The coke parties were my favorite. It was when everyone was happiest. Everyone meant my father, my mother, and their friends, Teddy and Debby. Occasionally, Debby’s brother, Wayne, was part of everyone.
My mother would say—Teddy and Debby are coming over—and I knew that meant a coke party and I got excited.
The coke turned them into children again. Or a peculiar breed of children with waxy glowing faces and eyes full of fire. Not dragon-fire or hell-fire. The fire of all-night magic.
Teddy was a Greek man with two thick dark rugs for eyebrows. Like two baby Muppets had sprouted above his eyes. Teddy loved to laugh. A high-pitched, wheezing laugh, a tea kettle blowing off steam.
His wife, Debby, was the smart one in the bunch. That’s how I thought of her because she was a college graduate. She was the only college graduate I knew. No one in my family had graduated college. Or had even come close. My father had dropped out in sixth grade, my mother in eighth grade. Because Debby was the smart one I always found it odd that she did coke with the others. I suppose I thought college graduates didn’t do coke, that they were too smart or too good for it. Maybe I believed higher education meant a higher quality of living, I don’t know.
Yet I was glad Debby did coke with them, because then everyone was unified in their happiness. The times that Wayne came over, he participated in the happiness, too, but it dampened my joy, just slightly, because something about Wayne scared me. Perhaps it was the stories I overheard him telling, about jail and fistfights and robberies.
The kitchen was where the action took place. As soon as Teddy and Debby entered the apartment, my father would press—Teddy, did you get the stuff—and Teddy, smiling big, would put my father’s mind at ease—Yea, Johnny, I got the stuff—and both men would enliven with anticipation.
Seated at the kitchen table, Teddy or my father would razor-cut lines on a small mirror (engraved with a Heineken logo). I loved the exactitude of the ritual. The methodical dicing of the lines. The plastic straw or rolled-up bill passed around. The vacuum-sucking snorts, and the finicky staccato inhalations draining the residue lining the insides of the nostrils.
My father never let me stay in the kitchen when they snorted. He’d tell me to go into the living room and watch T.V. Fortunately, the kitchen was adjacent to the living room, and leaning against the base of the recliner, “watching T.V.,” I’d angle myself just so and watch them through the open doorway. Yet listening to them brought even greater pleasure than watching them.
The din of their voices, growing bright and electric, the ripples of laughter, with Teddy’s pitch reaching dolphin squeal frequencies.
On those nights they talked and talked and talked, and the warmth that they generated, even if through artificial means, was something I savored and cherished.
It was like being coked-up through osmosis.
Their joy was my joy, their cheer my cheer, their energy my energy.
It was togetherness, albeit a second-rate version, for it only lasted as long as the effects of the drug did. The aftermath of the coke parties, the postscript, bore ruin and waste. When we were all high it was great, the comedowns on the other hand, left us jangled.
In those periods, the magic of childhood dimmed and we darkened and grew old before our time.
Between childhood and death, lay an inclement center which refused to keep still.