Continued from Tuesday…
Jay began to lecture me on white people and their uptight ways, a stream of consciousness flowing into rants about The System, legalization of marijuana, discreet drug use so as not to expose the kids, defense of her parenting and her philosophy of personhood in general. Her speech was pressured and confident, her total self-assurance evident. I sensed she was looking for some sort of validation, a reaction from me, despite her conviction. She wasn’t going to allow me to withhold my personality much longer. No neutral, passive research attitude would be tolerated. I caved as much as I could. “Jay, you are by far the most interesting person I’ve interviewed,” I told her, placing a light hand on her shoulder. We shared a smile.
“Alright”, she lamented, moving her blunt rolling enterprise onto a different surface. She lit up, and we resumed the interview, smoke curling into my face. I’ll be completely honest–had I not been facing a forty mile drive in rush hour traffic, I would have accepted the multiple rips she offered me. As she smoked she grew still, seeming to turn inward, answers coming more slowly. I wondered if she suffered from ADHD, marijuana allowing her the focus and rest she didn’t otherwise possess.
We arrived at the section containing questions about her experience of childhood abuse, rape and drug use. Yes, she had been raped. As she responded to my questions about sexual assault she grew detached. She shrank into herself, all swagger and bravado receding, revealing a hollow shell. Her eyes fixed on a point on the wall behind me and she answered each question tersely, totally removed. Just twenty minutes earlier she’d been giving me yes or no answers in paragraph form, evidently needing to explain every nuance of every answer, but not here. I sensed we were arriving at the root of something fundamental to the shape of her experience and checked myself–my counseling degree didn’t mean shit in this context. My job was to collect the data, not explore it. It was a challenge to remain passively unresponsive to Jay (lest I bias the goddamn data) and not pause to ask her how she was feeling, attempt to explore with her. We had been together for over two hours, and I was growing attached.
The solemnity and tension was broken by a knock at the door, followed by two young people piling into Jay’s room, connected to the outside of the apartment. Jay sprang off the bed to greet them, her cousin and neighbor, both nineteen. We still had several of the interview sections to go, and I found myself accepting the fact I was in this situation until I wasn’t. No use checking the time or trying to hurry things up. Eagerly the newcomers lighted up the half-smoked blunt and puffed away, the room becoming dense with smoke and laughter.
Suddenly, the child walked into the room, causing the blunt to be held behind someone’s back and Jay to lunge for her daughter to escort her out. The child looked at me curiously and I heaved an inward sigh, wondering what my responsibility was here. If CPS was already involved, who the fuck would I even call? And did I honestly believe that using marijuana while a child is home is abusive? Who did I think I was to tell Jay about what went on in her house? Was I a mandated reporter? Or was my internal confusion all just a cop-out?
Jay’s interview, up to this point in the field period was the most challenging by far. Together we were confronting racial stereotypes, dealing with hypocrisy about drug use, delving into rape and abuse, struggling to communicate, two people from different worlds circling each other, and it was taking forever. In the end, I was in Jay’s apartment for almost four hours. Somehow I got her to put the pedal to the medal and finish, basically by begging her to let me go home. After a while I dropped all pretense and talked straight. “Jay, you’re my last interview of the day, and if you’re going to keep me here all night, that totally sucks.” And she would counter, “I’m just trying to tell my story, which you said you wanted. And besides, you’re getting paid, aren’t you?” True.
At last we completed the damn thing, and as I began to pack up my things she said, “You’re off the clock now, right? You want to hit the weed with us?” I had to admit, I was completely charmed by her inclusion of me, that she would want to spend time with me on a personal level, that she was offering to share her stash with me. The child in the other room, the prospect of the long drive home and some shred of professionalism made me decline. She looked disappointed, and before she could accuse me of being white again, I quickly asked if we might share a cigarette.
And that’s how I broke one of the top rules of research interviewing by giving Jay a ride to the mini mart to buy a pack of Newports. But what was I going to do? I’d already objected to just about every single thing she’d tried to do or say outside our rigid organizational policies. And besides, how could I argue when she pointed out, “you said you wanted a cigarette, so now you’re not going to take us to the store to get some?” We smoked in the parking lot at the market, talking like two people who had hung out all afternoon, wondering what we would get into next.