by Jason Schiren
I saw it coming when JoJo invited me back into my apartment. This man—thirty-four, sausage fingered, lower lip hung like a fishing rod cast out into the Monongahela. His West Virginian drawl would slip out when he would offer for me to join him for weekend bonfires, kayaking excursions, and sharing booze.
I opened my pale door to the Mountaineer gold living room, broken by a ten-foot red couch my parents gave me for my first apartment. It had been a little worn from three dogs drooling on it and three kids climbing on it for years. I walked past the couch into the kitchen, lacking any table to speak of, and met JoJo at the faux-granite counter.
Thank you brother. I ‘preciate chu. You want some of this?
I was no stranger to cocaine. In fact, we had killed eight-balls each night for a week before—but that was nineteen weeks of One Station Unit Training (OSUT) ago. I had just gotten back from boot camp at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri or Fort Lost in the Woods, Misery. I became a full-fledged Military Police officer and was now drilling at a rickety unit down in Clarksburg, West Virginia. In fact, I was going back to drill that weekend.
It’s Thursday, so even if they gave a random urinalysis, I’d be fine. Coke leaves your system in twenty-four hours, right?
My eyes were dilated with anticipation. Of course. My father’s voice—my conscience—said not to, but I did it anyway.
JoJo cut up a couple lines for me—which sounded like sand against his plastic student ID. This was a “thank you” for letting him use my red couch to cheat on his girlfriend. The couch looked fine. A win-win.
I didn’t know what Sergeant Robinson meant by his final formation announcement two days later:
Everybody hydrate a lot tonight. We have a surprise for you tomorrow.
What? A ruck march? I thought being in the National Guard was supposed to be easy compared to the torture of OSUT. There aren’t any surprises when you’re a weekend warrior. Hell, we’re still wearing the faded digital sand ACUs. This must be a joke.
Alright everybuddy, we got a piss test today. Go fill your canteens, then suck it bone dry. We’ll be sitting in the multipurpose room til y’all get done pissing. Let’s get this over with.
Holy fuck. I was already pissing myself as I stepped out of formation. My eyes dilated with anticipation, what the fuck do I do? My boots squeaked against the retired elementary school tile floor as I shuffled to the multipurpose room—a former teacher’s lounge with grimy pane windows lining it, the windows letting the August humidity deep into our muggy uniforms. If I wasn’t already sweating when I sat into my foldable metal chair, you would’ve known I just ran a 5k ruck march in my head.
I turned to PVT Boyd, the closest thing I had to a friend at my unit, and I knew he liked to party back at school. We both went to WVU. I told him that I did coke four days ago. He said the same thing JoJo said. Coke leaves your system in twenty-four hours. This wasn’t enough for my paranoia. I knew dishonorable discharge meant good luck getting a job at Walmart. So I went to Google. How long does cocaine stay in your system?
After a single use of cocaine, agents created by the metabolization of the drug can be detected in a person’s urine for two to four days.
Fuck. Thursday night. That’s one, two, three days ago. I was within the four-day limit. It COULD be out of me and I could pass this test and everything be fine. I’d go back to school, I’d keep my free tuition the Guard pays, my parents wouldn’t disown me. I’d be okay. I was just freaking out. OR I take the risk of pissing hot and a dishonorable discharge. Fuck.
Honesty’s the best policy. My father’s voice.
I got up from the folding chair and table. Walked into the elementary school hallway, and approached Lieutenant Moon. A cool, calm guy that shot hoops with us, always wearing a blinding grin and freshly lined haircut.
Sir, I have to tell you something. Can we go…
You can tell me, what’s up?
I’m not gonna pass this test.
Okay, hol’ up… how bad? You sure you ain’t gonna pass? Was it just a little weed?
Alright, let’s go to my office.
I just drove three fucking hours to come fucking yell at you. What the fuck is your problem? Why the fuck would you do that? Who are you hanging around at school? You realize that you just fucking wasted my time, your time, and the Army’s time in your stupid ass’ training. Now I have to call the general back in Moundsville to tell him one of his new recruits just did cocaine. You think I want to make that call?
I stood at attention. Silence. Master Sergeant Hayes sat behind a big wooden desk. The sweat from his bald head glinting light at me, making it even harder to look at him. I must’ve looked like a frightened puppy after pissing on the carpet. My mind felt like putty being squeezed through a sieve, my uniform soiled from the sad joke, garbage decisions I had made up until that point.
I don’t know what else to tell you man. You fucked up. But at least you have a chance. The general is a nice guy. But this is a felony. If you go to rehab, work with the substance abuse coordinator, and do what the fuck you’re supposed to from now on, he MIGHT let you stay in. No promises, but I think that would help your case. You’re obviously a smart, good lookin’ kid. Don’t let this ruin your life. But as a man, I’m telling you, get away from whoever you’re around at school.
My thumbs clenched the seams of my pants—just as they did every day for nineteen weeks in the bone-breaking cold of Missouri. My father’s voice told me what to say next: