GRAND JUNCTION, COLORADO
The drive across Utah was long and tedious, but I refused to give up until I crossed the border into Colorado. By the time I reached Grand Junction, I was about ready to crash.
The next morning, I asked the guy at the front desk if he knew where the closest dispensary was.
“For what?” he asked stupidly.
“For puppies, of course! Is there any other kind of dispensary?”
He laughed weakly.
“Sorry,” he said. “I’m not really into that stuff.”
I knew he was telling the truth when he directed me to a head shop instead. As it turns out, the closest dispensary was an hour or two down the highway. I hopped back in my Jeep and headed straight for Kush Gardens. After three weeks of overwhelming anxiety, I couldn’t make it there fast enough.
When I pulled into the parking lot, I practically kissed the ground. I waited for what seemed like an eternity. When they finally called my number, I approached the counter in a rush.
“Are you okay?” the budtender asked. “You seem really stressed out.”
“I am really stressed out,” I replied. “I’ve been on the road for months. I’m so happy to finally be back in Colorado.”
“Colorado is pretty great. You should totally move here. We’re a really rich state right now. Business is booming!”
“I should move to Colorado,” I said. “The only problem is that I’d never want to leave.”
The way she smiled at me made me feel like Odysseus in the Land of the Lotus Eaters.
“Then don’t,” she said hypnotically. “You could stay here and get a job at a dispensary. It’s actually pretty easy. They train you and everything.”
“Don’t tempt me. I’m a writer. I’d love every minute of it.”
“Oh, you’re a writer, huh? Are you looking for something to boost your creativity?”
“Definitely. Something to help me write and something to help me chill the fuck out.”
“I’ve got just the thing!”
She pulled out a jar from beneath the counter and handed me a pair of chopsticks. I picked up a big nug and took a whiff. I didn’t know very much about the Science of Marijuana, but I did know whatever this was smelled great.
“This strain here is called The Grape Ape,” she said. “It’s a nice, relaxing indica. Perfect for relieving all that anxiety. You’ll be worry-free in no time!”
I nodded and smiled politely as she continued rambling on about crossbreeding and THC content and all that other scientific shit. I didn’t understand a word she was saying.
“Sounds good,” I said quickly. “I’ll take it. What about something for creativity?”
She pulled a couple more strain options for me to peruse. I sniffed the flower samples as she began her presentation on edibles.
“These here are new,” she said, handing me a container of lemon-flavoured lozenges. “We just got them in. Just take one before bed and you’ll go right to sleep. They make one for daytime use as well.”
“Hmm,” I said, looking over the package with my eyebrow raised. “I haven’t tried anything like this before. I tend to stay away from them.”
“Really?” she asked. “I personally prefer them. They don’t give you that anxiety like smoking does.”
I knew she could tell I wasn’t convinced, but she had to make the sale.
“Tell you what,” she said. “I’ll give you both flowers, throw in the edibles, and charge you for a quad.”
“Done,” I said, throwing my cash on the counter. This was exactly why I preferred a dispensary to the average, run-of-the-mill drug dealer. I always knew exactly what I w as getting and I always got a good deal.
I left the dispensary happy and stashed my souvenirs in the back. I headed to the nearest gas station to fill up my tank and pick up some papers. I parked my car in the lot behind the station and cracked open the container of Grape Ape. I rolled myself a joint and reclined my seat. I closed my eyes and began to inhale. For the first time in weeks, I was finally able to relax.
When I opened my eyes again, a bright purple animated gorilla was sitting in the passenger seat next to me.
“You must be The Grape Ape,” I said.
“You must be Betsey.”
“Are you real?”
“Uhhh… I’m not sure. Maybe.”
“What is Real anyway? What does that word even mean? Reality is completely subjective to every individual on the planet. It’s based on one’s own individual experience, not on anything concrete. What’s real to you might not be real to me. The world itself might not even be real. For all we know, we could be living in The Matrix.”
“That’s so deep,” I said, passing the joint over to the cartoon character next to me.
“Damn,” he said, taking a few puffs before passing it back. “This is some good shit, man. I’m high as fuck.”
We sat in the car listening to rap music until the joint was halfway gone. I decided I was high enough and stashed it away for later.
“So what should we do now?” I asked.
“The same thing you always do. Eat a snack, go on a random adventure, and take a nap.”
I took the right Twix and he took the left. Once we had satisfied our munchies, we headed to a nearby mountain trail to take a hike. I grabbed my yoga mat and the two of us climbed up to the overlook. I did yoga on the mountaintop while the Grape Ape frolicked in a field nearby.
When we returned to the car, the Grape Ape opted to climb a tree and swing from a branch while I took a power nap in the backseat.
When I woke up again, I realized I was nowhere near where I was supposed to be. I’d planned to be in Denver by nightfall, but I was still on the completely opposite side of the state.
I drove until it was dark and I was 10,000 feet in the air. Driving through the mountains made me nervous, especially with all the semis on the road. The combination of my anxiety and the altitude was making it impossible to breathe.
Somewhere around Copper Mountain, I heard a voice inside my head telling me to stop. It didn’t belong to the Grape Ape, but it was familiar to me nonetheless. I stopped at the ski village and got myself a room for the night.
“All of our rooms are strictly non-smoking,” the front desk attendant said. I was used to hearing this spiel by now. “That includes marijuana. If you’d like to partake, please do so outdoors.”
Much to my surprise and delight, my room was “Native American themed.” I looked around to see which tribes were represented throughout the room. The pattern on the blankets was Diné (Navajo). The portraits on the walls were Lakota. The miscellaneous trinkets provided for decor were Comanche, Apache, Hopi, Crow. The soaps provided were handmade from real sweet grass by real Natives on a real Reservation.
I knew my spirit guides had sent me to this room on purpose. To me, it was a sign that all was well in the world and everything would be okay. It seemed like every time I encountered a difficulty on my trip, the Natives showed up in some way to help me. This was not the first time, nor would it be the last.
I took some time to freshen up before I set out to explore the ski village. It was completely dead, but it was also a Sunday night in late October. The shops were all closed down and the streets eerily silent. My only company was the Grape Ape.
We sat on a picnic table by the lake and toked up again. We sat together in silence, gazing into the reflection of the colorfully-lit trees on the lake. In the darkness, it made a perfect mirror image.
“What is the meaning of life?” I wondered aloud in typical stoner fashion.
“Fuck if I know,” replied the Grape Ape. “I’m just a big purple animated gorilla.”
“To be honest, I don’t think there is one. I think we’re all just here to make the most of life and have a good time.”
“That sounds about right,” I said.
“Your problem is that you worry too much. You just need to chill out.”
“Easy for you to say. You’re just a big purple animated gorilla.”
“Nobody expects you to be anything but what you are. Most of the time I feel like everyone wants me to be someone else. They just refuse to accept me for who I am. It’s like no matter what I do, I’m never going to be good enough. The criticism from my family is constant. It drives me crazy.”
The Grape Ape nodded along in empathetic silence.
“It’s just like… maybe I don’t want to get some oppressive office job and climb the corporate ladder. Maybe I just want to wait tables, be a bartender, and write a novel.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“There’s nothing wrong with that!” I exclaimed. “I was happy at my last job in Vermtown. I loved working at the Chinese restaurant. Maybe it wasn’t always glamorous, but it was a job I could stand. I was so upset when my psychopath of an ex-boss freaked out and fired me in the middle of my shift. I worked my ass off! I was there almost 40 hours a week, by my own choice. I was the one picking up the slack when the college students came in with their excuses. They had to hire THREE new people to replace me, and then the restaurant closed down anyway.
“Not one person in my family understood how upset I was. All they cared about was my sister’s stupid wedding. I was supposed to go on the family trip that weekend but I was so distraught over suddenly losing my job that I didn’t want to leave my apartment. Every single one of them acted like it was no big deal and called me a selfish bitch for missing the trip. I still haven’t heard the end of it. That was my life! That was my job! And I lost it because the owner was an emotionally unstable asshole on the brink of divorce.”
“Is that why you ran away?”
“Yes. That and… other reasons. I don’t even want to think about that right now. Let’s just say the last place in the world I want to be right now is Vermtown.”
“Then why are you going back?”
“I have no idea. I should have taken the money and gone down to New Orleans instead. I’ve never been there. I hear it’s fun, especially if you’re a writer.”
“If you’d done that then you wouldn’t be here.”
“That’s true. I am pretty grateful to legally be high as a fucking kite right now.”
“Have another toke,” said the Grape Ape as he passed the joint back to me. “Chill out. Relax. Take a deep breath of that fresh Colorado mountain air and enjoy those beautiful lights.”
“I can’t. I’m too stressed out now.”
The Grape Ape reached out and took my hand in his.
“I know just what you need. Follow me.”
We walked back to my building and headed down the first floor hallway to the spa. It was still open for another two hours.
“You’re a genius.”
I ran up to my room and changed into the appropriate attire. When I returned, the other two guests inside were just packing up to leave. Within five minutes, I had the place all to myself.
I climbed into the jacuzzi and watched as the snow began to fall outside. I felt myself beginning to get stressed out again at the thought of driving on those treacherous mountain roads in the ice and snow.
“Relax,” said the Grape Ape. “It’s just a light dusting. You’ll make it out of Colorado without any further problems.”
I sat in the jacuzzi for a few minutes longer. Suddenly I remembered an article I’d once read in Cosmo about a woman who contracted an STD from a hot tub while on vacation. I wondered to myself how many germs and diseases were floating around before climbing out.
“You’re freaking out over nothing again,” said the Grape Ape. “The water has chlorine in it. It’s no different than swimming in a public pool.”
“I think I’m going to try the sauna instead.”
“That’s a good idea. The steam and the sweat will be therapeutic. It’ll be just like Inipi.”
I adjusted the dial and the sauna and tried my best to get the fake rocks to steam. Nothing happened. I just felt like I was in the desert again.
“How’s it going?” the Grape Ape asked as he wandered in and sat down across from me.
“This is nothing like Inipi,” I said.
“I think there’s something wrong with this thing. There’s no steam coming out.”
“Never send a machine to do a medicine man’s job.”
I returned to my room and took a regular, old-fashioned bath instead. There I had my sage, my sweet grass, my tobacco, my pot. I smudged myself and sweat out the stress. This was exactly what I needed all along.
When I got out of the bath, the Grape Ape had wandered away. I found myself alone again. I got in bed and studied the portraits of the Lakota warriors on the wall until I finally fell asleep.
In the morning I woke up to the sight of freshly fallen snow. I made a cup of instant coffee and gazed at the mountains outside of my window. It was one of the most beautiful sights I’d ever seen.
Somewhere far off in the distance, I could see the Grape Ape jumping around excitedly and waving his arms at me. For the first time in weeks, I finally found myself completely at peace.
Disclaimer: No, I did not literally see a big purple animated gorilla when I was high in Colorado. That’s not what marijuana does to your brain. I invented this character for the sake of storytelling purposes only.
In case you need it spelled out for you, The Grape Ape is a metaphor for a strain of marijuana which provides relief from anxiety and depression. As a person who has suffered from mental illness for most of my life, I am a strong proponent of the use of medicinal marijuana as a natural alternative to pharmaceuticals.