Role Reversal

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You don’t know how you ever landed in the western suburbs of Chicago. Aurora, Illinois. Forget Wayne’s World, the place sucks. It’s miles from the city.

As far west as the train can go before it has to turn around at a big roundhouse. Some entrepreneur transformed the building into a brewpub imaginatively named, “The Roundhouse.” Not a bad place—in fact, the only good aspect of Aurora. That and the Paramount Theater, which shows movies like “West Side Story” on Wednesday nights for a quarter.

Your dance classes and the Vergil Gilman bike trail have kept you from going insane. You work out a lot when you’re depressed. You’re in good shape, which means you’re truly miserable.

No one else seems happy, either. Even your Christian chiropractor’s elderly receptionist whispered to you that her husband smokes pot. She congratulated you for filling out the intake form honestly. You were almost honest. You said you used marijuana once a day, but it’s more like twice. You’d smoke pot all day long, but your brain would turn into static.

The high point of your day is going to Trader Joe’s in nearby Batavia. Couple of turns out of the cul-de-sac and you’re on the main highway. The road rolls in a straight line for dozens of miles. It goes all the way to your dealer’s place. Two-hour round-trip just to buy some goddamned pot. Always wise to stop at TJ’s for packaged vegetables and frozen entrees. You love their chocolate-covered berries, and stuff your mouth with them in the parking lot.

When you’re feeling lazy, you cook the family an Aurora Meal of frozen fish sticks and fries. It’s a “fuck everything” dish your mother used to make. She had the sense to get out of the Midwest and die in Arizona. Your son is in Evanston with his father, and your daughter’s dad lives near Seattle. Now the household is you and your third husband and your 15-year-old daughter from your second marriage. Just another suburban family.

Your daughter is troubled and hates her high school, but that doesn’t strike you as unusual. She walks six blocks each way. The minivan moms pity her and think she’s both deprived and in terrible danger. Still, you stubbornly insist she’s old enough to go to school by herself. The streets are wide and clean, ringed by 1950s Monopoly-style box houses with enormous lawns. Nobody ever walks, except your poor daughter.

Your mid-afternoon pick-me-up bowl is always the best. You reach into your dresser drawer, pull out a pipe, lighter, and a plastic bag filled with indica. The fresh, piquant scent excites you as you peel open a bud and stuff its pieces into the bowl. You recline against the back of your couch and stick the pipe stem in your mouth. Light the bowl, inhale. Instant warmth. Exhale, reignite the lighter, press the flame against the tiny green bundle. The embers glow for a couple of seconds, then fade.

Your muscles relax. As your body melts into the cushions, you stare at the cul-de-sac through the living room window. Weak March sunshine illuminates the panes, casting warmth into the room. Spring is imminent. You shut your eyes, listen to distant birdsong. Perhaps Aurora isn’t so bad. There are worse places further south. At least you’re not stuck near the Mason-Dixon line.

Suddenly, the front door bursts open. You grope for the pipe. It plunges from your hands and clatters to the floor. You accidentally scrape the top of the plastic bag with your outstretched fingers. It slides to the opposite side of the coffee table, exposing the buds.

Mortified, you raise your eyes and gape at the intruder. You already know who it is—your daughter, home early from school. She stands with one hand on the doorknob, staring at you. Her face is a mask of horror and disbelief.

You don’t know what else to do, so you smile. “Home early?” Your voice is innocent, like the virtuous suburban mother you aren’t.

“Jesus, Mom!” your daughter exclaims. “What are you doing?”

Best to answer her with another question. Your voice quavers. “Why are you home early? It’s not spring break yet.”

Your daughter sighs with disgust. “Half day. Teachers’ in-service. I thought you KNEW that.” Staring at your paraphernalia like it was a pile of dog shit, she shakes her head. “I can’t believe this, Mom. I need to go to my room and process.”

She retreats into her bedroom, slamming the door. The living room becomes silent. You feel a deep sense of shame, combined with astonishment. Your daughter never figured out the truth on her own, although you’ve been smoking pot way longer than she has been alive.

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You didn’t want to make her uncomfortable by smoking in front of her, or subject her to secondhand fumes. You huddled in your bedroom with your stash, emerging when the coast was clear. Still, the smell should have been a tip-off. Not to mention your red eyes and dilated pupils.

It’s total role reversal. Disapproval emanates from your daughter’s bedroom. The silence is more damning than words. You didn’t even remember it was a half day. What kind of mother are you? The kind of mother who gets stoned at 2:00 in the afternoon, when good parents are scouring the school website for their kids’ homework assignments.

Well, the truth is out. No longer any reason for subterfuge. You scoop the pipe from the floor, pry open the plastic bag, and pack another bowl. Quick flick of the lighter. You draw in the smoke, hold it in your lungs for a moment, exhale a slow plume. The wall clock reads 2:25. Your afternoon isn’t even half over. You still have enough time to hit the gym and make an Aurora Meal before your husband gets home from work.

Your daughter remains in her room, silent. Then the next door neighbor switches on his riding lawn mower and climbs aboard. Decent people take care of their yards, so they won’t get a ticket in the mail from the city of Aurora. The local government hates unruly grass and likes to fine negligent citizens.

Some suburban mothers swallow antidepressants, but you’re a stoner instead. Go ahead, take another hit. You’ve earned the right to escape. Otherwise you’d have to think about how you ended up in this suburban shithole. Or, even worse, you might develop a sudden interest in lawn care.


Cover image courtesy courtesy of Bob Mical via Flickr

Read more of Leah’s stuff here

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