Jesse had a hard way to go. He’d always tried to be grown up before his time and looked to his so-called buddies for reassurance never received from his absentee father. By the time Jesse was only 14 years old, his father was incarcerated for a drunken car accident that left a passenger in a wheelchair and Jesse out of control at a young age. He missed his dad but covered up his pain by partying with the best of them every chance he got.
Along the way he began to learn the hard lessons of substance abuse and had been in trouble with juvenile officers himself. By 16 years old his record was still relatively short but included a couple vandalism charges caught from a night of throwing rocks and breaking car windows around town that also strengthened his growing disdain for the police after his father’s sentencing. If heredity wasn’t enough, peer pressure nudged along Jesse’s inevitable road to self-destruction. Just like good ol’ dad.
One cold evening he sneaked out, his mother’s none the wiser, and found out the hard way what happens when you take someone’s word for it “this is some good stuff” and “you should try it.” The wind whipped up the sleeves of his thin jacket as he waited under the streetlight on a corner three blocks down from his house so his mom couldn’t see him waiting there for his ride. He shuffled back and forth to stir up some body heat and ward off his shivering.
Johnny’s truck slowed to stop at the curb, and he crowded inside, the smoke rolling out of the extended cab door as he piled in the back seat. It was New Year’s Eve and time to break up the grind of spending all of holiday vacation at home by himself or under the watchful eye of his overprotective mother. A boring video game marathon and her lectures were enough to send him over the edge, and he was ready for a night out with the guys. One particular pasture where they often parked was just secluded enough to have a bonfire without fear of its smoke drawing any attention to their gatherings there.
An hour later, his friends were laughing and kicking snow at each other across the firelight. They’d brought along some hooch that tasted awful but was to have the power of at least a six pack of beer in one glass. Jesse choked down the red plastic cupful of the god-awful stuff and asked the others what was in it. Johnny told him it didn’t matter, to just drink the damn thing and shut up, questioning why they brought along this punk-ass kid in the first place.
The group startled to attention at the approach of headlights down the gravel lane, and everyone but Jesse jumped to their feet and scrambled back to the truck. Jesse’s reaction time was nil, and he sat frozen in a camp chair by the dimming firelight. Johnny yelled from him to come on, to no avail, and left him sitting by himself in the frozen field. A spray of rocks spun behind the truck tires as it sped down the road away from the boy, stranding him there in a helpless state.
Jesse’s sight began to blur and a hazy gray fog fell over his reasoning, making the path in front of him dissolve into a non-navigable miasma that may have well been quicksand. He barely made out the taillights of a car from whose approach the group had fled as it passed the empty pasture where he sat alone and incapacitated.
The tincture was something he’d never tried before, only watched the others fade into their own oblivion upon consuming it. It was the concoction of some old hippy coot the others knew from the outskirts of town. The dude lived in some thick woods where they hung out to escape the watchful eye of the law.
The base ingredient was supposed to be wild cannabis, if there was such a thing,. A scientific form was unlikely. He couldn’t imagine it being produced in a scientifically controlled laboratory. Hemp was prolific throughout these backlands, but Jesse knew only the basics of the woodman’s alchemy. Undoubtedly, some wild herbs were mixed in the drink as well. Peyote was not of the question, although its scarcity was likely and yet its potency unmistakable. Whatever the formula, it had been some potent stuff. Limb usage inability and temporary blindness were only a few of the side effects.
Experimentation had gotten the best of him, and the drink took immediate effect. The liquid was no sooner down his gullet and into his stomach then he was sinking to his knees. No loyalty among friends meant they left him to his own devices, left him by himself in an unfamiliar place outside, just as his wits also left him. He was down upon his knees fumbling across the crust of snow spread across the frozen earth. Sharp rocks and sticks poked up from the thin cover of white, and his knees bled through the torn denim of his trousers. The fabric easily gave way to the punishing elements, and red trails in his wake marked his slow progression across the bumpy forest floor.
Confused or not, he could feel the falling Fahrenheit of the environment and his body. With no gloves on his hands, his palms were scraped and cut, and his skin became blue and sore in the cold. He wouldn’t last long out in the near-freezing temperature. Even in his altered state of mind, he quickly realized how he could die of excess and exposure and didn’t want his mother to receive news of his frozen remains being found on the first day of a new year.
What a hell of a way to start his resolutions. Jesse thought to himself, “If I live, I won’t try any new drugs.” He paused in his magnificently slow trek along the icy ground and resigned to himself, “Well, I won’t do drugs any more at all. And I’ll find new friends. Those guys suck, leaving me out here.”
His train of thought continued, “I might even attend one of those meetings Mom wants me to go to in the church basement, find out about one of those rehab programs. Maybe start going to those meetings regular, no matter how much people make fun of me.”
In the span of his rambling thoughts, Jesse had unknowingly crawled across the ditch and out into the narrow lanes of the road. His arms were numb by then, which kept him from being able to raise them to shield his eyes from headlights heading straight form him or wave them for help. It was the same vehicle that passed before, the driver circling a country mile to come back and investigate why someone would be sitting out in these frigid temperatures with no shelter anywhere to be found.
Luckily for Jesse, the driver got him inside the car and coaxed his address of out him, partially incoherent or not. The man delivered him home and helped spill him into the doorway at this late hour, where his mother waited expectantly. The worry on her face was obvious, as she’d spent many similar nights this way previously, while the kind stranger spared her the grisly details but gave the basics of how he’d found her son.
The man lived out that way and was en route home from his own 12-step meeting when he passed by that field and noticed something so out of the ordinary. He’d been on the receiving end of the benevolence of strangers himself in the past and believed in paying it forward.
It was on New Year’s Day three years ago when he vowed to never drink another drop, as the night previous his brother was in a car accident with a buddy. His brother had been hurt badly, but this kid was lucky. Jesse hadn’t been run over on that road and given the same fate, his legs contorted beyond use. The driver of that accident was put in prison, but it wasn’t the same sentence his brother had received – one of a life confined to a wheelchair, never to walk again.
*The writing prompt fog came from Studio 30 Plus.