We're Not Bluffing Anymore by "E. Cleaves"

A materialistic couple with a hidden past awaken to the memory of their true selves. They shed their masks, yet remain at the dance.

Turns out we both like nude beaches. Who could’ve guessed it? Now I know her secret. She knows mine. We have marijuana to thank for it. For as long as I can remember, my wife and I cultivated images of innocence and sweetness, each of us thinking that that’s what the other wanted. Not so hard to believe if you consider the kinds of pre-cast molds this society expects people to slip into. We wiggled and stuffed ourselves into the All-American form, stamped ourselves pure with Laura Ashley and Brooks Brothers, and moved to Peoria. Fear of betrayal didn’t crop up because we lived a thousand miles from anyone who’d known either of us back when. Careers and money formed the focus of our lives. We scaled ladders quickly, gained notice from people at the top of our professions, and moved to larger and larger cities. Brighter lights, famous restaurants, bigger names, larger houses, and newer cars. We knew how to act happy, did so, and were good at it, but what bubbled to the surface didn’t come from very deep. We talked a lot about IRA’s and vacation homes, wallpaper and antiques, dogs and Porsches because that’s what we thought we were supposed to do.

That’s what parent pleasers do. They live lives subject to someone else’s expectations. Thirteen years into this, we’d had enough. We realized that we were walking on a volcano and our marriage could explode at any time. What opened our eyes to this we still don’t know. Probably just plain old fatigue. Tired of the chase. But we knew enough to change directions and accepted an offer to move to a small coastal California town.

First impression of our new environment: time stopped in about May of 1969. Environmentalists dominate local politics. Old VW Buses outnumber luxury cars. Sandals, no wing tips. Natural, no make-up. Organic, no pesticides. Bob Marley, not Garth Brooks. We didn’t know the land and couldn’t peg any of the faces yet all was well understood, if not familiar. The people in our new community marched and protested their way out here several decades ago. They brought with them new beliefs and value systems; and, some of them brought along a good supply of cannabis seeds. New friends began telling us that they’d been growing and smoking marijuana for more than 30 years. It had become a part of their lifestyle. They asked me if I liked getting stoned. I laughed, looked at my wife, and navigated my way out of the conversation.

My wife and I hardly talked about it. The next time at our friends’ house, however, I smoked their home grown herb as the joints passed from one person to the next. My wife’s reaction was guarded and it would take her a bit longer to decide to try it. Being stoned opened my mind and heightened my senses to such a degree that I saw in detail the path to shedding the actor’s costume I’d been wearing and letting the original copy of myself show through. For the first time in my recent memory I had followed my own instincts, laid myself open to the judgment or indifference of others, and found within myself a chance to be better. I had relearned what happiness feels like.

My use of marijuana became more frequent until I was smoking about every other day. Now a year in our new home, my wife was still reluctant to try it, although I’m convinced that she’d experienced some contact highs. In fact, it was she who correctly noted that the reason we seemed so comfortable with our new friends lay in their sense of peace, simplicity, honesty, and openness. As it happened, she told me this on a night when I’d enjoyed a particularly smooth and pleasing joint. We explored what she’d said and, with inhibitions removed, I was willing to talk openly and candidly about it all and concluded that we were not the what-you-see-is-what-you-get people our friends were and that it was time that we smoked our way out of our old, established ways and out of the kind of thinking that had come with us from our past. My wife decided to try it.

Marijuana induced conversations, the likes of which we’d never had in all our years of marriage, followed. I confessed that, far from being a novice with the sacred herb, I had eaten ganja brownies at concerts as far back as high school and college and loved every bite. I told of my roommate who was a grower and how I rode with him to get his seeds and cultivating equipment. We’ve had good laughs about it, real laughs, for the first time since we’ve known each other.

We learned that each of us had experienced deep intimacy with other people before we’d met, something we’d each long denied and always avoided discussing. We found that we both wanted to go for a romp on a hedonistic nude beach, and we discovered that neither of us had ever found much satisfaction in the bigness and richness of our previous life. We both confessed to problems and dysfunctions in our families and a lack of good marital role models.

Interestingly, none of this hurt. Marijuana, instead of leading us to confrontations about hiding secrets or lying all these years, filled us with a desire to discuss these things all the more. Nor did we accept all these revelations as just minor aggravations. We received them as if they were expected. We saw each other, for the first time, as flawed as everyone else and found in that a kind of relief that dropped the weight of stainlessness and conformity forever. Our use of the herb continues and we find out more about ourselves all the time. But far from being stoner dropouts, we use marijuana prudently and we find that, just as our home life improves, so our work continues to improve because, we believe, we’re more relaxed in our approach to it.

It’s a state of being we realize others may find hard to accept. That’s fine with us. We had to break free, though. We’re both the products of a destructive, conservative way of thinking that leads people to fear that if they set one foot out of line they’ll have to face society’s meanness. I’m convinced that this contributed to the behavior of our early years.

But in the end, we’ve discovered that what we both really want is contentment with what we have rather than the perfectionism of accumulation and put-ons. Marijuana has landed us solidly into a groove of change; it’s broken down barriers between us, and probably saved our marriage and family. We have a heightened sense of what we’re all about as a couple, we’re better parents, and more compassionate people, and now know that at our core is a need for plain talk and self-content. Most important, we’re no longer bluffing our way through life. The moment is real for us now.

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