When I open my eyes, Robby is sitting opposite me in the window.
“Hey, man, don’t cry.”
“It looks that bad, huh?”
“Your boyfriend and you still fighting over that chick?”
“Pretty stupid to cry over, huh?”
“Seems so, but if that’s what you feel.”
“I thought about looking for you guys.”
“Wanna get stoned?” he pulls a joint from under his long hair.
“Why not? You always got weed?”
“Robby’s my name, weed’s my game.”
He lights it up, takes a hit, and passes it to me, with a wry look. I take a hit but hardly get any smoke. He laughs, then moves over next to me.
“Here, let me help,” as he takes the joint and sticks it in my mouth.
I get a massive hit and instantly cough.
“You never hold back,” he laughs. “Look at the joint.”
He shows me a small pin hole close to my mouth.
“This is a Robby Special. You’ve got to know where to hold it, so you get more than just air.”
He guides my finger over the hole. I take a slow hit. I feel the smoke enter my lungs. He pulls my hand away before I take too much. He clamps his hand over my nose and mouth. I expect the smoke to come out my ears. I’m about to explode before he lets me exhale.
“Feel it expand, man. That’s real Colombian. You can tell ‘cause it expands.”
I’m floating with the smoke, hovering in the window.
“Com’n, let’s fly away, before you lose your nerve.”
He’s out the window, running along the roof. I follow automatically. Soon we’re in the trees above our yards. He moves effortlessly from branch to branch, knowing exactly when to jump to the next tree. I stay close, following his lead, and soon we come down in his backyard. He goes straight to a rear window. We both slide into his bedroom. He sinks into a beaten-up easy chair, while motioning me to sit on his unmade bed. The room is more than teenage-messy; it’s crammed with excessive paraphernalia, reminding me of Joey’s room over the garage in Stockbridge. A set of drums is set up in the corner, next to an elaborate stereo components set. Speakers, four feet high, are in opposite corners. A black cat comes over and rubs my legs.
“That’s Rocky. Talk to her, she understands.”
“Yeah, man. Watch. Say hi, Rocky.”
I laugh at him.
“You got to believe. Say something to her.”
“Come home with me, witchy woman.”
“Hiss,” she jumps onto Rob’s lap.
We both fall back, laughing.
“Far out, Robby. I do believe.”
We keep laughing. Then he gives me a serious look.
“So what’s up, butt fuck? You weren’t crying for nothing over there.”
“Just feeling sorry for myself. I told you I saw my best friends fucking. They still haven’t said a word about it. I feel excluded.”
“This is two guys?”
“No. You know, my ‘boyfriend’ and this team chick we’ve both been chasing for a year.”
“Well, maybe he’s not gay, man.”
“It’s not that we’re just having sex. We live together, been inseparable for months. I saved his life in May. Since that moment we’ve hardly been apart. Until this week.”
“Why ain’t ya talking to him about it?”
“I’m waiting for him to tell me. He doesn’t know I saw them doing it. Now it’s become a secret.”
“Well, it’s tearing you up. Did you tell him about our tree adventures the other night?”
“No. It’s like we’ve stopped being together. Now my dad wants him to move home. It’s all screwed up. Maybe I’ll move to his house in Kendall.”
“Lame, man, Kendall, like the Mall?”
“It’s just South Dade.”
“The Gables is where it’s at. Here, want a bong hit.”
He brings out a ceramic figure of a laughing Buddha, with a bowl stuck in its belly. While I smile, he packs the bowl from his baggie of dope, and hands the bong to me. I just laugh.
“So, I have to teach you how to hit the bong, too?”
I nod yes, barely able to stop the giggles. He puts my finger over a hole in the Buddha’s belly, lights his Bic, holds the flame over the bowl, while I suck in the smoke. At first, little smoke flows as the bong bubbles. As soon as he takes my finger off the hole, the cool smoke floods my lungs, quickly filling them to capacity. He puts the pipe away, then holds my mouth and nose shut. The expansion makes me think my eyes are popping out. I can’t get any air. My head swims as my vision blacks out. Trying to break his grip, I fall back on the bed. Finally, he lets go and I exhale. Tears run down my face, as my vision clears.
“Now, that’s a reason to cry, man.”
I laugh. My ears and face are as red as beets. Feeling hot all over, I rush to the window for air. Finally composed, I turn around as he takes his hit. He has it under total control. Finished, he offers me the bong.
“Ready for another hit?”
I shake my head in disbelief.
We laugh while he takes a third hit. I realize I’m spinning and afraid I’ll barf in his room. Looking panicked, I stand up. Robby comes over, placing his arm on me.
“Relax. It’s all in your head. Don’t be paranoid.”
He sits with me on the bed until I cool off. I feel intense relief. Finally, I can talk again. He’s sitting in his chair, looking smug.
“I guess I’m a lightweight, huh?”
“For sure, dude, but it’s okay. You’ll learn.”
A head sticks through the window, Dave from the other night.
“Bong hits, for sure, for sure. Am I interrupting anything hot?”
“Fuck off, fag,” Robby replies.
I try to tell him I’m not gay all the time, but Dave cuts me off, “Don’t be so gay, man.”
They both laugh, until I join in.
Robby passes him the bong, which he quickly fires up.
“That’s better,” he sighs, and collapses on the bed next to me.
I detach from myself, watching the other two, aware that I’m ten times higher than them. I float around the room as they discuss what to do that night.
“Wanna climb the tower at Holy Family?” Dave asks. “I left the back door open after altar boy practice this afternoon.”
“Still pure in the eyes of the Lord?”
“You know my dad will kill me if I stop going to Church.”
“Ya still go to confession, huh? What do you tell the priest about us?”
“Nothing. Just that I get high. The priest really gets off on it, going on about breaking the law and all that.”
“So, he thinks I’m your pusher. Come here little boy and have some of this candy.”
“He says you’re worse than that.”
“Could it be the Devil?”
“You got it. He says you’re leading me to hell.”
“Well, I guess you don’t want this bong hit.”
“Only if’n you twist my arm.”
“Come here. I’ll twist your brain.”
While they argue and Dave gets high, two more faces appear at the window.
“Can we come in, Robby?”
“Oh no, it’s the junior high crowd. The road to hell runs through my window.”
The two boys pile in, sitting between the chair and the bed, looking expectantly at Robby. I lean back against the wall, pulling my feet underneath me. All at once, everyone stares at me.
“What? What’s wrong?”
“Shoes on the bed. Shoes on the bed,” they all shout. I push my legs out so my feet were beyond the edge of the bed. Everyone relaxes. I check Dave, who has his feet tucked under him.
“What?” Dave asks.
“Just that you’re doing what everybody yells at me for.”
“Well, I don’t wear no funky clodhoppers.”
Robby says, “Just go barefoot, man. I don’t like anyone dragging dirt into my bed.”
I take off my sneakers and toss them out the window, breaking everyone up.
“You could also upgrade those jock-head clothes, Jeans and tees? Come on.” Robby chastises me. “Wait,” he adds when I start to rip off my shirt, “I don’t necessarily mean right now. And my Mom’ll flip out if she finds all these clothes in the backyard tomorrow morning. Remember the no orgy rule?”
“I’ll go barefoot the rest of the summer,” I promise.
“Hey, are we gonna check out the Church,” Dave changes the focus away from me.
“Not until we get high, at least,” the two new guys intone.
“David’s priest says I’m sending him to hell. I’m sure as hell not invading his church after getting you little kids stoned. That’s testing fate.”
“Ah, com’n, Robby. We wanna go to hell.”
“Okay. But you have to kneel in front of me, so I can pray for your souls.”
“I believe. I believe,” they chant, while Robby puts the bong in each one’s mouth. Dave lights the bowl each time they take their hits. They both genuflect.
Sitting in Robby’s room that night, stoned to the gills, I observe as the rest of the gang hangs out. First is Dave, not fully grown, he has that lean look that says he was going to be tall. His friend Jazz is more like a frog, slumping over with big eyes that watch everyone at once. Iggy is a greaser, with a leather jacket and a snarl on his lips; I never learn his real name; he is Iggy because he’s into the Stooges. John is the innocent angel, still an eighth grader, allowed to hang out with us because his older brother, Jace, is cool about it. Max was his and Jace’s dog. Michael comes in last and is Robby’s equal. they’ve been best friends since grade school. Dawn was Jazz’s older sister; why she hangs out with a bunch of immature stoners is clear; she likes getting high. Mary is Robby’s girlfriend, who has a mind of her own; she’s Puerto Rican and doesn’t live in the Gables. Robby is the center, if not the leader, because he has the weed; he shares with all who hang out; there are occasional buyers but dealing never happens when we’re there; he has just turned seventeen and is out of school. Whether he graduated is never discussed. The normal response to anyone showing up is to light up a doobie for the newcomer and pass it around.
With the gang all there, the question of the night’s activity is discussed. After the topic changes several times, we agree to climb the Catholic Church’s bell tower. Dave’s objection that it’s sacrilegious is trumped by Robby’s assertion that it’s religious to (literally) get high.
“Father Joseph’s always saying you guys are sinners,” Dave pronounces.
“That’s because you’re always confessing we are to blame for all the trouble you get into,” Robby counters. “You blame us to get out of trouble with your folks.”
“Right, like they care what I do.”
“No, you care what they think, ‘cause they still beat your butt.”
“No one wants yours.”
Finally we get out of there and wander up Riviera to the Catholic Church. Dave leads us to a back door, while I follow the gang. Once inside, Rob splits toward the altar, but Dave holds him back.
“Com’n the bell tower stairs are over there.”
“Where’s the wine you snappers are always drinking?”
“Forget it, Robby. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Is the little altar boy afraid I’ll desecrate his church.”
“You’re an idiot, asshole,” and Dave pushes him toward the bell tower door.
We silently file up the stairs, coming out on an open space below the tower’s roof. All sides are open to a spectacular view of the Gables. Street lights are like illuminated lines on a map, defining our town. Immense dark spaces represent the country clubs and parks. The lighted fountains at various intersections remind me of Disney World, seeming small and precious. The only other building as high as we were is the old Biltmore Hotel, but it’s unlighted and supposedly abandoned.
“You guys ever check out that old hotel,” I ask.
“You think it’s haunted?”
“Naw. Just looks cool to check out.”
Robby claims that he and Michael climbed along the roof. Michael almost fell and they didn’t reach the tower.
“It’s true, man, I almost died. Robby saved my life,” Michael confirms, checking out our reactions. Then, he and Robby start to laugh. I withhold judgment as to the truth, but I cannot help feel a kinship between Scott and me and them. It’s not a thought my stoned brain wants to explore just then.
Robby produces the de rigueur joint. We maintain the high we set for the night. Everyone is lounging on the tower’s railings, relaxed and enjoying our superior position above the rest of the Gables. Robby gets fidgety and crawls out on the roof. David hisses at him, saying he’ll cause trouble, which only eggs him on. Soon he’s at the roof’s edge, looking down about forty feet.He turns around, lifting both arms to capture our attention. Bending down, he goes over the edge. Dave and I rush to the roof’s edge in time to see him finish sliding down the drain pipe.
“Com’n you pussies. Let’s see you match that.” He yells at us.
“Shut up, you’re making too much noise,” warns Dave.
But it’s too late, as lights start going on in the rectory, where the priests live. We’re frozen at the edge of the roof.
“Move,” Robby yells. “The only way out is down.”
I run to the pipe, slid over the side, grabbing it with both arms and legs, and began to slid down. At first it goes well, but soon I’m going faster and the pipe is cutting my hands, arms, legs and feet. About ten feet from the bottom, I push off and fall to the ground. I lay there with the wind knocked out of me. Robby picks me up, dragging me across the street, where we hide behind a hedge. The others don’t fare so well. We watch as the priest catches them before they can escape out of the side door. I gasp for air and Robby chokes from laughter at their predicament. The head priest, probably Father Joseph, dismisses all the kids except Dave, who he leads away by the ear. When the group walks by, we whisper to them. Soon everyone is rolling around, behind the hedge, laughing uncontrollably. Finally getting my breath, I sit there stoned and bleeding, enjoying the pain and embarrassment. I leave them at Robby’s as they go in for a final joint. Before going in, Robby pats me on the back for being the only one to follow him down the drain pipe. I wonder how I will explain all the cuts at morning workout. I also wonder how I’m going to get up for practice.
When I walk into my room, Scott wakes up, turns on the lamp, and looks at me in shock.
“Man, you look like you’ve been in a fight. How’d you get so cut up?”
I decide not to evade him questions.
“From sliding down the drain pipe on the Catholic Church’s roof.”
“What were you doing up there?”
“Just screwing around with the neighbors. Where were you tonight?”
“Over at Lydia’s. Oh, I waited up to give you a message. Tina called from New York. She said to call her and sounds like she really needs to talk with you.”
“What did she say?”
“Not much, but she was kinda upset you weren’t here.”
“I guess it’s too late to call back.” It’s past midnight.
“She’s probably pregnant. No big deal.”
“Yeah, it’s an Immaculate Conception. I think I’ll call anyway.”
Scott rolls over to go back to sleep. He’s starting to disappoint me.