The first time I ever smoked weed was with Peter Pachak-Robie. That was in Albuquerque when I was fifteen. We lived in a quiet neighborhood up in the foothills of the mountains that overlooked the rest of the city. In high school we liked to drive around at night and drink cheap rum. Even when it was too cold outside, we drove around in our hats and gloves. We listened to Radiohead and Rachmaninoff. We sat in parks and looked at the city lights, which sprawled below us like a heaving, twinkling sea of fire. I still feel strange emotions every time I visit home and look down at those lights. There is something both violent and peaceful about them.
Peter was my boyfriend at the time. The first time I ever smoked weed we were sitting in his car underneath the Paseo del Norte bridge. Every time a car drove over us the whole underpass would light up and thunder, clack clack clack like echoes in a cave. He was good at rolling joints and I liked to watch him. I also liked the smell, and the ritual of smoking. I did not like being high.
Maybe because I was already a little crazy in the first place, smoking weed made me paranoid. Now I know that’s a common side effect, but at the time I couldn’t stand it. I felt sick and I actually cried. I remember squeezing my eyes shut, and all the lights from the city kaleidescoped through my tear-soaked eyelashes like burning stars.
“Make it stop,” I pleaded, and I vomited.
Ever since then I haven’t been the biggest fan of smoking pot. Pot is nice every now and then for swimming at the lake, or for watching movies, but most of the time it’s too intense and over-stimulating. At least for me, because sometimes I can be à l’ouest even when I’m not high on anything at all.
Anyway, that was the first time I smoked weed. I only mention it because I’m actually a bit high right now and I can’t fall asleep. I smoked at dinner, and now my mind is looping to faraway places and back again at 1000 km/hr. Walking home I listened to the new Radiohead album and thought about pretty much everything on the planet. I thought about Albuquerque and how much has happened in the last eight years. I thought about all the people I’ve met, and how powerful the Seine feels when you’re alone at night, glittering black and violet under the eye of the obélisque at Place de la Concorde. How fucking awesome King of Limbs is.
I also thought about the importance of place, how the places and landscapes you inhabit shape your thoughts like a container. I’m made up of so many shifting layers of all the places I’ve lived in. On the surface I’m becoming like Paris but au fond I’m truly like New Mexico: a desert.
One time I drove with Peter all the way to Santa Fe when it was snowing outside, for a party. The party was at an old hippie’s house. He was the kind of old hippie who believed in tarot cards and chakras and that kind of thing. He also believed in smoking weed every day. Weed didn’t exacerbate his psychological problems, he said. It relaxed him. And I knew this was true because his house was very tranquil. He looked like he was about thirty-five years old, but Peter told me later he was almost fifty.
The old hippie read my star charts, and even though I don’t believe in that kind of thing I’ll never forget what he said. He said that all of my organs are empty except for one. My voice. He said that my life will be painful. He said I’m afraid to speak but I must, and I saw clearly that every moment of my life up until then had been charged with this fear. I felt myself awake, illuminated, ionized, like in a dry storm when lightning cracks on the horizon but there’s no rain. Then again, I was an overly sensitive kid back then.
I moved to Austin and Peter visited me there once, but it was a bad visit. He had a lot of problems at the time, and he didn’t mesh well with my friends. We fought. He lives in Egypt now with a girl from Minnesota, who he met traveling.
I see old friends from New Mexico every now and then in different places — New York, Paris. It’s both strange and comforting somehow, to talk about home. To talk to people who remember, too, what the lights from the city in the desert look like at night. It’s like we share a secret: that deep down we’re afraid of the same unnameable thing. With all the hopes and horrors of that empty place burned into the backs of our retinas.
I think now that all we ever had in common was our innocence. Peter and I. Driving around under the stars at night, listening to music and trying to make sense of an old hippie’s advice. Driving without knowing where we were going. Through violence and peace and vertigo — we would have driven straight into the break of sunlight if we knew how. But we grew up instead.