I spent years lying next to someone with limited ability for sexual response while encased in an exclusive, monogamous, domestic arrangement. So, interacting with people whose arousal is expressly pronounced, people in active pursuit of coital congress, was something of a revelation. It’s the sort of thing that makes one choose inappropriate partners.
This is commonly known as being on the rebound, of course. And that’s how I found myself smoking weed again with Birch. She remains easily the *craziest* person I’ve ever known. By that I do not mean wild or fun. I mean she was a sociopath.
Birch told me that when she was out walking around, if she encountered a (hetero) couple holding hands, she would stare into the guy’s eyes alluringly to see if he would let go of his girlfriend’s hand. If he did, she’d feel a tingle of self-worth.
One night, I was sitting in her apartment, high as a fly and drinking a vodka concoction, when she came out of the bathroom with a bottle of perfume. It was one of the fragrances I sold at work, but I’d never seen an example of it out in the real world before. She spritzed it around in the air and danced into the mist. “I love this shit,” she said. “Do you think we can get a discount?”
Birch was what they called in the Beauty Industry, a devotee. Maybe even an evangelist. If social media influencing could have been a thing back then, she’d surely have been a huckster for swag. But this was back in 2010, thank heavens.
We were supposed to meet some friends of mine at the movies, but Birch was taking a long time to get ready, deliberately, I believe, since everything she did seemed cunning and transactional. So I got too high and had a panic attack pondering the nature of human relationships and life as we know it.
From age 17-24, I smoked weed all the time. In the beginning, it just felt great. Like I was floating above the crowd on a secret cloud of grace and love. By the end, it freaked me out a lot and I started obsessing over physical minutia, unaware that by altering my sense of perception, what I then perceived to be altered was simply a projection of my altered sense of perception. In other words… ah forget it. I sometimes thought I had trouble breathing, but the shortness of breath was probably just another element of anxiety, exasperated by the worry that it was something else.
Once, I walked to the hospital, but I just sat on a bench outside until my high went down. There were no stories in the news about people going to the emergency room after consuming too many edibles in states where cannabis had been legalized for recreational use. This was back in The Nineties. You couldn’t find edibles unless your friend’s hippie aunt randomly showed up at a party. Otherwise, you rolled up a joint, packed a pipe, took a bong hit. Maybe you smoked a blunt if that was your thing.
I believe I was addicted to marijuana, although I guess it’s debatable whether I was chemically dependent on it. A former heroin junkie friend of mine said he thought weed was addictive, just not the same way as smack. “It won’t make you steal your mom’s DVD player and sell it, but it will make you call everyone you know to get some before a pinball tournament. And feel really sad if you can’t score.”
But I don’t think comparing the severity of addiction is a useful way to look at it. Substances tend to have a personality that comes out the deeper one gets. Why do some cokeheads do up the whole stash and then call their guy back several times in the same night? It’s an upper. They can’t get to sleep, so why not keep going? Why do meth users sleep in dumpsters? I’m not really sure.
I know that everyone considers those hard drugs differently, and I do, too. But I also know what a craving feels like. I know that smoking a lot of weed gives a person a tolerance to the point that they don’t even feel very high. And that the best way to get high again is to stop smoking (or eating) it for a while, and most of my stony friends are incapable of doing this.
Also, most of the people I know who fill their “free time” or their non-work waking hours stoned are generally miserable. If they can’t get high, they won’t go stick up a corner store. They won’t sell off all their stuff and then break into their neighbor’s house and sell off all their stuff, too. They won’t sleep on the street or lease their body parts. But like I said, it’s not comparative. Drunks don’t do that either. And a lot of drunks cannot function, socially speaking anyway, without being drunk, and do not really function while being drunk either. Most of my friends, myself included, figure out ways to never run out of weed.
For anxiety, I just don’t find it to be beneficial. At least, not the brain-scrambling kind. It’s just too hard for me to relax on that shit. And when I was smoking, nobody was talking about Indica versus Sativa. We were talking about dank, chronic, kind bud, good shit, the bomb. And we smoked whatever the fuck was around.
After Birch successfully took too long to make it to the movie, my mind exploded. I saw my life in humanity like a wave pattern, this series of partners pulling me in uncomfortable directions. But it wasn’t sinister. It was like water running through a canyon, shaping its walls by the natural occurrence of accumulation, gravity, rock formation, heat. Indifferent, you know? Powerless. There is no free will. Or so it seemed.
I saw myself from afar, out of body like. This was a common symptom of generalized anxiety disorder for me, amplified by the wrong kind of weed. So I became agitated, nervous. Mouth gone dry, face flushed, heart racing. I knew from CBT what these things were and how to manage my perception of them.
But the situation was problematic. Birch suggested I was having this reaction because I was tired. Of course, that made no sense. Exhaustion, if that’s what she meant, would not cause this. It was claustrophobia. I’d wanted to go to the movies, to meet my friends and have a drink after. Birch wanted my full attention and was actively attempting to sever me from them. That’s not a paranoid view; well, okay maybe it is, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. She was an abuser in a controlling manipulative sort of way. That’s why I was baked. Getting high was my choice, but I was only high because I was there with her.
And I know it sounds stupid for an grown man to whine that she made me do, that I would not have gotten high without her. That’s not really my intention. I’m not blaming her. It’s just that this was the situation and I wasn’t dealing with it well. But don’t worry, it’ll get more surreal.
We ended up in The Mission, wandering around looking for a place to eat. There was a French restaurant a block and a half away from my place. I’d never been there before. It was too expensive.
Once seated, Birch tried to turn this mess into a date. She ordered wine along with several appetizers and entrées. Much too much for the two of us, but she did that a lot. She wasn’t pleased unless the bill was obscene.
Then she ordered a Caesar Salad. I should say that she was an American white woman from Kentucky, with processed blonde hair and a southern accent. She was a blind faith protestant, 23 years old, republican by default. Not a great match for me.
The server was a tall, thin, dark-haired white man who spoke with a heavy French accent. How do french restaurants in California find all these French speakers to work as servers? “We do not have Caesar salad,” he said.
“Why not?” Birch wanted to know.
“Because… zeez eez a French rez-tar-aunt,” the man said. The sentence and manner of delivery instantly and permanently became indelible in my hippocampus.
Birch looked confused. “What kind of salad do you have, then?”
He told us about an arugula salad with a lemon vinaigrette.
“That’s fine,” she said curtly. Then, after he left us alone, she said to me, “They should have Caesar salad.”
“This is a French restaurant,” I said, trying not to sound snooty. “Caesar salads are usually found in Italian places. Although they were invented in Mexico.”
“So, you think that just because you want a Caesar salad right here and right now, that this place should have one?”
“Yeah, why not?”
She excused herself to the washroom and I wondered where people like this came from. Kentucky was too obvious an answer.
The server came back to fill my water glass while Birch was gone. He asked me where we were from.
“She’s from Kentucky,” I said, trying to distance myself from her vacant chair.
“How long are you here for?” he asked. “In town.”
“I live here,” I said. “I live a block away. She just moved here. From Kentucky.”
Our eyes met. I could see him reading into my gaze: the cannabis, anxiety, exasperation. Then he seemed to realize the situation, that I was on a date with a cute girl I didn’t know very well, and that I was beginning to conclude I did not like her very much, and I was trying to determine if the juice was worth the squeeze. He seemed to understand this implicitly, instantly, to grok it, so immediately I assumed French people must be more sensitive to this type of thing.
And even though my personal situation was turbulent at the moment, knowing this other person recognized some of that, and seemed sympathetic made me feel seen and gave me a brief sense of piece.
Transparency: Birch and I only dated for a couple of months in total. Immediately after the relationship became sexual, she demanded that I pay for her birth control prescription ($50/month). As a feminist, I’m in favor of universal access to reproductive care and means, equality and self-determination. But it’s untenable for me to pay for this individually for anyone I happen to sleep with. Purchasing the “morning after pill” is another story (I’m happy to contribute), and I’m also fine with procuring and wearing condoms. When I suggested to Birch that paying for her prescription sort of sounded like she was asking for rent money, she became predictably offended. Besides, she probably made more money than I did. So then she said that I should at least pay for her pubic waxings ($40/month). I may have a preference as to how a woman wears some of the hair on her body, but not one I’d expect anyone to adhere to for my benefit. Anyway, the notion that waxing off all or most of the pubic hair is some kind of standard required maintenance for a sexually active person is absurd to me.
Viewpoint: At the moment it seems we’ve chosen to identify The Patriarchy as devil incarnate, with cis het white men its minions. I understand that impulse. However, I do not believe the best path to social and cultural progress is by defining polarized tribes of good and evil based on demographic details instead of deeds and intentions. Meeting hate with hate is like debating a drunk; it is not constructive. While we know patriarchal culture has historically weaponized words to marginalize women (and other groups) by calling them hysterical, unhinged, shrill, etc, that’s not my design. I’ve know many impassioned women and belligerent men. When I say a person is “crazy,” that is based on my experience with their actions, a shorthand for a longer conversation, and not gender specific. As a self-described feminist, I’m sensitive to being miscategorized otherwise, and I hope that I’m seen as I try to see others: as continuously learning and capable of improvement.