“Good, you grabbed a flashlight and a bottle of water,” Gabi said.
“Yeah, yeah.” I gave her a quick smooch on the lips.
“Don’t get lost.”
“I won’t. Stop worrying,” I said as I headed out to blow some stink off.
There are only two people on the planet who could have talked me into making this trek out to the hot Nevada desert.
The first was the woman I just kissed goodbye. My wife of over twenty-five years. My much better half. My partner in crime. The mother of our two children and the love of my life, Gabriela or Gabi.
The second was my sister, Nina, whose ashes sat in the decorative coral-blue urn on the counter of the Winnebago, which we had affectionately nicknamed “the Pooh.”
Nina, the sister who strummed on that beat-up acoustic guitar, nestled on the sofa next to a stack of Carol J. Perry mystery novels. I remembered sitting at her feet in her old bedroom, like a devoted pupil, reading my old Superman comic books while she sang and strummed along to the likes of James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, and Jackson Browne. Those were the artists of our childhood—the safety net of youth. Tucked away quietly in our suburban home along the North Shore of Long Island, in the town called Stony Brook.
And like Moses leading the Israelites, we’d hopped into the Pooh and trekked through the desert—to celebrate Nina’s life.
Her extraordinary life.
It was what she wanted.
Something “outside the box.”
And if there was one thing Nina taught me, you always honored the last wishes of a champion.
A fallen hero.
She was my best friend and beloved sister.
Yeah, she was all that and a bag of chips.
Away from me, though, she was something else.
A part of her life hidden from her younger brother—which, after learning her secret, bothered me given how close we were.
All the things we’d shared. Thousands of hour-long conversations. Millions of text messages.
The dirty jokes.
I bared my soul to you.
My entire life, I thought I knew you.
I was wrong.
So here I was in the desert. At this Burning-whatchamacallit-thing, surrounded by a bunch of hippie wannabes wearing close to nothing, smelling like a garbage barge in the middle of the Hudson River on a hot summer day.
“’Scuse me, sir.” A group of kids giggled as they bumped past me.
“No problem,” I replied, thinking, It’s called deodorant, people. I mean, c’mon! Haven’t your parents taught you anything?
I listened to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young harmonize their way through their classic live album, CSNY 1974. I stared as half-stoned twentysomethings danced around. They posted selfies and acted like…well, twentysomethings.
And all this time, I thought Molly was that redheaded girl from those classic John Hughes movies back in the ’80s. Not some illegal party drug that got you all touchy-feely, making you want to hump the person standing next to you.
Talk about love, the one you’re with.
I wandered over to the vendor area, where they sold everything under the sun, from tattoos to sushi, kombucha, and other new-age snacks.
SAMPLES AVAILABLE read the sign outside one vendor tent.
Samples, huh? Just like Costco…cool. Hell, I could use a snack.
The moment I stepped inside the tent, I saw a display case full of baked goods, from cookies to an assortment of brownies.
On the counter were bags of gummy bears.
Twenty dollars? For a stupid three-ounce pack of gummy bears? Are they made of gold?
“Would you like to try a sample gummy bear?” asked a girl behind the counter. She had that grunge look about her, including a pierced lip and a sleeve of decorative tattoos.
“Sure, what do you recommend?”
“Well, that depends. What’s your fancy?”
“I don’t know. I usually like red ones.”
“Red ones, huh? You’re funny. You must be a comedian. I think I have something you’ll like.” She slipped away behind a curtain.
Why was that funny?
In no time at all, she was back behind the counter and placing a red-and-green striped gummy bear into my palm.
“Here, try this one. It’s a nice blend and won’t take too long to hit. It also delivers a real mellow buzz that lasts a while.”
“Hey, Mom…I found him!” That was my daughter, Antonia.
I waved at her and popped the gummy bear into my mouth. “Hey, Toni,” I said as I savored the treat.
“Daddy, wait! Don’t eat that!” my daughter yelled, fish-hooking the bear out of my mouth with a sandy index finger, before flicking it to the desert floor.
“Toni, what the hell?”
“Dad, these are edibles,” my son, Alejandro, said. He had just arrived with my wife.
“Yeah, I know. I read the sign when I walked in.” I turned toward the giggling clerk. “I’m sorry about that. Can I get another one, please?”
“Ummm, honey? I don’t think we’re on the same page,” Gabi whispered in my ear.
“What are you talking about?”
“Babe, these are edibles, as in…” Gabi then gave me her best Cheech and Chong smoking-a-joint impersonation.
I popped an eyebrow. “What? No.”
“Honey, look around. Everything in here is infused with pot. Weed. Whacky Tobaccy.”
My kids were busting a gut behind us.
The clerk chimed in with, “Actually, they’re infused with different levels of THC, if you want to get technical about it, but, yeah, she’s right.”
She dropped another gummy into my hand.
I stared at it, then at my wife, then at the clerk, and back again at the gummy bear before dropping it like it was on fire.
“That’s okay. I’m cool,” I replied, fist-bumping my chest as my kids snickered.
“Come on, handsome. Let’s get you back to the Pooh. Dinner’s almost ready,” Gabi said, placing her arm in mine and escorting me outside.
Leaving the tent, I noticed the assortment of smoking devices and other paraphernalia on sale, from bongs to clothing to medicinal oils.
How did I miss all this? I’m clueless! Wow, Willie Nelson, Chelsea Handler, and Whoopi Goldberg have brands of pot? Who knew?
Then I wondered why my family knew all about this, and I didn’t. When did I get so out of touch with today’s world? It wasn’t like I grew up in a cave.
I mean, we had cable growing up. I even did a bong hit or two in college. Hell, Gabi and I Netflixed while chilling out, as the kids say, although Toni always made a face whenever I used that expression.
I guess I’m learning a lot about myself these days. A lot about everything. Thank God we found those boxes of journals in the back of Nina’s closets. I guess it is true what they say: you can never really know someone completely, and in your case, sis…boy, were they right.