“Ever heard of crank?” my best friend Jane said. We sat in her kitchen amid stacks of old National Geographics on my first visit to Rairdon. It was the early eighties era of crack headlines coming from New York ghettos and Colombia street gangs, and because I’d begun to think of Jane’s brain rotting in her new redneck environment, I said, “Do you mean crack?” Street-wise, city girl me.
“I guess not,” I said. Jane was pissed that I moved six hours away after graduation, to Seattle, when I could’ve been just two by taking a job in Portland. She dropped out of school from financial woes in her junior year and married Teddy, a logger she met in a tavern. They settled into his dead grandparents’ house on fifty acres with the in-laws up the gravel road. Rairdon, the town of ones: one church, one store, one gas pump, one Democrat (not Teddy).
“Crank’s not made from a plant,” Jane said. Somehow that seemed like gleeful news. Perhaps the think-ahead presumption that elimination of border-crossing challenges would make the meth easier to get. Or that not buying cartel product would be less criminal. “I have some,” she said.
We’d always been willing experimenters, Jane and I. And with all the ways to party that Jane didn’t like (marijuana made her nauseous; she didn’t like the taste of liquor), she was always looking for something new. “It’s not really a high,” she said. “Just awake. We’ll talk even more than we already do.” Her throaty, infectious laugh filled the cluttered room. Teddy stood over us, rolled his eyes.
Teddy introduced us both to coke when they first started dating, but the summer after that he got busted. One minute he was climbing his dealer’s attic stairs to make a buy, and the next he was in jail. He was released the next morning because his family was generationally well-regarded in Rairdon, but Janey, as she now wanted to be called, suffered through a notice in the newspaper that the whole town read. On his probation, no guns could be in the house, which he considered a great hardship, and hauled the load up the road to his parents’. Because this is how they all lived in the country, wasn’t it, on each other’s property, passing around vehicles and cows and weapons.
Jane produced an old pink saucer and a razor blade nested in a made-to-fit folded magazine ad. The plate must’ve belonged to the grandma, because Jane hated pink. Teddy pulled an inch of straw from his work pants pocket and tossed it on the table. Jane cut off the melted end of the straw and tapped some powder onto the plate, then chopped the yellowish substance with the blade. Tink, tink, tink.
The powder burnt our nostrils like shots of acid had been squirted on every nerve ending our noses had once owned. Next a sour residue dripped down the back of our throats. Instantly we wanted a cigarette, which Jane and I smoked on occasion anyway. Teddy snorted two lines of the crank to our one, saying, “Because of my size, I need more.” Teddy was six-five, two-fifty. He drove a loader, which was considered more talented than just cutting down trees, and made ten dollars an hour instead of eight. We played Scrabble, and Teddy’s words were all just three letters long. Jane and I broke to smoke on the concrete porch so often that Teddy got tired of our absences and began a plumbing project in the bathroom. We went to bed at dawn. The next day at noon, Jane said, “See how much more time we get together?” We’d all laid down but not really slept.
That became the premise for our partaking, our excuse: look at all this extra time we get to spend together. Even if the next day we walked around like zombies, with wrenched guts from no food, and air-sensitive nostril cavities. Medical professionals denied it could be a pleasure drug. “Methamphetamine is not a social drug. All who use are addicted,” I found on a search, though I freaked out about asking any librarian for information. We code-named the drug after our home ec teacher, Monty, a nickname in itself. When I wanted my own stash, Jane shipped me the goods inside a paperback. Sometimes FedEx overnight (which I’d pay her extra for), if I needed it for the weekend. An inch of straw was $25. I bought a Velcro-lipped little pouch to make my own kit. I learned to eat a big meal beforehand, then I’d do a long line and hit the clubs, kit tucked into my jeans pocket for a handy refresh.
Jane and I began to meet on weekends in Portland instead of me going all the way to Rairdon. We discount shopped and watched bargain matinees, then at night got Monty out in our motel room. We played cards or modified four-person board games I brought. And smoked. We talked all night, still shared everything about our lives, but it began to seem like all she did was complain – about Slob Teddy, whose muddy work clothes stiffened where he dropped them, and his nosy mother up the road who insisted Jane learn to make pie crust. Jane decided to study for a paralegal certificate, not a field she wanted to be in, but they needed the money. The spotted owl issue had flown through the state senate and Teddy’s logging career was all but over. My own career jetted upward. I had already made associate at the architecture firm and was in line for a promotion if I could “bring home” a big technology account. Monty helped me a few weeknights to stay up and contrive successful strategies. Bleary-eyed and dry-throated, I accepted the promotion from the managing partner, who commended and claimed to understand my weariness.
I didn’t see how Jane stood the rural life, but she wouldn’t give me that one – she went on about calf births and the goat she was going to get. A child was planned, but not yet, not until she got her certificate in the job she didn’t want. “Teddy only wants a boy, of course,” she said, with exasperation. Tink, tink, tink, the chopping of the powder on the plastic tray from the hotel’s bathroom. A “lump,” to fortify the line we’d inhaled earlier.
“When do you think you’ll start trying?”
She snorted the tiny pile. “Teddy wanted one on the altar, I swear. But we can’t afford a kid right now. I’m still using my diaphragm like religion. Pretty easy, not a lot of spontaneous sex anymore.”
To someone looking forward to finding the right man, that seemed like a sad assessment after a mere two years of marriage. We parted the next morning in our zombie state, but even given our physical weakness in the aftermath of Monty, you could see a general sadness had overtaken her face: a staff of forehead lines, and a new downfall to her mouth.
I resumed my life of working long hours on building designs. Parties filled the weekends. Monty made me not afraid to go to raves and cage bashes, and not mind when the guys I met wanted to go to strip clubs. Sex was beyond a fantasy. Whatever made it so, I don’t pretend to know, some chemical charge interacting with hormones and testosterone, who knows. Every touch zapped electric between my legs, and continued that way until the explosive end seemed to loosen the drywall. Bed at dawn, with or without the guy, heart racing from Monty, lungs compressed from all the cigarettes like they were flat under a manhole cover.
Jane called two weeks later, timely, because I hoped to schedule another trip to Portland (for a weekend with Jane or Monty?). I was out of the drug and a guy was asking. Jane had hinted around last time that I should find us a source, after all her time of getting Monty. But I was afraid to ask. The club guys were wide-eyed with whiskey-lipped glee at the straw coming out of the pouch. Some were lawyers, a couple emergency room doctors, relieved from their bleary-eyed shifts by the nose-ripping high. I never placed the order, though, because what she called about was the news she was pregnant. Teddy didn’t know yet. Could I send her money for an abortion? “The baby will probably have six toes,” she said, laughing. It was a moment like her old self, when she was funny all the time. Then she started crying, and we both knew it was for a lot of reasons.
© Martha Clarkson
[This piece was selected by Stephanie Doeing]