DURING BENJY’S JUNIOR YEAR AT Welles, things got worse, and I turned into a full-blown private investigator, although I wasn’t as bad as some people. I heard about a woman who had actually hired people to bring drug-sniffing dogs to her house once a week. Anyway, all I did was search Benjy’s room every so often. One morning I discovered a soft, sticky lump under his desk drawer. It felt like a wad of gum, much like one sticks under the seat at the movies. (Okay, sue me, I did that when I was a kid once, maybe twice.) Panicked, I dug it out and scraped through it, discovering two small pills with cartoon images stamped on them. I had no idea what they were, but I was pretty sure they weren’t vitamins, so I took the pills to our local pharmacist, fortunately an old friend of mine.
Eddie Spencer and I had actually dated several times way back when. Given to long stories, and with a habit of dispensing unsolicited advice on how to treat whatever you had or even what you didn’t have but might get, conversation with Eddie was to be avoided at all costs under normal circumstances. But these were not normal circumstances, and so I rushed into the fray ready to listen to a boring tale or two. As
usual he was happy to see me, and on that particular day his cheerful nature seemed
almost like a tonic.
“Hey, there’s my favorite ex-girlfriend,” he boomed. “How are you, Marlene? Better than the last time I saw you when you were down with the flu, I hope. Did that indigestion of Carl’s finally go away?”
“We’re all fine, thanks, Eddie, but I have a little problem I hope you can help me with. Can we go somewhere private?”
“Well, there’s a proposition I don’t get every day! Your place or mine,” he laughed, winking.
“How about your office,” I said, motioning to the little cubicle in the rear of the store. “And seriously, can we keep this between us? I mean, honestly, can you promise you will not tell a soul what I tell you now?”
“Sure thing, you know you have my word. What’s wrong, you seem pretty upset.”
I showed him the two little pills that I had wrapped in a Kleenex. He studied them, then asked, “Say, where did you get these?”
“What is it? Are they bad? Is it dangerous?”
“Well, they’re certainly not good. These are what the kids call Ecstasy.”
“Are you sure?”
“See this? Usually they’re stamped with these cartoon images, like of Tweety Bird and Buddha. Ecstasy looks harmless enough, but kids find out the hard way how dangerous it can be.”
“Well, taking multiple doses within a relatively short time increases the toxic risks of any drug. With Ecstasy, doubling the dose carries an especially high risk. The level builds and the user’s body can’t keep up with the amount of drug in the bloodstream. And you know kids, they think they know everything when actually they don’t know shit, excuse my French, Marlene.”
“So you think my son is taking Ecstasy?”
“Well, I don’t know what to think! I always knew Benjamin to be a good kid, but that doesn’t mean he’s immune to his generation’s ills. He might be taking them or he might just be selling them. Either way, it’s bad.”
“Are you sure that’s what these are? I mean, couldn’t you be wrong?”
“Well, I’m wrong about as much as I’m right, and that’s a fact. But I’m darned sure it’s Ecstasy. It’s totally illegal, and bad for you,” he said, looking as if his dog had just died. “The scientific name is MDMA, which stands for something too long to pronounce. I haven’t heard of anyone saying they’re good for you, that’s for darned sure. Say, you and Carl better have a good long sit-down with that boy right away, Marlene.”
I left the drugstore shaken and scared. What had I done to deserve this? How had we gone wrong? Was it Carl’s hidden sexuality? My affair with the Coach? Not breastfeeding Benjy when he was a baby? Theo? Or worse, was it just the luck of the draw like the Mormons believed–did we just bring down a soul from Heaven that was next in line, and he came that way? (Of course, the Mormons don’t even drink coffee and what kind of life is that, but their theory certainly gives the parents a pass!)
Even though it meant blowing my cover and admitting I had searched his room, I decided to confront Benjy when he got home later that day. Carl even came home early so we could
present a united front, agreeing that this family crisis was more urgent than the dedication
of the new Melvin and Babette Schlesinger Reading Room at the library.
Despite promising myself I would remain level-headed, all my love for Benjy–my desire to help him at all costs, my maternal protectiveness–evaporated when confronted with the boy himself. He lashed out, calling us hideous names, shouting that he had always hated us and always would hate us for treating him like a prisoner.
Twisting the knife, he said we were always horrible parents and that his drug problems
were all because of our mistakes. “You’re a faggot,” he screamed at Carl. “And you, you’re a slutty whore!”
“Don’t you dare call your father a faggot,” I yelled.
“You’re a whore? Why would he say that?” Carl asked.
“Please Carl, not now,” I snarled, anxiously hoping to buy time.
“Not now? When, then,” he insisted. “Why whore? Bitch I can see, but whore?”
“Oh, nice, so now I’m a bitch?”
“Marlene, you are not a bitch, but I just don’t understand why he would call his mother a whore? Am I missing something here?”
“Oh, so you don’t know about her and the Coach? I guess you were too busy with Pizza-boy to know your own wife was screwing around, that’s great, just great, no wonder I’m a mess!”
So my worst fears were confirmed: We had failed as parents. Who knew that my sexual indiscretion, so personal to me, would hurt my son? And exactly how does my having sex with someone impact him, anyway? And as for his father, despite his dreary performance in bed, Carl was a wonderful man and a wonderful father. His sexuality was part of him, but certainly not all of him. I stayed married to him for all the other parts, and forgave him his appetites, just as I felt that Benjy should forgive him. And me. Maybe we should have told him? Asked his consent? I imagined how that would have gone:
Me: Honey, Dad and I don’t really have sex anymore, so I’ve decided to sleep with other men.
Benjy: Oh, fine with me, Mom. Anyone I know?
Me: Actually, yes, it’s your soccer coach, Coach Jenkins. Is that okay with you, honey?
Benjy: Hey, no problem. Enjoy yourself, and say hi to the Coach for me!
Me: Will do!
Benjy: Oh, and Mom, is it true that Dad is a screaming faggot who is having an affair with a twenty-year-old pizza delivery boy? Because some of my friends have told me that, and I’d sort of like to know the truth.
Me: Honestly honey, this is the first I’m hearing about it, but you know, Dad does not know anything about me screwing the Coach, so it doesn’t surprise me that he’s getting some action himself.
Benjy: Mom, you are the greatest, so open and honest, I love you for that. And you deserve to get laid by a real man. And by the way, I totally see why you sweep my room every morning, just doing your job!
Not likely to happen. Instead, finding those pills triggered the War Between My Son and Me. Even though I was only trying to keep him from harm, he saw me as the enemy. The next morning, Carl and I admitted to each other that things were bad enough to get professional help. We had already consulted with several of our friends, most notably Samantha-Lily’s parents, who said her turnaround had been dramatic, regardless of her name change. We called Outdoor Quest, one of “those places.” And arranged for one of their “escorts” to kidnap Benjy early one morning and take him away to their chosen wilderness. It was the best thing for him, we thought. But I can still hear his shocked screams when it became evident that the two men who arrived in his room at five in the morning were not unwanted intruders, but rather professional thugs his parents had hired.
“You are kidding me, my parents did this? What the fuck is wrong with them? Get your hands off me, you ape,” and such came from his room. Bottom line: Benjy went with them almost willingly, yelling as he left the house, “Don’t worry, I’m going, it can’t be as bad as living here!”
Turns out it was. Two months later Benjy was back home, having been ejected from the wilderness by the program director, a former military man named James Biggs, who suggested we save our money for a defense lawyer since Benjy would surely need one in the next few years. Apparently our son was one of a select few for whom the program was inadequate. “He will either grow out of it or grow into it,” Colonel Biggs had said coldly during our final meeting. “I’ll keep my fingers crossed it’s not the latter.”
Andrea Rouda blogs at The Daily Droid.