Puff, puff. Cough, cough. Hack out my lungs.
Gather ‘round the bubbling bong water kids, today is the long but not forgotten tale of my first time smoking the weedies (aka da mari-juh-wanna).
I was eighteen and midway through my spring semester of college. The air was crisp and the sun was warm. I could feel my depression slowly melting away. I had been living with it for years but now that I look back on it, I can’t pinpoint exactly when it started. All I know is the feeling, that feeling that you cannot hide from. That booming voice in your head stuck on repeat. The tears that seep into the surface of your cheeks for some incomprehensible reason. The invisible plaster that glues you to your empty house away from everyone and everything. The hate that echoes deep into your core and soon into your very being.
But these days, the days wedged somewhere into my second semester of college, I was feeling less of it. Less of that nagging voice, less tears, less emotional outbursts, less like I wanted to die. To be honest, I was finally feeling like a human being again.
I had finally made a friend. Actually, he was a childhood family friend whom we had lost touch with. On my first day of my second semester in my Spanish 3 class I unknowingly sat behind him. He turned around, “oh my god, I can’t believe it’s you!”
I looked at him for a minute or two and then realized who he was. “Airy?” I asked in disbelief.
He got up from his chair and gave me a huge hug. I hadn’t seen him since I was six or so. He was a few years my senior and had always treated me like a little sister. His presence eased my nerves and insecurities.
Our semester carried through and Airy told me all about his adventures and his girlfriend and their bohemian lifestyle. I had never known someone so free, so secure in the ebbs and flows of the uncontrollable world. I wanted to be like that, be free from my self-judgments and insecurities.
Somehow, somewhere, some time, Airy invited me to smoke weed with him and his girlfriend. “You wanna come over to my place after class and you, me and Luz can smoke?” He offered without pushing the subject. I had never smoked before.
“Uh I’m…I…I’ve never smoked before.” I hesitated.
“You’ll love it. No pressure of course but I thought you’d like to spend the day with me and Luz.”
It was like he knew how lonely I was outside of that class. I agreed not because I was scared of what he would think of me if I said no but because I was following through with my self-imposed New Year’s Resolution of “going bold” which meant trying things that I would otherwise be too scared or too judgmental to do.
I trailed behind him in my beat up car that my deadbeat dad had given me. We wove in and out of traffic heading South to his beach home. We parked. We walked up the stairs to his second story apartment. We sat around the old vinyl-topped kitchen table. We waited for Luz. She knocked. She walked in. She sat. Airy packed a bowl. I waited. I screamed in my head. Airy took a hit. Luz took a hit. And I? I couldn’t figure out how to take a hit. The piece was passed back to Luz. She held it for me, positioning her fingers just so. Airy flicked the lighter, hovering it above the charring greens. I circled my lips and inhaled. Deeply. Like it was the first time I was breathing. My throat was burning. My lungs caught fire, as though the charred bits of smoke were trying to burn their way out of me. I held it. I watched them as they reassured my absence of breath. Kumbhaka. I exhaled.
The smoke floated out, taking my fleeting breath with it. I couldn’t catch it. I gagged trying to suck air back in. But breathing only made me gag harder. My eyes watered and my coughing percolated the saliva in the back of my throat. I was slowly beginning to unwind. Each and every gagging cough brought me further away from reality, further away from their voices telling me not to be embarrassed. And then, it stopped. All of it.
“Let’s ride bikes,” Airy swayed.
We floated to the carport under his apartment. Unlocking their bikes and rolling a rusted-clunker-of-a-bike to me. I grabbed it. My mind was a quieter version of me but my body felt like I was only temporarily inhabiting it.
I swung my leg over the seat and sat. They were already halfway up the hill. The bike was so heavy. I pedaled.
Lethargic. I reached the top of the hill. I could hear their gleeful screams cascading down the waterfall of asphalt that was rushing in front of me. I pushed the pedal toward the earth. My bike went soaring down the dismal abyss of asphalt that anchored my ancient bike to the earth. I yelped a yelp that I had never yelped before. I felt free––a first in forever.
We rounded the corner. Pedaled a couple pedals more and landed our rocket ships in the Starbucks parking lot. Both Airy and his girl were in familiar waters but I, I was on a strange planet that I had never explored before. Our feet launched us into the stale, burnt coffee bean smell of Starbucks. We ordered, speaking the native language of the people that surrounded us. They could not know that our minds were aliens from planets far away. Nonetheless, they glared at us suspiciously as we sipped our lattes in the corner.
Slurp and our drinks were gone, pouring us down the street back to our ships. Airy was the captain. He led the way. Onward and upward we would go, over the hill and to the edge of the earth he declared. So onward and upward we followed, all the way to the edge.
He guided us through some rough terrain that bobbed our bodies just so and stopped us just where he said. And it was on foot that we walked the hundred plus yards that remained and it is this that shall be forever ingrained: it was here and there and everywhere, at the edge of the world where I found my heart again.