I drove my big blue boat of an Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera — a hand-me-down from Grandma Betty — along the winding road to Matt Erickson’s house in Lakefield, the town next to Jackson, where I lived and couldn’t wait to leave.
It was the dog days of August. The heat made my legs stick to the faux leather seats, and I was hellbent on making good use of this last sliver of freedom before school started up again.
Matt might have had a crush on me, as he later admitted, and I might have had a crush on him too, but any romantic feelings were fleeting. We were two positively charged magnets — there was too much sameness, no attraction, no pull. And then there was the issue of our hair. Matt had a Bob Ross ’fro, and I had a frizzy Jennifer Aniston ’do, mangled by a local hairdresser. It just wasn’t going to work. Any time I would start thinking maaaybe, I would catch a glimpse of the beige Brillo pad atop his head and call the whole thing off in my mind.
Still, we hung out all the time after acting in several school musicals and plays, including “A Christmas Carol” and “The Pajama Game.” We also competed in speech, math league and mock trial. There was nothing else to do in our rural area … except maybe drugs.
At 16, I had never so much as smoked a cigarette, but I was more than ready to have some wild experiences. At the top of my list was weed.
My parents were teetotalers. I had never seen them so much as sip on a beer or puff a cigarette. Their expectation was that I would be the same. While I could understand their perspective, I didn’t entirely agree.
Thanks to DARE and one of my favorite movies at the time, “The Basketball Diaries,” I was aware that drugs were dangerous and could mess up my life. But I had been trapped in this little backwater too long, and I was determined to check marijuana off my list by the end of the summer.
Matt said he would get some after I had threatened to inquire with some notorious bad boys. He had smoked two or three times before and thus considered himself something of an expert. And I think he liked the idea of being my guide.
It took him long enough, but finally, on that hot August day, he called to say he had gotten a dime bag from a slightly older boy. I found him in his computer room, where he was burning CDs of pirated music he had downloaded from Napster.
He showed me the pot. It appeared to be about 30 percent seeds. We realized we would need a smoking device, so Matt got to work fashioning a rig out of an apple. It didn’t look like much, so he made second pipe out of a Sprite can.
He didn’t want to smoke in the house, in case his parents came home, so we drove in Matt’s blue boat (ugh, we even had similar cars). We followed Highway 86 to the tar road by the golf course until it turned into gravel. Then it was back to Highway 86. The windows wouldn’t roll down, so we stopped every mile or so to inhale from the Sprite can.
“I’m not feeling anything,” I said on the way back to his house.
In the living room, I watched the giant wall clock tick off the intervals of monotony. Tick tock. Matt was standing by the light switch, trying to create some kind of strobe effect, as if that might help throw us into an altered state. He flicked on the light. Tick tock. Then flicked it back off. Tick tock. Nothing.
I followed him up to his room.
“Maybe this will help,” he said.
He turned on the ceiling fan, and we lay side by side on his bed, hands almost touching. We watched the blades whip around and blur into one another. My breathing seemed to sync up with the fan’s hypnotic drone as I tried to identify the individual blades within the never-ending spiral.
I wondered how many minutes would go by until the weed finally kicked in. I wondered how long it would take for me to be lying on a bed with a boy I actually wanted to kiss. I wondered how different my life would be after I had done more drugs and kissed more boys.
I felt a melancholy pang that seemed to be coming from a distant galaxy and somewhere inside the house. I sat up straight, saying, “Welp, this was a bust. Not everyone feels it on their first time, I guess.”
Matt looked disappointed. “I’ll get some better stuff for next time,” he said.
I watched my feet as they made their way down the stairs. I slid into the Oldsmobile and slammed the heavy door behind me. I rolled down the window and stuck my head outside as I drove the 15 miles back to Jackson — except it turned into 20, because the wind felt so amazing on my face that I didn’t want the ride to end.
My detour took me to the Best Western Country Manor Inn diner, where I worked as a waitress alongside my cousin Ashley, who happened to be on the day shift.
She had a coffeepot in one hand when she greeted me: “Hey! What are you doing here?”
It took me a while to come up with an answer: “I think I just got high,” I said in a loud whisper.
“Of course, you did,” Ashley said. And she shook her head, probably because she could tell it was just the beginning.
Then she served me one of the big, frosty cinnamon rolls that the diner was famous for. While I savored every bite, I wasn’t dreaming about the future or demanding that it get here faster.
Courtney Kocak is a television writer, podcaster and comedian in Los Angeles.