Featured Prose | July 23, 2019

“Awakening to Jake” by Jillian Weiss is a nonfiction piece that portrays the relationship between a brother and sister, and how each of their lives is affected by societal issues of autism and race.  This piece was a runner-up in the essay category of our 2017 Jeffrey E. Smith Editor’s Prize competition, and it appears in issue 41:4 of The Missouri Review. You can read an interview with Jillian here.

 

 

Awakening to Jake

by Jillian Weiss

 

Jake has made a nest on the back porch. He scavenged a futon, sleeping bag, duvet, and many pillows. There’s a hammock in case he feels the need to be wrapped. The porch is screened in to block summer’s mosquitos, but Jake uses the nest mostly in the winter, and he keeps the two ceiling fans churning to create an arctic breeze. Beyond the porch is a large backyard the shape of a twin bed; tall trees surround its perimeter. Two of the thickest trees used to be connected by a zip line that Jake accidentally snapped midslide, the wire whipping his back as he fell, which left him with a large red stroke running parallel to his spine.

Jake’s nest is always askew and is covered in dog hair and dirt from his bare feet and the nights he forced the new puppy to sleep beside him. Jake picked out the black Lab and named him Buddy, but Buddy is skittish and passionately fears him. If Jake is on the porch with the family, Buddy will not go outside but will cower and whine from the double kitchen doors, unable to approach my tall, black, dreadlocked little brother.

My parents didn’t seriously wonder about Jake’s atypical behavior until he stopped sleeping in his childhood bed, preferring the floor of his closet. He seemed to like how the sleeves of his jackets stroked him and the closeness of the four walls. My parents also noticed how he enjoyed the sound of repetitive banging and couldn’t look strangers or acquaintances in the eye. Though unaccomplished in reading and writing, Jake could solve handheld spatial-related puzzles with expert speed. The sort of challenges that to me were evil trickery: two intertwined metal shapes that must be separated. His obsessiveness, too, was another common characteristic. Finally, what tipped the scale was the utter blankness on Jake’s face when he looked upon his brand-new pool table, a birthday present he’d been asking for all year. My mother compiled the evidence and took Jake to a specialist, who confirmed that he had autism spectrum disorder.

Now he is twenty-two years old and nests on my parents’ back porch in suburban North Carolina after a decade of moving from foster care to in-care to group homes to weeks in the psych ward to yearlong stays in behavioral correctional facilities. Their house echoes with bangs, threats, and fuck-yous. Their piano bench is speckled with the imprint of screwdriver heads. Walls have been punched through and resealed. My parents have called the police for protection from Jake many times. The flashing lights have parked in the rim of the wooded cul-de-sac, a patch of concrete as round as a large magnifying glass. They are that neighborhood family with the wayward child.

But the police have not been called for a while. Jake has a full-time job where he shapes and saws pieces of plastic. He has a few long-term friends. Now he soothes his mind by smoking copious amounts of marijuana and electronic cigarettes. He walks with heavy eyes and heavy feet that scare the dog. He no longer runs, climb trees, or laughs. While my parents hope the peak of his violent and aggressive behavior has passed, they still often treat him like a time bomb, treading carefully around him, counting down the days to an explosion. Every night that he’s home, their precious bomb lies in his nest, cocooned in many layers of fabric to protect him from the cold winds. He doesn’t care to listen to the whirring crickets but watches movies on his phone until he falls asleep.

***

At first, when black men being shot to death by police across North America started making headlines, I did not think of Jake. For me, this period started in 2014 with the death of Michael Brown because that’s when many of my white friends awakened and because I had a friend who lived near Ferguson, Missouri.

I did not think of Jake because I was away at graduate school. I also knew that my parents and Jake did not live in the sort of neighborhood where people got shot and that my brother was no longer unleashing daily tides of fury but daily scented marijuana trails. Most significant, however, was that the rest of my family is white. Jake is adopted.

I must have felt so intrinsically that Jake was protected by a white bullet-proof blanket that I did not fear for him. At least not when it came to his interactions with police. But then I started to wonder: How would the police officers know, when they pulled him over for speeding or found him smoking dope on the trail up a nearby mountain, that his family was white? That his family was not only white but former Christian missionaries? That Jake was covered in a bullet-proof white blanket but also a blanket of prayer? These are facts that should not matter, but I assumed that this information would make the police less fearful of my brother’s black body.

In general, the police do not have the time to see more than people’s bodies, which is unfortunate because Jake’s black body is visible, but his autism is not. When friends meet him, they notice his quietness and his lack of expression, but never has anyone wondered if he’s on the spectrum. My mother worries: “When you’re not smiley, when you don’t talk a lot, that could be looked at as I’m angry, I’m mad, yes, I’ve done something wrong.” About one in every four people killed in police shootings suffers from a mental illness.

***

One incident that I’ve had the misfortune of reimagining in many ways: Jake pointing a knife at my father. This was the first time the cops were called, which was a few years before black men being shot and killed by police started making headlines. I wasn’t there; I heard this story over the phone. My father and brother circled in the garage. It was the afternoon. Jake’s hand was on the dirty handle; his mouth was spitting fury.

My father knew Jake would win in a physical fight. My father is a tall man, but Jake is nearly as tall and a little wider. He has muscles without trying to have muscles. He wears baggy, stained pants and a silver chain. His fingernails are frayed and filled with dirt. Inside this body is a person who loves fireworks and bacon, watching movies and drawing. He sketches beautiful pictures of tigers and draws on the walls of his room. He used to love the movie Legally Blonde and listening to swing music. He has asthma and is obsessed with things that go Bang! When I was in graduate school, Jake would call me when he was bored:

“Jilly,” he said.

“Jake,” I replied.

“Willy,” he said.

“Yes?”

“There’s a movie you’ll like,” he said. “Online. I’ll send you the link.”

“Okay,” I said. “What’s it called?”

“Can’t remember. Let me look.”

He breathed noisily.

“Got it yet?”

“No.”

“It’s okay if you can’t remember.”

“Just wait,” he said.

“What are you going to get me for Christmas?” I asked.

“Nuffing. What’re you going to get me?”

“Why should I get you anything?”

“Because.”

“What do you want?”

“Beats.”

“What’s that?”

“Headphones.”

He coughed out words like bits of food he’d been choking on.

I said, “Oh, the nice ones, really big ones. I think they’re too expensive.”

As I listened to him breathe, I googled Beats. Yes, too expensive.

“How I live now,” he said.

“What?”

“That’s its name,” he said. “The movie.”

In the garage, Jake threw the knife at my father. It missed, and Jake ran away. While yelling for a neighbor to call the police, my father followed Jake into the front yard, and Jake fell onto the grass that surrounds the cul-de-sac. My father sat on top of him, his tense back leaned forward like a mousetrap’s metal hammer. A few neighborhood fathers rushed out of their houses to help my father pin Jake down, and Jake kept writhing.

By the time police arrived, Jake had tired. My father got off him. Jake lay still for five minutes, his cheek in the grass. Eventually he stood up and walked around without expression. My parents thought he might be experiencing repentance. Perhaps he should regret throwing the knife, but he should not desire forgiveness. He was full of feelings that he couldn’t explain. He was trying to show us. He needed money for cigarettes, perhaps. He didn’t have any, and he didn’t have the means to make money on his own, and my parents wouldn’t give any more to him. But he needed the cigarettes. He needed them because he wanted them, and he needed his parents to take his wants seriously. When he asked for a deer stand for hunting, his siblings rolled their eyes. When he asked for a BB gun or a motorcycle helmet. Everything he desired was expensive. He knew they would give money and gifts to his three white siblings. All of them were educated females, and their gift requests were more reasonable because they could reason. He knew how his parents sat together and discussed what to do with him, sometimes when he was in the house, in listening range: they sitting at the kitchen table, Jake walking up the stairs. They made behavior plans. They cried a lot.

My father and Jake sat in the back of our family Honda waiting for the police to propose a plan: the hospital’s psych ward, the police station, or home. My mother told me that inside the silent car, Jake said to my father, “I love you.” But I think my mother must have invented this dialogue in a fervent bout of wishful thinking. The sound of Jake speaking words of feeling does not exist in this world.

***

Of the 995 people shot dead by police in 2015, as reported by the Washington Post, 257 had shown signs of mental illness. In June of 2017, Joshua Barre, a twenty-nine-year old black man with bipolar schizoaffective disorder, was shot outside a convenience store in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He was barefoot, shirtless, and armed with two butcher knives. He had not been taking his medication. His family called for help, and he walked a mile from home trailed by Tulsa’s trained mental crisis unit. This unit allowed him to walk the mile, and only after he approached the convenience store did officers made a failed stun-gun effort and then fatally shoot him before he could endanger any customers.

A year after black men being shot and killed by police started making headlines, I went to work for a psychiatric residential treatment facility for children aged five through twelve. These happenings were unrelated. In my training weeks, I learned how to restrain small to medium-sized bodies, how to assess a situation and help children feel calm, how to eliminate triggers, how to avoid escalation. I took the physical and written tests to pass a Therapeutic Crisis Intervention Course and proudly achieved a score of 100 percent.

I was good at staying calm in the face of crisis, at never getting angry at the children, but I was scared to touch them. I wasn’t physically weak; restraining them was more difficult for my mind than my body. I didn’t want to touch them, but I learned. I was pushed, kicked, and spat on. I put children’s arms behind their backs and slid them onto the floor, trapped them in an empty seclusion room, watched them stomp and growl from a small window in the door. I followed two children a mile down the road, the distance police had trailed Joshua Barre.

We were reminded over and over that we should use physical restraints only when a child was in imminent danger. Our trainers made me repeat the word “imminent.” I tried to abide by this policy, but the longer I worked there, the more the word “imminent” seemed to me to cover a longer span of time than I’d first thought. As I watched my coworkers perform restraints with practiced ease, I felt that “imminent” implied the foreseeable future, not the next few seconds. We were certainly stopping escalation and keeping things controlled and calm, but staff seemed to operate according to the idea that once something was imminent, it was too late. They must not let anything become imminent, lest they hurt themselves, the other children, or the other staff. We must defend. We must strike while we were able.

***

When black men being shot and killed by police began making headlines, I might not have been fearing for my brother, but my parents were. They recognized his mentally ill blackness. They went to a police-run seminar at the iCan house in Winston-Salem, a nonprofit that aims to support, educate, and enhance the lives of those with autism or other social disorders. There, the officers talked about what people with social disorders can do to quickly identify themselves to police. They can have a sticker on their vehicle window alerting officers to their diagnosis in case they get pulled over. They can carry a small card that could be handed to an officer if they would not like to or cannot speak. This is the official advice from the Autism Speaks organization on how to disclose your disorder to an officer. In Alabama, you can download such a card from the department of health for a $10 fee. The card reads: I have been medically diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. My medical condition impairs my ability to communicate with others. . . . I also may become physically agitated if you touch me. . . . Please do not interpret my behavior as refusal to cooperate. My parents created a card for my brother but doubt that he carries it.

Through a personal connection, my mother was able to speak with a policewoman who had an autistic child of her own. My mother sent the officer documents about Jake’s diagnosis so that this information would appear when police interacted with Jake. The officer assured her that the information would be made available to the police. At the next incident with the police, however, her assurances were proved incorrect.

The problem is that for officers to be alerted to a mental diagnosis, they would have to pause long enough to get Jake to tell them his name, first and last. Probably, he’d have to spell it. Also, they would have to not overreact when Jake’s black arm reached into his sweatshirt pocket to get the card from his wallet.

He could very well have a knife in one of his big pockets. Jake does not have a gun that we know of, but he’s had BB guns and an intimidating collection of knives. The first time he pointed a kitchen knife in my direction, when I was a teenager, my parents did not allow him to hold any knives for a month. That meant no knife for buttering bread or cutting chicken. In the years that followed, my parents made occasional sweeps of his room to get rid of the knives and then waited nervously for him to come home and detect the raid. Jake was obsessed with knives for a long time, and then with guns, and then with dirt bikes. Right now it’s weed.

***

“Remember I sent you a link for a movie,” he said. “Don’t use that site cuz it gave me a virus.”

Every word Jake speaks is dragged out like it’s being pulled from a deep hole.

“Too late,” I said.

“What’s up?” he said.

“I’m going on a trip in a yurt.”

“What’s a yurt?”

“Like a big sturdy tent.”

“Will there be boys?”

“There will be one boy.”

“Imma beat him up!”

“You always say that but never do anything.”

“You aren’t allowed to be with boys.”

“I’m a little older than I used to be,” I said.

Jake quieted. I wondered what questions I could ask that would interest him.

“I can make a bong,” he said.

“A bong?”

“A BAHng. I can also make a bomb. A phone bomb.”

These were topics I didn’t know about. His latest obsessions.

“Please don’t put a bomb in my phone,” I said.

“Someone calls it and it explodes.”

***

Police officers are often forced to act when they believe danger is imminent.

One afternoon, the Napa, Florida, police were called because a man—Philip Conley—was wielding a knife in front of a shopping center and threw a beer bottle at a car. Once on the scene, police noted that Conley also had a gun in his waistband. They asked him to put down his weapons, but instead he advanced upon the police, and they shot him. As they approached his injured body, they saw that the gun was a toy gun. They also claimed that Conley had written a note of apology to the police for having been forced to kill him, but the note has been kept in police custody. His brother does not believe Conley would want to die via police. If you choose to believe in the note’s existence, however, it seems that to commit suicide by cop all you need is a toy gun.

Of the 257 people with a mental illness shot dead by police in 2015, 100 were reported by friends, family, or police, to be suicidal. Four of them had suicide notes hidden on their persons or in their vehicles. One, supposedly addressed to police, read “You did nothing wrong.”

***

On a Sunday morning in 2012, the year that Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by police—an event of which I was unaware—I drove to church with Jake, my mother, and my younger sister. Church was the tradition that in our family would never die. This church was only a two-minute drive from our house on the cul-de-sac and was located inside a school gym. There were fewer than a dozen nonwhite people in attendance. Most of the men wore button-downs. Most of the women showed no skin above their knees. My father had driven over on his own to prepare for Sunday school, and he met us in the gym. He inquired about Jake; my mother replied that he’d decided to stay in the car and fluff up his Afro with a comb.

After the service began, my father slunk out of our row of plastic chairs. Fifteen minutes later, when my mother received a phone call, he had still not returned. My mother exited the building to hear the caller while my sister and I continued our under-our-breath singing. We both enjoyed the act of singing but no longer wanted to be heard. We were faithful, sometimes, but aware of our being a cliché: of our churchgoing, middle-class whiteness. While waiting for my mother to return, I suspected an incident with Jake had occurred and became distracted. But to worry while in a sanctuary made this usually fruitless use of my time feel like prayer.

My mother returned five minutes later looking serious but not flustered. We had moved on to a different worship song. She bent over and whispered to us that Jake had sat in the middle of the road outside of church, presumably waiting for a car to hit him. My little sister started shuddering, breathing out in shots—a bang! of breath that Jake would have liked. My mother rubbed circles into her back and whispered, “Do you want to leave?” She nodded yes into her chest, and I followed them quietly out of the church, back to where my worries were just worries.

Outside, my mother finished the story.

When my father left the sanctuary at the beginning of the service, he saw Jake banging on our car. Worried about an “imminent” danger, my father drove away in our family’s second car. He wanted to remove the vehicle from possible damage but also to take a moment to let his anger simmer down before approaching his son, whom he loved. It was during these minutes my father took to calm and restore himself that Jake walked into the road.

An old woman in a house across from the church pulled back lace curtains, looked out her window, saw a boy sitting in the road, and called the police. Though the street had a considerable amount of traffic on weekdays, this was Sunday morning. We don’t believe Jake was truly suicidal, but we still don’t know what happened exactly. Precisely how long was he in the road? What was he feeling? Did any cars swerve to miss him? Were his eyes closed? Did he immediately get up when the police arrived?

***

When black men being shot and killed by police began making headlines, I often compared America to England. For ten years, my parents worked as missionaries in West London. Jake lived there from age four to fourteen. His childhood was religious and English. He did not know what it was like to have a black body in North America. Because there were so many different races in West London, I was unaware of any one race being thought of as superior. There were also no constant reminders of slavery. There were other black-skinned people in our West London neighborhood, but they were not “black.” They were Ghanaian, Jamaican, Somalian, and Barbadian.

Jake’s hair was cropped short back then, in tiny spirals. He was thinner, and lithe. He climbed trees and was on trampolining and rugby teams. He was great at flipping in midair. He struggled to read, though. He went to a tutor while I went sheepishly to my piano lessons in a nice English row house with small rooms and lace curtains. At home, he played video games with his three sisters. He let us paint his fingernails and told everyone that his favorite color was pink. When he had opinions, he stood by them.

My father believes there is a major difference in the English and American police systems. The UK banned handguns in 1997. Citizens can own only rifles and shotguns, but with a license which must be acquired through interviews, a background check, and a visit to the applicant’s home. During my decade in London, I never saw a gun, and I very rarely heard conversations about them. Police did not respond to calls with so much fear because they did not expect a gun to be pointed at them.

In the year ending in March 2016, police in England and Wales only fired seven bullets. In 2015, cops in North America shot enough bullets to kill 995 people. In 2015, the population of the United States was only roughly five times the population of the United Kingdom.

I have never experienced such fear for my life and the lives of my family members as I have since black men being shot and killed by police started making headlines. I avoid walking near policemen in the street. I tread tentatively through houses that I know harbor guns. When I spy a gun wedged in someone’s belt, my heart beats faster. The police officers are scared for their lives because the public has guns, the people are scared for their lives because the police have guns, and I’m scared for Jake’s life because he or the police could have a gun, or Jake could have a fake gun, a BB gun, a water gun, a banana stuffed in his pocket, a knife, or just a handful of Skittles.

***

One of the last times I saw my brother was at my wedding in North Carolina. The week before the ceremony, my family, including uncles, cousins, and brothers and sisters-in-law, all stayed in a beach house that my grandfather rented. From the porch, you could see the ocean stroke the shore.

They spent their days at the beach and their evenings at nearby seafood restaurants. Jake was never a deep-sea swimmer, but he used to enjoy skimboarding over the shallowest waves: running with the board, slamming it down on the shore, and then jumping on top of it, body glittering with flecks of water. In his manhood, he has stopped running. That week, he would sometimes sit with my father and build a drip sandcastle, or spend an hour digging a hole, but nothing more. He preferred to spend the days with my grandfather, who was always on errands, shopping for dinner supplies or wedding decorations.

Jake had missed my older sister’s wedding three years before because we’d been too nervous to bring him back to London, his recent behavior having been particularly explosive. He could run away and we would never find him, or he would distract us from the wedding planning and my sister’s big day. In the days before our flight, my father drove him up north to spend a week with an old London friend so that Jake could have his own slice of English past.

The year of my wedding, because the beach house was so full, Jake did not talk very much. He was a mute but helpful presence. When I spoke to him, he hardly responded. Admittedly I was so overwhelmed with joy and planning that I did not attempt to speak to him much. On the day of the wedding, he helped set up, he put on a black suit, he did his groomsman duty of standing up front throughout the ceremony, and he smiled in family photos. Guests on my husband’s side assumed he was one of my husband’s friends because his color didn’t match mine. At the end of the night, I went home with my new husband, disposable foil trays tied to the back of our car, and he went home with Mom and Dad.

One day in mid-2017, five years after the death of Trayvon Martin and the beginning of Black Lives Matter, the white bulletproof blanket of my family lifted, and I became aware of Jake’s mentally ill blackness as if for the first time. I was on a hike near the Oregon coast, an hour and a half from where my husband and I lived in Portland. We were hiking the perimeter of a lake with another couple, tall trees and dragonflies everywhere. It was the perfect, slightly cool temperature for a hike. We walked over a small bridge, spied logs peeking out of the water to sunbathe, and as we followed the narrow trail, there was a bee that kept following my friend and a fly in my ear. My husband and our friends were talking about Michael Brown and Eric Gardner, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. Though I’d been in many such conversations, I stayed quiet, and maybe because of our introspective, peaceful surroundings, I finally understood that my brother had a black body, that he was living in the American South with a black body.

Soon after, Jake called me. I had not spoken to him since the wedding and imagined him lying on his nest on the back porch.

“Jake!” I said.

“Jill,” he said.

“What’s up?”

“I have a question.”

“Yeah?”

“My friend’s mom is a flight attendant for American Airlines and says she could get me a job. I need a résumé.”

“You want to be a flight attendant?”

“Yeah.”

“You know your job would mean being nice to people all the time.”

“Yeah.”

“It would require a lot of smiling.”

“Yeah.”

I paused to imagine this alternate Jake: broad shoulders in a crisp attendant’s uniform, dreads pulled into a ponytail, unruly beard gone. Clean clothes, clean hands. Saying, “Excuse me,” as he reaches over a passenger to pass a drink.

“You want me to make you a résumé?”

“Yeah.”

“I can make you a template, but you have to add in the information. Ask Dad for help.”

“K.”

“I’ll e-mail you.”

“K.”

Maybe this was good, I thought. Maybe he would be safer in the air. I would like him to fly, to be carried across the sea. In my memory, I had only carried his body once, when I was twenty-three and Jake was eighteen. We were in my grandfather’s pool, and Jake swam up to me, his large body making waves behind him. He said, “Hold me, Jilly,” and I cradled him easily in my arms while he grinned, his eyes disappearing behind his lids, water pooling in his stomach, his knees like icebergs, each of his dreadlocks dripping like a leaky faucet.

***

After the white blanket of my family was lifted, I started researching incidents of mentally ill black men being shot and killed by the police. I came across Jeffrey Lanahan, a thirty-four-year-old white man with autism, who was killed by police in March 2016. Friends and acquaintances described him as a shy and quiet person. In the weeks leading up to his death, Lanahan’s father had passed away while the family was on vacation in Hawaii, and due to money woes, his stepmother was forced to sell their home. Lanahan lived with his father and stepmother, and on the afternoon of the incident, he exited their house wielding a twelve-inch knife and charged at the officer who had just arrived, and the officer shot him. He died in the hospital later that day. His obituary requested that donations in his name be made to the Autism Society of America.

***

I fear many things: earthquakes, illness, guns, spiders, and, recently, Jake’s untimely death by police. I need to be better at living within frightening possibilities. But how to stop being scared for my life? To begin, I must be scared for someone else’s.

Perhaps my fear for Jake’s life is fueled by presumption and pessimism, but he’s been fighting for his life since before he was born. His birth mother put him up for adoption, fighting for his life. As a child, he bit his siblings, fighting for his life. As a teenager, he pined for guns and pulled a knife on my father, fighting for his life. He sat on the curb and told me that he wanted to die, but he’s alive. He has sat in the middle of a two-lane road. He has wrecked many different types of vehicles, and yet he lives. He’s had a nail through his foot, stitches in his groin, a metal disc stuck around his finger, pseudo-Parkinsonism from too much medication, and yet he lives. He runs away, but always comes back to his family, who live in a world that whispers that Jake’s body is dangerous. Even in his own house, in his small physical territory, the idea solidifies: the dog cowers in his presence and will not sleep in his nest. Though my parents have been frightened of him too, their biggest fears come from knowing that my brother’s home country—his place of birth and culture—is not fighting for his life.

I fear that I too am not fighting for his life. I have certainly been slow to acknowledge that some people find his life less valuable. Perhaps this is an unforgiveable failure.

***

While black men are getting shot and killed by police, Jake is at his friend’s house, chilling. Or he is waking up, getting dressed, and smoking a joint. He is taking long baths. He is pulling back his dreadlocks with an elastic band. He is going to work. He is walking to get Chinese takeout or frying bacon in my parents’ kitchen, flipping the individual pieces and laying them on a paper towel. While wearing the shirts his grandparents bought him for his birthday, he goes to Harry and Mary’s house at the mouth of the cul-de-sac to wrestle with their dogs.

This time, I call him. It’s August 2017. Jake is twenty-two years old.

“Hey, Jake. What are you doing?”

“Chillin’.”

“Have you applied to be a flight attendant?”

“Not yet.”

“Why not?”

“Haven’t done my résumé.”

“Did you just wake up?”

“Nu-uh”

“You sound sleepy.”

“I dunno.”

“Hey, Jake, have you heard of Black Lives Matter?”

“Nu-uh.”

“You haven’t?”

“No.”

“Have you heard about black men getting shot by police?”

“Yeah.”

“Anyone in particular?”

“No.”

“Do you ever think about that when you talk to police officers?”

“Nu-uh.”

“I know Mom and Dad worry about you. They’ve talked to some officers. But do you ever feel scared?”

“Nu-uh.”

It seems obvious now that Jake may never be fully aware of the extra danger his body could attract, but maybe this unawareness is good for his peace of mind. And I see that I, with my white body, can also never be fully aware, but that my ignorance is potentially harmful.

“Okay,” I say. “I’m going to see you this Christmas. Actually, after Christmas. The twenty-eighth.”

“When you going to bring me some bud?”

“Some bud?”

“Some weed.”

“I think that’s illegal.”

“So? Pack some weed brownies with some regular brownies.”

“I don’t think Mom and Dad would like that very much.”

“Nu-uh”

“Is there anything you want for Christmas that’s not smoking related?”

“No.”

“No?”

“Get me some lollipops.”

“Some regular lollipops?”

“No!” he says, and then I think there’s a premonition of a laugh, like a chuckle is calling out from the depths of his throat. “Weed lollipops!”

“Yeah, I’m going to get you a big bag of lollipops for Christmas.”

“Nu-uh.”

I tell him that I’m hungry and need to make lunch. He says okay.

“I’ll see you in December, yeah?” I say.

“Yeah,” he says.

 

***

After an adolescence in London, England, Jillian Weiss received her MFA from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. She won the North Carolina Writers’ Network Rose Post Creative Nonfiction Contest, and her essays can be found in Reed Magazine, the Pinch, Sycamore Review, and elsewhere. She is currently at work on a memoir about her missionary upbringing and lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and cat.

 

 

 

 

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