I smoked pot with my grandma once. She was dying, but to be fair, she had been in the process of dying for at least ten years.
My grandma was not like your grandma. She wore bright pink lipstick and balanced on the edge of her recliner with a cigarette dangling out of one side of her mouth. She would put her arms out like Jesus at the last supper and make a “c’mere” movement with limp wrists and that was our cue to lean in and kiss the side of her mouth that didn’t have the cigarette sticking out.
She wore “terry cloth tumblers” which is a sort of tube top and shorts romper type outfit made of bath towel material. She sunned herself in the middle of the Florida summer with baby oil and one of those shiny fold-out cardboard pieces that I’ve only ever seen in magazines. She had shit-zu dogs with names like Chai and Kiki. And she had that big old lady hair like thin wisps of spider web that sat high and proud on her head, over dyed the dark brown of a younger woman. In the sunlight you could see through the thin curls to the pink scalp below. In her younger days she was thin and exotic looking, like Elizabeth Taylor but when she was my grandmother, she was over weight from rarely leaving her chair and wrinkled from a lifetime of sunshine and cigarettes.
Her name was Bobbie and she didn’t bake or say nice things about people. She gave us stale hydrox cookies out of the package and painted statutes of the Virgin Mary while she gossiped out loud to her grandchildren about how horrible it was raising our mothers;
I walked outside to go to work and there was your mother, passed out drunk in the front yard. Not even out of high school and she had an empty bottle of booze in her damn hand. I kicked her with my foot and told her to get to school.
She smoked so many cigarettes in the house for so many years that when she finally moved out and we went in to clean it, we could literally scrape the nicotine off of the walls. I had never noticed how brown everything was before. Her framed pictures of Jesus cried tobacco tears and the water in her water bed smelled like tar as it was siphoned through a hose out the bedroom window and into the front yard.
My grandma started dying the day my grandpa succumbed to cancer. She had always been a woman who identified herself by the man she was with and when he died, she started to fade. She stopped leaving her house and rarely got out of her chair. My mother called her every Monday morning and sat outside anxiously shaking her foot and chain smoking as she listened to the long list of things that annoyed my grandmother.
If we were ever driving somewhere and found ourselves in grandma’s neighborhood, my mom would be drawn to her house like a huge guilt magnet. We would pop in and pretend not to notice the stale smoke smell that clung to every surface, say a quick hello, give a side of the mouth kiss to avoid the lipstick and be back on our way.
The longer she stayed inside the harder it was for her to leave. She was born with a shortened Achilles tendon and had always walked with a limp which led to her bad knees. Sitting inside all day left her already weak muscles almost useless and she would moan about her aching knees, her sore feet. She was a prisoner of her own making and I found it difficult to feel bad for her.
After more than a decade of self-imposed solitude and manifested health problems, she actually got sick. She had multiple mini-strokes on an almost daily basis that left her loopy and calling us in the middle of the night to tell us how Elvis was outside her window singing to her. She moved in with my Aunt and cousins and everyone made a conscious effort to be nicer to grandma.
She did puzzles with my youngest cousin and accompanied him in her motorized scooter for walks around the block. She listened to rap music with another cousin and eventually formed a genuine appreciation for it. On her deathbed, she asked to listen to music. One of the songs she picked was “Hater blockers” by an artist named Accafool. The other song was Johnny Cash’s “Ring of fire”. As my grandmother sang the words
I fell in to a burning ring of fire.
My mother leaned over and whispered
At her funeral, before everyone filed in to their pews, my family and I had the place to ourselves. My cousin set up her boom box and played the Hater Blockers song with the bass turned up and we hung our heads for a moment of silence.
To be clear, we are not a family of drug enthusiasts. My mom played the role of the stoned, apathetic teenager in the 70’s and I reprised the role as the angry, stoned teenager when I got to high school but that’s about as far as we got. My dad says he smoked one joint in his lifetime and it was only because he was in Vietnam with nothing better to do.
It was my mom’s idea to smoke pot with grandma; a grand gesture, given the nature of their relationship. They were not friends or even very friendly with each other at this point, there was a life time of unresolved issues between them. Every Christmas morning, as soon as grandma was spotted walking up the driveway, we would take shots of peppermint schnapps and my mom would do this sort of bounce on her toes and shake her head like a boxer getting ready for a fight. But this moment was one of those rare “unloaded” moments where they were just going to do something together and not talk about who disappointed whom the most.
We got the joint from our neighbor Dale.
Dale lived across the street my whole life. During hurricanes he would set a chair outside the front door, put on his raincoat and hunker down with a cooler full of beer and a healthy supply of pot. He refused to cut his hair while George W. was in office and he lived as Buddhist a lifestyle as any beach bum hippy could live.
When I knocked on his door with my younger cousin at my side and told him my mom would like to buy a joint for my grandmother, he closed the door to just a sliver so only his mouth and nose were sticking out and he said
I don’t know what you’re talking about and if I did know what you were talking about it would be super uncool of you to just show up unannounced. I don’t have any of the stuff you’re asking for but if I did, I would tell you to go home and meet me in your front yard in five minutes.
And then he slammed the door in my face.
Five minutes later I shook hands with my neighbor in the front yard and he slipped the joint into my palm just like in the movies.
I don’t know if this is really for your mom or not and it’s not my business to go and ask her. This is a one time thing, I’ve known you your whole life and I don’t want to make this a habit. Oh, and be careful with that joint, I smoke good shit.
When someone is a life long hippie stoner, they don’t just smoke your run of-the-mill pot. This is no frat party bong filler or weekend warrior weed. It is made in labs by scientists or possibly forged in the pits of hell by demons. It causes one of those out of body experiences where you are floating above yourself and become keenly aware of the world for the first time in your life.
Back on the porch with all the generations of women in my family, one might look upon us and mistake us for one of those sappy Sandra Bullock Romantic Comedies where a heartbroken woman finds shelter in the loving embrace of ancient familial estrogen. If this were a movie, I would be sitting with Meryl Streep and Dame Judy Dench around a beautiful table of flowing linens and chef prepared delicacies. In real life, I was sitting outside on an oppressively hot Florida afternoon, wearing jean shorts and sitting uncomfortably in a folding chair.
Ever the trail blazer, my mom decided to be the one to light the joint. She took a big hit and held it in, eyes watering. I could tell it was probably burning the hell out of her lungs but she didn’t want to look like an amateur. Grandma was next and she took
little pecking hits like the concept of smoking was so foreign and distasteful to her, despite the fact that we all knew she was still sneaking cigarettes even though she “quit” years ago. She pinched the joint between thumb and pointer and brought it to big puckered lips like she had seen in the movies. This is the moment I will always think of when my Grandmother is mentioned.
My cousin and I took our turns without fanfare or occasion. Having been avid smokers not too long ago, the routine was, well, routine, for us and I think my mom was slightly disappointed by how nonchalant we were.
My other cousin, who was pregnant at the time, abstained from the bonding session and my Aunt opted out as well. In what would prove to be a genius decision, they just watched and laughed at us.
After the joint was gone we sat quietly in our circle looking at each other, waiting for the effects to kick in. Grandma was the first to go, naturally. She was babbling about something incoherently. We think she was talking about calling her friends to let them know she had smoked “the pot” but before we could be sure, her head dropped and she was out cold. This to me, was the funniest goddamn thing I had ever seen and I succumbed to the silent, full body shaking laughter of the extremely fucked up. Anyone who has ever been high knows how contagious this is and my mom and cousin were immediately infected. We sat silently laughing, tears streaming down our faces for what felt like half an hour. My Aunt and pregnant cousin sat watching like scientists in a lab.
After the laughter subsided, my mom decided we should try to move the sleeping mass that was my Grandmother and I thought this was a brilliant idea. We rolled her wheelchair into the living room and on the count of three we tried to scoop her up and dump her into her rocking recliner chair. We scooped, she slumped, the chair rocked and then she fell. More silent full body laughter. We tried again and got her half onto the couch this time. We deemed this a success and moved on, leaving grandma dangling precariously on the edge of consciousness and the couch.
At this point, I remembered Dale’s warning about his weed. Something was suddenly and seriously wrong and I had the intense urge to curl into the fetal position. I started to walk down the hall towards my cousin’s room and halfway through my journey I forgot how to use my legs. I leaned the top half of my body against the wall for support and dragged my legs behind me like dead animals. I held myself up on the doorframe of the bedroom and with one last surge of power, hurled myself onto the bed. I pulled my legs in and wrapped my arms around them to remind myself that they were still there, and then everything stopped.
I’ve been paralyzed before so I didn’t completely freak out. I’m one of those weird sleepers who has night terrors and sleep paralysis, so I’m familiar with having a wide awake and functioning brain and a sleeping body. I did a mental roll call of my limbs to make sure they were all, in fact, asleep.
Can I wiggle my toes?
Can I wiggle my fingers?
Can I call for help?
No, I can’t.
When I tried to speak, my lips stuck together like they were sewn and I made this sad whimpering sound. Despite being paralyzed though, I was still in pretty high spirits. In my head I was singing songs, doing math problems, and answering all of the questions of the Universe. I felt like Stephen Hawking, minus the awesome robot voice.
I’m not sure how long I was in there, it felt like hours. I wondered where my mom went. Where did my cousin go? Were they having as enlightening experience as I was? And then I saw my brother. Oh yeah! I have a brother! Where had he been? Somewhere with my Dad, I think. My brother leaned down and asked where Mom was. Still being unable to talk, I just looked at him. He shook my shoulder a little and asked me what was wrong. With sewn shut lips I whimpered in his general direction.
Most brothers would take this the wrong way and assume I was being a bratty little sister. My brother and I, however, are best friends and tend to speak in clips and phrases that only we understand. We have inside jokes so old and deep that merely a word has to be spoken and the other one will be thrown into a fit of laughter.
So when I didn’t answer my brother’s question he looked at me a minute and then asked
Can you even move?
And I whimpered an excited
In his most Sherlock Holmes way, he left the room, took note of the unconscious grandmother, found our mom asleep on another bedroom floor, face down in the carpet, snoring and came back to say
Did you guys get Grandma high?
And I whimpered an excited
He laughed in an annoyed sort of way and told me that dad was waiting in the car and he probably would not be pleased about this so I had to snap out of it and act normal. He decided to help me break my paralysis by picking me up and putting me over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. While walking out of the room, one of my shoes fell off and I said the first word I had said since losing my motor functions.
He stopped and looked back.
Did you lose your shoes?
We’ll come back for them.
When we got to the front lawn he told me he was going to set me down and get mom. He rolled me off of his shoulder and balanced me on my feet, holding me up by my armpits. When he let go, I crumpled to the ground like I had been deflated. And he said
Oh shit, you really are paralyzed.
And I said
My dad witnessed all of this from the car and got out with a sigh.
He disappeared inside with my brother and came out a few minutes later carrying my sleeping mom. They loaded us into the backseat of the car and my dad said
What the hell is wrong with you and what the hell is wrong with your Grandmother? Is she fucking high? Was this your mom’s idea? How fucking old are you?
And I said