By Kai Yi Wang, a BRITE youth spokesperson.
“I’m gonna hang out with a few friends this Friday and smoke a little.”
I ignored him, working on my global paper in front of me, mumbling to myself about what I would write. I never really paid much attention to comments like these because jokes about drugs and sex were rampant at school. Despite only being in the 8th grade, it was common to hear another rumor about another blowjob or scrolling past another Instagram post of someone vaping.
It was just…”the normal.”
Phrases like, “I’m so high on drugs” could be heard around every corner of each classroom. Most of the student reactions to these comments were the same. Just like me, we would laugh and roll our eyes.
I knew they were just empty words tossed around our teenage mouths, a bunch of stupid remarks to keep the school day going.
“Hey, you heard?”
I tilted my head an inch towards my classmate, raising my eyebrows to show that I was listening.
“My friends have some stuff, and we’re going to vape a bit.”
I assumed he was bored again and gave him a quick eye roll before turning back to my paper.
“Don’t tell anyone.”
The tone of his voice surprised me for a second; it sounded way too serious. On top of that, he didn’t laugh it off like he always does. The global paper was killing me, so I put it down for a second and turned my seat towards him.
“Mmh, sure. You go do that.”
I looked at him in disbelief, waiting for him to tell me it was a joke.
“You’re kidding. There is no way you would do something that stupid.”
“What do you mean?”
“What do you think I mean?”
“It’s not that big of a deal. I’m gonna be with some close friends. They’ve done it before, so they know what to do.”
At this point, I completely stopped working on my paper. I kept staring at him, and he blankly stared back. He didn’t move or laugh or smile. He sat right in front of me, staring me square in the eye as if he had just stated a fact.
My brows furrowed.
“Are you crazy? How dumb can you get?” I was starting to get confused because he sounded honest, which wouldn’t make sense. There were too many silent pauses in our conversation for it to be another light joke. I’ve heard students drop names about others using Juuls or vaping after school, but I didn’t believe them. But now, I have my friend staring straight at me, bluntly telling me he was doing drugs.
I repeated this in my head.
“WHAT?” I could feel the worry creeping up my spine, and it was showing on my face. For the first time, these useless and worthless remarks had some oppressive reality behind them. This newfound realization didn’t make sense to me, and I was still processing the information.
Is my friend doing drugs? What?
My mind flashed to images of disturbing junkies hobbling down the streets, with wet, red eyes. I imagined needles and cigarette stubs littered across the concrete.
He tapped my desk and rolled his eyes. How is he rolling his eyes about this, I thought to myself. Does he realize what he’s saying? Does he understand what he’s doing?
Then it hit me. Of course, he does. We all do. We all know very damn well.
He’s going to vape on Friday with friends, and there is nothing I can do to stop him. The casual way he told me also meant this wouldn’t be the first time. I opened my mouth to say something, but he was already talking to another classmate. I’m sure she overhead, but I guess she didn’t care. She smiled at me and continued talking. There were no questions, no worried comments, no “are you sure?”
Am I the only one that thinks it’s risky?
We didn’t talk again until the class ended. For the rest of the week, neither of us brought the topic back up. We continued as if it never existed in the first place. I never told anybody or any administration worker, or staff, or teacher.
Our conversation was short, but I learned something that day. Behind all of the words we say at school, there was a dark hidden truth that was far too real for comfort. Someone was “high on drugs.” Someone was “vaping after class.” There truly was someone doing the ridiculous actions we always joked around about. I stopped in the crowded hallway and looked around me, and the revelation that I had no idea what kind of dangerous things my friends were doing washed over me. But what was even more insane is the silence that covered these actions, neatly cleaning up after conversations like the one with my classmate. No one would “snitch” about their friend taking a quick hit. We didn’t know how to talk about it. Or maybe, we just didn’t see the need to.