I’d barely open my eyes before my mom was shouting up the stairs, “Sarah, we’re taking your car.”
I immediately started running straight to the rusted light blue 1994 Jeep Wrangler sitting in the driveway, flung the door open and reached inside the center console. There was nothing. I checked again. I looked under the front and back seats. I checked the trunk. It was nowhere. My mom, my older sister, and I were driving to my aunt’s house in Connecticut for Thanksgiving and I hadn’t cleaned out my car, which is to say, the weed was still in the center console — or so I thought.
As I walked slowly back inside the house, I scanned the driveway and the tiled floors leading to the laundry room for any sign of a dime bag. Maybe I’d dropped it on my way in.
“Looking for something?”
I look up to see my mom standing in the kitchen, arms crossed, stone-faced.
“I found your weed,” she practically whispered the word. “I threw it away. Maybe you should keep your car clean when you’re home.”
My mom has always been on the more conservative side. She became a Republican when she married my dad (who is very conservative) and maintained those views for decades after they divorced. She and I had little in common politically up until the 2016 presidential election. She despised Donald Trump so much she actually stumped for Hillary Clinton. She, like my dad, was raised by the Reefer Madness generation and believed for a long time that weed was as good as heroin.
That night, my mom and I had the biggest fight we’d ever had. I screamed about how I was technically an adult and she had no right to invade my privacy. She screamed about drug abuse and how I’d broken her heart. It was an awkward three hour drive to Connecticut. But we finally got there and amidst uncontrollable tears, I finally apologized in my cousin’s bedroom while the rest of the family was eating pie. My mom told me it would be okay. And from that moment on, it was: We didn’t talk about me smoking weed. I kept it out of sight (and smell) and that seemed to be enough.
Five years later, I was walking into my apartment after having brunch with a friend when I noticed four missed calls from my sister. When I called her back, she sounded nervous. For a second I thought she was going to tell me she was pregnant.
“Mom has cancer,” she blurted out before bursting into tears. That’s when my mom got on the phone, greeted me in her usual calm way, and gently started to explain stage three multiple myeloma to me. It was a blood cancer that my sister told me not to Google. The cancer had deteriorated some of her bones and part of her spine had collapsed. She needed radiation, chemotherapy, and a bone marrow transplant.
It wasn’t long before I realized what had to be done. My mom was single and living alone. I had to move back from Brooklyn to Pennsylvania to help. Suddenly, my mom needed me. It was my job to drive her to doctor appointments, to help her open car doors, to inject strange medicines into her thighs, to carry large samples of her urine in my backpack, and to make sure I always had an extra Chapstick for her dry post-surgery lips.
But she also needed me for something I didn’t think she’d ever need me for — no matter how sick she was. “Will you buy me a pipe?” she asked me during a chemo treatment. “You know, for dope?”
“I think ‘dope’ is heroin now,” I said.
Her friend Judy had recommended weed to help ease her back pain. Judy was also the person with a line on cannabis in Pennsylvania where it wasn’t legal. My high school friend Andy and I went to the only head shop within an hour’s drive. It was in a basement of a strip mall outside Philadelphia and full of glow-in-the-dark posters of mushrooms, black lights, and signs that read “FOR TOBACCO USE ONLY”. Amidst the Grateful Dead-inspired bongs, I found my mom a small, adorable glass pipe. It was clear with a hint of light green and a small fuzzy light pink carrying case. I could picture it fitting nicely inside her “pocketbook” and to next her Maybelline mascara and hairspray.
When we got back, my mom was sitting on the back porch with a Corona Light, reading a book. Her bald head was hidden under a baseball cap. I showed her the pipe —which she called it “cute” — and then I showed her how to pack it using some of the peach-fuzz-covered weed Judy’s friend grew in his backyard in Delaware. I lit it for her so she wouldn’t have to ruin her French manicure.
“Weed is way stronger than it used to be,” she said, coughing but seeming a little calmer.
“Are you scared?” I asked, watching her take another hit and exhaling into the sky, lit up red and orange from the sunset.
“Yeah,” she said. “It’s scary having something inside you that wants to kill you. But I just try not to think about it.”
“It’s going to be okay,” I said. She handed me the pipe. “Remember when you used to yell at me for having weed?”
“I do,” she said, laughing. “Things were different then.”
She was right.