In the 30 years since I gave up marijuana, both the culture of it and I have changed.

There comes a time in every woman’s life when she needs to hang up her car keys, gather friends ’round the hearth, and get stoned.

I had reached such a time. The end of a long semester at the university where I teach. Winter hurling its frost. Feeling a little stuck. It had been 30 years since I last smoked pot, but marijuana is making a comeback. Every day, we Hoosiers hear fresh news of how states around us have legalized marijuana for medicinal and recreational purposes. Online, I see photos of dispensaries, where shiny bottles of pot are lined up like designer tea. A cornucopia of exotic treats. Pot gummies. Pot beef jerky. Pot crème brûlée.

“Maybe smoking marijuana is the best way to survive middle age,” I told my editor when we discussed this issue. He laughed and asked me if I’d write an essay on the subject, though he stopped short of scoring me weed. “I assume you’re a woman who knows enough people to make this happen,” he said.

I am that kind of woman, I thought. Never mind the fact that the only drug dealers I ever met were sophomores in my creative-writing classes. Soliciting drugs from students would be an excellent way to lose my job, giving me ample time, though not the means, to open a cupcake dispensary of my own.

What I failed to tell my editor was that I never liked pot. The way I remember it back in college, my eyeballs dried up as I ate cold pizza, watched The Simpsons, braided the fringe of couch pillows, and eventually staggered off to bed. My favorite drugs have always been the ones that stimulated. Caffeine! Tequila! Online shopping! If I wanted to be sedated, I would watch college football.

The boys I used to date, however, liked pot a lot. “Don’t get high, be with me,” I whined. They wanted to get high and be with me. Apparently, I was (am?) the sort of girl best served up with a spliff. In my experience, pot wasn’t a gateway drug. It was “Hotel California,” a place you entered but never left. Men I knew lost years to pot, wasting time being wasted, content to do nothing much.

But pot has changed and so have I.

“Be careful,” my mother-in-law warned when I confided my foray into investigative journalism. “I tried pot in the ’70s and was loopy for weeks. It was laced with something.”

I nodded, harboring second thoughts before remembering I was taking drug advice from an 80-year-old. But there was still the matter of where to obtain the weed.

Happily, my first ask delivered a bull’s-eye. Flynn, a buddy from work, confirmed with a grin that not only did she have pot, she had celebrity pot, Chong’s Choice, the hand-picked, lab-certified cannabis peddled by Tommy Chong (of Cheech & Chong fame).

“If anyone knows weed,” Chong’s glitzy pot website brags, “it’s Tommy.”

Well, OK. We made a date. Friday afternoon at our friend Margot’s. Margot is single and has a cozy house. Cats, but no kids. A gas fireplace. A piano. We nestled in. Flynn produced a bud the size of a baby Brussels sprout. It smelled like flowers, pine needles, and my son’s stinky gym clothes. Flynn packed a one-hitter. I awkwardly lit it, inhaled, counted to seven, exhaled a gray stream of smoke, and coughed.

Flynn packed a one-hitter. I awkwardly lit it, inhaled, counted to seven, exhaled a gray stream of smoke, and coughed.

That was all it took.

Warmth flooded my body, followed by a gentle euphoria. Sensations shifted pleasantly. My stomach felt like heated yarn. My throat was a gravel road. A raccoon mask rested over my eyes. My forehead prickled. My hips sat heavy on the couch, weighted by sand, like one of those human balloons outside used car lots. Margot and Flynn disappeared to fuss with a smorgasbord while I sat alone, gonzo journalist, the only one stoned with a purpose.

We dove into lox spread, crudité, cheese. The glazed cashews tasted divine. Sweet. Salty. Perfect. The way food tastes when you’re breastfeeding, the way it tastes on top of a mountain.

Flynn started a story. Margot interrupted. Flynn forgot her story. We laughed. Repeat 45 times. So this is living in the moment, I thought. I kept zoning out, waking up, unsure how much time had passed. Devoid of short-term memory, I would have made a good patient for Oliver Sacks.

“I’ve gotten off-topic in my head,” Flynn said.

“There really was no topic,” Margot reassured her. She headed to the kitchen, then stopped. “What was I going to get?”

“Tequila,” Flynn reminded her.

Margot raised an a-ha finger. “That’s impressive.”

Flynn flopped back on the couch. “Let’s pretend it’s summer.”

“In what way?” Margot asked.

Flynn laughed. “I don’t know what way. I just tried it for a second and enjoyed it and I suggest we all do it.”

Forget driving or wielding sharp objects. I was too stoned to manage a pen. My notes looked like birdseed after the blue jays have landed. I wrote the word “slur” in my notebook, congratulating myself on finding the perfect word to express how I felt. A minute later, or maybe 12, I remembered “slur” meant something else entirely—a putdown, an insult—but it was the sound of the word that was so apt. I didn’t bother explaining this bit of onomatopoeic synesthesia to my friends because I had already forgotten it.

Margot asked if I needed water. She asked if I needed tequila.

“Enough with the Jewish-mother routine,” Flynn teased in a Brooklyn accent.

Margot laughed at herself, then asked if I needed water.

New topic: What is your most acute sense? Flynn was all about smell.

“I could smell a dead mouse in the wall.” She pointed. We all looked.

Flynn nudged me and said to Margot, “She’s forgotten she’s writing an article.”

I had. I pressed my friends to pick pseudonyms so we aren’t all arrested when this is published. They wanted me to choose, but I balked at the responsibility. One word to encapsulate each of their wondrous beings? And to attempt this feat twice? Impossible.

This led to the old joke about creating your stripper name from combining your first pet with the street you grew up on. I was Day Guilmartin. Margot was Rugby Jezebella. Flynn was Cleo Route 209.

“You know,” Flynn said, philosophical all at once. “We all got pretty lucky on the big draw.” Margot and I caught on to her meaning. The big draw was life. We nodded. Silent. Serious. Thankful. And I thought: Pot is medicinal and recreational. The recreation is the medicine. Then I thought: I have not been this relaxed since Obama left office. And promptly lost my pen.

Music time! Margot played piano as Flynn sang and strummed guitar. Though both are accomplished musicians, they couldn’t find the right key, couldn’t remember a single song worth a damn. They begged me to suggest one. “‘Blackbird,’” I said. It didn’t go well. Finally, they settled on a classic, an anthem: Carole King’s “Natural Woman.”

They nailed it. Flynn’s voice soared, her hand cupping her ear like a conch shell. Margot thundered on keyboards. The fake fire flickered. We were women and natural and living in a warmth of our own making. Some moments, even stoned, you never forget.

 

Illustration by Curt Merlo