they asked me how I knew, my true love was true
By modern standards, our Grade 10 weed was tame. It was hard to tell if you were even feeling it. And if you were like me, you had no particular wish to feel it. The main purpose of smoking up was comradery, mingled with a vague sense of daring that you were walking around doing something illegal. That was the high.
But it meant something to me to be smoking up. These things are hard to measure but marijuana may have nudged me from the Utterly Hopeless Nerd category to the Vaguely Interesting Nerd category. That may be generous. But it certainly busted my well-earned reputation for being not very much fun (not that it made me any more fun; if anything, I was less fun). My reputation was more fun.
This was not a well-advertised thing, though: my “new rep” was confined to a relatively few people. Which was lucky, as it turned out. The luck struck in Physics. Grade ten physics was an immensely cool class, taught by a cool guy who gave me an A on a paper about the Beatles, because it was creative and the topic had been, technically, creativity. Better than the A paper, however, was the girl.
The girl sat a couple of rows over. She had amazingly wavy light brown hair and a smile that could open a bank vault. She looked exactly like what she was: a fifteen year old German girl – not the 6 foot blonde movie variety German girl, but a real German girl. Healthy, rosy, fresh, with good shoulders and a nice way of blushing. We eyed each other carefully for a time and then, happily, began to “like” each other.
This was complex. It involved mild, remote flirting. My immense charm helped there. She thought so, anyway. Her best friend was inconveniently always around but, on the other hand, did not seem opposed. The second term of Grade Ten proceeded along at a natural pace and our “romance”, which consisted of liking each other from afar and a lot of smiling, built up a gentle head of steam. Until the lid blew off.
I don’t know how she found out. Someone told her, I guess. She stopped talking to me, had a sullen downcast look and, as I recall, her nostrils actually flared a couple of times. I sent word through intermediaries, to the effect:”what the hell is going on?!” The answer came back like a hammer blow, from the young lady herself: “You use drugs!!” The end.
My first response was to bristle righteously. So what? Drugs?! Seriously?! I was a wise-ass cynic and no doubt my voice was edged with contempt. This was a poor strategy. So was the next plan: minimizing her concern, politely, in a way that implied that she was naively uninformed about drugs. This was insulting. I think that was when the nostrils flared.
It was around then that a small catch of fear grabbed me in the stomach. She meant it. She was serious. This was serious.
She stalked out of the school, beautiful shoulders set squarely as if fighting a headwind uphill. I followed, alongside and slightly behind, like a badly-behaved spaniel. I argued. I cajoled. I snarled, she snarled back. I shut up and kept walking beside her. We neared her street, when she would turn and march away. Really away.
We stopped on the main street, the early rush hour traffic whizzing past us. We stood face to face, her lovely eyes gazing up at me with a stain of grief in them.
“You were my knight in shining armor” she said.
Her knight in shining armor.
It doesn’t really matter how long you live, or how old you are (sixteen, in my case) when someone tells you that, or something like that. You are magic. You are special. You matter. She could see me inside, or at least,she could imagine me inside, under the scraggly teenaged scruff and sardonic humour. She saw me as someone better than I was. Someone I could become.
I was her knight in shining armor.
Well, I had been her knight in shining armor. But I had blown it. And that was the second thing that happened in the same sentence: I lost it, I lost that magic. I had literally lit it up with a match and smoked it. It doesn’t really matter how old you are when that happens, either.
I felt that clutch again in my gut. I looked at her. It was as if time stopped and in these few short seconds, ages passed. That face. That beautiful face. That smile. I was her knight in…
The words left me on their own, like birds bursting free from a cage. I didn’t calculate. I just said it, without thinking, because my whole body knew what was true: she mattered more. And I wanted back up on that white horse.
She stared at me.
“I’ll stop!!” I said it again. I think I did (it was a long time ago).
What happened next, happened inside her. It occurs to me now that she had been immensely brave telling me the truth – that I was her knight in you know what – she had opened her heart up in a way that I never could. And then, I did exactly the right thing: I said that she mattered. She mattered more than the dope (which was in fact, never in debate) and she mattered more than my friends, and that she mattered more than winning the fight. She loved me, the way a girl loves a boy, and he loved her back. She must have felt pretty wonderful.
I still felt just terrified.
And then she kissed me. Our first kiss, there at a bus stop on a busy street at rush hour. I remember that kiss like it lasted forever. Maybe it did. We were interrupted when a truck rolled by and, with obvious delight, the trucker blasted his air horn at us. We both laughed.
What happened after that was good, and sweet, and difficult and sad. We were together for months, through a lovely summer. She taught me phrases in German, which I later used to embarrass myself. It was the time in my life when nothing felt wrong, except being away from her. But I wanted too much – I wanted her to tell her father about me, but she would not (she had just turned 16, too young he said, for a boyfriend – so she kept me a secret). Gradually my injured ego burst up through the surface and clouded our fresh romance. By the end of summer, I was tired of being a secret and she was tired of the argument. You can’t ask a girl to choose between you and her parents. Not when she’s sixteen. Never really, if you have any sense.
Summer ended, school began. It was a difficult start, but it got easier. We got through two more years there and never seemed to speak. Yet somehow, that was alright. I would have to wait and see if I could be someone else’s knight in shining armor.
But that was it for drugs. I never again bought a speck of weed. The occasional joint would get passed around. I might take a toke, I might not. But the hot knives and the bongs and the whole mess of it, I never gave it a moment’s notice. I was done.
Was she responsible for that? Well, she was the reason I stopped. And she was a really good reason to stop.
And me? I was the reason not to start again.