I’m 14 and at a county fair in southeastern Ohio. My best friend has paired off with a teen boy, leaving me alone with his friend. As we wait in line for a ride, the friend pulls out a Ziploc bag full of stems and seeds and grins at me. He is trying to impress me, and even though I’ve never seen it before, I know what he’s holding. “Put that away,” I hiss. He shrugs and he puts it away, and we board the Ferris Wheel in silence.
This is the first of many times I will respond badly to weed.
I’m 15 and my parents are out of town for the weekend. I have three girl friends staying over even though I’m not supposed to. One of them wants to score some weed, which I tried for the first time a week earlier to zero effect. I remember a rumor I heard from one of my brother’s friends about my own dad supposedly keeping a stash in his sock drawer. I’ve laughed this off, because I believe there’s no way it could possibly be true. I am newly a teenager and to me, my dad is perfect. We scope out his dresser, and I am astonished to find dozens of empty bags, much like the one I’d seen at the fair, and half a dozen pipes. One half-full bag remains. I pick it up and examine it. A pit forms in the pit of my stomach and I wonder who my dad really is.
“Let’s smoke all of this,” I say with angry determination. My friends cheer, and we defiantly march out to the garage. What feels like hours later, I get way too high and am convinced I’m dying. Smoking makes me feel like I have lost control, and in this moment I understand that control is extremely important to me.
The next morning I will get grounded for a month, and it won’t even feel worth it. My dad and I won’t speak to each other for a week.
The summer before I start college, I work at a telemarketing company with most of my other friends from high school. It’s a very low-stakes job with late hours, so we all hang out together after the night shift ends. One night we hit the 24-hour Arby’s drive-through on the way back to our friend’s house. Her very cute older brother offers to share a joint with us outside their parents’ basement door. I’m reluctant to join in because I’m afraid of how scared weed always makes me feel, but I cave because I want my friend’s brother to like me.
For some reason, this time it feels different. I am light and everything is funny. I eat what must be by then a day-old Arby’s apple turnover in silence, and it’s the best thing I’ve ever eaten. This is the only positive drug experience I will have for more than a decade.
The summer after my freshman year of college, I ask my dad if some friends from my high school class can come over to smoke a bowl and watch Waking Life. He is surprised. He and I are more open with each other now, and we’ve discussed how little fun weed has been for me. Our openness is nice, but it really weirds my friends out. He says yes, and I feel like the cool kid for once. My mom purses her lips, but says nothing. She likes control, too.
Three kids who were more popular than me in high school come over. In the dark on this summer night, we smoke in the field behind my parents’ house. I watch the boy I like flirt with the girl I wanted to be like in high school, and wonder if this too is not worth it.
We sit unmoving, watching Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas instead. My dad and his friend come down the basement stairs to snicker at us. My friends all look over at me in mounting panic. Suddenly I burst out laughing and can’t stop.
I throw a Little Debbie zebra cake at the boy I like, and it hits him in the cheek with a dull thud.
It’s my last semester at college and my mom is dying of cancer. I skip class a lot and start hooking up with my roommate. He smokes weed with the guys who live in the apartment above ours, and sometimes I do, too. It still makes me feel hungry and paranoid like it always has so I still don’t like it, but I also don’t stop doing it. My roommate and I don’t have a lot in common aside from dead or soon-to-be dead parents, and we need this.
I’ve moved to Chicago and haven’t smoked weed in years. I’m 25 and starting to resent my dad. My mom has been dead for four years, it feels to me like my dad is not pulling his weight in the parenting department. By now he has moved on to a new relationship and is talking about selling my childhood home. I still feel like a kid who misses her mom. I know my dad still smokes every day, and I began to conflate this with bad role modeling. I begin to wonder why his drug use never bothered my mom, but when I ask him about this, he is unable to articulate her perspective in any kind of satisfactory way. I think about all the things he will not be able to answer for in her absence.
The tenuous connection my mind has formed between the anger I feel toward my dad and weed makes feel again the mistrust I had of him when I was in high school and rooted through his sock drawer.
One night in a fit of tears on the phone, I try to regain control and ask my dad to stop smoking pot. Bewildered, he politely declines. I won’t understand until years later that I am punishing my dad for my mom dying, or how incredibly unfair I’m being.
I get into a fight with my boyfriend at a Halloween party. A few weeks before it, I open up to him about my dad and how much I blame weed for what appears to be our crumbling relationship. He is sympathetic and seems understanding, but I feel my stomach drop when I see him take a hit at a friend’s party. We are dressed like Kate Hudson and Billy Crudup from Almost Famous and I almost leave the party without him and my floor-length fur-trimmed coat.
Instead, he apologizes and we make up. He promises not to do it again, which is the wrong solution, but we don’t know that yet. We will fight about drugs a lot more, and we won’t last. We’ll stay together a lot longer than we should, though. He’ll later catch me going through his sock drawer, too.
I try to explain this fight to my dad over the phone a week later. He doesn’t understand why I’m mad, and I’m not entirely sure, either.
“The only times I’ve ever smoked weed have been to impress a guy,” I admit to my dad. He laughs.
Three years later and months after we’ve broken up, my ex and I are at the party of some mutual friends. Everyone is very drunk even though it’s early on a Saturday night. After the wine is gone, I see our host gesture to my ex-boyfriend, making a circle with his thumb and forefinger and beckoning him to the other room. I watch them go, and feel a little sick. I’m glad my ex-boyfriend can finally be himself again now that we’ve broken up.
I leave the party before he gets back, and go to a different one in Bucktown where some other friends are. They’re glad to see me. I don’t tell anyone I’m upset and try to shake it off.
Six months later, I’m living in Portland, Oregon. It feels good to be in a city where my ex-boyfriend is not, and I am half-dating a friend from Chicago even though we know we’re not going to make it work long-distance. After a day hike, some new Portland friends take me with them to a dispensary in Washington, where I buy some weed candy. I like that you can ask the people working at the counter which kinds of weed will make you feel which ways. The part of me that still likes rules also likes that it’s legal here.
I express to the Chicago guy my curiosity about the edibles, and he gets annoyed with me. I laugh at the irony.
It’s August 2016, and recreational weed is legal in Oregon now, too. The Chicago friends who hosted the too-much-wine party are visiting Portland, and ask me if we can go to a dispensary. By this time, I have taken so many out-of-towners to go buy weed, and so I gladly oblige. I smoke a little bit with them at my apartment, and it’s fine. Weed is still not for me, but I know it’s not the evil root of my problems I once saw it as. We go get Mexican food in my neighborhood and laugh too hard over a plate of nachos as the employees stare at us.
They thank me for a great time in Portland, and I think about how upset I felt at their wine party. It feels like such a waste of energy now. I realize how nice it is to not care anymore about what people do or don’t do.
I start to brainstorm creative ways to bring edibles back to my dad for the holidays.
Meryl Williams is an Ohio native and journalist who is currently based in Portland. Her essays have been published in Oregon Humanities, Little Fiction | Big Truths, and Story Club Magazine. She’s on Twitter at @MerylWilliams and writes for many places on the Internet.