Updated: May 2, 2019
The first time I smoke out of a bong, I am in a parked car. I am in Florida, visiting an old friend named Sofia. I also turn out to be visiting her new boyfriend Teddy, who will remain by her side for the entire weekend until they drop me off at the airport. I arrive late on a Friday, in an empty Miami Airport terminal that smells like leather and fast food.
Boca Raton is a part of Florida that is almost beautiful. There are seemingly endless stretches of strip-malls. Many of the restaurants are chains and most of the homes are gated, in lavish developments that are under round-clock surveillance. We pull up to one of these gates; Sofia says we’re going to meet some of her friends. Upon our arrival, the attendant asks who we are here to see. He will open the gate only if we provide an acceptable answer. And we do; we are here for Andy, Teddy says.
“Andy. That’s the one I told you about,” Sofia says from the front seat. She cranes her neck, meets my eyes. I give her a smile even though I don’t remember what it was that she told me. I am tired from my flight and don’t feel in the mood to say much at all.
“He’s into you,” she reminds me.
“Ah,” I say. “Right.” I try to stop her train of thought before she can develop it further. “I’m sort of seeing someone at home,” I lie.
“Whatever,” Teddy laughs. “Just see where the night takes you.” Sofia nods enthusiastically in agreement.
I am young — in only my first year of high school — and I don’t argue. I am excited to be around Sofia and Teddy, who are a few years older than me, and around people who know nothing about me besides my name and the fact that I am only here for the weekend. Sofia doesn’t seem concerned with whether or not I can keep up. And besides, I can.
Andy gets in the car with his two other friends. He pulls the bong out of a reusable grocery store bag that looks like something my mother would use instead of plastic bags, in an effort to be sustainable. The bong is a smoking device that I have heard stories about, adventure tales told to me by older, more experienced friends and siblings. Andy looks at me with expectation, as if he has heard that I am ‘into’ him, too. I wonder what Sofia has told him when he squeezes my waist within the first few minutes of meeting me. He is thickset with long, dirty-blonde hair that shines with grease; the oiliness is especially apparent in the area where his forehead meets his hairline. He laughs at my coughs when the smoke from the bong sears my throat. I realize there is no water in the car. Teddy jokes with Andy, tells him he was mean to give me what he calls a “death rip.”
My throat continues to burn for the rest of the night, even after we have eaten sushi in the back of a dark restaurant where the waiters do not ask for our ID before serving us alcohol and where Andy continues to grab my waist. The grabs became harsher with each beer he chugs and burps up; he grows more confident each time he reaches for me. Andy’s rigid, calloused hands chafe against my skin and under the new green t-shirt that I have purchased just for this weekend. When we leave the restaurant, he grabs me again from behind, his large jaw rattling up and down with each bellowing laugh. I say nothing. I am disoriented from the bong rips and drunk off of whatever cheap beer I was fed. I tell Andy that I’ll see him at whatever location we’re heading to next, hopping into Teddy’s car before Andy can follow and slide into the empty seat adjacent to mine.
Teddy drives, even though he shouldn’t. He drives fast. He speeds on the Florida freeways and I am so overwhelmed by my high and the stoplights that I shut my eyes, extend my hands on either side of me in an effort to hold onto the vehicle that carries me forward. I feel every grit of gravel as the car pulls into a gas station. Sofia gets out; she is staggering. She buys American Spirit cigarettes and smokes them inside the car, with the windows up. The smoke doesn’t seem to bother Teddy, so I decide against asking to open a window. I hold my breath until I no longer can, coughing on the dirty air and the residual sting of the bong.
And then we are back at Andy’s house and the bong that began our evening is back in its rightful place, inside Andy’s drawer. I, too, am wishing to hide inside of there. We sit, all four of us, on his creaking living room couch. I go to use the bathroom and return to only Andy, who sits where Sofia and Teddy had been just moments earlier.
“They’ll be back soon,” he says, right before he leans in to kiss me. When I don’t kiss him back, he grabs my face, clawing the back of my head towards him with a pinching grip. When he shoves his hands down my jeans, he is angry. He stabs his fingers in a way that makes me cry out in pain. I endure for as long as I can until eventually taking flight to the bathroom, where I try to call Sofia.
But she is too busy, presumably having sex, in the next room to answer and I am so cold in this bathroom wearing only a bra, so I return to the living room. It isn’t until twenty minutes later that Sofia finally returns with Teddy. They find us sitting in silence, on opposite ends of the couch. I watch Andy flip through the channels of his television, the blue light of the LED screen pulsating like a strobe against his dissatisfied face.
Charlotte Klein, Spring 2018
artwork by Nadine Ng