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My first 4/20, and the only one of much substance, was on April 20, 2002. I was 19 years of age and in my freshman year at Marlboro College in Marlboro, Vermont.
I had many friends at Marlboro who celebrated 4/20. Our campus was tucked away on a remote hill in the middle of the woods, no less than a 45-minute drive from anything resembling society. For all intents and purposes, smoking weed was legal there, five-dollar fines notwithstanding.
I intended to make my first 4/20 an affair to remember. Evidently, I succeeded. My stash was ready. My notebook. The batteries in my Sony Discman were fresh. My CDs were selected, as was my smoking paraphernalia, a handmade corncob pipe (all of my pieces were handmade. I was that guy). I had the proper clothing picked out; after all, it simply would not due to be walking around cold and blazed in the wintry Vermont spring, uncomfortable and saying to myself, "this would be perfect were it not for this one thing..."
On campus, people were in high spirits. Especially dealers. This was a special day for them, and many strains were available, some at bargain prices, and all cultivated within 100 miles. Or so they said, and we believed.
Groups of people cliqued off and formed their circles with all of the meaningfulness of familiarity. I bobbed from group to group; I had not yet found a cohesive circle yet, as was my inclination. It had been the same in high school. My social existence never comprised a circle; always a community. And my two closest friends at Marlboro did not imbibe.
At long last, and with ample well-wishes and some shared sweetness, the evening began. I did not make visits; I did not hasten to show my still-unfamiliar face. Rather, I opted to make this night my own. I put on my headphones and made my way around and up the hill. It was already fairly late at night.
At the foot of the hill, I encountered the peacocks that live on campus, and it was among them that I began the task of elevation in earnest. With my headphones on, I offered up a plume for the lost souls, one of which I was about to become.
It came on like ice melting in warm water, and under that bright night sky, lit by the fullish moon reflecting off of leftover foot-high snow drifts, I felt a dreamy sadness come over me as the universe started to appear as a gigantic tapestry, being dyed in parts and cut up and torn, remade and discarded by a master craftsperson. Was I separate from it? Or a thread in its astronomical lattice? Was I frazzled and unraveling? Or was I taut and strong? The prospect of self-definition produced a tension that sent me on my way.
Continuing up the hill, I looked down at my young hands that had never spun or woven anything. I felt my young body. Was it a grain of sand? Or even less? It felt, it moved, it carried on, but why?
I made a detour at the old rock quarry. Vermont is famous for its granite, a rock used primarily to make gravestones. The blue stone glistened under the waning evening light. Morning was coming faster than I could have imagined. Mourning was already here, being so familiar to me.
I took out my notebook and wrote a poem. I don't have the exact words memorized, but a fragment read something like this:
Purple, red, and green
The colors of dreams,
But blue is the color of the heart,
The color of loss, of failure, of sadness,
And ultimately, of reality.
But it was not saddening. I felt the blue sneak across me like a wave across an ocean. I thought of Picasso and his "blue phase." "If I am ever an artist, I will have a blue phase too," I said, with all the confidence of the uncertain. But without dwelling too long, for I could feel the attitude changing, I raised another plume, made a prayer to the vanishing moon, and carried on towards the top of the hill.
I could hear throngs here and there, making their festivities. Perhaps part of me wanted to be with them, indoors, in warmth and safety and amid loving, glazed-over eyes. But I did feel safe. I did feel warm. My festivities and my throngs were in my headphones: Can and Pink Floyd are the only two bands I remember for sure.
As I reached the top of the hill, I took a deep breath. I could feel my lungs as I would a gentle hand pressed upon my face. As an asthmatic, it was revelatory, and I reviled in it until it grew commonplace, moments later, before carrying on.
At the top of the hill was the library, and next to the library was a bench. It was approaching dawn. I felt as light as a feather... a feather, a tool used to fly. I took slow steps and ran my hand through my hair.
Sitting down on the bench, I prepared to peak along with the rest of the hemisphere. I put on the song, "Saucerful of Secrets" by Pink Floyd, the version from the Live at Pompeii album, and within a few moments, the first orange beams broke through the line of pine and poplar trees. The peacocks began to bellow like roosters, but I only heard a smattering through the sound of Dave Gilmour, Richard Wright, Roger Waters, and Nick Mason, whose volume I'd raised to its peak as well.
And as the sun finally emerged in its entirety, the song reached its orgasmic climax at the same moment that the largest dose of cannabis was introduced to my brain, and reality glowed like a billion candles and moved as in a magic lantern, real but a real illusion, and I felt myself merging with something very great but of which I had already been a part. And, with a parade of light and cloud and sound and feeling, spirals arrayed around a golden grid, it was welcoming me home.
I did not stay long; only long enough to know it was there. It had reached out its hand but I did not take it, and now I'm glad. For there are no single memories when you're aware of time as a whole, no single memories, feelings, friends, ideas. All of it would be gone, my life, my awareness, my family, my tiny single dreams, loves, and losses.
No, I did not take the universe's hand. I was glad to have met it, but I was not ready to become part of the infinite, the objective, the heavens themselves. No, this was too easy.
I soon went back to my dorm and went to sleep. The next day, I saw my friends and community-members, and we shared our stories. Mine was not unique, and I realized that, perhaps, I was already in touch with a heaven of sorts: the heaven of being understood, and not alone. That was how I would — someday, somehow — come close to touching the infinite, the objective: through listening, speaking, and struggling against the rising of too many suns without the feeling of freedom that I felt on that hilltop, for all humankind.
That was the promise of the real, and it was mine. I shared it with my friends and we ate our chili in peace, reflecting and waiting patiently for the day yet to begin.