It’s the Fourth of July and we’re an hour north of Spokane in Eastern Washington, where it’s hot. Brad drew a map showing the way to his cabin, through gates and pathways in the forest. We’re not sure we’re at the right place until I find a rock with his initials on them, BWS.
They have a quote hanging on the refrigerator that says Be kind to everyone you meet, for you don’t know the burden they carry. They buried his sister’s ashes here in the back and made a cross from fallen timber that’s twisted, where the deer run through the brush in the spring.
And she left a couple kids who are getting into their 30s now, and we meet them outside by the porch. Most everyone smokes and they’ve all been around Hard Drugs, the kind that don’t cost a lot but make you pay in terms of Total Impact, and wick you away from yourself until the you you were is now defined by the Substance, by getting it again or getting off it again, but always by It, the new You.
The younger brother has a scar on his mouth from a dog bite, and a tattoo with his mom’s name and her dates, Love You Always. The older brother washes windows and freestyle raps, and later his face changes in the campfire and his eyes go cold, and everyone goes quiet in the dark listening.
There’s a girl named Amanda but they all call her Monster for reasons unexplained. She has face piercings and shaved hair that’s colored, but she’s good around the kids and helps out in the kitchen.
They’re discreet about getting high and come back from the woods glazed and grinning, spidery helixes spinning inside themselves.
I watch them late at night from the bedroom window with the ceiling fan, their aspect by the fire, poking it and laughing and putting back long necks. The cabin and the property are special, like places that are loved, it goes down in the roots and blooms up all around you.
By the back of the property is the Grandfather Tree, the biggest of the old-growth, and when they were kids the five of them held hands around the tree to make a circle.
She is here and not here in the way of the dead, in memory. There is a wisdom in those who Recover but it still feels like it left a hole when you cut it out. It was about a feeling when it started, a comfort you hold onto like a blanket, until the feeling and the substance become one in the same, inseparable, and there’s no feeling left, it just wicks everything away.
Some people’s lives change on a dime the first time, and that’s it, end of story, the Substance. They’ve legalized marijuana here now and the packages warn it can be habit-forming: habit, its roots to have and to live, it’s what you wear, what you inhabit, and vice versa.
And the kids see her in the mirror and themselves, the same as she saw herself but couldn’t see them fully, couldn’t see outside herself through the Substance. That if you think you can take it because it’s showing you the way to like deeper parts of yourself, make sure you know the way back.
We look for the Grandfather Tree before we leave, and there in the brush we come upon a deer and lock eyes with it, frozen in a moment of terror and wonder we share for the other and then it’s just gone, like that.
Written with permission for a dear friend who lost his brother and sister to drug addiction.