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Image: Getty / Archi Banal
Image: Getty / Archi Banal

SocietyJanuary 22, 2023

Essay on Sunday: Growing up between two dealers

Image: Getty / Archi Banal
Image: Getty / Archi Banal

Two drug dealers can coexist in perfect peace, as long as they keep to either side of a small girl’s home.

One was twenty-something and the other probably 60. They both mostly sold weed, a humble drug and a favourite in our community. Everyone’s parents did it, even my own. It was nothing out of the ordinary and it grew like wild flowers or grapes along our paddock fence lines. The weather was perfect for its harvest. We lived in a painfully hot summer and eerily cold winter town that followed the bends and curves of the Tukituki river.

My first memory of weed was playing in a greenhouse full of it, bemused with its otherworldly scent and deep plumage. My mum used to keep it in an old eclipse mints tin on top of the microwave. I never saw her buy any sort of gum or mint at the supermarket so my curiosity at a spare tin of chewy mints was piqued from the moment she set the tin aside for “safe keeping”. After a long day of work, my mum would loiter out on the deck at night offering up her clouds of smoke to the gods. She wore a green jacket I still own, with pockets that could only hold her fists and a nicked lighter. She’d light a sunken-in purple candle that was strong enough to camouflage the nostalgia, and shiver at its lack of warmth. Sometimes the twenty-something neighbour would check in on her, often flicking her another bag of green and maybe, if it was spring, the promise of a feed of lamb tails. 

Twenty-something lived with his grandmother and uncle in a little yellow house with an orange brick roof that always spewed water when it rained. They had a big garden that was tended to by the granny of the house. She herself was stunning in stature and elegance. She wore big floaty sun hats with ankle-grazer trousers and fake teeth that seemed too white for her darkened skin. Twenty-something almost exclusively wore a singlet and grey track pants. Both looked unwashed and in need of a soak in a bucket of soapy water, but I never got close enough to test the theory for myself. Twenty-something and his uncle would sit in the shed out the back and play Bob Marley all day long with the levels lowered at night. I can’t remember if I ever saw either leave the property and or a single instance when their radio wasn’t blasting. Their customers never parked in the driveway. I think that must have been the granny’s one rule because it seemed only when they had family coming to stay did the shells on the dirt drive crack. Our street was long and wide, so it was no bother to those who weren’t family to park up alongside the curb to get their fix. 

The probably 60-year-old neighbour also lived with his nephew, almost a mirror image of the 20-something on the other side. He was always in a dark hoody that shielded his upper body; making out his actual face was all but impossible. His house was guarded by two big dogs named Spud and Spike with kind eyes who towered over us kids. We used to scare them more than they us; if they dared to find themselves in our own backyards we’d scold them silly. Spud was golden and smooth and had what looked like a stubbly beard and white socks for paws. Spike was lean and black. He reminded me of the hyenas from The Lion King and would always be pulling Spud into driveways they didn’t belong in. We never petted either of them because they were working dogs, placed in our neighbourhood for the sole purpose of scaring off whoever might come knocking when Probably 60 had his gates locked.

I don’t think I ever even got a glimpse of the front lawn at Probably 60’s. In my head, I see a trampoline, one with net protection for safety, a large in-ground pool filled with inflatable rings and topless women. There was an old tree stump close to the fence that separated our home and Probably 60’s. In the summer my best friend and diagonal neighbour would climb onto it and try to peer over the fence. Each attempt was as disappointing as the last and to no avail. Probably 60’s property would remain a mystery. 

In all my years situated between these men, I never saw them interact with one another. Twenty-something stuck to the right of me and Probably 60 to my left. I often imagine they had taken some kind of oath, a contract written on parchment hanging framed in a foyer, its conditions signed at the bottom in blood and sprinkled with holy bong water. I envision the agreement said two drug dealers could coexist in peace as long as they kept to either side of a small girl’s childhood home. That if they did their business in their own yards and did not venture outside of them, the world would continue to spin and fireplaces would stay stoked. That if the drug dealers promised to keep their respective eyes out for the young girl, her younger brother and their single mother, the balance in the universe would remain. This can be my only reasoning for such an odd phenomenon and childhood. But as I get older I understand that perhaps it is the role of these small town drug dealers to be good neighbours first. Maybe it isn’t all high speed and violence but instead silly old dogs and Bob Marley’s ‘No Woman No Cry’ on a stereo. A community is nothing without the people who hold space and give back to it, and that’s how it was for me raised by a street of strangers. Drug dealers, drug users, drug abusers: we were all just neighbours and it meant something.

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