Santa Barbara, Calif. — I’M 74 years old, and I have smoked marijuana almost every day since dinosaurs roamed the earth in the early ’70s. When my awareness is heightened, I’m on my game — the best I can be at thinking creatively, making decisions, focusing on my work, seeing the big picture … and caregiving.
For 20 years my wife, Anne, has struggled gallantly against the physical, cognitive, emotional and spiritual depredations of Parkinson’s disease. For the first 15, I took care of her myself. Now I have lots of help. Either way, enjoying a hit or two on the pipe every couple of hours has granted me tens of thousands of sweet clemencies that keep me from burning out as a caregiver.
Pot is my refresh button. It restores my innocence, makes the familiar look fascinating. Not all of the time, no. But enough of the time. I’m a sunnier companion when I’m high. I have more to say even when Anne can’t muster a reply.
In the days when I looked after her alone, I took a walk in the afternoons while she was napping. As soon as I stepped out the door, I felt a surge of gratitude — to be free of responsibility, to be Mr. Nobody: unneeded, unreachable, invisible.
Getting high enriched and enlivened these walks. Random images (patterns of sunlight and shade, the roots of a granddaddy oak) could be uncommonly gripping. Because the walks were more eventful, they felt longer. What a godsend it was for the incidental shut-in to be able to conjure these illusions of unlimited space.
Often I took Anne on road trips, to stimulate our aging brains. In the mornings, while she meditated in our motel room, I hiked around the neighborhood, through the parking lots of strip-mall America. The terrain was always shockingly disabused of its natural character. But I took those walks stoned. So one setting was just as compelling as the next: marching through the shadows of the KFC bucket and the Arby’s hat, then back into sunshine again, through the Toyota dealer’s lot — the Camrys posing with their doors flung open like a chorus line — past a payday-loan shop, a Cracker Barrel, an abandoned Kmart, a pawnshop, a Petco, their parking spaces separated by paltry no-man’s-lands of spoiled grass.
Before Anne got sick, I was a travel writer who got sent away on expeditions to New Guinea and Madagascar. Now, working the seams between one mall and the next, I didn’t have to go to the ends of the earth to have experiences that would open my eyes. Marijuana excels at helping the wanderer see beauty in the ordinary.
At home, I had a dinnertime ritual. Anne used to be a superb cook, but we had a new division of labor now — every job mine. So first I helped her to get settled on the couch upstairs. Then, down in the kitchen, the recipe was simple: one big suck on the bong. After that, how easy it was to get absorbed (chop, chop, sizzle, sizzle) in the satisfactions of completing each chore and the free-range adventures of an untethered mind.
Potheads come in a wide variety of disguises. We have stoner athletes and doctors and cops and welders and famous astronomers (we miss you, Carl!). I am charting my own course, as a stoner helpmate: chronically chipper, resilient on demand, fully rechargeable and unmatched at keeping myself amused for long stretches of downtime.
Anne is no stoner. She’s a lady. Yet marijuana has been an ally for her, too. It has distracted her from discomfort and anxiety. It has helped her to appreciate the splendors of the world beyond her mortal fix.
Now she is housebound. Two or three evenings a week, when she seems alert, I put a few drops of cannabis oil (bliss, it is called) into a teaspoon and give it to her. She loves the taste, like vanilla, and sometimes it works to bring back her pretty-girl smile and deadpan humor. A long-gone expression might flash across her face. This is some kind of magic — the old Anne peeking out from behind the curtain.
If it matters, we’re aboveboard. She got her first marijuana prescription here in California in 2004. I’ve let our current doctor know that I give her the oil, and he’s glad to hear it can help.
Anne’s family recently came to visit. She adores them way more than she can express. When they’re here, I want her to be the best that she can be. I want to help bring forth her liveliest, most voluble self. Sometimes she gets there on her own. Other times, I slip her some bliss.
As marijuana moves toward legalization, advocates are rebranding it as a medicine. Esoteric cannabinoids are isolated in labs to treat specific ailments. Investors are debating the venture-capital opportunities. Our old hippie habit is being turned into a medicinal-industrial complex.
Only one subject is missing from the conversation: the marijuana high. That’s strange, because it’s still why most tokers toke — not to cure anything worse than boredom, but to wake themselves up, to feel inspired and transported and elevated by glimpses of an all-consuming all-is-wellness.
The real healer, to me, isn’t some compound extracted in a laboratory. It’s the stoned state itself: that lyrical disorientation, that rush of wonder and possibility.