Michelle Wallace and Jewel Davis

Michelle Wallace
Hold Onto Hope

Response Piece

The Italian Brownies
By Jewel Beth Davis

Inspiration Piece

Providence 1974

It is autumn and camp is over. I am back in Providence preparing to return to my full-time work with a theatre company where I have no friends and no supporters. I am depressed and have been isolating myself. Patti and Jen, two Camp Wingate counselors who attend Brown University, invite me to a party. With my dog, Jeefer, settled on my bed, I venture out on the night of the party with some trepidation towards the Brown dormitories. It is chilly so I move quickly, shivering a little, though I feel like dragging my feet.

The brick dormitory building looms before me in the black night.  No ivy here, the building cannot be more than five to ten years old. Looking up at it, I shiver unabated. I open the heavy metal door and climb two short flights to the second floor. I follow the sounds of hubbub to the end of the hall where people are pouring into and out of a door, the suite where Jenn and Patti live.

Something catches in my throat. I turn away from the door and face the empty hallway. I decide to leave. No one notices me, but I feel like a red neon sign that blinks the message, “Not right. Not right.” Or perhaps, as the Pod People said pointing at the humans in the Sci Fi movie, “Not one of us.”  I stop and hover. Other than Jeefer, I have nothing waiting for me at home but loneliness.

I pass under the lintel of the door and am engulfed in a dark, smoke- filled room with dark blobs that must be people. The room reeks of Patchouli oil. Music plays. “One pill makes you larger. And one pill makes you small…and the pill that mother gives you…” There are small islands of dull light from the lava lamps around the room. My stomach reacts to the greasy consistency of the lava lamps. Black light posters cast eerie images from the walls.  Frantically, I gaze around the room, searching for something familiar I can attach to. Oh, God, why did I come?

I spot Jen and Patti in the left hand corner of the room. They are part of the circle of blobs lounging on the floor. There is an acrid smell that hangs in a cloud in the air above them. My stomach revolts.  I only know for certain they are passing around a joint because I see the small red point in the darkness that expands and contracts in a regular pattern. That, and the cloying smell. Around the room, other blobs are raising green and brown bottles to what I imagine are their mouths. I sense where the bodies are so I don’t trip on anyone. I have trouble navigating parties that are well lit. There is no way I can connect to people in the pitch black. Since I don’t drink or smoke dope, I know my chances of enjoying myself are low.

Jen and Patti drag themselves up from the circle on the floor to greet me. They smile a lazy stoned-slow welcome as they weave slightly. They both laugh deep throaty laughs though no one has spoken yet.

“Oh, wow, man, Jewel. You came.”

“Yeah, that is like…so cool. You want to get stoned? It’s good stuff.”

“Yeah, definitely, come on, man. Everyone is cool about sharing.”

A song begins to play in my head, uninvited. “Don’t Bogart that joint, my friend. Pass it over to me-e-e.”

“Ah, no thanks,” I say. “Not in the mood tonight.”

Or ever. I’ve been depressed to a greater or lesser extent for years. . It would be a bad idea for me to add drugs into the mix. I am afraid that they would remove the thin firewall in my mind and I’d hurl headlong into the abyss of insanity. “But thanks for the offer. This party is out of sight.  I think I’ll just wander around and check out the scene.” God, I never speak that way.

“Far out.” Jen and Patti wander back to their circle to roll another joint. The only option left for me is to find the food table. I feel my way around in the dark until I find a table with bowls and mounds of things. On the buffet are chips, potato and tortilla, two large bowls of the ubiquitous Onion Dip and plate of cut up veggies, and two large pyramid mounds of brownies; all the usual college party fare. There’s a guy of about twenty by the buffet, relentlessly attacking the food. He is tall with lank, blond hair to his shoulders. All the men these days have lank, unshaped shoulder length hair.

“Whoa,” he says to me.

“Whoa,” I answer.

“No, I mean, really, WHOA,” he says. “Have you tried the brownies?”

“Uh, no, not yet. I just arrived and I’ve been sampling the carrots in the onion dip. It’s pretty good.”

“No, man, the brownies. You got to taste the brownies. The rest is a waste. The brownies are truly amazing.”

“Well, I wouldn’t say the veggies are actually a waste but I love chocolate too. I’ll eat anything that’s chocolate. Except chocolate covered ants…”

He hands me a brownie. “Try this,” he says.

I taste it. “You’re right. They’re really chocolaty. But you know,” I say, “They have a strange taste. Kind of Italian. Like they have oregano in them.”

“I don’t know about Italian, man,” the blonde says. “More like, outta’ this world.”

He starts to giggle so I do too. I begin shoveling brownies into my mouth. I think I’m beginning to get used to the Italian flavor or something because they are really growing on me. I must have eaten five brownies by now.

The blonde guy says, “I’ve reached my limit,” and wanders off to join another group. Other than the momentary greeting from the two girls, he’s been my only conversational success at this party. All students at Brown, everyone is three or four years younger. What can I say to them?

Suddenly, with no harbinger, the room shifts into another reality. The walls stretch; they expand and contract, seemingly in time to the music. “Come on, baby, light my fire. Come on, baby, light my fire. Try to set the night on fire.”

My face feels like it’s on fire, flashes of heat radiating on its surface. My balance is off and I can’t seem to find a level surface on which to walk. Sounds vibrate off the stretching walls. People’s faces look huge and leering or teeny tiny. My legs and arms shake and wobble. My heart is racing off the charts. I have no idea what is happening to me. Then suddenly, I realize what it is. I am finally going crazy. I knew it was only a matter of time.  Shit! I was so certain I could hold it at bay with therapy.

The only thing my mind shouts to me is, ”GET OUT OF HERE! GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE, NOW!”

I run. I don’t ask anyone for help. I don’t want all these strangers here to know I’m crazy. I feel so brittle that I could crack into small pieces. I run blindly. Out of the room, out of the dorm, out into the street. Maybe the fresh crisp air will help me snap out of this nightmare. Now it’s the stars on a black sky that are expanding and contracting. Now, it’s the sidewalk that is uneven and shaped like a rollercoaster. My insanity has propelled me into an animated Beatle’s movie that doesn’t end happily.


Three weeks later, I am walking Jeef in my neighborhood and I cross the street, near the dark brown, shingled house with the pointy eaves that is creepy at night. I am near the Portuguese bakery and even the aroma of the delicious loaves doesn’t comfort me as it used to. I do not fit into my skin anymore and I don’t know how to get back in. Each day, each hour is torture. Anxiety crawls through me like a thousand ants under the skin.

Coming towards me, I see two familiar faces and realize it’s Jenn and Patti. I wish there is a way to avoid them but they recognize me, and approach with smiles. I am embarrassed about the night I saw them. Although they cannot possibly know what happened that night, I believe that they and everyone else can see right through me.

It is a bright, crackling day and they look fresh and young, happy just to be alive. Standing with them, I feel old and defeated.  I am twenty-four years old.

They pour affection onto Jeefer, which he laps up greedily. He is a favorite with everyone and is vain about it.  As they rub his silky ears and kiss his muzzle, the girls bubble over with insouciant conversation about the party. I feel brittle, as though my jaw will break if I say much. Then, suddenly, I focus in on Jenn’s words.

“Whoa,” she says. “Did you have any of those hash brownies that night?  They were dangerous.  Everyone at the party was hallucinating and paranoid all night.”

“Yeah,” says Patti, “those things were lethal. They must have been laced with something really strong, like THC. You probably didn’t have any because, believe me, you would know if you had.”

I stand there dully. “Hash brownies…” I say. “Hash brownies.”

“It was wild,” Jenn continues, her shining face decorated by a hank of glittering hair falling into her eyes. She and Patti are laughing. As if it’s all just a good joke. To them, it is. “We were all up all night freaking out. Thank God we were all together. Hey, where’d you disappear to? I don’t remember your leaving.”

“Oh…home…” I say. I don’t tell them what happened. I am ashamed of my melodramatic reaction to the hash. I pray that no one finds out.  So I pretend that everything is fine.  That nothing happened. At some point, I make goodbye sounds and we move off in different directions with smiles. Only mine is another pretense. I continue to pretend I’m fine until I cannot pretend anymore. Until it is too late.

You would think that I felt better knowing.  I wasn’t crazy that night; I was stoned. But I didn’t feel vindicated. Or angry with two silly girls who assumed that everyone knows that brownies at a college party contain hashish. I felt guilty. Guilty and powerless to control any aspect of my life, even what I put into my mouth.


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