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Hitching to Nirvana: a novel
by Janet Mason
Hitching to Nirvana is a recently completed mid-life and adolescence coming of age novel by Janet Mason. Excerpts have been published in the Schuylkill Valley Journal of the Arts, and in Drive: women's true stories from the open road Seal Press), The Kirkus Review, and the Exquisite Corpse and Philadelphia Poets. A version of this chapter (10), "Art", was published in a different form in the on-line magazine, Swell.


Tea Leaves: a memoir of mothers and daughters by Janet Mason (Bella Books April 2012) is now available -- click here for more info

“There is something here for everyone who has ever loved someone else or plans to. I highly recommend “Tea Leaves” just because it is so real and so beautifully written.”–Reviews by Amos Lassen

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read Janet Mason's latest piece in The Huffington Post --Chick-fil-A: What Would Gandhi Do If He Were Gay?


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"Got anything?" Leaning against the bathroom wall, Diane stares at Adrianne-waiting for an answer. Adrianne stares back. She has just wandered into the girls' room after first period English where the class was discussing Shakespeare and the lines from Macbeth--"Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,/Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,/"-- She can recite Shakespeare but she has no answer to the desperation lurking in Diane's clenched shoulders and in her angular arms padlocked across her ribs. Adrianne stares into Diane's sea green eyes. She feels as if she could fall into those eyes and swim in them, floating on those salty waves forever. Then Adrianne remembers the question. She looks away, shrugs, and utters one syllable, "Nope."

"I wish Art would hurry up." As Diane speaks, she looks away.

Adrianne feels as if the fact that she didn't have anything to smoke, pop, snort--anything to alter the reality of her friend's life into something tolerable-makes her not worth looking at. Diane leans back further--as far as she can go-- into the bathroom wall. She looks as though she is trying to escape something monstrous that is coming toward her. Her next class. A morning without getting high. The rest of her short life.

Diane exhales--a sigh pushes out a stream of smoke from her lungs through her mouth, past her pale gums and pink lips. The force of it comes from the bottom of her life. Adrianne takes a step back and studies the wall. The building was built just a few years ago and the tile is still new, but some of the tiles are already cracked. A permanent film, the residue of smoke, dampness, stifled dreams, has settled in.

Adrianne usually wants to get high as much as Diane. But this morning, the lines from Macbeth lingering in her mind were enough … until she came into the bathroom and saw Diane. "It would be nice to smoke a joint," says Adrianne, turning slowly to face Diane, staring into her face, her eyes. Today, wanting to get high in the girls' room is more than habit. It is survival. She can't stop the monster of Diane's life from rushing at her. She can't turn back time. But they can get high.

"It would be nice to smoke ten." Diane's lips twist into a sneer.

Adrianne snickers then and Diane does too. Their snickers turn to full-throated laughs. Diane's shoulders loosen and she shifts forward, away from the wall. The padlock of her crossed arms unhooks. She rests her hands on her hips and then drops them. Dana enters the bathroom. Helen is right behind her. On her way in, Dana pushes open the large door on the end stall where they always get high. "Hey what's going on?" Her voice bounces off tiles, stalls, walls. She didn't bother to wait for an answer. "I bet you don't have anything."

Adrianne and Diane shake their heads and look at Helen. The older guy she is dating, in his twenties, is a drug dealer. Helen always has something, a few joints, a nickel, a dime. "Manny and I are fighting," she says - a scowl crossing her long pale freckled face. Her long blond hair is frizzier than usual, as if she forgot to comb it.
"Art will come." Adrianne feels the need to reassure her friends, but she believes her own words. She feels the presence of Art- revving her engine, straddling the black leather seat of her motorcycle. When she arrives, she will lead them away from everything, even themselves.

Dana lights a cigarette. She looks down at the floor as she inhales and then flings back her head as smoke curls from her lips. She keeps an eye on the bathroom entrance closest to them. She is looking for Art. Helen takes the cigarette next, clenching it between nicotine stained fingers. She, too, stares at the entrance…waiting.

They wait.

Adrianne studies the first two fingers of her right hand. Residue darkens the lines of her flesh. Her fingers smell like stale smoke and they looked suddenly strange - as if they belong on someone else's hand. She looks at Diane, staring down at the quick she is picking at on her double--jointed thumb. Helen takes the cigarette from Dana and inhales. She turns her head and exhales.

Adrianne watches as the thick stream of smoke dissipates in the general dinginess of the bathroom, into the dreariness of their lives without Art.

The girls look at each other and see their own reflections: Purple shadows beneath eyes; the corners of lips turned down; impatient fingers, tapping ashes; resignation in slumped spines. Still-- with their transforming bodies, their luminous expectant faces-- they are beautiful. But all they see are their own flaws, magnified.

Adrianne has long beautiful legs and she wishes she could cut them off at the knees so that she will no longer stand out in the crowd. Helen walks to the row of bathroom mirrors above the sinks. She scrutinizes the freckles that are scattered across her wide flat cheeks like stars. "I hate my face," she says. She takes another drag on the cigarette and then, squinting into the mirror, exhales and watches as the smoke boomerangs back into her face. Diane comes over, stands beside Helen and peers into the adjacent mirror. She complains about her split ends, her nose, saying, "it's too square. It's huge. Where the hell is Art, anyway?"

Dana and Adrianne stay where they were, on the other side of the room, away from the mirrors. They pass a cigarette back and forth. Dana is larger than life. She can't look into the mirror without turning away. Like the rest of them she wants to disappear. It is unimaginable that someday soon she will.

Adrianne passes the cigarette back to Dana and then walks to the mirrors. Is that really her? She is surprised by her own beauty. Still, she hates the fact that the reflection of her face is so much higher than the others. Adrianne and the girls might just as well be looking into a fun house mirror. This one is too tall, the other too fat. Decades will pass before Adrianne can see clearly. Then she looks back and sees that they were beautiful girls--perfect incarnations of Isis resting on a lunar sickle, gilding the waters of the Nile. Their ripe bodies are deserving of ancient rituals-peasant women shaking colanders of seeds onto furrowed earth, singing a Neapolitan chant to make the sun rise.

If only they knew.

Art strides in-- taking them, almost, by surprise. While the others are examining their flaws, Art plants her feet with the certainty of a boy. She comes toward them and opens her hands to reveal pockets of tinfoil-- everything glitters. Art bends reality into something they can live with. They feel the wind on their faces as she takes them down endless country roads. They follow her to the large bathroom stall on the end and cram themselves inside. Every cell in Adrianne's body crawls toward the square of tinfoil filled with THC, meth, anything. Adrianne, along with the others, doesn't ask. It is the same thing really--a way out. Adrianne takes out a dollar bill, rolls it up from end to end until it is a short thick straw, a mode of transport for the white powder to enter her bloodstream. She inserts the rolled up dollar bill into her left nostril, leans down to the white powder on tin foil and inhales with the force of a tornado in reverse.

Cold numbness rushes from her nostril to her mind. She is climbing an ice covered mountain peak. She is spiraling through sky. Her fingers grip a cloud. Art leans against the closed stall door behind her. Dana snorts more than her share and then says she has to leave. The girls press themselves away from the stall door. Dana's laughter trails as the door closes behind her. There is a little more space, but the four of them--Helen, Diane, Art, Adrianne-are still crammed in the stall. Adrianne feels trapped. She looks up to where a metal bar runs above the top of the bathroom doors. Stepping onto the toilet seat, she puts a hand on the top of the door, a foot on the inside wall and shimmies up until she is perched atop of the stall walls. She thrust her long slim legs in the small opening between the stall door and the square metal bar on top of it, pulling herself up to a sitting position. She is as high in her universe as she can go.

"You're crazy." Helen is looking up at her.

"Yeah. Don't fall on me." Diane tilts her head and looks up. Then she looks down again, licks her finger, and runs it across the emptied tin foil for the last traces of white powder. Diane is getting high. She should be happy but nothing is ever good enough. Adrianne sits on her perch wishing that she could give Diane something that will make it all better. Art bends over and pulls up the right pant leg of her jeans. When she stands up, she is holding a miniature bong. She fills it with water from the sink that is inside the large stall. She filches a pot filled baggie from her back pocket - moving so fast that the baggie appears to come from nowhere. She pinches some clumps between her thumb and forefinger and deftly placed them in the small metal bowl attached to the mini bong.

Pssst…a match is lit. The wet grating sound of smoke sucked through water. Small clouds of pungent smoke drift up to Adrianne. The air is hazy with smoke. Adrianne looks through the haze and the tiles on the wall across from her that begin to ripple into waves. The smoke is a kind of writing in the air, telling the story of four teenage girls who are lost in their lives. Adrianne looks down into the stall and sees Art looking up at her. She is holding the bong aloft like a chalice.

Art stands apart from everything. She is a girl and at the same time she is not a girl. She holds herself back from the world and at the same time tears through it. She rides her motorcycle everywhere she can and refuses to wear a helmet. The wind has carved wings into her hair. The art teacher-the one who took notice of their clever comments, their spontaneous drawings-pleaded with Art. "Sweetie,"--that what she always called her--"you're going to kill yourself on that bike if you don't wear a helmet." Art just grinned. She does what she wants.

Adrianne is raucous and often a ringleader. But, even as she slowly climbs down to take the bong, she feels shy in Art's immense presence. Adrianne does not dare to imagine herself wrapping her arms around Art or straddling her legs on the leather seat behind her. It is unthinkable to imagine lying down next to her and immersing herself in Art. Instead, Adrianne wants to become her. She wants to be Art.

A month later, Helen's father throws her out of the house. She moves in with her boyfriend and three other men, all of them drug dealers. In no time, Helen starts sleeping with one of the other guys. She can get her hands on anything. Adrianne's nickel bags turn to dimes to quarters. It isn't pocket change. It is the proportion of a pound.
Helen's boyfriend and his housemates live in another section of Levittown, in the same kind of house that Helen lived in with her father except that this house sits fifteen feet back from the sidewalk with an overgrown lawn in the front yard.. Going to that house with Helen and her boyfriends is like going to the corner Deli. I'll have a pound of Jamaican Red, please. It is that easy. Adrianne turns a quarter bag into four dimes, eight nickels. She makes her money back by dealing and she always has enough weed left over for herself and her friends.

But before long, Adrianne can't remember who she sold to-friends, acquaintances, the blur of teenagers who approached her at keg parties in the woods. She can't remember how much she smoked, how much she gave away, and how much she sold. The bags keep coming. The shit that Helen gets from her boyfriends is good. It
isn't full of seeds and twigs like the stuff Adrianne bought on the street. It is spongy, like dried seaweed, and fills the bottom of a large plastic bag. Adrianne found all kinds of places to keep it. She stuffed it in her sock and into a purse sized Kotex box. She is taking an elective photography class, and when the stash gets down to the end, she stores it in empty black plastic film containers. One night when the cops pulled up next to the
car she was getting high in, she shoved the bag of grass down the front of her pants.

Two boys, younger students, in Adrianne's photography class start asking her if they could buy some weed. "Get lost," she says the first time.

"We can handle it," says the chubby one. He has short blond hair, pimples, and square, tortoise shell glasses. He is a nerd, an inexperienced kid. Adrianne can't be bothered. "Come back when you grow up."

The two of them keep pestering her-every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning in photography class. They are careful to talk to her when the teacher and the other students, who aren't in the druggie crowd, are out of earshot. One day--it is a Monday--Adrianne finally relents. Maybe she is tired or hungover. The two kids, with their dogged insistence, wore her down. Even so, she feels gracious and important as she hands them the canister and takes their money. She becomes Art in their eyes.

Until that afternoon - when everything goes wrong.

"I can't believe you sold to them. They won't let them go until they tell where they got it--and then the cops will come for you. Don't you DARE tell them." Helen angrily snatches a lit cigarette from Adrianne. They are in the upstairs bathroom and have just found out that the two nerds got busted. Helen is afraid that Adrianne
will lead the police to her boyfriends-to her supply. The stricken look on Helen's face turns to disgust.

"Don't worry. I won't tell." Adrianne's legs are shaking.

"You better not. I never should have trusted you."

Helen tosses the half smoked cigarette in the toilet. It hisses and she stalks off.

Art is nowhere to be found.

If she knows Adrianne is dealing, she doesn't care. A few nickel or dimes don't concern her. She has since moved on to bigger things. PCP, THC, Quaaludes, meth. Adrianne is a two-bit dealer and she is fucked. She sits alone in the narrow bathroom stall behind the shut door. Suddenly she sees herself in the eyes of others. She is a drug dealer. Maybe she isn't pushing on a playground, but she dealt to younger students. She is a criminal and she is afraid. The school narc will lumber to her next class-- record keeping-- in search of her. It is one thing for the disciplinarian to pull her out of class to reprimand her for skipping school. But this is different. Dealing means suspension. Police. They will call her parents. She knows that she will not be able to take the whispers, the sneers. She has gone from being an outsider in junior high to a high school burnout. A druggie. She is a two-bit dealer and she can't even do that right.

Adrianne stares at the beige bathroom door in front of her, looking at the scratches in the paint that someone had made with a pen. She breathes in the stale smoke that hangs in the air and wonders where she should go. This was the bathroom where the girls hang out and, if they were looking for her, this is where they would come.

She stands up, walks out of the bathroom, and joins the students in the hall who are late to class. She passes a couple pressed up against the row of lockers, making out so deeply they look like they have one mouth. Their hips press together in a slow grind. The boy stands on the outside pressing the girl against the locker. He has dark greasy hair, a denim clad ass. Even from behind, Adrianne recognizes him.

She knows his moves--slow and hard. Smooth. His girlfriend's bleached blond hair spreads upwards against the locker as the back of her head presses against it and she moans. Adrianne's face reddens. She remembers what this boy's grinding pelvis feels like. Her science teacher-- a woman in her twenties with dark brown hair falling to just below her ears-- walks toward Adrianne. She sees the couple grinding and slows down, looking like she was going to say something. But then she turns her glance away and hurries by.
Adrianne keeps on walking. The hall is emptying which means that the late bell is about to ring. She takes the stairs two at a time and ducks into the downstairs bathroom that is almost always empty. Closing the stall door behind her, she sits down and stares at the inside of the door. Hardly anyone smokes in this bathroom and the paint on the inside of the door is still shiny. She stares into it, searching for her own reflection.

The two nerds that she dealt to are still in the Principal's office where they have been all morning. They are bound to crack and then someone will come and get her. She is too nervous to smoke. Minutes tick by. Five. Ten. Footsteps clatter on tile. The bathroom monitor taps on the stall door. Adrianne flushes the toilet, pretends to pull up her pants, and opens the door. The monitor has rhinestone inlaid reading glasses hanging from a beaded chain around her neck. She cocks her head to one side and stares at Adrianne.

"Shouldn't you be in class?"

Adrianne bursts into tears as the monitor speaks.

"What's wrong dear?"

Adrianne wipes her eyes. No one has turned her in, yet.

"I have cramps," she says.

Period, that one always works. Grown women feel sorry for menstruating girls. Their hearts bled for them - becoming a woman is a tragedy. Adrianne walks to the sink, wets a paper towel and pats her blotchy face.

"Thatta girl. Now you can go back to class."

Adrianne blows her nose and nodds. "Yes ma~am," she says.

"I'll go back in a few minutes."

The monitor leaves and Adrianne goes back into the stall. She closes the door behind her, sits down on the toilet seat and lights a cigarette. She silently recites George Carlin's seven words that you can't say on television. Shit. Piss. Fuck. Cocksucker. Tits. Cunt. There is one more but Adrianne can't remember it. She goes back to the beginning and goes through the list again. The repetition calms her. Motherfucker. That is the last one.

Adrianne might not be a mother, but she is fucked. The bell rings. She stands up, walks out of the stall, and goes to her next class. She doesn't hear a word of what the teacher says. She doesn't care. Earth science. Who gives a shit, anyway?

No one comes to get her.

Later she finds out that the two nerds had not ratted on her. Instead, they walked away from the principal's office with triumphant smiles. They had proven themselves in the pecking order of cool. They can be trusted. Adrianne feels the same as she had when a cop drove away after she shoved the bag of pot down her pants, undetected. She felt the same as she had on the numerous occasions when a car driven by herself or someone else almost wiped out but didn't. She felt lucky.

She will never deal again. Even if she wants to, it is impossible. Her supply is cut off. Helen doesn't trust her. Art mostly hangs out with a cooler crowd of girls who do harder drugs. Every risk she takes lead to another. The art teacher is still on her case about wearing a helmet. Art's new answer to everything is, You have to die of something. The lines of her smile flatten into the horizon behind her. Her eyes glitter. She comes to school less and less. One day she shows up with a helmet under her arm. "I knew you could do it." The art teacher beams at her, her teeth white in a perpetually tan face.

Of all the girls Adrianne knows, Art is the least like one.
The drugs give her the courage not to be a girl.
She got hold of a black leather jacket and never takes it off.

Art is wearing that jacket her last day in school. They take her away several hours after a girl flips out in English class. She is one of the girls in Art's new crowd and she has overdosed on horse tranquilizers. She is a girl, not a horse. The tranquilizers cause her to go blind temporarily. The narc comes to get her and leads her, screaming, from the room.

The teacher rolls her eyes.

They were studying Chaucer and the teacher wants to get back to it. This is one of the same teachers who always makes derisive remarks about the vo-tech students who are enrolled in "Reading for Enjoyment" and are graded based on their oral reports on pulp novels. The teacher doesn't see what is in front of her. She doesn't understand that literature had come to life. The Maenads have come back. They are shrieking. They are screaming. They need her help.

The teacher has The Cantebury Tales open in front of her. She is making mental translation from the Middle English, words that she would never teach. Frere, feere: companion. Dey: die. Fay, fey: faith.

A screaming girl is led from the class.

Art is going to jail.

She is underage and her sentence will be short compared to what it be later.

After Adrianne graduates from high school, she sees Art one last time. Art is standing on the narrow footbridge that arches over the narrow creek that divides one housing section from another. Adrianne caught crayfish in that creek when she was a child. She dug clay from its banks and turned it into winged creatures and coiled snakes. Reeds grow near the bank and children still play there. The bridge attracts groups of teenagers who lounge against its metal railings as Art does now by herself. The creek-that thin flashing trickle cutting through mud and rock--is a magnet.
In another time, Art may have been a deer drawn to water, but now she is simply a girl who has been let out of jail.

When Adrianne walks down the hill that leads from the drive to the creek and sees Art, her heart thuds. She thinks she has forgotten all about her, but she recognizes Art immediately. Her hair is windswept. Her right hand is thrust into the hip pocket of her jeans as she leans back against the railing and stares off into thin air.

Adrianne has bought a moped by then, a mini motorcycle, but it doesn't occur to her that she is still trying to be Art. She drives it on back roads and on the shoulder of interstate highways, not bothering to wear a helmet. Once she drove drunk, weaving in and out of traffic. She has been sexually involved with a few guys-dating, she would call it later-who drove bigger motorcycles. She sits behind them, gripping their waists, spewing laughter, gulping a beer in traffic. When Adrianne walks closer to Art, she sees that Art's face is haggard, a shadow of her former self. Her grin, when she sees Adrianne, is a tilted flat line across her face.

Adrianne will always feel awe in the presence of Art. Both of them nod, but neither say hello. They don't acknowledge that time has passed and that Art has spent that time behind bars. Art pulls her hand out of her pocket, uncoils her fingers, and reveals a packet wrapped in tinfoil. It glitters in the sunlight.

Adrianne says she is broke. She is lying and Art knows it. The truth is that Adrianne has stopped snorting things up her nose. That much she has managed to do. Art frowns and her eyes turn to glass marbles. She is eighteen years old and she has seen too much. Adrianne walks on. Art stands there leaning against the metal railing of the footbridge. She is waiting for someone who will pay.

Adrianne walks away. She crosses the bridge and wanders up the grassy incline on her way to the section of houses where Diane lives. She remembers Art when the two of them were girls--when Art was handsome and nimble, the prince who visited every girl's childhood. Then, Art was magic. She was a fleet footed deer stamping her hooves at the edge of wilderness. She could have been a clear spring, the source of everything. But Art is just a girl with an arrow pointed at her heart.

As for Adrianne, a piece of her pierced heart will always be riding the wind. Art.

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