Jimsom Weed

by Jason Tougaw

My mom and her friend Voly, eighteen to her sixteen, got a recipe for jimson weed tea from this guru beach bum named Al. “He just got out of the loony bin,” Voly whispered to Cathy. My mom has always hung out with guys more than girls. She just gets along with them.

“The stuff is all over, just off the beach,” Al said. “You see it poking out of people’s fences. This tea is gonna blow your minds.”

Three hours later, the tea drunk, Cathy’s in her room in her house on 19th Street, hiding. Her friends call the house the mausoleum, because it’s a tall stucco rectangle that isn’t even tiny bit beachy. A yellow circus truck pulls into the driveway, a grinning clown as big as a car painted on its side. Thirty men with machine guns rush out of the car and surround the Mausoleum, climbing its sides like ants. “Cathy, open up,” Doug says, knocking. “Cathy, Voly’s mom called. Let me in. I’m coming in.”

The room appears empty. Doug pokes around and spots Cathy in the closet, all wrapped around herself, a fetus, her head swallowed by the dangling bottoms of blouses and skirts and pants. “Cathy, get out of there. Voly’s in the hospital.”

“Voly, get in here,” she says to him. “They’re almost here. Get in here. They’re on the walls, right outside the window. I don’t know what they’re waiting for. Voly, I mean it.”

“Cathy, I am not Voly,” he says. “Midge,” he calls downstairs. “You gotta see this.”

“Voly,” is all Cathy says.

“Cathy, listen to me,” Midge says, “Voly is not here. He’s in the hospital, getting his stomach pumped. We know about the gypsum weed.”

“Cathy, how are you feeling?”

“How do you think? They’re gonna kill us.”

“Should we go to the hospital?” Midge asks Doug.

“Nah, just let her sweat it out.” Doug walks to the closet. “Listen, Hon, take your head out of those clothes and talk to me.”

She decides to trust him, for a second. She pokes her head out and reaches an arm toward him. As her finger grazes his leg—poof, he disintegrates—leaving just a pile of dust on the floor. The circus militia finally storms through the windows. They stand around the room with their guns and make Cathy stay in the closet, a gun to her head, for several hours.

Seeing that Cathy hasn’t moved, and that she seems to be sweating it out, Midge and Doug go to bed. Just after four in the morning, they hear a slam, a screech, and the sound of a body stumbling. When they get to her room, Cathy’s outside, on the tiny third-floor terrace, trying to climb off it. “Cathy, get in here. Now,” Midge says.

“They’re almost here,” Cathy says, in tears. “They’re going to kill Bruce.”


“Bruce is one of the circus guys. He helped me. He made sure they didn’t shoot me. The cops are coming to kill him. We’ve gotta get out.”

Doug pulls Cathy inside, puts her on the bed, and talks. Eventually she sleeps. At 7:30 am, Midge pokes in. “Cathy, you’re going to school. Get up.”

“Okay,” she says.

Ten minutes later, checking on the status of things, Midge finds Cathy in her brother Craig’s closet. “I can’t find any of my clothes,” she says.

“Jesus Christ,” she says, to Doug, who’s too far away to hear. “Look at her. This child cannot go to school.” Cathy spends the day at home, with resigned Midge. Her first bout of paranoia fades, but the experience stays with her, close to consciousness, for the rest of her life. Five decades later, hospitalized and drugged, she’ll experience a nearly identical hallucination, this time with doctors and nurses in the role of the captors.


An outtake from The One You Get: Portrait of a Family Organism

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