Grace

The last 24 hours have been trying, to say the least.

Yesterday, my friend and neighbor Damon passed away suddenly–accidental overdose–at age 23. Damon lived two doors down from me, just 16 feet away. He died in his friend’s house, just five doors, or eighty feet, in the other direction. I have never seen so much grief confined in such a small space.

I am friends with Damon’s whole family, though it is complicated. His mother was my friend Ana, whom I wrote about in an early post, and whose death two years ago simply gutted me. Damon, her youngest son, struggled mightily after she died, though he had struggled long before that too. Damon’s father sexually assaulted me in February of last year, and I did not set foot in their home again until yesterday. Damon’s sisters, with whom I am friends, have no idea about the attack, though I know they became aware of their father’s obsession with me. We never talk about it. Their father leaves me alone, but I sometimes catch him staring at me. The look of hate in his eyes chills me to the bone.

And then there are the girls, three of them, and the little boy–ages 14, 11, 8, and 2. They are Damon’s nieces and nephew. They help me in my garden, I take them for walks, we do crafts and sing songs. I love them. My concern for them was a large part of why I never filed a police report. (I also was under the impression the father/grandfather was moving home to Central America.)

As I said, it’s complicated. And that made a terrible day all the more trying.

Yesterday I held a shuddering, sobbing 8 year old on the sidewalk and coached her into deep breaths and a happy memory of her uncle. Yesterday I listened to an 11 year old girl tell her friend about seeing her uncle’s lifeless form, all purple and swollen, because he died alone and no one found him for hours. Yesterday I heard a 2 year old boy, a child I have never heard utter a coherent sentence before, say “Damon dead” over and over and over to no one in particular. Yesterday I watched a solemn procession of family members, dozens of them, file past my house on their way home after watching this boy’s body get carted off by the coroner, a full six hours after 911 was called. And then last night, after midnight, I walked my dog and looked up at the house where Damon died. The front window was alit, shades up, revealing the homeowner–a woman in her 70s who still works full-time as a nurse to support the ne’er-do-well, 20-something grandchildren who sponge off of her–mopping the floor where Damon’s body had lay. Her grandson stood there watching her blankly, doing nothing to help.

It was a perfect snapshot of the whole, grim situation of drugs in my neighborhood: powerless young men, overwhelmed and numb, doing nothing while devastated women clean up their mess.

Yes, yesterday was an awful day. And today is not much better.

But, like a lot of awful days, it has provided clarity in three important areas:

1] In this midst of Damon’s tragic death, I am acutely aware that I am not a sociopath, and that I am not emotionally dead inside either. I was really starting to wonder. But no. I am heartbroken. And angry. Because addiction is a vicious disease.

2] I spoke with J* last night, and it was terrible. Something broke between us this summer, and I don’t know how to mend it. I still care for him, still want him in my life, but I find myself increasingly empowered to draw lines and limits, as does he. We’ve both set so many tripwires, there is no longer any safe ground to walk.

3] My family is seriously fucked up! I get confused sometimes into thinking that I’m the asshole and that they are just nice, normal people. And mostly they are. But they have… issues. Let’s call it “emotional rigidity.” Whatever it is, it’s fucked up!

Last night I received an email from my dad, of an email from my uncle, of an email from my cousin’s wife, explaining that my cousin is suicidal, he survived a previous suicide attempt, and he has been hospitalized in a psychiatric unit. Over email, my sister and father decided that the “ethics” of how they learned about this situation superseded the urgent necessity of providing emotional support to my cousin and his wife. That is, they felt my uncle never should have told them, ergo they will pretend they do not know.

But wait, there’s more! In my email reply to my sister and dad, I wrote,

“It’s been a shitty day all around. My friend Damon died of a drug overdose today. He was 23. They don’t make greeting cards for this stuff, they really don’t.”

And both my sister and my father responded to this information… by not saying anything at all. Not “I’m sorry” or “that’s really sad.” Nothing. Not one word. *crickets*

What. The. Fuck.

I ignored my sister & dad’s “decision” that our family will pretend we don’t know about my cousin’s mental illness and wrote to his wife anyway. She has already replied with a hearty thanks: vindication. If Damon’s death points anywhere, it’s toward being relentless in reaching out to one another. I will regret that I did not do more to help him for the rest of my life.

In the midst of this, I am on a deadline for a relatively lucrative writing gig with a publishing house in London. I am behind, and on the brink of being fired. I got email from my editor today demanding, “Where is this? and “Where is that?” Today I wrote to Damon’s sisters, I wrote to my cousin’s wife, I hugged sobbing women, I raised money for funeral costs, I sat with a neighbor going through chemo. A young man lay on the sidewalk, weeping inconsolably, outside my house this morning.

It feels like there is a hole in the world, and all I have is words to fill it.

So I’m sorry, mean English editor lady. I’ll write for you tomorrow.

 

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To Be Blunt…

I hate weed.

It’s April 20th–4/20–which I suppose is as good a time as any to explain why I hate weed.

I don’t know anything about the origins of 4/20 as a holiday celebrating marijuana, but I do know a fair amount about the drug itself. Well, enough to know I hate it!

I hate weed because it gets you in trouble. The first time I smoked pot was my junior year of high school, in the late 1980s. I was at a cast party for a high school theater production, and somehow I found myself in a parked car with two boys trying marijuana for the first time. Of the sensation of being high for the first time, I don’t remember much. But I distinctly recall that the smoke felt like a wolverine scraping the back of my throat, and the cotton mouth was terrible. I also got in Big Trouble, for not calling my parents when I got to my friend’s house, where I was spending the night. I suppose I forgot to call because I was hella high, but I don’t remember. I didn’t smoke weed for a long time after that, in part because I was terminally grounded.

The last time I smoked pot was the summer of 1993. On my way back to school from a summer job, I was pulled over in rural east Texas by the Tex-Ark-La Narcotics Police, on the pretext that I was not wearing my seatbelt. This was A) not true, and B) not a primary offense, but, as the trooper in mirrored shades screamed at me, “YOU. DON’T. ARGUE. BY THE SIDE. OF THE ROAD.” The police were looking for drug mules, I had out-of-state plates, and I guess it was my turn. The encounter was terrifying. They separated me and my passenger, the ne’er-do-well, one-legged biker I’ve promised to tell you about, and interrogated us. Thankfully, we did not say anything that gave the officers probable cause to search the car because, unbeknownst to me, the boyfriend did have weed in the car. After that close call, which could have cost me my entire future, I vowed never to put myself at risk again. If only I could have stuck to my guns!

I hate weed because it is so undignified. People debase themselves for drugs, and they look like morons while they do them. That thing where you inhale and then talk while holding your breath to give the smoke time to penetrate your lungs? It is an embarrassment to adulthood. And then there’s the spit-swapping. The one-legged biker would put his entire mouth around the bong when he inhaled, like some kind of toked-up, wide-mouth bass. And then pass it to the next loser, who would latch on without so much as a wipe. So gross.

I am guilty of undignified behavior too. I once smoked weed out of a Pepsi can at a desolate spot behind my high school called “the flats.” Somehow my friend had weed, but no pipe, so we improvised. We emptied a Pepsi can (god, I hope it was ours, and not one we found on the ground!) and folded it in half, then my friend used her earring to poke holes in the crease. I think we placed the weed on the holes, then we inhaled through the mouth of the can. To a third-party observer, I am certain we looked like complete trash.

I hate weed because it makes me sick. Yes, a substance known for alleviating nausea makes me puke. It wasn’t every time, but it was often enough. And there was one time when I became epically ill, vomiting again and again in the kitchen sink of a vacant apartment while my baked friends sprawled on the floor. That night I prayed for death.

I hate weed because it turns otherwise decent people into assholes. Marijuana causes people to dissociate, which is a fancy way of saying that they check out. They do not perceive social cues as unaltered people do. The experience of being high can be wondrous and absolutely hilarious to those who are having it, but to sober people, high people look like tools. And if there are people counting on them, the wonder and hilarity of being high is selfish and cruel.

I actually only smoked marijuana a handful of times–perhaps three times as many as I have recounted here–and I never bought it, never rolled a joint, never packed a bowl. Not once, ever. It was easy for me to leave it behind, because it so often made me sick. And even if it hadn’t, I didn’t especially like being high. It was fun for a hot minute, then I wanted it to stop. Weed also made me profoundly sleepy and hungry, which are my default states anyway. Why spend money or risk jail time for the privilege of being your worst self? Despite all my antipathy for weed, I ended up spending a lot of time around it in my late 20s, thanks to the most addictive drug of all: love.

The relationship did not end well, so let’s call him Cheesefart.

I met Cheesefart a year after my roadside encounter with the Narcotics Police, and one of our first big fights was over my refusal to allow him to transport marijuana in any quantity in my car. Even so, I fell in love with him, and we dated for several years. By the end, he was growing marijuana in our basement and selling it on the regular. That is when I went from merely disliking weed to outright hating it.

My relationship with Cheesefart was fraught, especially after I moved in with him. We fought over common issues like household chores and how to spend our meager, grad-student funds. The short version was, Cheesefart had no money if I wanted to take a trip with him or go out to dinner or buy groceries other than ramen. But he always had money for CDs, guitars, and weed.

I’m a practical gal, and I love to garden. I have no moral qualms about weed, and I oppose its criminalization on principle. Further, purchasing weed supports criminal enterprises that trade in murder and human suffering. So, it seemed to me that the most responsible way to free up funds for couple-time was to stop buying weed–and start growing it.

Oh, the things we do for love! Growing weed, in our house, was my suggestion. But boy did Cheesefart run with it.

He set up shop under our basement stairs in a secret little room tucked behind the washer & dryer. At first, I found the process fascinating and regarded it as an elaborate craft/garden project. You can’t just buy weed seeds–at least, not back then–and information about growing it was hard to come by. There was an elaborate process of sorting seeds, soaking them, and sorting again, to ensure the proper gender. After they germinated, they required artificial light. I was so proud of the solution he devised, which involved fluorescent lights hung in a panel under the stairs that you could lift and lower at will. To maximize growth, he hung washers on the branches so that they would leaf out more broadly. He experimented with fertilizers and found bat guano to be the most productive. He added fans to simulate wind, which strengthened the plants. This went on for over a year, maybe more than two, resulting in multiple yields and a shit-ton of pot.

When you have a lot of pot, you have a lot of “friends.” But they aren’t real friends; they are weedfriends. Weedfriends don’t want to get to know you, and they certainly don’t want to help you; they are just around. They come over to buy weed, and of course every time they buy some, they have to smoke it too. But weedfriends often have no money, so they just come over to hang out and “help” with the plants–another overture to smoking. As a result, my home had an endless parade of losers coming and going at all hours.

They were not discrete. Some concerned friends–real friends–told me that they could smell weed from the street when they drove past our house. Add the constant sound of live music or over-amplified acid rock coming from Cheesefart’s fantastically expensive stereo system–given to us in payment for, you guessed it, weed–and the situation was just begging for police involvement. I read with horror in the news about women just like me, who ended up serving multi-decade prison sentences for allowing pot to be grown in their homes. I researched mandatory minimums and learned that the presence of an elementary school around the corner from our house would tack years onto a sentence. I scrutinized our electric bills, because I knew that the police did so as well, in search of homes that used unusual amounts of electricity. I lived in fear of a break-in when Cheesefart was out of town, because I knew that calling 9-1-1 was not an option for me. I was risking my safety and my future for those plants–and I hadn’t smoked pot in years.

Cheesefart and I fought all the time. We fought about the time the plants were consuming–the watering, the weighting and grooming, and elaborate trimming rituals in which sticky weed leaves covered our dining room table. Sometimes he would disappear into the tiny grow room for hours. Cheesefart’s commitment to the plants bordered on obsessive, and it prevented us from ever going out of town together because someone had to look after the plants. We fought about weedfriends knocking on our door, peering in our windows, and skulking around the yard. We fought about the future, and whether he could continue his habits with children in the house. We fought about weed smell, which necessitated the purchase of equipment to mitigate it. Then we fought about the electric bill, which was as high as Cheesefart. And of course, we fought about how much pot he was smoking.

I suggested he grow pot to save money, not to fuel a burgeoning habit. But that is what happened. The more weed he had, the more weed he smoked. The following activities required getting high:

  • waking up
  • going to bed
  • having sex
  • studying
  • watching TV
  • all household chores
  • all yard work
  • cooking and doing dishes
  • driving anywhere
  • grocery shopping and other errands
  • biking
  • playing ultimate frisbee
  • playing or listening to music
  • petting cats
  • brushing cats
  • eating
  • drinking
  • social gatherings of any kind

By the end of the relationship, he was high pretty much all the time. He told me, when we broke up, that he smoked so much because I made him miserable. I believed that for a long time, until I saw him at a Sunday morning pickup game a couple of years later. It was 10 AM, and he was tapping the contents of a bowl out onto the tray of his infant daughter’s stroller.

I thought to myself, “Thank heaven that is not my life.” And also, “I fucking hate pot.”

I loved Cheesefart dearly and hoped to make a life with him. But over the years we were together, he disappeared into a private world that was insulated with weed. He imagined that marijuana made him funnier, more musically creative, and a better ultimate player. What it actually did was make him an insensitive jerk. We lived together, ostensibly because we loved each other and were going to make a family. In reality, though, he lived with a nice lady who was emotionally present, loving, and trying to be a good partner. And I lived with a man who was high literally all the time, because he loved weed more than he loved me.

I support legalization of marijuana, and I think the War on Drugs is a shameful waste of resources that criminalizes poverty and exacerbates longstanding social inequalities. I also think marijuana is addictive, I think it makes people who smoke it boring and cruelly insensitive, and I loathe the way it smells. I simply hate it.

Enjoy your 4/20, smokers and tokers! But please do it far away from me. Because I think you look dumb, and the smell of your blunt is dredging up bad memories.