Sophie’s Off to College

Paul’s daughter, Sophie, was heading off to school, starting her junior year of college. She’d be twenty-one soon, old enough to buy her own beer, and drink cocktails at the dance clubs. Old enough to go to jail. Twenty-one, and she’s an adult. Overnight. Just like that.

Paul, Sophie, and mama Tina had spent an intimate morning together. After a big breakfast, strong-brewed coffee and the sweet smell of maple syrup permeated the house. The mood was festive, as if a rebirth had come. A grand voyage was about to commence. Sophie’s car was in the garage, all gassed, serviced, and almost packed.

Since mom had cooked breakfast, Paul and Sophie packed the car. As dad tossed the last of Sophie’s rucksacks into the trunk, a small one-hitter pot pipe fell and bounced with a awkward clack on the concrete floor. Both father and daughter saw it. As the blood drained from Sophie’s surprised face, Paul nonchalantly picked up the pipe and tossed it in the bag. He zipped it shut, placed it in the car, and gently closed the trunk.

“Daddy, that’s not mine.”

“I know dear,” Paul said. “Just forget about it. Let’s keep this between us.”

“I mean it,” Sophie continued. “I was keeping it for a friend. I just forgot about it. Trust me.”

“I know. No biggie,” Paul said with a smiling, dismissive optimism. “I was young once, too.”

Tactfully, he changed the subject, and asked Sophie if her car was road-ready. Buoyed by the diversion, father and daughter returned to the kitchen almost as if nothing had happened. Almost. They sat for a while at the table, trapped in a thorny silence, waiting for mom to tie up some loose ends before Sophie would hit the road.

The phone rang. It was Kay, one of mom’s nosy neighbor friends. Paul always called her “Okay Kay” because the woman was never wrong about anything.

“I got it!” mama said, taking the phone and stepping into the next room. It was a blessing in disguise.

“Dear heart,” Paul whispered to Sophie, sitting with her intimately at the kitchen table. “I’m not worried about the weed. If you drink a little beer and smoke a little herb, you’re probably going to be okay. It’s the hard stuff that kills you.”

“But it’s not mine!” Sophie quietly protested.

“I didn’t say it was,” Paul chuckled. “I’m just saying, if you ever want to buy some herb, give me a heads up, and we’ll get you a medical marijuana card, okay? On me.”

“Really?” she said.

“Yeah.”

“But what if I don’t qualify?” she asked.

“We’ll make it so you do. You leave that to me.” Paul leaned back to eaves drop on his wife and Kay. They were gossiping about their girlfriends. He had tons of time.

“The beer and the herb doesn’t get you,” Paul said. “The hard stuff does, and booze is the hard stuff, too. Don’t drink any of that jungle juice they serve at frat parties. At best you’ll wake up covered in puke. At worst, you’ll wake up in a stranger’s bedroom with a bad feeling in your stomach.”

Sophie rolled her eyes. “I’m not an idiot, daddy.”

“True,” he said. “But you are a day dreamer, and sometimes you don’t pay attention. Remember back when you were a sophomore? And you thought the sinking of the Hindenburg started World War Two?”

“Ancient history,” she huffed.

“You’re going to be twenty-one soon,” he said. “So if you go to a liquor store and buy some beer, you’ll get beer, not pot. Likewise, when you go to a marijuana dispensary you’ll get marijuana — not cocaine, or meth, or pills, or heaven knows what.”

“Daddy!”

Paul leaned back again to eaves drop on his wife and Kay. They were gabbing about men. He had all day.

“Those drug dealers will see you coming a mile away, kiddo. Sometimes they’ll tell you they’re out of pot, and offer you some coke instead. Sometimes they’ll give it to you for free. Don’t touch it. Avoid the hard stuff. They’ll say it’s all the same, but it’s not, not by a long shot. Remember that, okay?”

Mom hung up the phone. Kay was Okay. The final act had come, and sharing their fond goodbyes the family parted with gentle hugs and recalcitrant tears. Watching Sophie drive off to school, Paul waved as Elton John sang “Daniel” on the kitchen radio, and the sweep of time stood still.

I don’t know exactly what happened to Sophie after that, but I do know this: she graduated from college, was never arrested for drugs, and she didn’t die from an overdose. On the grand scale of things, that’s enough.

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