packet from my pocket then and dropped it in front of him.

“This doesn’t belong to me.”

“Look at me, Jason, and tell me how it got in the laundry basket.” I hadn’t intended to get angry. What if he’d meant it to be found, was asking for help?

He looked. He wasn’t frightened and I told myself that was fine, I didn’t want him to be afraid of me.

At his age I was a practiced liar and I thought my son had gotten the basic technique down: stick to your story even in the face of disbelief, stay calm, don’t get defensive and start offering explanations they’ll pick apart. I hadn’t thought of his telling the truth.

“It isn’t mine.”

Mindy could have reached across the table to take the bag then instead of leaving it in front of Jason’s plate, as if it had been a special gift, concert tickets or car keys. Cut it off, cut me off, before I brought my fist down on the table.

She shifted in her chair then, as if meaning to stand. I was glad to turn away from Jason. She’d get us back on track, I thought. She’d have something to say about me leaving her out of the loop but we could talk about that later. Privately. At least one of us knows how to talk to him. When I try to be gentle the way she is it feels fake.

She reached for it and stuck it in her back pocket.

It must have been comical for our son, watching how long it took me to figure it out.

“It seems I owe you an apology, Jason.”

“Please may I be excused?” Mocking me with the nice ways we’d taught him.

“If you’ve had enough to eat.” He gets headaches when he misses a meal. Hypoglycemia. It isn’t diabetes but his skin gets clammy and he’s shaky like someone in insulin shock. I’m good to him at those times, I believe. Patient. I’ll put my arm around his shoulders to steady him, get him orange juice, cheese, peanut butter, whatever he’ll eat.

I saw the smirk on his face when he left, would have enjoyed wiping it off.

“When were you planning to tell me, Mindy? Were you going to tell me?”

She was shoveling spaghetti into her face, didn’t answer.

“Where did you buy it?” Mindy sells real estate. They got her driving around town in an orange Kia Soul with her company’s name painted on the sides. “Do you think people won’t notice that ugly car in the parking lot?”

Sunshine in a bag. It’s 4:20 somewhere. Drop by and say high.

She swallowed, then twirled more spaghetti onto her fork, plugged her mouth with it. Mindy’s a big girl. Not fat. What they used to call strapping. Busty, long legs. Hair half way down her back. Sun-kissed beachy waves, she tells them at the beauty parlor when they ask her what she wants. There are fourteen agents in her company but it’s her picture in the ads. Mindy in jeans and high heels, looking up and smiling. Let me show you our little piece of heaven.

I’m a sergeant at the jail, take the off-site work crew out in a van to pick up trash. The short bus, the offenders call it.

“I should have said something to you first, before I talked to him.”

I can make more money when I work overtime, but I never make less, don’t have lean months the way Mindy does.

“You think?” She’d shoved some salad in and I had a glimpse of the green in with the little bits of chewed spaghetti before she snapped her mouth shut.

They say marijuana isn’t addictive, not like hard drugs, but I couldn’t sleep without it. Couldn’t settle down. This was when I was seventeen. I quit because I wanted to enlist, get out of the house, and the story was marijuana shows up in your pee for more than thirty days after you’ve smoked.

It was harder to quit than I’d expected. I missed that feeling I’d get when the buzz started. Warm, loose as a goose.

No matter how tired I was I couldn’t sleep at night, would push myself awake as soon as I’d start to doze off, lie there in the dark and every stupid thing I’d ever done would lie down with me.

Calling Shelley Nichols Namu, Namu, the killer whale, back in sixth grade. Getting the rest of them to do it too, telling myself someone else would have started it if I hadn’t. Shelley was a natural born target. That’s why God made her so very large, I’d said.

The special pleasure I took in examining the loose change my father left on the dresser, calculating how many coins I could take before he’d notice.

I was weak to want the pot. I’d be stronger without it, I told myself, better able to take whatever they dished out in boot camp.

“What kind of example do you think you’re setting for Jason?” It’s only legal for you, I could have said, not him.

“Christ,” she said, and went upstairs, leaving the dishes on the table.

You don’t need it, Mindy, I wanted to tell her. You’re better than that. Strong enough to live life on life’s terms, same as I do.

I pictured her with a couple of her friends, big, talky gals like her, getting goofy eating cannabis brownies. Big fun.

I hate going into Jason’s room. He keeps his clothes, the dirty ones and the clothes I’ve washed and dried and folded for him, in a pile in the middle of the floor. I don’t see how anyone can live like that, I would not be able to keep myself from saying. I’ve, we’ve, done plenty for you. We’re not asking much, just get your room squared away.

Pick your battles, Mindy says. She’d been excited when we’d set up his room as a nursery, had me hang up a picture that had belonged to her grandfather when he was a little boy. The three little kittens holding up their paws to admire their new mittens, before they lost them.

You’d think Mindy would mind his turning it into a pigsty but she says let it go, he’s depressed.

In which case, wouldn’t he feel better if he didn’t live on a garbage heap?

I rinsed off the plates, put them in the dishwasher, went into the living room, tried to figure out something to do. After a while I heard Mindy go upstairs, knock on Jason’s door. My father never knocked; he’d come into the room I shared with Stevie, my little brother, turn on the lights, and we’d wake from the first deep trough of sleep into the bright room.

Their voices mingled together. I wished I could hear what they were saying, pictured myself walking in there, inserting myself between them, as if there was nothing unusual about my being there. I’d offer to heat something up for Jason, coax them both down to the kitchen, sit at the table with them.

I turned on NCIS, watched the one with Gibbs. I don’t like the newer show, where they’re in Los Angeles, as much, so, when it came on, I locked up for the night. It had been a hot day, didn’t get cooler when the sun went down.

We’d been out at the fair all week. My only good worker is the one female on the crew, Sharon. She’s forty, I think, Mindy’s age, but seems older. Crooked teeth, for one thing. We paid for Mindy to get veneers; she said she needed it done to stay relevant.

Sharon had been working as a night auditor at a motel. When the guests paid cash for some little item, aspirin or a frozen dinner, Sharon kept the money. Didn’t do it long before she got caught, took maybe three hundred dollars. The owner wanted to make an example out of her.

I tell her she’ll be out soon and she’ll get another chance but that’s just something to say.

Sharon keeps her head down, doesn’t like people seeing her in her Fugate County Inmate Work Crew vest. The others on my crew, young men, don’t have that problem and they don’t care about filling their sacks with trash. The tinny music and the stale smells rising off the hot ground made them crazy to get to the Midway, see girls in Daisy Dukes.

I’d put in some long days this week, spoiling their fun.

Jason’s light was still on. You have to wonder what they find to talk about. When I was young we thought there was something off about boys who spent too much time with their mothers. Though I might have been a mama’s boy myself if my mom had ever stopped talking about the cat, how she suffered, watching him hawk up those hairballs, but she didn’t know how to make him stop licking his damn self.

I could just go to bed. When Mindy came in I’d pretend I’d been asleep and she woke me.

It’s my house. I pay the bills. Most of them. Mindy earns money too, can’t forget that. When a commission comes in she takes us out to dinner, buys stuff. At the end of the year I’ll still have made more and it isn’t just money. I get benefits and Mindy doesn’t.

I knocked, went in without waiting for them to answer, because who else would it be?

Jason was sitting on the bed, staring at the floor and I looked down too, at the glasses from the kitchen, smelling of sour milk. If he forgot they were there when he got out of bed he could step on one, hurt his foot.

Mindy looked at me as if waiting for an explanation. WTF, as the kids say.

I turned to our son, said I knew I’d already apologized. But, I was going to say next, I want to tell you I’m sorry I accused you of lying. What I hoped was he’d say okay, he could see how it had looked that way.

“You didn’t apologize.”

“I did.” The wastepaper basket next to his desk was full of apple cores, pop cans, wrappers from frozen burritos, candy bars. No wonder he hadn’t cared about dinner.

“You said you owed me an apology but you didn’t apologize.”

My son talking to me like he’s got the righteous goods on me.

“You’re right, of course. I apologize for not believing you.”

Any kid looks sweet when they’re asleep, but I’d check on Jason when he was little, see those soft curves on his face think oh, I’m never going to hurt you, never, ever.

Jason didn’t reply. I shouldn’t have let them know I felt sorry for myself. “Cut me some slack. Nobody tells you this stuff. My father would have eaten his liver before he’d apologize.”

“Did he also beat you with his belt?”

“You know he did.”

She ought not mock me like that, take advantage of a confidence.

You had to be there, Mindy.

“Grandpa says he’d do anything to take it back,” Jason said. I’d heard that before. Second hand.

My mother’s dead. Why can’t my father just die too?

“He says that’s how it was back then. People figured their kid’s butt needed burning up once in a while.”

I’d like my father to say it to my face, tell me he’d been thinking about what I needed.

He and Jason are buds.

I’d told Mindy once about how Stevie would get in bed with me when my father left. As if I was of actual help, could do something besides lie beside him, both of us crying and calling our dad names. Shithead, ass-wipe. Bad words I’d collected to use when I needed them.

“I understand,” our son said, not looking at me. I’d have liked to cross the room and sit down on the bed with him but there was stuff on the floor between us, more candy wrappers, socks, a math textbook he should have turned in at the end of the school year.

“Do you still want to do something tomorrow, Dad? Maybe we could we go to the fair?”

Sometimes, after we’d left off crying, my father would come back into our room, tiptoeing, as if we were asleep, put dollar bills or candy bars on our pillow, left.

Jason had already gone to the fair with a friend. The day before he went he was supposed to do chores to earn money for snacks and the rides. He didn’t, claimed to have forgotten, said it was hot and late and he needed to unwind or he wouldn’t be able to sleep.

Mindy said Jason spends too much time in his own head and it isn’t his fault the fair is so expensive. She gave him sixty dollars, asked him if he thought that would be enough.

I’d seen him there with the other boy, standing in line for the Zipper. I don’t know if he saw me.

They weren’t saying anything to each other, weren’t exchanging pleasantries, you’ll puke your guts out, as you’d expect, but they were together at least.

I could have gone over, said hello, asked him if he needed anything, but I was in uniform and I thought he’d be embarrassed.

“Sure,” I said, looking down at him. “The fair would be great.”

I darted forward then to pick up the glasses around Jason’s feet. “I’ll just take these. I was going to run a load in the dishwasher.”

I saw the glances Mindy and Jason exchanged.

“We’ll get us some barbecue,” I said, holding my load of glasses to me like a girl clutching her purse to her chest. “It’ll be great.”

“Bring me back some funnel cake,” Mindy said when she opened the door for me. “Bring a lot. I’ll put my face down in it and keep it there till it’s gone.”

Sprinkle a little green powder on it, I thought. Make it more palatable.


I kept what my father put on our pillows. When Stevie pushed his money or candy onto the floor I picked it up, put it with mine.

Take what you can get.


About the Author

Jane Snyder is a retired social worker living in Spokane.

Photo by Andy Middleton on Flickr. No changes made to photo.