Many years ago, before the internet and digital cameras, in a land before legal cannabis…I had my first encounter with “the Devil’s Lettuce”. I was probably about 17, going to a Catholic high school, was pretty naive, and still trying to figure out who *I* was.
Wayne was someone I met at a party. Looking back over the decades there are many questions I wonder about our meeting and “friendship”; the reflections and ruminations a teenager wouldn’t have, yet would come at night many decades later.
In my youth, if you were gay, an atheist, aboriginal, and a pot smoker, you might as well have “REBEL - NON CONFORMIST! DANGER!” stamped across your head. Despite being aboriginal, my father’s European genes gave me a standard “white boy” look. As well, I grew to 6 feet (1.8m) by the time I was 12, and was gifted with the skill of being able to activate a “resting bitch face.” Consequently, I could get away with a lot of shit others couldn’t. I was a tourist in worlds others had to live all the time; but it’s only a realization I could have in 2020 as a middle-aged man.
That realization included the guy who gave me my first weed experience. Wayne was a nice guy. He was about my age, and lived in Meadowlark Village Towers in Edmonton. This complex - now converted to condos - was all rental apartments at the time and could be very...seedy. I can’t remember if I asked him or not, but it’s curious he lived here with his brothers. Why was he not living with his parents? To a teen tolerating his mother and father, this may have seemed like a wonderland. No parents? No problems!
Of course, with the benefit of hindsight, as he was my “weed connection” you could reasonably assume his brothers were the dealers and he just had a key to the apartment. This was where I first smoked a joint. I remember coughing my lungs out and LEARNING how to smoke a joint. I also recall laughing my ass off, and even running into the door because it seemed like it was receding.
But generally, I remember feeling...well, kinda great and groovy. It’s the feeling I get sometimes when you dose yourself just right (either with edibles or smoking/vaping). You feel like you can talk about anything if you’re with friends. Music is AWESOME no matter what’s playing, and you feel good to be alive.
I remember that feeling because I also wonder...I’ve never had the “door receding” happen again. Was my joint spiked with something? Or more likely, was this the effect of not only accessing my endocannabinoid system for the first time, but giving it a serious kick?
I know it started a relationship with the plant as I learned more and more about it. While we didn’t have any super crazy DRUGS ARE BAD type education foisted upon us, it was also something you didn’t discuss unless you felt your audience was receptive. Like being gay, it was illegal. As a quick witted young man realizing he was gay, I had experience broaching difficult subject matter in a non-threatening way, so this was just another question, but similar tactics.
Perhaps I’m romanticizing it. It couldn’t have been as easy as on one hand “Oooh, you’re gay, and smoke pot? [swoon] You are so cool!” versus uptight assholes condemning me for one, if not both of those descriptors.
Nor is it as easy to look back and judge those micro-friendships you form as a teen. I don’t know what happened to Wayne - if his brothers were dealers. If they were in trouble with the law ever. I do remember running into him years later on the bus while I was on my way back from studies at the University of Alberta.
He looked a little rougher than I remembered. He told me he was dealing with a rape accusation from a woman, and I remember his dismissal of the accusation as being a bit...troubling. As if my intuition was saying “yeah, he probably did it” but a part of me was saying “No, he’s a nice guy.” In the era of #MeToo I suspect - given his background - it was a strong possibility he assaulted someone. Yet that could be me making assumptions. I took his phone number, but I never called him, and I never saw him again. He, like many others, is lost to time and place.
Back then, I played the role of the outlaw but could pass as an upstanding member of what society thinks is acceptable. It was thrilling. It was dangerous. Yes, there are those who - either because an accident of birth, or of the social circle in which they move - were stuck in that role of “outlaw”.
Were my choices any better than his? Will it matter 20, 100, or a thousand years from now?
Perhaps, perhaps not. In time the roles friends and family play in your life change and evolve. And I think we need to learn to recognize the good things we’ve done for each other when they happen, even if it takes decades to realize it.
So, today, for Wayne. Wherever you are, for my first joint. For being a part of the mosaic of people who accepted me, and showed me another point of view. Thank you.