Once I became a user, a local lawyer I knew not well but well enough to discuss theology and politics at the Desert Café, he and I began to talk of the salutary effects of smoke. Before we divulged that common interest, our conversations centered on his work as a public defender and mine as a priest. We also experienced the news of the Sandy Hook school shooting in Connecticut together and that shock helped us get to know each other. I sensed he liked me and I knew I liked him.
Malcolm was the first person with whom I could have a serious discussion about pot use. He claimed that it opened him spiritually and I reported that it helped me see things I wouldn’t otherwise notice like a person’s hobby or their take on reincarnation.
We decided to spend some time in the desert one afternoon. One of the luxuries of my position included the freedom to make my own schedule. Because I had pastoral responsibilities for two parishes and border ministry commitments-even before I began to use weed- I was typically on the go and not all that easy to find. Once I began to smoke, I took advantage of the flexibility I had and people’s perception that I was extremely busy.
Bisbee’s location in the Mule Mountains makes it very easy to lace up a pair of hiking boots, locate a trail, and go exploring within minutes of the downtown area and main artery. Malcolm and I did just that and, once high, I began to take in the wonder and intricacies of nature. I had heard people extol their experience of the flora and fauna while stoned and now, with Malcolm’s help, I was initiated. He pointed out the most symmetrical veins of a fallen leaf and how the tiniest dried flower had fallen perfectly into a spider’s web. We marveled together at the base of a decomposing yucca cactus, a victim of a heavy freeze a year or two prior. With the black dust of the yucca’s return, I made the sign of the cross on Malcolm’s forehead, only a little nervous I’d gone too far with that gesture. He returned the favor by placing the yin/yang symbol on my forehead. I delighted in our mutual anointing.
That was the kind of experience I hoped for when I took on ‘the life.’ I wanted connection with nature, connection with other human beings, connection with myself. I enjoyed the lightheartedness and laughter that accompanied my smoking, but at my age and in my situation, I wanted something more from pot than a few laughs and the munchies. I wanted meaning and I thought I was finding it.
When Malcolm invited me over to imbibe and connect with his friend, Reynold, I accepted the invitation immediately. Again, unaware of the etiquette around communal smoking, I made it known to my two new buddies that I was ready for action and glad they were part of it. We finally smoked together and, once again, my mania surfaced. I especially had an enthusiasm for the male bonding that I currently experienced.
“Gentlemen. Gentlemen!” I didn’t ignore the reticence in Reynold’s eyes, but didn’t let it dissuade me.
“Gentlemen. This night belongs to us! We are bearded kings, all three of us… And we are strong!”
Malcolm and Reynold stood there, arms across their chest. I didn’t recognize what was happening to me. I was too elated to be in the presence of two cool men with whom I could adventure.
I stepped back from my jubilation to take a breath.
“I’m sorry, my brothers. I think I’m pretty stoned. But a moment has found us, a Kairos moment indeed, and we are to seize it.”
The two smiled slightly and seemed more relaxed. I took their mild grins as sanction and went for it.
“Brothers! Join hands with mine.” I placed my right hand in our midst, not far from Malcolm’s jar of weed.
“Join me, Gentlemen. The night is ours!” Pause. “Hand on hand. Brother to Brother. King to King!”
They did join me, there, at that moment. A little worried about my energy, I went outside onto Malcolm’s wooden patio to get some air.
A brilliant idea surfaced: I would call Lori and invite her to join us for marijuana. I allow the idea was not well thought out but at the time it seemed like the right thing to do. I had two good friends by my side and wanted my wife to share in their companionship.
I called Lori, who had never smoked weed before, and invited her to come on over to Malcolm’s to get high with us. When I began to smoke, she did express some curiosity about the stuff. I thought it a good idea to get her on board. Her tone surprised me when she declined the offer. I didn’t quite understand her level of anger. Lori’s negative response was the first and mildest of the difficult encounters that night. a night that foretold my fondness for pot might have a downside.
Reynold left Malcolm’s to get a friend.. We all would attend the cowboy thing and Malcolm and I began to walk through the historic haunts of Old Bisbee. As we meandered our way up concrete stairs built by the WPA in the 1930s and by old miner houses a hundred years old and more, we met and chatted up different people we knew. I shared my augmented enthusiasm for the evening with people I recognized but with whom I seldom conversed. Malcolm, who by then probably wished he would have left me in the desert, became increasingly detached. I stopped and turned to him in the street and pointed out, with great excitement, that we were probably not the first priest and attorney to walk Old Bisbee together. Not long after that, I looked around for him to no avail, and soon realized he found his own way to the theater.
I met up with he and Reynold- and his short female companion-inside. Their aloofness surprised me but I attributed their distance to the effects weed has on one’s perception and joined them at our seats. Their reserve was not a product of my imagination. They wanted nothing to do with me. Reynold made that abundantly clear when I, once seated, leaned over to him apologizing for my early exuberance.
“Hey, Man. Sorry about the whole male bonding thing. Malcolm may have told you, I’m new to weed and get a little carried away.”
“Thanks. I just have some boundaries around my personal space and, well…enough said. We’re cool.”
When I heard the man divulge in that manner, I welcomed his vulnerability as an openness to intimacy that I so wanted with him and other men. So, naturally, I leaned into him even further, saying,
“Ah, Man, thanks for letting me know about that.” And placed my hand on his shoulder. “I respect that. I really do.”
Abruptly, Reynold got up out of his seat, and said to me as he pushed away quickly,
“Then why the fuck are you all over me, man!”
He walked away, into the crowd, leaving me there with Malcolm and the other hundred or so guests. I looked to the lawyer, for some direction or indication as how to proceed. He acknowledged me not and a heaviness of my own making began to unfurl as the show began.
Extremely anxious, I remained in my seat as Reynold and his companion returned and took their seats. The lady friend sat between me and her date as a buffer, preventing me from making another, unwelcome, apology. It occurred to me then and there that the best thing to do would be to call Lori. And so I did. I remained in the theater, not at all aware of the show or clear it had started and phoned my wife.
“Hi, it’s me.”
“Hi.” Remembering that the last time I talked to her, it didn’t go well, I was grateful she answered and glad I could count on her.”
“Do you think you could come get me? Things aren’t going well.” That much I knew to be true.
“Everybody is mad at me, and I don’t know wh…”
“Hey! Have some goddamn respect!” Reynold’s friend, whose own western attire indicated she was into the show, was none too happy with my call for help.
“Put the fucking phone away, man! This is ridiculous! People are trying to watch.”
So many thoughts came at me in the wake of her tirade. At first, I interpreted her anger in a larger context and thought she objected to my phone call not because it disturbed her and the others, but because a cellphone device had no place anywhere in Western Americana in the late 19th century. I also thought, pretty much concurrently with my historical critique of her outburst, that she wanted to be a part of the Anti-Seth Crusade and my phone call gave her the convenient pretext. Either way, I finished with Lori, “Just come get me honey.” She responded, “I’ll be right there.” I hung up.
I pocketed the phone, looked to my right, back into the time warp, and told her and everyone else with a black vest and cowboy boots that I was sorry. I knew then that it was time to leave and to find a portal back to the present. Without any gesture or goodbye, I slid off my seat, out the building, and into the quick air, chastised, humbled, and waiting for the cavalry.
Lori rescued me, took me to dinner, and listened to me recount the evening and its weirdness. I knew that the difficulty I encountered had to do with the drug. But she didn’t berate me for any recklessness or irresponsibility. I called when I needed help. She gave me that help. Throughout the ordeal of my marijuana adventure and its aftermath, I could count on that help, even when later irresponsibility and recklessness did prompt her to separate from me. The next morning, she would ask me to take a break from weed for some weeks. I agreed to that respite, but that night, after the successful extrication of her stoned spouse, I appreciated her patience and curiosity. I knew I wasn’t in serious trouble with her when, leaning toward me, over our shared pizza, she looked around and said in a low, barely detectable voice,
“What’s it like? You know, being high?”