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  • I blame my nicotine addiction on my mother, among other things. It was just before my tenth birthday when I sampled a few drags while she combed my hair. I don't remember if she gave permission. We smoked together in secret for three years, sneaking around to the side of the house so the other kids wouldn't see. Sometimes I'd bring a friend along.

    She was the Kool-Aid mom on the block. At least that's what she told her friends at parties after she'd had a few. She handed out beers to the neighbor kids and hosted their co-ed sleepovers. Better they do it under my roof, she said, than out there on the street. At night the house was full of kids, lighting up joints and listening to stories of my mother's adventures as a thirteen year old runaway: hitch hiking to San Francisco; living in a commune, a nudist ranch, a teepee; singing in coffee houses and traveling with a wild west show.

    I knew these stories by heart. I treasured them, retold them, imbibing the romance of it all.

    When I was in the seventh grade I stumbled upon a packet of crank that someone had hidden during a locker search. I brought it home to my mother. She taught me how to use it. It made my throat numb and filled me with a tingling sensation that began in my chest and traveled to my fingertips. How lucky you are, she said, to have a mom like me. Then she told me her secrets, showed me her private collections: the glass pipe under the dresser; the mirror, the spoon, the rubbing alcohol in the closet; the pills in the top drawer; the eight-ball in the basket above her bed.

    We shared more than drugs in those days, sitting with our backs against the bedroom door, cigarettes between our fingers. I was a member of her exclusive club, the keeper of her secrets and, I believed, her friend.

    It didn't last long. Within a year my mother, the eternal teen, was running away again. Tired of motherhood, she longed for an unfettered existence. My grandmother once asked her why she didn't take me with her. You two were so close, she said. It was some time before she told me my mother's reply.

    I made Grandma's house my haven. It was a sober house. I couldn't get a cigarette, or even a cup of coffee. It felt clean. I focused on school and did well. I made friends: brainy friends, church going friends, sober friends. But I kept my bedroom door closed. I ate alone. I kept my distance at home. At Grandma's house I was not just a drug buddy. Or any other kind.
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