Nothing Left to Lose
I’ve got drugs on the brain, mostly because of my current surroundings. I’m on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, to attend my man’s annual photographic art exhibition at the Granary Gallery and visit my in-laws, as I have every summer since I began dating David ten years ago. It’s not the island itself, nor is it the dense summer population of visiting students, politicians, New York attorneys, and the private-jet class that has left me all med-minded. By “surroundings,” I’m referring to my in-laws and their friends, the people with whom I interact most when I am here. Bridge players and retirees who all have one thing in common — they’re old.
I don’t mean over-the-hill, midlife-crisis old. I’m talking blue hair, senior, septa- and octogenarian, Betty White and Buzz Aldrin old. The kind of old I hope to make it to some day. Unfortunately, with experience comes wear and tear. Parts give out. Three months ago, David’s father went in for a check-up and didn’t leave the hospital until he’d had a quintuple heart bypass. Hip replacements, shoulder and back surgeries, and biopsies: rare is the conversation on the island that doesn’t include some kind of medical update. Each time David and I visit, we learn of another bridge player’s passing.
“It’s so depressing,” I said to David. He was driving me from Oak Bluffs to Edgartown, part sightseeing, part errand-running. David raised his brows in question. “You know, the daily — scratch that — the hourly reminders of our mortality. Watching helplessly as people we love are declining in health, some slow, some fast. It’s no wonder there are so many drinkers here. At your show last night, most of the old folks went straight for liquor — plastic cups filled to the brim with whiskey or vodka, no tonic. I don’t blame them.” David listened in silence.
The canopy of trees lining the road broke on my side to reveal a field of wavy green grass speckled with patches of flame-colored flowers. “They should all be on drugs,” I mused as I gazed at the meadow.
I tore my gaze away from the view to find David’s face scrunched in confusion. “I mean, how great would it be if we gave your parents and their friend ’shrooms? They should be running naked through that field, frolicking and laughing, without a care in the world.”
“They’d get sunburned,” David said.
“Oh, my God, I just had a brilliant idea.” I paused for effect. “We could create a camp, like a summer camp, but for older people, where they could try all kinds of drugs in a safe setting with a counselor — you know, someone sober who knows his shit — to make sure they don’t hurt themselves; someone who could talk anyone down from a bad trip and guide the whole group into a positive, mind-expanding, joyful experience. Think about it!”
I sat forward in my seat fast enough to catch the lock on my seatbelt. “People who are aging and depressed could feel safe in the knowledge that their experimental drug use would be way safer than anything they might find on the street. We could provide pharmaceutical grade MDMA — that’s ecstasy,” I clarified for David, whose knowledge of medications both legal and controlled is as limited as my grasp of kitchenware. “They would have no fear of dangerous kitchen-sink chemicals because everything would be pharmaceutical grade, just like the dozen or so prescribed pills most of them already take every day.”
“You’d have to do it somewhere like the Netherlands, where they’re lax about drugs,” David said.
“It’s stupid that this doesn’t already exist. Or maybe it does and we just don’t know about it. I bet people would pay good money for that kind of experience. Especially people with terminal illnesses. To let go and explore when they’ve got nothing left to lose.”
“The liability would be insane,” David said.
“That’s what waivers are for. We have everyone sign a waiver that says they won’t sue, no matter what happens, and there goes your liability. It would be expensive to set up, but I bet if we thought it through and did some planning, we’d be the most popular project on Kickstarter.” I responded to David’s sideways smirk with an expression that said, Don’t look at me, I’m not even sure if I’m serious or not. But what I was thinking was, I am a goddamn genius.
That night, we hosted friends of my in-laws, a family I’ve come to know from my visits over the years. The patriarch of the family is in the midst of receiving experimental treatment for a terminal illness. While sipping my cocktail and doing my best to avoid saying anything relating to health as part of my perpetual effort to keep everyone around me smiling, I overheard one member of the family — a woman around my age — explaining to my father-in-law that the legalization of marijuana is going to be on the Massachusetts ballot this November.
“We could all get high together,” said her mother. I couldn’t imagine my father-in-law getting any kind of high — he doesn’t even drink — but I loved that I wasn’t the one to throw this idea out there. If I’d said it, I’d likely get some kind of admonishing look from David. But since the suggestion came from an elder, everyone in the room smiled and nodded. “Seriously,” my new hero continued. She gestured at her husband, “It would take away his pain and help with his appetite issues, and for us, well, we’d just have fun.” She broke away from the group to explain to my mother-in-law how to go about cooking with the stuff, as if my mother-in-law would ever follow any recipe that called for the “other” oregano.
I don’t smoke weed. Nor do I eat it, vaporize it, snort it, inject it, whatever. I’m just not into it. I tried it a few times (using the smoking and eating methods); all it ever did was make me paranoid and nauseated. Still, despite my disinterest, I think Mary Jane, LSD, MDMA, hallucinogenic mushrooms, and every other happy-making recreational drug, should be legalized and regulated à la alcohol and tobacco. At least that way I could get a real business plan going for my special camp.