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Good Girls Don't Get Stoned

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Daan means road in Filipino. I didn't speak Filipino. I learned daan from the guy who checked me in. There was a big damn daan just outside the guesthouse. The trucks up and down it drove me crazy, but I was afraid to go out. It was one thing to run away from a father that was messing with you. It was totally different to be on your own, half-way around the world, expected to begin your new life.

It felt easier to stay sequestered in the bottom shelf of one of the eight metal bunks lining the walls of the dorm room, spending the dawn hour chewing sticky Filipino candies, small lumps I bought at the airport. Big lumps occupied most of the other bunks. They smelled male. It was too weird, watching them sleep. A noise from the opposite bunk bed turned out to be a guy lying on his side, concentrating on me with a sad, sad ache to his face. He emanated the feeling that if I did anything—leaned to the left, exhaled, blinked—he would come after me.

I didn't feel threatened. Just unimaginably lonely.

He dropped his head to his pillow. I fell in and out of sleep until three Australians invaded the dorm, a brown-eyed frenzy of tanned boobs called Cathy, Katherine, and Cassie, "just off" the overnight bus from the north. The rice terraces were "good fun" and "the local product" easily obtainable. They knew in a second I'd never smoked hash, so I accepted when one of them—Cathy?—offered a cigarette. They cackled as I gagged my way through the first puff.

"Bet she's cherry, too," said Cathy in a way that left me feeling extremely seventeen-and-a-half. The girls called me "mate" and asked me along for a beer. It was maybe 10 a.m.

At the bar, the music was too loud and all last year, that "We Are the World" one, then "Would I Lie to You," sung without a shred of irony, even humor by the only other girls here, Filipinas wearing tight little tops and teensy skirts. My new mates ordered a pint each. I asked for a Diet Coke. They went googley-eyed.

I said, "What?"

Cathy called me a no-hopper; didn't sound good. The guys at the next table joined the conversation and we merged, a neat group of four and four. I was assigned Billy. He was thin but flabby, the way my father was. My opinion, however, was not solicited. It was agreed that we would meet up later, and without asking, the girls lead me onto a city bus then around a pretty cool old fort. They still hadn't asked my name. When it was later enough, we were back in the bar. I hated going, I hated it. The hookers make me so sad. The pig men who bought them and fucked them should be smashed like cheap white chairs into the cement wall. I let Billy buy me another beer, then another. The next thing I knew, some subset of the girls was pouring me into my bunk. No nightmares, for once.

In the morning, my head shrieked like the brakes on the trucks banging past our window. Cassie and Katherine advised me to get to the Technicolor yawn and be done with it. I asked about Cathy. Cassie sniggered. "We'll meet up at breakkie," and the two of them propelled me out the door.

The streets of the shoestring traveler area, the Ermita, were wide and hot, the buildings lining them two-storied and flat-roofed. The restaurant was pineapple yellow. As if by magic, Cathy strolled in fifteen minutes after I bummed my first smoke. Her account was excruciating in its detail, told with proud indifference. I didn’t understand how she could stomach her breakfast while describing the feeling of his head against the roof of her mouth. It all made me want to puke.

This day's bus took us to Chinatown. The evening found us at the bar. One of this evening's guys had some local product, what he called a spleef. The girls eagerly partook. Right there in the bar. The boys didn't miss the sexy effect that getting stoned had on their plentiful curves.

Good girls don't get stoned.

Don't get stoned, don't spend the night. When I cold-shouldered the night's Billy, Cathy demanded to know if I really was a virgin.

"Fuck off."

The goal was to deliver that with the girls' nasty nonchalance, but I'd never said it out loud and gave it too much gas. When I tried to bum a cig, Cathy told me to buy my own.

I stalked to the cash register. I didn't even know what kind to buy. Cathy liked American smokes. I asked for two packs of the only brand I recognized, Camels, then returned to our table and slid one across the grainy wood. Cathy grinned. "Cheers, mate." It was settled. The next morning, I snuck out while they slept.

The sky was blue-black, the wide road practically deserted. The thing about being with jerks was, at least you're with somebody. By the time I walked to the bus station, I was still alone though around more people. The morning was brighter but still misty. Next to a rundown building of two-story cement stretched a parking lot packed with large, colorful buses: blue on top, yellow below; yellow on top, green below. I pulled out my Camels. Smoking was still harsh on my throat, but I was beginning to love the way the cellophane crinkled when you unwrapped a pack, the way you whacked the pack against the heel of your palm to settle the tobacco. The way it gave you something to do when you had no idea what to do. I couldn't work the match.

A lighter snapped close to my ear. The guy attached to it was thin, with dirty-blond hair. His smile was as hesitant as the morning.

"Me thumb's burning."

"Where d'ya buy a ticket?" I was amazed at my voice. One of the girls.

He gestured toward the dilapidated building. I moved off, wishing I wasn't alone, imagining how the girls would swear when they found me gone. I hauled out my Lonely Planet, read about Northern Luzon. First stop, city of Baguio. The bus smelled like oil and corn and was about half full, Filipino men in worn-out, short-sleeved button-downs, straw hats, and tense faces. There were a few tired-looking ladies traveling with a passel of kids, live fowl, both.

The lighter guy climbed aboard. Those were some blue eyes. He leaned over with a fresh cig. My shoulders declined for me, and I was left feeling that I should have done that differently. In due time, the bus sputtered to a start. Picking a careful path through increasingly crowded streets, we took almost an hour to clear the congestion that was Manila. The light was soft but crisp and there was a golden, moist feeling in the air. The highway took us past dense, green fields of wide-leafed bushes, smudgy blue hills in the distance. I sucked more smoke and relaxed, finally, into the ragged plastic seat.

Find me now, pal.

Eventually, my pack was empty. The lighter guy leaned over again. His name was Bob. He was English. This time, I was mellow from the cigarettes. My last smoke was, indeed, my last, and so I shrugged yes to his offer. In the two hours spent winding up the rainy road to Baguio, everything reminded Bob of India. "You think this trip is long? On the way to Varanasi, there was no seats left. We hung off the back. Eleven hours. But the trip to Goa … " So pleasant, to smoke yet another of his, to put off considering all I would need to accomplish when the highway ended. Only as we approach Baguio did Bob let on he was twenty-three. I told him I was twenty.

"You got a name?"

It was time to become who I planned to be. "Carlie Adams."

He employed that hesitant, compelling smile. "Carlie Adams. Nice name."

That's why I chose it.

We closed in on Baguio, passing neon pizza parlors and yuppie-looking restaurants. I barely saw them—not because they weren't what I imagined I would find in a mountain city north of Manila. I wasn't really seeing the horse-drawn carriages, either. The highway was ending. We rattled to a stop. Bob's voice snapped near my ear the way his Bic had. "Did you not say you were getting off in Baguio?"

Things were blurry; the only reality, the damp, black pavement of the parking lot hard against my feet. Then Bob's spine slumped into the same question mark making up his face. "Hear of any good guesthouses?"

Together, we tracked down a Lonely Planet-recommended cheapy. The proprietor displayed the only room he had available. Narrow single beds rested along opposite walls of creamy blue. Bob's grin remained aloof.

The thing about having your own room was, any stranger could come in. At least Bob already seemed kind of something. To find another hotel where maybe they only had one room and maybe it only had one bed; in the meantime, maybe we'd lose this room. Anyway, short of murder, nothing could happen that had not, already.

Someone who sounded a lot like me said, "We should share. It'll be cheaper."

The rich puddles that were Bob's eyes darkened at their center.

Quickly, I added, "Let's grab a beer."

We wandered cobblestone street until we came across what Bob decided was the right bar. He nodded to the other travelers, ignored the hookers, ordered a couple pints. As we drank, I watched Bob's mouth on his cigarette, some cheap Filipino brand, then pushed back, angry at wondering what that mouth felt like. I reached for my glass, for the ragged plastic relief of the bus. Eventually, he ground out his cigarette and tucked the butt into his pack. It was time to return to the guesthouse. The beginning of a sob reached through my buzz. In our room, he folded into his bed as if unconcerned that over in mine, a once again curious girl was noting the way the weak light turned his dirty-blond hair to gold.

I said, "Have you ever gone with a hooker?"

Bob was back to tentative. "Once. Just to see what it'd be like, yeah?"

"And what did you think it would be like?"

There was quiet. The darkened dots in his eyes stuck to my mouth. I have no idea how that ended—and then I woke gasping into the pitch black.

A lethargic rustle. "Wha …?"

From the darkness, more movement—oh, God. No.

A recognizable click. In the light from his Bic, Bob monitored the situation. He lit a smoke, passed it. My hands shook as I took it. "Sorry." I wanted someone to hold me, but safely. He would do.

For three days, we roamed the windy, wet city. All touch appeared accidental—elbows bumping as we perused the central market, knuckles brushing if we reach for the same star fruit. At night, we sampled the bars. They shut down at 9 p.m. Government curfew, enforced by soldiers in the streets. I was drunk by 9 p.m. If you were not drunk by 9 p.m., you would wake gasping and the cute guy across the room would think you were insane. On day four, we were on the bus to Bontoc. Bob ripped through his day pack for his smokes. I'd made sure I didn't wake him, overnight. Maybe he was mad because he hadn't gotten anywhere with me. Maybe he didn't want to. The trip to Bontoc was seven sodden hours of narrow roads up steeper and steeper hills, of chickens and cheap Filipino cigarettes. The young man in the seat in front of us introduced himself. "Eduardo." He ranted about the unsatisfactory way Cory Aquino ran the country. "There is a coming revolution." We arrived in Bontoc as dark settled, followed the flow of white travelers to the Happiness Hotel. Rooms, thirty pesos per person.

Bob said, "Pricey."

I drooped into the only place to sit, the hard mattress. It was not worth toting my stuff through the downpour to save a nickel a night. "Can't we just stay here?"

Bob hovered just inside the door, the way my father always did. This bed was a double.

The fellow who led the white wave from the bus station popped in. This time, he was peddling Purple. I didn't want a double bed. I didn't know what Purple was.

After some negotiation, Bob peeled off bill as if it were a scab, and he was in my face with his most expressive smile to date, demonstrating how to cut the Purple, the hash, into a cigarette to make a whacky backy. He grinned with the up-and-down of the phrase. Three times I inhaled deeply, hoping to pass out. Instead, I discovered more relaxation than I knew existed. We lay on the bed, contemplating the plink-plunk of the rain. Gently, he stroked my arm. When I didn't stop him, he started on my back. The warmth was soft, didn't run away when he kissed me. Even his tongue—not pokey or spitty, just soft. I had never been kissed like this. I lost track of everything except his lips and tongue running from my mouth to my throat and back until his hands forged a path up my shirt.

"Unh," I said into his mouth. I couldn't form a sentence.

"Crikey. This waiting is going to kill me."

I wanted to whisper that I had been waiting, too. Strong sunshine pulled me from utterly serene sleep. The angle of the light said late morning. Bob was right next to me on the bed, trying to act like he hadn't just been watching me. I wondered if he was planning to kiss me.

After breakfast, he wanted to get stoned again. I heard my voice telling him how soft and safe it made everything. Bob blinked like he was dealing with a mental case. As if changing the subject, he kissed me, kissed me for a long time before trying anything else, for such a long time that when his hands finally slipped under my shirt, I was aching to feel them there. I heard low moans timed to his gentle squeezes. Hey, that was me. Bob crushed me to his chest. I couldn't breathe. His mouth felt dry, his hands were prodding. A lot of things are prodding. It hurt.

"Hurry up."

He froze mid-thrust, then obliged, rolling silently off me when he was done in a way that said he'd be gone by lunch. I wanted to slam my hands into the headboard. That would scare him off for sure. I chewed into the tobacco-whap heel of my palm, must have dozed off but because I gasped myself from sleep. Blood was spurting, up to my neck.

"Crikey Moses."

My hand went to his hip. I'd seen movies. Also, I wanted to enjoy it. So I arched and sighed the way I imagined a normal girl would, hoping I'd get there someday. It would have been easier if I were still stoned, but if it wasn't movie-star hot, at least I was pretty sure he didn't think I was a bad lay.

Bob spent the next week verifying this. Or not. He reached often enough that I was not too worried that he would leave, but he sure seemed more interested in getting stoned.

"Where's the backy?" Bob said one evening, rooting through the ashtray on the night table. Seemed like he hadn't smiled in days.

"You finished it this afternoon, right before . . . Are you mad at me?"

I sounded like some desperate, clingy girl. I made my mom mad once, made her so mad that she hit me. For the instant between doing what made her so mad and dealing with her reaction, I had the power. To make her feel that much. About me. I wanted to shriek at Bob, "Are you my boyfriend?" I almost did, the next morning, on the next bus to the next town. We went by miles and miles of rice terraces, an unbelievable shade of lime Jell-O green, cut into the steep hills like steps for gods. All the white people ooohed and aaahed. I wanted to shriek, "Or are we just fucking?" It wouldn't matter if I did, or if I strangled him. He didn't care about me. I almost didn't care. As long as he didn't leave.

Next town: Banaue, population 62 or something. We found a two-dollar room, blazed it, and screwed. After he came, we hiked into rice country. We were paused for another hit in one of the three-walled huts that dotted the trail when out of the surreal green came a squad of men in raggy, sort-of uniforms. There was no way to know if they were army or revolutionaries, or even real, except that they did carry rifles.

"Get behind me." Bob was abruptly sober. He gestured in a harmless way as he tossed them his pack of smokes. They continued along the path with only the briefest glance my direction.

Someone sat next to me on the plank bench. Bob. He rested his fingertips lightly on my knee. Who taught him to be so kind?

I said, "Fuck."

He said nothing.

"Did that just fucking happen? Screw short of murder. When you have a pussy, there is always something worse that could happen. I'm really seventeen."

His face was impassive. "I saw what you could do."

"You know, fuck you."

Bob smashed the fatty side of his fist into the wooden wall. I grabbed my day pack and stormed down the very path the soldiers took. Let them rape me. Tragically, I reached the village unharmed. The terror of being alone was creeping over me when along came two Swedes from the oooh/aaah committee on the bus to Banaue. They bought me a beer. The table was littered with empties by the time they asked where was that guy I'd been hanging out with. Fuck Bob for not appreciating me. Single girls along the Lonely Planet Trail were about as rare as hot running water. I said that whole thing out loud.

When curfew sent us back to our hotels, Bob was not in the common area. He was not in the toilet, he was not in our room. It was nine-thirty. From the direction we hiked earlier came a sound I had not heard before, gunfire. At six past ten by my travel alarm clock, there was a tap on our door. I knew instantly: it was Bob and he was okay. When he called, very naturally, "Hallooo," I waited. I wanted to hear him use my name. He had not said it, not once, since the day we met, when he said it was a nice name. Probably didn't remember it.

"Carlie, open up."

I flew to the door and pulled him roughly into my arms. After we disentangled, we stood awkwardly with each other.

"Where were you?"

"The restaurant next door. I missed curfew and had to wait until the soldiers cleared out."

His blue-eyed bravado was easy to decipher. He drew me in for a long, slow kiss. Even the smell of his sweat told me he needed me, too. After, he lit up a cigarette, exhaled thoughtfully as he passed it. "I shouldn't smoke so much."

I ran a free finger along his jaw line. "You want me to finish this?"

"No, the skunk. I know it makes me…" He closed his eyes, hands locked behind his head. "I'd given it up, right before I met you."

The boyfriend-ness of it pulled me closer to him. I whispered, "My name … it's Jen. I changed it. I ran away. My father, he—oh, Jesus."

Bob snored lightly.

We woke to more rain. In our room, a similarly grey uncertainty. Bob was not acting like he heard, last night. He smoked, looked into the wet, said, "Bloody mizzle."

He fell asleep, last night.

Bob tucked the last of his cigarette into his pack. God, I hated it when he did that. "Why do you always do that? Save your butts like that."

The impersonal look he gave me made me wonder if he was planning to punch out another wall. At least it'd be a response.

"I'm trying not to smoke so much."

"You said hash."

"Why do you care?"

"I really don't know, Bob."

Now he would leave. I wanted to burrow into our bed, to curl and rock. That would make Bob want one last time and we'd quit smoking dope, so it would hurt. "Let's go back to Manila."

He tapped his pack against the table. As an old man, Bob would be even thinner and more leathery, with careful, selfish movements. When he finally said, "I don't mind," I could easily have shaken him. At least my father told me he loved me, after.

Manila's smog was visible on the horizon when Bob laid it on me. "I'm skint."

I was not completely sure that meant broke. Bob sorted through his day pack for his "Whichever's cheapest" shitty-tasting Filipino smokes. "I . . . er . . . forgot to change money before we got to Banaue."

It was Saturday. Banks closed early and wouldn't open until Monday.

I shouldn't have to give him money. Without a word, Bob lit his last cigarette.

"You have more traveler's checks, don't you?"

He exhaled out the window. The hot journey was completed in absolute silence.

Manila. The flat-roofed buildings and busy boulevards threw me right into the mood I was in when I fled the Australian girls. Bob looked seven stops past furious. Two big Aussies lumbered up. Apparently, they knew Bob, although I could tell they didn't remember his name. He was quick with theirs: Nigel and Rudy. These stellar examples of humanity invited us to meet them later—"You remember the place, ey, mate?"—saying they would set him up proper. I flagged a cab. The stillness between us was a rat trap. Once in the room of the cheapest hotel Bob could find, he regarded me pensively. I wondered what else I did wrong until he ran his hand along my arm.

"Those Aussies, Carlie, they want cash."

"You said we weren't gonna smoke—"

"How much did I buy for you in Sagada? In blinking Banaue?"

"If you'd been more careful with your own money—"

Bob grabbed my shoulders and shook. He was small, but wiry, strong. He threw me onto the bed, nearly cracking my head against the clean white wall. Standing over me, his face was terrifyingly neutral.

"Give me the dosh."

I reached into my fanny pack, fumbled for some bills. He snatched them and took off. I tried to stop trembling. Mom hit me, but my father didn't, really; only to make me still. Bob deliberately used hurt. The way he used my name—once when he learned it, once when he wanted me to open the door, and when he wanted money. Wanted, wanted, wanted, the only reason he tolerated me. Because I let him.

Blackness flooded me. Far away, near the edge of it, a speck of white light. I went to that dot and understood that thing to do was move. Now. I sat up straight and said, "No." I said that out loud.

Grabbing my stuff, I marched to the front desk and told the clerk that I was checking out and wanted a refund. He tried to persuade me that this was irregular.

"I don't care."

On the sidewalk. The clerk rushed to me with Bob's backpack. The gentleman left this in the room.

"Put it in the street."

My ticket was to Bali. The next flight left at 3:30 a.m. I was on it.

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