Somewhere on these forty acres is a dope farm. I choose not to visit it. Once I take a puff of the stuff, I stop living for, oh, any number of years.
I had an extended love affair with marijuana. For a non-addicting substance, it called the tune for decades of my life. I'm not going to make a federal case over the weed; millions can take it or leave it. I cling fast to two opinions on the stuff: It ought to be legalized and taxed so we can rehabilitate our failing schools and, two, I can't smoke it without making it my God.
When I went off to college in the 70s, you couldn't walk down the hallways of the dorm without parting the clouds of smoke. I held out as long as I could. A month, maybe. My roommate was a police science major, so there was no dope in our room. But a weed-weasel neighbor had one of the only televisions in the dorm, so I went over every night. The neighbor, also a journalism major, rode his bike across campus every day with a green Army surplus sack filled with baggies of Michoacan, which he sold to pay tuition.
It was the cheap pot then, baggies three or four inches thick in the $10 bag, complete with eye gouging seeds that popped when you lit it. The night I gave in, I took a few puffs, and went back to my room, puzzled that nothing had happened.
But the third time I tried it, it felt like the small planet into which my unhappy adolescence had been confined burst open into endless plains of blue skies dotted with puffy, jolly clouds, and I stepped out of this world and right into the other. "Feel it yet?" my friend asked, and I flopped to the floor of the dorm and giggled like a baby.
In recovery, they say that at first it's fun. Then it's fun with problems. Then it's just problems.
The fun lasted a decade or more. Under its influence, I completed three college degrees, worked as a successful journalist and college professor. I published stories, essays, and poetry. Traveled across Asia, Europe, the Middle East, the Caribbean, Mexico, and most of the continental states. I had no idea when the fun period ended and I was ferried across the peaceful seas to the land of fun with problems. A subtle transition.
I lived like the bubble boy, encased in a film of comfort shattered unaccountably by foreshortened emotions. Without it, I could go off like a bomb at the smallest misconception of what happened around me. With it, I was solitary, indifferent to opinions outside my confined thinking, inaccessible finally to the concerns and loves of those most connected to me.
I wouldn't think of going to dinner, a movie, a concert, a ballgame--hell, a poetry reading--unless buoyed by the buzz. I put a tiny plant in the widow of my apartment in Tuscaloosa, frightening my partner with my moronic daring. Federales pointed automatic weapons at my head when they confiscated my stash one dusk on a sand dune south of the border. I disembarked from a ferry between Holland and the U.K. with a Marlboro box filled with hashish, thinking when the English customs officer asked if I had something to declare: "Why yes," I imagined saying, "I declare that the hash in Amsterdam is simply fine."
I'm leaving out the worst, of course. But without my stash, furniture went out the window, girlfriends packed their possessions into their cars and made off into their lives. I kept on keeping on.
Everyone has war stories. And everyone in recovery has gone to great lengths to repair the wake of emotional destruction that trails behind years of addiction. For a long time, the stuff simply kept me alive. When I think today of the suicides of my grandfather and my uncle, I know that the herb treated something dramatically wrong with my brain chemistry. But it eventually stopped working, and when the voices in my head were louder than the cozy veil that descended after I smoked, I had to consider treatment or suicide.
So you can imagine the subtle and cunning machinations of my thinking recently when my landlord moved off the 40 acres and rented the large house up the hill to a pair of couples who have medical marijuana licenses and are growing pounds of the weed on the property. It's how they make their living, and it's legal for them to do so here in California, where the monstrous deficit is mismanaged daily by the governor, a man who smoked pot in the 1970s. I'm not oblivious to the irony of living in a town called Grass Valley, or that it's renowned for its medical marijuana dispensaries.
We made a small pact, my new neighbors and I. They grow and process it where they want, smoke it as they will, and keep it out of my sight. But with the herb came problems. The couples fought and one of the men, sporting a freshly blackened eye, announced he was taking his girlfriend and moving out.
Recently I spied a new fence, to keep the mule deer and wild rabbits away from the tasty leaves--over by what had been my landlord's workshed. I see it out of the corner of my eye as I wend down the long driveway into horse country. In the quiet of the morning the leaves open out to the sun and the seeds of sabotage start to whisper.
But the cry of redemption, connection, love of friends and family and, finally, loving the man I have come to be is sung louder than any call from the shadows. And I know that to enter that fence is to wall myself off from grace, from you, and from my better nature.
Use the garbage bins for the garbage bins…
22 hours ago