By Alex Peterson
Alex Peterson was born of goodly parents. He lives in Ephraim, Utah with his wife and offspring, with whom he likes to hang.
The whispering came again—this time a hint stronger than before. The feeling was distinct, like what they taught me in Sunday school. I don’t think it was just the sweet pork burrito talking.
I was driving back home on Highway 89. The air was warm with spring and hay fever, but I had the windows down anyway to celebrate the end of a long, dark winter. The car hit a dip at the county line and the Sanpete County asphalt abruptly became rough and cracked. My hair blew around in the wind and I squinted at the sun, but I left my sunglasses folded on the dashboard. The dreaded dark of February was still too close and I didn’t want to filter any sunlight from my chemically challenged brain.
The voice came again.
I considered rebuking it out loud in the name of Jesus, with my right arm to the square, using a phrase Bishop Larsen employed to cleanse apartments of evil spirits. But I didn’t. The voice didn’t have a scary feeling; it was peaceful and calm.
“But this isn’t the way it should work,” I thought.
“Try it. What have you got to lose?” the voice whispered.
“What have I got to lose?” (I actually said this aloud.) “My life in jail, for starters. This isn’t Colorado—it’s Utah. Red state—not blue. Fry sauce, not cannabis.”
“So, let’s combine both states—Utarado? Coloratah? Let’s do fry sauce and thc, with some fat fries for the munchies. You can’t tell me it’s any worse than your list of crazy anti-depressants. Or sedatives. Or sugar. Or those huge Diet Pepsis.”
“But it’s obviously against the Word of Wisdom.”
“So is too much beef.”
“Following the admonition of the Church has kept me safe. I respect my leaders and I just can’t see the brethren ever approving it.”
“So what else is new? The jury is out on mocha ice cream, you know. And inter-racial marriage is still a four-letter word in some households—but Lamanite/White and Delightsome weddings are getting more common now. Times are a-changing.”
“It’s not just the Church. Have you seen the Reefer Madness videos? It’s a gateway drug. Even some of my out-of-town friends who drink think marijuana is bad.”
“They say, as they pour another bottle of wine and fade into oblivion,” the voice answered. “You don’t even have to smoke it, dude. You can eat thc gummy bears or granola bars. You can even make it into green Jell-O salad with shredded carrots if it makes you feel better.”
“Just because Mike said it was a godsend doesn’t mean it will work miracles on me,” I replied.
“But what if it took the edge off, or gave you back some sanity? What if it actually is a gift from God to you? Via Colorado?”
“Get thee behind me, Satan,” I said loudly. The road was climbing up a mountain pass now, the smell of sage and earth blowing through the open windows. The trees got thicker and the air cooler as the miles passed.
I started to relax.
“I’m still here, dude.”
“What kind of spirit talks like this? The Holy Lebowski?”
“Or HG, or Poltergeisterino, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing. Whatever, man. You’re the one talking to yourself. Plus, I don’t use the f-word.”
The car eased over the pass and began descending toward the mountain valley. The “herbal” idea had come on gradually—an article here, a podcast there, a few friends from out of town who told me about relief from back pain, from epilepsy, from anxiety and depression. And then, last year, I fell into a pit so deep, dark, and hopeless that I nearly lost my will to trudge through life.
The pit drained even my desire to move. I couldn’t read or watch movies. Even if I wanted to talk to someone about the problem, my tongue was too exhausted to make words. It drained my ability to experience wonder and robbed my capacity for sleep. It left me looking at my two beautiful boys as if they were as meaningless as plastic Walmart bags blowing through a frozen parking lot. It left me wondering why the God I so desperately wanted to believe in could allow me to feel such continuous, hopeless desolation. But at the same time, my mind was a runaway freight train on a track ending abruptly at the edge of an abyss.
And then the guilt would pile on. Things could be so much worse. I could be starving, caught in some natural disaster, or working as a shoe polisher to feed table scraps to my children. What right did I have to feel this way when I was a member of the true church and living in the most blessed land on earth? But I felt like I was treading water at the bottom of the pit, stealing short gasps of air. If God was out there, he was either holding my head under or looking the other way.
I met with specialists who said try these pills, or those pills, or meditate, or count your blessings. You just have to keep trying drugs until you find the right one. It could take months or years. Not good news for someone just trying to survive today.
I forced tasteless food down my throat to keep myself alive. My wife and kids were lost—often screaming at me or crying.
And then my prayers began changing. I didn’t ask for help or recovery anymore. Instead, I begged for closure, for death. I couldn’t pull the trigger myself, so I prayed for an aneurism or a car crash. I had no faith left, only suffering and despair.
Spring was arriving, the sunlight lingering, and I was feeling a buoying of sorts, a little less head dunking. It was the first time I had found any kind of foothold in eight months.
I wanted to believe that this was the beginning of a final climb out into the sunlight—a climb back to life. But this story had been repeating itself for five years now. I knew that in a few months autumn would flavor the air with death and cover the ground with leaves, and I would slide back toward the pit. The first few slips were the hardest—knowing what familiar horror awaited me at the bottom. Each trip down seemed impossibly deeper. To me, the season fall also meant the verb fall. And I wasn’t sure if I could endure another one. At some point I would find no more footholds.
I twisted the radio knob at random, looking for a bit of diversion as the car cruised gently down the winding valley road toward the small town in the distance. A happy island rhythm with a catchy guitar riff—and, what was that, maybe a flute?—emerged from the fuzz. The singer had a Caribbean accent, but halfway through, a twangy country-western voice took over.
“There is nothing as sweet as your own homegrown. So green, so clean, you been there on the scene, ever since you were a little seed, yeah.” I knew this song. Island rhythm and outlaw country combining to sing the praises of homegrown cannabis. Mishka and Willie Nelson.
“No way,” I thought. “A ganja song—now? On the radio? What are the chances?” Normally the radio only picked up country or western, but this spot in the valley somehow magnified the signal of the community radio station in Salt Lake City, krcl.
“I say, I say, there is nothing as sweet as your own homegrown. Free up the earth.” I began tapping my thumbs to the rhythm. I eased off of the gas. I rotated my arm enough to check the time. The digits read 4:20.
“Not a coincidence, dude. This is inspiration. You know what day it is?”
“No, dude, the date.”
It was on my watch. April 20th. 4/20.
I slammed on the brakes and juttered to a stop on the road’s muddy shoulder.
“What’s going on here? This is turning into a Twilight Zone episode.”
“Don’t you think Joseph Smith thought the same thing while he was kneeling in the grove?”
I pulled slowly onto the highway again, the sound of mud and gravel flipping up from the wet shoulder and hitting my undercarriage like distant automatic gunfire.
Finally, I asked, “Why is 4-20 code for weed, anyway?”
“Not sure. Google it, dude. I think it has something to do with some pot-smoker kids lighting up at that time in the afternoon.”
I had a friend who would pray, blindly stick her finger onto a random page of the scriptures, and get her answer from the verse she was “led” to. Another (more modern) friend hit shuffle on his iPod and let the song lyrics answer his prayer. Obviously, your taste in music would affect your answers I told him. If you only have the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on your playlist your answers are going to be different than if you have Snoop Dog and Jay-Z.
I had always been skeptical of people who reported prayers being answered with a sign—a rainbow, Morgan Freeman’s voice coming out of the blue. Nothing like that had ever happened to me. Until now.
“I need to think this through,” I said. “Give me some time.”
“You have until town, and then I disappear and leave you alone in this cold and dreary world.”
I turned the final curve and began the straightaway toward home. I pushed the thought of autumn away and concentrated on the warm, spring light on my face. The sun was creeping toward the horizon, but it still shone bright, daylight savings having sprung us all forward.
Then I had an idea. I’d take a slight detour once I got to town and head to the church. I could park in front, turn off the engine, and pray for guidance once more. A messenger of evil may be convincing in a worldly context, but a church nearby would help me be more in tune with the spirit of light and goodness.
“I hear there’s a great burger joint nearby. Is it true? Bacon cheeseburgers?”
“Yep,” I replied. “How’d you know?”
“I know your thoughts, Bro,” it continued. “Because I am you. And you’ll still be you next to a church.”
“You’re confusing me. I need clarity.”
“Maybe I am the clarity. Maybe the confusion is coming from your authorities.”
“Or maybe not.”
“That’s some air-tight logic.”
“Look, what I really want is someone to tell me what to do, make it easier—simplify it.”
“Yeah. That sounds pretty good. Find some guy in a tie who doesn’t understand what you go through every winter. Ask him. Just like you did last year. And the year before. He has the magic powers.”
I drove past the city limits sign and turned west toward the chapel.
“See you later, I guess?” I asked.
There was no reply.
“Dude? You there? You said I had until town, right?”
I turned left near the trailer park, an old black-and-white Aussie shepherd chasing my car. I breathed deeply as I passed fruit trees glowing white with small flowers.
The church was catching the orange rays of sunset, the parking lot empty. I pulled in, turned the engine off, reclined the seat, and twisted my lumbar joints right and left. Then I sat back up, clasped my hands, and prayed.
When I opened my eyes, I saw a fat robin hopping on the grass near the front door. It paused and looked at me for a moment, then hopped again and took to the air. Behind the bird, the glass door reflected the burning sky and the mountains on the horizon. As the sun’s last light disappeared behind the purple and white peaks, my eyes rested on the bold address numbers posted on the brick next to the front door.
420, they read.
“Is that you?” I asked.
I closed my eyes. A bee buzzed near the car window. Children laughed in the distance. A mom yelled for them to come in and eat dinner.
There was no answer.