STARTING IN HIGH SCHOOL, the mounting evidence that Benjy was using drugs naturally upset us both, but for different reasons. I was concerned that my bright and beautiful boy would end up living in a cardboard box, begging for food from strangers on the street. Carl feared Benjy would humiliate him and ruin his chances for the next step in his political
career. Shallow as that worry was, I could understand it. Carl’s heart is definitely in the right place: He has always fought for the underdog, he lives to see justice served, loves his
country, and is obsessed with the law. But as Carl himself often says, “In today’s superficial society, how things appear is of equal or greater importance than a politician’s rhetoric.”
That night after dinner Carl and I had a long talk about the Benjy problem. Our total lack of a plan made it clear that we would never have been issued a parenting license had one been required. “So, what are we going to do about this?” Carl asked, pushing away from the table and stepping out onto the back porch for a breath of air.
“I have no idea, I was hoping you’d think of something,” I said.
“Listen, maybe we should try one of those treatment programs, you know, the kind where they put the kid out in the wilderness for a few weeks?” Carl suggested this as if it would be good for Benjy, but I knew the real reason was that he wanted Benjy out of town for his upcoming re-election campaign.
“I guess it wouldn’t do to have your teenage son busted while you’re out shaking hands or kissing babies or whatever, would it, Mr. Mayor?” I said sarcastically.
“Actually, that would not be good, now that you bring it up. And don’t be so condescending–how would you like it if he messed up one of your fancy dinners?”
“Carl, can we please just talk about Benjy? What is he feeling, what is he doing? What if he’s using Ecstasy, or cocaine, or meth, whatever that is?” To me, the whole drug scene was an alien world of needles and vials and powder and pipes and hallucinations and death, all of which I had learned about in Hollywood movies starring Michael Douglas. Carl was a bit more practiced–he had actually smoked marijuana a few times in college, but since it aggravated his asthma he never pursued it, and thus neither one of us was what you’d call experienced.
“Okay, I guess we have to sit him down and ask the hard questions. Make him take this seriously, or else,” said Carl.
“Or else what?”
“Or else he’s out of here! We send him away to one of those juvenile delinquent high schools. Look, the Benson girl turned out great, what’s her name? She was one step away from being a full-fledged hooker in the tenth grade when they rushed her off to that institute out in Utah. Now she’s a nun.”
“She is not a nun, she’s a counselor for underprivileged kids in New Haven,” I corrected him. “And her name is Lily.”
“Lily? That doesn’t ring a bell.”
“Well, her name used to be Samantha, but after she came back from the wilderness she changed it to Lily. She had a vision in the snow or something.”
“Oh, that sounds healthy. What do they give those kids?”
“I don’t know, Carl, but she’s fine now, and seems happy, at least according to her mother.”
“Well, she doesn’t date at all, according to her father, so I don’t know how happy she really is. Anyway, it doesn’t have to be that exact place, but you get my point.”
“Yes, I do. I suppose we should look into some of those places, although the idea of Benjy spending the winter alone in a snowdrift is not at all comforting. Maybe we should wait until spring.”
“That’s months from now! Besides, it’s better than having him doing time in the county lock-up,” Carl said, and ended the conversation by picking up the newspaper and stomping off to the bathroom. “And we are telling him tonight, no matter what time he gets home!”
As if on cue, Benjy walked in. “Telling me what?” he asked, flopping down on the couch in the family room, clicking on the TV and tuning me out. As usual, I had to compete for his attention with the Simpsons.
“First you tell us something,” I said.” What happened to you last Friday night? Why were you arrested?” That got his attention.
“Who told you that? That’s crazy talk,” he said, immediately agitated and angry. He got up and started to leave the room, when Carl came in and blocked his path.
“Son, we have to talk. You cannot hide things like this from us, you need our help. Do you want to ruin your life?”
“You mean do I want to ruin your life?” Benjy snapped back. “Okay, I was with a bunch of kids and some of them were smoking pot and a cop pulled us over and I was with them, yeah, but it wasn’t me, really, it wasn’t me. Anyway, I was NOT arrested. He just gave us a warning.”
“Who was driving?” I asked.
“We were in Mike’s car.”
“Who was driving?” Carl repeated.
“I was,” Benjy murmured, looking down at the floor. “But really, I was the only one who wasn’t drunk! My friends were all wasted, and Mike was totally passed out in the back seat! I had no choice! I’d be dead if I hadn’t driven. Is that what you want? Would you rather I was killed in a fiery car crash? I mean, I do know how to drive, Dad, you taught me when I was about ten, remember, at Uncle Jerry’s farm, remember?”
“You were 12,” Carl said, wrapping his arm around Benjy’s neck. “Son, believe me, we are very happy you were not killed, but being arrested is nothing to sneeze at. We’ll have to clear this up. When were you going to tell me about it?”
“Tonight, really, I was going to tell you tonight. Can’t you fix it, Dad? I mean, you are the mayor, right? I mean, honest to God, I would have been killed!”
“Just because your dad is the mayor does not mean you can break the law,” I said, my eyes starting to water. “Honey, where did we fail you?”
“You didn’t fail me. I’m a perfectly normal kid, it’s just that things are different now. Really, I’m okay. Now can I please go upstairs?”
“Your mother and I are thinking maybe Welles isn’t the best place for you. We are thinking of sending you away to school, to get you away from these bad influences,” Carl said, looking to me for reinforcement.
“You know, honey, Samantha Benson went to one of those wilderness programs, and she’s quite happy now,” I said.
“You mean Lily? You know she changed her name because she had a vision after she ate some crazy mushrooms, don’t you? Sure, send me there, those kids have lots of drugs, they find stuff to eat in that wilderness! If that’s what you want, fine with me,” Benjy yelled, slamming the front door on his way out of the house. Stopping on the front porch, he yelled in to us, “I hate you both,” and stomped off into the night.
“That went well,” Carl said sarcastically. “I need a drink.”
An hour later Benjy returned and went straight up to his room without a word to either of us. By then Carl had polished off two beers and was snoring in front of the television, and I was sick of both of them. “I hate my life,” I said dramatically, and slunk upstairs to bed.
Andrea Rouda blogs at The Daily Droid.