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April 20th, 2013 - Amanda Hadlock

I’m sixteen and two of my brothers—J, biological, and C, whose parents fostered us—roll up a towel and shove it in the crack beneath the bathroom door. C sits on top of the closed toilet lid, a Ziploc of cheap, bricky weed and a red-and-gold swirled glass chillum balanced on top of his knees. J sits on the edge of the tub, and I sit cross-legged on the fuzzy floor mat in front of the sink. C packs the one-hitter and they each demonstrate how to light it and inhale, then exhale through a paper towel tube stuffed with dryer sheets—a feeble attempt to mask the skunky smell. Now it just smells like weed and dryer sheets.

My turn. J holds the pipe while C lights the bowl for me, and I inhale, just how they showed me to. It tastes how I imagine ass must, and I cough so hard my chest hurts, down deep, but I immediately want more.

Like a loyal public school student of the early aughts, I used to say I’d never D.A.R.E. to touch drugs, not even weed, not after seeing all the shit my parents went through—and all the shit they’d put us through in the process. But when you’re sixteen and your two trustworthy older brothers come home for the weekend from their first semester of college and offer you weed and your foster parents are out of town anyway and you live in the Middle of Nowhere, Missouri, and you’ve never done anything exciting in your life, it’s easy to be influenced.

J and C teach me how to wait my turn in a rotation, how to light the bowl without torching all the weed at once, how not to coat the mouthpiece with my spit, and probably more smoking etiquette I can’t remember. We smoke up their whole baggie of weed and then I make a roll of Pillsbury sugar cookies, which we devour while we play video games on the couch, filling the room with the sound of virtual gunfire.

They went back to college that Sunday, and my foster parents returned from their trip. Life went back to its regular routine of school and hiding in my room, the days all smeared together like an illegible mess of ink.

What I do remember is that my new willingness to smoke weed, combined with the fact that puberty had ended up hitting me like a freight train that year, started getting me invited to parties, something new and exciting for shy, mousy, foster-cared-for me. My brothers’ smoking lesson combined with my piqued curiosity and sustained boredom would lead to the next two years of sneaking out, lying to the only people in the world who cared for me and were in no way obligated to, partying with people I shouldn’t have trusted, drinking myself sick in the middle of fields and puking my guts out among the fireflies in classic Midwestern fashion, and coming to regret things I did—or things that were done to me—while I was way too drunk and high at parties with people who probably don’t remember me.

But now it’s 2023, I’m 26, and recreational marijuana is legal in Missouri, finally. It helps me manage my anxiety (which is bad, shocker) on top of the prescription meds I’ve already been taking for years. I’ve written about the tax benefits of its legalization for a local magazine, and my friend and fellow intern wrote about the injustices facing people still incarcerated for past pot possession in our state. The woman I am today has taught writing to people in prisons and kids struggling with housing instability and university students. The girl I was in high school would think all this is rad as fuck, even though she dreamed so hard of getting out of her home state. She did leave for a while, and she discovered that running from your past won’t bring you to peace with it. She’ll never be fully at peace with her past, probably, but each day is a bit easier. And legal weed doesn’t hurt.

But I still feel a twinge of pain I feel for the girl I was in high school, the girl who started smoking weed to distract herself from the life she resented, to try to forget everything that had ever happened to her. I think of her, and I think of all the other girls out there getting their first smoking lessons. I hope they protect themselves better than I did. I hope they come to love a good toke for themselves, for the fun of it, for their own relaxation—not for the sake of trying to impress anyone else.


Amanda Hadlock is a Master of Fine Arts candidate in Creative Writing at Florida State University where she is Assistant Editor for Southeast Review. She received her MA in English from Missouri State University, where she also worked as the Graduate Assistant for Moon City Press/Moon City Review. Her nonfiction, fiction, and graphic narrative work has appeared or is forthcoming in journals such as Cleaver Magazine, NPR/WFSU’s All Things Considered, Essay Daily, Fractured Literary’s second anthology volume (judged by Deesha Philyaw), Hobart After Dark, Wigleaf, New Limestone Review, The Florida Review, and others.

She encourages support for Kansas Cannabis Coalition.


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