“Dad, I know what those are,” I explained to him later over a cup of tea. “You don't have to hide it.”
So he showed me the other plants he was growing in the basement with hydroponics. Their roots, sprayed with water, were naked and white like bleached veins.
“It's medical,” he explained, pointing to a certificate. He looked uncertain, fragile, simultaneously embarrassed and proud.
“Of course.” I never went down there again.
When I came back the following year, the last of the orchids were gone. He told me how neighborhood teens kept sneaking in to steal the pot from him, and how he had been burgled several times.
My brother started smoking when he was 12. Studies have shown that children of alcoholics are much more likely to become alcoholics themselves. There isn’t so much research looking at the cyclical impact of marijuana use. Although my brother is strikingly intelligent, he eventually quit school altogether, perhaps not surprising given the drug’s impact on academics. He moved back in with my dad, and he remains there to this day. Every summer he tells me he’s going to leave. Every summer I fight harder to believe him.
I tried pot years later. It was the Christmas after my mom died from a progressive, endless disease, and I sat in a car with my dad. I wanted to prove that I wasn’t judging him for his habit. I wanted to understand what he’d been doing all those years. I also wanted the calm that marijuana promises. Instead, I felt foggy and anxious, angry at myself for breaking an unspoken promise, angry at my dad for letting me.
I saw my dad and brother recently. Their pot plants have started to die. The cats my dad has always kept have multiplied. There are eight now, or maybe 10—they come and go, and no one knows the exact number, but it doesn't really matter. Everything smells a bit like animal urine mixed with that sharp, distinctive scent of marijuana. My dad is losing teeth and getting old. His mind drifts more than it did before, bouncing from topic to topic or lingering, quietly confused, on one. He seems less interested in selling the pot he grows, more drawn to sitting and smoking it. As a result, he doesn't have any savings or plans for the future. It's a good month when his electricity stays on.
Then there's my sister, the baby, the one who struggled harder than any of us. She tried so desperately to finish high school, a rare feat in my family. Then she tried community college. As we sat outside at a café this year, talking about my dad's temper and his rambling mind, she told me how she herself has started to smoke.
“I'm so sorry,” she kept repeating. “But it's really not that bad, is it? And it's relaxing. It makes everything okay for a while. Don't be angry, please don't be angry.”
I can't be angry. I understand the appeal of marijuana: its soothing properties, its potential to help chronic pain sufferers, its medical implications. I also believe it should be legalized. In a world where alcohol and nicotine can be purchased at most corner shops, the argument against bringing pot sales out into the open is a weak one.
Yet I can be sad. So very little is understood about how marijuana impacts families. I can’t help but thinking that the cool, carefree users of today will be the parents of tomorrow.
My dad will never stop smoking pot. Sometimes I wonder about the man he might have been, and the lives we all might have had, if he’d never started.