- Here Comes Arialia
We were early birds, bad girls, schemers, druggies. Aria and I only attended high school as freshmen; after that, we were independent study kids. While Analy High’s class of ’96 amassed memories to chronicle in yearbooks, we skulked around our small California town, smoking weed and later meth, hitchhiking, getting fucked up with grown men. We skipped prom, school pictures, and graduation.
So when Aria calls to talk me into our ten-year high school reunion, I assume she’s joking.
Aria lives on the East Coast, whereas I’ve recently returned to San Francisco, an hour south of our former stomping grounds. Now she wants to fly cross-country for the reunion of a high school we barely attended. It’s absurd. But the promise of a visit from my old partner in crime is enough to get me interested.
“You realize we’re not going to know anybody,” I say.
“I know,” she laugh-screams. “That’s the whole fucking point.” [End Page 149]
One morning in freshman homeroom, Mandy Chapman twisted around in her seat and whispered, “Dude, are you stoned? Your eyes are so red.” She was a pretty tomboy with uncanny social ease, the kind of girl who could casually penetrate any clique.
I wasn’t stoned, just suffering hay fever, but I lied and said yes.
Back then I was the friendless wonder. Chubby, freckled, and frizzy-haired. Neither a drama geek, nor a science geek, nor a math geek, but a generalized dork: someone who always wore outdated styles, suffered snot-producing allergies, discovered deodorant late in puberty, and blurted the right answer too often in class. I would’ve been every teacher’s pet had teachers not found me irritating.
“I’m calling you ‘Stoney’ from now on,” Mandy said. “That’s totally your handle.”
It was the first nickname I’d ever been given that wasn’t cruel.
“Hey, Stoney,” Mandy said, later that week. “I have to introduce you to Aria. You guys are like twins.”
My heart bounded, both because Mandy thought I was worth introducing to someone, and because, as an only child and social pariah, the idea of twinship was foreign and dreamy.
Aria was all angles: dramatic cheekbones, pointed chin, jaunty walk. She wore an asymmetrical bob, short in back, with blond tips that sliced across her jawline. There was no fat on her body. Her full lips wore a permanent sneer.
“What’s up, Alia?” Aria said. “That’s an even bigger hippie name than mine.”
Mandy flashed a Cheshire grin. “There you go, dudes. Thank me later.”
Alia and Aria. Aria and Alia. We were both products of broken hippie families, both too bright to be happy. We lived on the same street, a meandering pastoral stretch so nowhere they actually named it Blank Road. Our single moms both sold weed to pay rent.
Pot had supported my family since before my birth. I grew up [End Page 150] knowing that if I ever blabbed about “the biz,” my parents would go to prison and I’d become a ward of the state. So I resisted the urge to bring a bud the size of my forearm for kindergarten Show and Tell. In elementary school, I recited the D.A.R.E to Keep Kids off Drugs commandments with crossed fingers tucked into the sleeves of my sweatshirt. After my parents divorced when I was nine, I went mum during sessions with a child therapist. When people asked what my mom did for a living, I said she was an artist—a true statement, just incomplete.
With Aria, there was no need to lie. Before long, we were not only smoking pot together, but also with each other’s moms. It felt natural, like I had found my long-lost sister. She’d been out there all along, living a parallel life.
Our shared language grew so thick with inside jokes that even other teens couldn’t follow the thread. Kids at school mashed our names together: Here comes Arialia.
In the weeks leading up to the reunion, Aria forwards me emails from the organizer, a girl...