In the middle of the writing workshop I lead, I was just about to give the group another prompt, when suddenly a helicopter, flying low, began circling my house in Chilmark. We were on our mid-morning hot bread and jam break anyway, so the noise didn’t really bother me. But then it kept circling and circling — and circling. The sound got louder, and the group grew concerned. I texted my neighbor: “What’s with the helicopters?” She texted back: “DEA.”
I thought she was kidding, so I wrote back, “I’m pulling out all the plants by their roots,” while repeating under my breath to a nonexistent Cheech, Eat the stuff, eat the stuff.
A few hours later, I got a forwarded link to an article in The Times that reported on marijuana sweeps that are taking place all over Massachusetts, even though pot is a misdemeanor in our state.
What a waste of taxpayers’ money, I thought. When almost every day on the radio, I hear a story about how we don’t have enough beds for people who are addicted to opioids, alcohol, or prescription drugs, who are waiting to get into rehab. And we’re spending money looking for tiny backyard gardens with three spindly plants of weed? Are you kidding me?
I am not necessarily defending the use of cannabis. I am a child of the Fifties. I saw “Reefer Madness,” with perfectly sane people jumping out of windows after listening to black musicians’ jazz and smoking THC cigarettes. Even if there had been the opportunity (which there never was) to experiment, I never would have taken the chance.
My parents had one bottle of Seagram’s, which they kept in a cabinet and brought out once a year on New Year’s Eve. Alcohol was not evil, but not interesting to me. At the junior prom, we slipped one aspirin into our Coca-Cola bottles, shook them up, and sipped the spray. I remember pretending to be high with all the other kids pretending to be high. It was a pretty innocent time, 1958. In college my roommate took me home to meet her family, and on the way she confided that both her parents were alcoholics. I had a warped, romantic, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote kind of imagined theater piece in my head. But on that visit, I saw firsthand the tragedy of addiction.
And then the Sixties arrived, and while everyone else was inhaling, I was matching my Marimekko fabric to my Dansk sofa, placing my teak Workbench Parsons table ever so gently on my wall-to-wall beige Berber carpet.
In 1971, when my second baby was born and I was 31, a former student of mine brought me a baby present. I unwrapped the lovely gift, and there they were, three joints, with a note: “Please try this. It will change your life.” I was shocked and angry, and barked, “Drugs will not enter my home! What were you thinking, Diane?”
She took them and placed them on the mantelpiece of the fireplace, and said, “Please don’t throw these away. Take your baby boys to your mom’s so you’ll know they’re safe, and you and Joel try a very small amount and have fun. I promise you, you will see the world differently.”
She may have known I was practically a teetotaler, not because of any ideological reasons. I hated the taste of all spirits, and I’ve always chosen to chew my calories rather than drink them. God knows I bought enough of the stuff to have in the house for guests. Sometimes in a liquor store I’d feel like a fraud, filling the cart with reds and pinks and whites as if I cared or knew what I was buying. Sometimes I’d compare my charade to my mother’s, who hung out my father’s pajama tops and bottoms on the clothesline even though my father only wore the tops. Why, I asked her, once. The neighbors, she said. They’d know.
I’m not really afraid my neighbors will know I don’t drink. But I do have a kind of perverse perspective in wanting everyone to know that I did have a life-altering experience with that baby gift from long ago.
My heart opened, and I fell in love with everything and everyone. It was my first experience with trees and woods and sky and stars and it was my first experience with being nonjudgmental. I found out everyone is perfect just as they are. I suppose there are other ways of finding that out, but that was my plant medicine.
So to the helicopter pilots who listened to their higher-ups, next time say No, I’m not following orders. Spend the money where it is needed. Help the ones who want to help themselves. And let the writers write their words of wisdom.
And to the DEA, I was just kidding. I would never eat the stuff.
Nancy Slonim Aronie is the author of “Writing from the Heart” (Hyperion) and the founder of the Chilmark Writing Workshop on Martha’s Vineyard.