Lucy is laughing. Through the cloud of smoke, I watch her place her lips on the end of the dainty glass pipe filled with weed her father has mailed her all the way from California. I have questions (about her father, about her life, about the postal system), but I am too distracted to ask them. I fear that I am losing my hearing.
One of my ears is numb and bloated-feeling, like one half of my face is submerged in water. I pin the corners of my mouth up crookedly in response to a question I believe someone has asked me, and snap my fingers next to my ear. The sound confirms my belief that I am possibly partially aquatic, and I wonder with suspicion if this has anything to do with global warming; I have heard the polar ice caps are melting.
Except now I can’t actually hear anything, and I am suspicious of everything. My new friends are leering at me cartoonishly, and I suspect all of them are trying to sleep with me. I admonish myself for this narcissism, but when I’ve finished the scolding (“Who do you think you are? Little Miss Never-Had-a-Real-Boyfriend-at-Seventeen? Miss Probably-That’s-Because-You’re-Gay-But-That’s-A-Whole-Other-Therapy-Session?”), I look up and see Lucy leaning over me, her weird shimmery shawl thing falling open in the front and her eyes melty with concern. It is obvious that she despises me.
“Are you all right?” She has been asking me.
I look down at my fingernails. They are still mostly in the right places. “Yeah.”
“You just look really, um, worried.” She’s giggling again. I am temporarily bathed in warmth, like the sun is pouring warm honey directly from its fiery center onto the top of my head, and I’ve decided I’ll deal with the clean-up later. But then a crease appears between her eyebrows, and I’m doused with arctic water. She wishes I would leave. Those damn ice caps again.
“I’m having trouble hearing out of my right ear,” I admit. Can weed make you go deaf?
“Weed can’t make you go deaf,” Lucy replies. I gape at her. But can it make you read minds?
“Have you tried popping your ear?” She asks. She holds her nose and balloons her cheeks, her eyes bulging and reddening from the pressure. It is the most horrifying thing I’ve ever seen, and I only wish I could look away.
“Yeah I’ve done that,” Erin pipes up from the corner, where she has been previously relegated to a state of non-existence due to my shaky sense of object permanence.
“Oh fuck hi. I forgot you were there.” I’m so startled I temporarily forget to be afraid. Erin looks wounded. “I mean but,” I continue, reaching for normalcy, for the homesickness-quieting smiles of my new friends, “I’m glad you are. There.” Please don’t hate me.
She looks suspicious for a moment — like she is suspicious of me?
Or like she herself is a suspicious figure, a time-space-bending, trying-to-fuck-me suspicious figure? How could it be possible that this is getting worse when I swear I hardly inhaled and I didn’t even cough and that was years ago — but then she smiles.
Now Erin is laughing and smiling, and so is Lucy, and they are both ballooning their cheeks with the good advice that I pop my ear and so I try it. It works, for a moment.
“Oh wow. Thank you,” I say.
They look over at me in surprise, and I realize it’s possibly been longer than I thought since we were talking about my ear problem. Or maybe they’re not expecting my politeness. I have been pretty quiet throughout this whole thing, regarding them with wariness during what was supposed to be a bonding activity. Plus, Lucy’s father went through all that trouble (I’ve really got to remember to ask her about that).
“Is your ear any better?” Erin asks.
It is not. It is stuffed with cotton, wool, and climate change. It is a cloudy sky where the thunderheads part only briefly. It is a useless, crooked, fleshy protrusion and I wonder if, now that it no longer works as originally intended, I can find other uses for it. Up-cycling, right?
But these are my new friends, too new to hear the whirlwind nonsense in my mind. And maybe one day they will be old friends, and we can talk about the time I was so nervous and high that I convinced myself I was both universally reviled and sexually irresistible. For now, though, I scoot closer to them and nod. My smile comes a little easier. “Yeah, I think so.”
The next day I will wake up half as high, and twice as unable to hear. I will go to the nurse, where a kind woman with cool hands who I am relatively certain does not desire me sexually will remove an unfathomable amount of dark brown wax from my ear. Outside, it will be unseasonably warm.