"How to Use Narcan" by Bonnie E. Carlson

Jessa sits in the noisy yellow school bus, her eight-year-old brother Gabe at her side on the cracked brown vinyl seat. They jounce their way to the library over potholed roads in the hilly, barren, southern Ohio countryside. The older boys in back punch and poke at each other while they argue about some girl. Other kids sing and dance in their seats to music blaring from somebody’s phone on speaker, arms waving in the air to the hip-hop beat.

Jessa pulls her wavy chestnut hair back in a scrunchy. “Have you got your homework in your backpack?”

“’Course,” Gabe says. He smiles at his older sister’s pale, open face and upturned nose and takes off his gloves.

Jessa ruffles the messy, dark-brown curls that tumble out below his knitted hat, grateful the bus stops at the public library each day after school. Small for his age and thin, Gabe’s ADHD makes school a challenge. The tranquility and order of the library help. Getting back home afterward to the mobile home park where they live is another story though. If they can’t find a ride, the mile and a half walk after dark will be dicey on rural roads with no sidewalks.

At the library, a bunch of kids, mostly teenagers, tumble off in heavy winter coats, laden with backpacks and other gear. Jessa and Gabe enter their haven, greeted by the library’s clean, open spaces and the enticing smell of books. Passing the displays of used books and donations for sale, Jessa tries to imagine owning so many books you can give them away because you don’t want them anymore. People speak in hushed tones. Jessa craves the quiet of the library after the chaos at school and the uncertainty of what they’ll find at home. This is the only place sane enough for them to focus on homework.

Walking in, Jessa noticed the county public health van in the parking lot. A librarian is scheduled to present with a county drug prevention educator on how to administer Narcan to reverse a drug overdose. A bunch of kids have showed up. Jessa and her pals on the town Youth Council insisted the school should have these sessions, but their stupid, head-in-the-sands school board nixed the idea.

Last month, the Youth Council appeared before the school board the night this issue was on their agenda. Some moron had argued it wasn’t “appropriate content” for kids. That it would be too “traumatic.” Right. They were in total denial about how many parents were addicted. Jessa had prepared a speech but ended up going off-script after she heard their ridiculous arguments. “If you think administering Narcan is traumatic, what do you think it’s like to come home and find one of your relatives lying on the floor ’cause they’re not breathing, a needle sticking out of their arm?”

Dead silence.

That shut them up, but after she left, those idiots still voted no.

The county resorted to other locations that allowed them to conduct their seminars, even a McDonald's that had found customers OD'ed on the floor of their restrooms. The library, too, had found evidence of drug use on-site, and they knew patrons often used their Wi-Fi to seek out drug treatment sites. That’s why the presentation is here today.

Jessa wants Gabe to attend even though he’s only in third grade and the idea scares him. But not as much as seeing one of their parents on the floor after an overdose would.

The kids file into a conference room with a large table, now so packed they need to haul in extra chairs. Four large, flat, boxes sit in the center of the table, and the aroma of pizza fills the room. The drug prevention lady, Susan Marshall, is already there with the children’s librarian, Emily Harrison.

“Hi, Miss Harrison,” Gabe says, flashing a shy smile at the pretty young woman he’s spent so much time with at the library. He adores the red-haired librarian who brims with enthusiasm about books. Sometimes Jessa thinks of the library as his home away from home. Both have spent lots of Saturdays here reading and using computers and free Wi-Fi. With no money for books—hell, sometimes they have trouble paying rent on time or run out of food stamps before the end of the month—the only chances to read are at school and here.