You Probably Need a Will, So Here's How to Have That Potentially Awkward Conversation with Your Family
Remember, if you die without a will, the state will determine who inherits
“I got a guy,” my mother said, and started giggling.
My mother was high, in a way. She was giddy, dipping her French fries into a little cup of mayo and rearranging the onion straws on her cheeseburger. She had just returned from vacation with her long-distance boyfriend, and she couldn’t wait to tell me about the latest iteration of their “five-year plan.”
“Listen -- ‘Where did you buy this great stuff?’” She paused for dramatic effect. “I Got A Guy. I Got. A. Guy. That’s the name. Get it?”
“That’s pretty good,” I said.
“Everybody’s got a guy! It doesn’t even have to be for drugs.”
I Got A Guy is the name of the marijuana dispensary my mother and her boyfriend Jim want to open someday. This is their new dream of retirement: a condo in Cocoa Beach, Florida, a convertible -- and a mom-and-pop weed shop.
This November, the dream could become more than possible when the Florida Right to Medical Marijuana Initiative Amendment 2 comes to the ballot. In announcing the big idea to me over lunch during a visit to my Missouri hometown, my mother blew past the legal logistics and jumped right into T-shirt designs. Green and black, she thinks. Maybe a tropical element, but nothing over-the-top.
I listened, chewed my fries, and tried to digest. I already knew my mother planned to eventually move to Florida to be with Jim, at least part of the year. She is a generous and dutiful partner. She puts everyone before herself, whether it’s Jim, her employees and customers at the big-box retailer where she works, or me. When she began to insist that I lock down the I Got A Guy web domain name, I interrupted.
“So is this your hobby now too?”
“What do you mean?”
“Smoking with Jim?”
Her eyes went wide. “Oh no, no! I’m no scofflaw.” She laughed in a way that made me think she was full of shit. She squinted and teased, “Do you?”
“You know I have,” I said. “But not really. I mean, I smoke only from time to time.” We tell each other most everything. She is my closest friend and an idiosyncratic good girl. She’s accepting of my choices, but never quite approving of light drug use or overindulgence in alcohol or anything else. She worries. So I didn’t mention the borrowed pipe in my backpack or the reused Daisy Sour Cream container full of old weed a friend left at my house. “There’s no way this thing will pass though, right?” I went on. “Not in Florida.”
“Jim says it’s got a good shot. You would be surprised.”
I would be. Once at home, I did some research. Not only may future Christmases be celebrated at the beach, I may get a head shop for an inheritance. According to a 2013 survey conducted by Quinnipiac University and published in the Washington Post, 82 percent of Floridians polled supported the legalization of medical marijuana. The more I considered Florida’s demographics -- aging Boomers, rednecks, Libertarians -- the more I could start to picture it.
So the motivation for setting up a dispensary is mostly practical. Jim already lives in Florida near his kids. It makes good financial sense to be ready to go if and when the market opens. Even better, Jim owns a building in a plum location that’s zoned for business (it currently houses a daycare). Not to mention, Jim really, really likes pot.
For my mother, however, the dream of the weed shop is all for love.
That evening, I drove the four hours back to Bloomington, Indiana where I live, work, and write. It is also the town where my mother and father first became a couple in the 1970s where they started their lives together as college students. Whenever my mother comes to visit, she drives us around pointing out all their old spots. There’s the arboretum where the bike track used to be. There’s the music club where they saw Mellencamp before he had a hit. There’s the pizza place with the big-breasted bear in its logo, where they ate a lot of pepperoni and drank a lot of pitchers of beer.
Then there’s the dormitory still standing on the other side of town, where my parents first lived together after getting married as 20-year-olds. That was the place, my mother told me, where my father sold pot he grew in the closet. Where she brewed mushroom tea for him and their friends, though she never tasted it herself. How she never smoked, but that her small fingers knew instinctively how to roll the perfect joint for the rest of the party. She has always been a wonderful hostess.
Half-dozing, I rolled into town, and the clouds were low, reflecting orange light from the courthouse square. I moved to Bloomington to study writing, but also to go looking for the ghosts of my parents’ younger selves. Fertile emotional ground, etc. Recently, even Jim told me a story about taking a road trip long ago from Bloomington to Cincinnati with my uncle and my father. My father, who offered to drive so the others could sit in the back and drop acid. It was only, Jim said, when my father started describing the lights of Cincinnati appearing over the hills, that Jim realized he had also been tripping the whole time.
I left my bags in the car, then fumbled with the keys on my own unlit porch. My room was waiting for me, sticky with still air, and I collapsed into my bed. My head whirred around sleep. I am a writer who writes the same story again and again. Maybe, I thought, I’ve found a new one.
I have had to go looking for my father because he died when I was 16, the result of decades of alcohol and substance abuse. It was rough going a lot of the time, but we were very close. My mother, outgoing and affectionate, hardly dated anyone else before they married, and dated no one after he died. She never even seemed to consider it. She cried a lot, about the one man she had loved. She threw herself into her job at the big box retailer, “taking care of her people” as she said, and dedicated herself to me. For nine years.
Then my uncle, my father’s brother, died under similar circumstances. At a family memorial gathering at my grandmother’s house, an old friend of my uncle’s walked in and immediately plunked down on the sofa beside my mother. It was Jim, a one-time neighborhood kid, who also happened to have dated my mother in high school. I watched as she flushed a deeper pink than usual and started giggling. That very afternoon, Jim got her number, and eventually they began dating long-distance. That was two years ago.
I imagine my mother loves that Jim knew her from before. That he knows her from before life got so long and gnarled, that he still recognizes her as the girl with freckles and long penny-colored hair, the girl who was too innocent for him to go steady with for long. She loves that he knows all the stories, from both sides of the family. And she especially loves that, for the last few years, the former rule-breaker has been Clean and Sober.
Except, of course, for the marijuana. I lay on my bed and closed my eyes and could see her, just a little ways into the future. Her hair is white all over, and her arms are nearly brown from all of the new freckles and sunspots blending together. She makes the early-morning commute to work, only this time the highway is in Florida. She jangles a large key ring and opens up the shop: a generic beige storefront in a small strip mall that could sell anything. Inside she hits a switch and the large lettered sign above the store lights up in green: I GOT A GUY.
Where is Jim in this vision of her future? Is he at their Cocoa Beach condo, squinting at the waves and settling into his first bowl of the morning? Is he waiting for the game to come on the TV so he can holler encouragement at his beloved Florida Gators? My mother will no doubt turn on the color commentary while she works behind the shop counter, so that she will be informed enough to discuss the game with Jim later. The Gators are her beloveds now, too.
My phone buzzed with texts from the man I had begun dating. I knew I should want company, or at least want to be nice to him, remind him that I care. And I did. Care. But that night I was mostly interested in the lone joint he keeps in his bedside table. I couldn’t sleep, I needed to relax, and I got a guy, but I didn’t answer the phone.
I have had to go looking for my father, but I guess I have always known where to find my mother: standing next to the man she loves, holding on. Holding the phone, holding his hand, holding his stash.
The next morning I got back into my car. I got gas, coffee, and a McDonald’s sausage biscuit. Then I drove south for twelve straight hours until I hit the Florida Gulf coast.
It was deep-ocean dark by the time I pulled in the driveway of the empty rental house. I was there to host a friend’s bachelorette party that weekend, and the other guests would not arrive until the next afternoon. I had the place to myself. Exhausted, I loaded my luggage into the elevator rather than carry it to my room. I wandered all three floors and checked every room, unlocked and relocked every door. When I was sure enough that it was just me and the hum of the central air, I took my backpack and box of cereal the owners left in the pantry, and went out onto the top-floor balcony.
Outside there were no other lights in any direction, no neighbors. I couldn’t see the ocean, but I could hear the waves breaking, though it might have just been wind across the scrub grass. From my backpack I took out the Ziploc bag with my borrowed swirled-glass pipe, and the Daisy Sour Cream container and its few dried-up buds.
Then I realized I had no idea what I was doing. As I told my mother, I have smoked from time to time, but it’s always a friend who passes me the spliff or baked good or pipe. I’ve never bought weed, never rolled a joint. This is mostly due to insecurity -- I must have missed that day in Health class when they taught everyone how to pack a bowl, and I’m afraid I’ll do it wrong. Sometimes a friend even has to light it for me because my thumbs are small and clumsy. So I did what anyone would do -- I took out my laptop and Googled it.
As I watched various YouTube how-to videos and followed along as sullen and goofy white boys broke up their buds with stubby fingers, it occurred to me that even my mother knows how to do this. My mother, who still whispers a child’s bedtime prayer every night before she falls asleep. My mother, who, if her accounts were to be believed, never actually smoked marijuana herself. I gave the tiny pile in the bowl a final delicate push with my index finger, lit it, and smoked.
The humid air muffled me like a scarf. I leaned back in the chair and listened. Look at me, I thought, I’m independent, resourceful, I do what I want, the night is mine. I got a guy, and that guy is me. I started writing this essay about marijuana legalization and the changing face of senior citizens, something pithy and incisive. I filled a notebook page with brilliant puns about the “emerald coast,” “pipe dreams,” and “Grandpapa’s got a brand-new baggie.” My self-satisfaction was immense -- until I realized this is what most of my friends must have felt at 15.
So I called my mother to conduct an official interview. I had my notebook ready. When she answered she wanted to know about the drive, the house, whether I had enough to eat. I told her I had been thinking about the dispensary.
“Are you mad?” she asked.
“No,” I said, “I just wonder about a few things. Like, how do you actually feel about marijuana in general? Do you actually think weed should be legal?”
She sighed, but was ready with an answer: “I’ll tell you this. If I could get some candy, you know, with some pot in it, and give just a morsel to Grandma, and if it would relieve the trouble she has with her knee or her eye or her wrists…then I would do it in a heartbeat. I would feed her that pot and I would never say a word. Because that pain is killing her.”
“Okay. Well, we could do that for Grandma anyway.”
“Yes, maybe for Christmas.”
“I thought we were getting her a tablet for Christmas?”
“You’re right. Maybe we’ll get her a tablet. And some pot.”
By this point, we were dissolving in laughter.
“But she cannot know about it. Don’t you tell her.”
“Got it,” I said. “But you don’t smoke?”
“No, of course not. I know you don’t believe me, but I always have such a good time, I never need it.”
“But Jim smokes. I just thought, if he likes it so much, then you would start smoking too.”
“Everybody in the world loves lobster, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to try it.”
“Also it’s illegal. I don’t want to be a lawbreaker. I’m an old fuddy-dud.”
“But you said you think it should be legal.”
“But it’s not legal right now.”
“Okay,” I said, because how do you argue with that logic? I asked her how she feels about Jim smoking pot around her, whether it bothered her.
“At first the idea of it scared me to death,” she said. “But it doesn’t change his behavior. He might relax a bit, but he doesn’t change. He doesn’t slur, he doesn’t pass out. And I can handle that.”
“So you don’t think pot can hurt people? Because that’s what the opponents believe or at least say,” I said. I was sinking into my journalist role now, making room for the hypothetical article’s concessions. My mother was profile subject, (expert?) witness.
“I don’t buy the gateway drug thing,” she said. “People are going to do what they’re going to do.” Then she trotted out some convincing arguments about the ineffectiveness of Prohibition and the potential for state revenue, sounding nothing like the mother who taught me to “just say no” to just about everything.
Then she said, “Listen. Alcohol is legal. I watched David -- Daddy -- die because of alcohol. Alcohol broke his organs down. Alcohol took him away from me. Not pot. I hear about people getting their pain relieved with pot. Alcohol doesn’t do that.”
By this point, we were both crying. I had wanted to write about my mother getting older and moving on. I wanted to write about my mother without it becoming all about my father. But here we were again.
“Does being around weed bring back bad memories for you?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe I block it out,” she said. “Sometimes I just think, what if instead of drinking, I had let your dad smoke? He never did around you, and then...But maybe, maybe things would’ve been different.”
“You can’t think like that.”
“I know. And I know he never would have stopped with just smoking. That wasn’t him. Pot in particular kind of scared me. Because it was against the law.”
We were quiet a while. I could feel the buzzing of the phone against my ear all the way to the other side of my head.
“Katems? Are you there?”
“I’m here.” “Are you really okay with this? With Jim and I? Our plans?”
I returned to my hazy vision of her future. I could see her there, wearing a polo shirt with a tasteful geometric five-pointed logo embroidered on the pocket. She is sweeping the floor, organizing the shelves. She is reviewing resumes, shaking hands, answering the phone: “Need something? I Got A Guy.” I could hear the tinkling of the bell over the front door, hear her sparkly greeting to any person who comes in. I could hear her laughing. I could hear her saying, “Oh, I wouldn’t know a thing about that, but I got just the guy to help you,” and Jim emerging from the back room to make customer recommendations and then shoot the shit for hours. How long would the business last? How much will she get to dig her toes into the sand once “retired”? And where will I fit in to this new life? I didn’t know, but the dream felt good and possible for her, which is often all there is to hope for.
“Yeah,” I said, “I really am.”
“Thank you,” she said. “I love you. Any more questions, officer?”
“I just…I can’t quite believe…you never tried it?”
“Well, okay. One time,” she said. It had to have been 1976 or earlier, she said, before they were married. They were in college in Bloomington. They were kids. They baked brownies in the floor’s shared kitchen. She ate one. “And all that happened was Daddy and I chased each other around the dorm all night.” They ran through the halls. They tagged and tickled each other. I could see it quite clearly. I could hear my mother giggling, getting my father to play with her like the kids they were. I could see her inviting other people to join their party.
“And it didn’t make you want to smoke again?” I asked.
“Didn’t need to,” she said. “Once was enough for me.”