I’ll Have Just One of Those Brownies
My attempt at smoking marijuana almost cost me my marriage, my military career, and my profession
As I read through the Washington Post’s top ten baking recipes of 2020, I came across a recipe for “Gooey Pot Brownies.” I love brownies, and I thought, I wonder what kind of kettle she uses for baking these brownies.
Then I read, “made possible by medical-grade marijuana procured from my friend’s then-boyfriend.” I thought, Ohhh, those brownies.
She went on, “In many places, you no longer need a friend with medical connections and pro-level skills to acquire excellent edibles.” I read on to learn that bakeries are baking “edibles,” and TV shows and cookbooks like Bong Appetite are available. And the domestic goddess, Martha Stewart, has launched her new line of CBD pâte de fruit.
I’m reminded daily how naïve I am and how much the world has changed.
I think I’ll have that
My father and his family didn’t drink alcohol, and Grandma Olson made it clear that none of us ever should. My mother honored the Olson prohibition long after my father had died. I saw my mother’s family — all Germans — drink beer but only at family reunions.
I never saw my mother drink alcohol until my daughters were grown. One Sunday morning in May, I took her out for brunch. The day was a harbinger of the coming warmer spring days in Iowa. I asked her if she’d like to sit outside on the patio. The sun was so bright we needed the protection of the umbrella.
I ordered a bloody Mary, but she told the server she’d have coffee. When my drink came, it came with a “beer back” of about four ounces of beer. I saw my mother glance at the beer several times.
Then, she asked, “Are you going to drink that?”
I answered, “No. One drink is enough for me at brunch.”
To my surprise, she said, “I think I’ll have that.”
She’d broken the virginal temperance of the Olson family. Once that happened, she began to serve Mogen David wine for holiday gatherings as proudly as if it were the finest vintage French wine.
Lay off alcohol, Doc
I arrived at Naval Air Station, Brunswick, Maine, in January 1972. In February, my squadron readied to deploy to NAS Sigonella near Sicily's eastern coast, ten miles from Mount Etna.
Newly attached to the squadron, I met the commanding officer to introduce myself. He informed me that before our departure, I was to give a lecture on drug use to the 250 officers and enlisted men in my squadron.
The captain explained that recreational drug use was having a destabilizing influence on some military forces. In Vietnam, servicemen and women had easy access to cannabis, opium, and heroin. Fighting men — mostly men — narcotized themselves against the horrors of war. They sought to numb their anger at being drafted to serve in a war in which they didn’t believe.
I hadn’t met anyone other than the C O and X O before I was to give the lecture. I was nervous. I hadn’t done much public speaking at the time, and I knew next to nothing about substance use disorder. I needed to do some research.
As I spoke to the men, the enlisted men in the front rows reminded me of when I had spoken to a high school class. They either slumped over or stretched out, closed their eyes, and smirked their lips. In fact, many of the men weren’t much older than that class.
As I spoke to the squadron about illicit drug use, I could feel the senior, career military men in the back of the room sit back in their chairs and shake their heads as if to say, Yea, Doc, you tell ’em.
When I turned my comments to alcohol use disorder, the men in the back shuffled their feet and shifted their weight. Even the commanding officer looked as if I had taken it too far. Their message seemed to be, Doc, Don’t be messin’ with alcohol.
The enlisted men and women in the medical corps spoke cryptically about how much fun they had using marijuana. But you didn’t have to be a codebreaker to understand what they discussed. I became more and more curious. I wanted to try it.
I think I’ll have some of that
Toward the end of my time in the Navy, my wife decided to drive back to Nebraska with our infant daughter, leaving me alone for two weeks. I spoke in confidence to a young, “short-timer,” Second Class Corpsman. Corpsmen are the Navy’s EMTs. I asked him if he would come over while my wife was away and bring some marijuana with him.
The military forbids fraternizing between officers and enlisted men, and for a good reason. Officers care deeply about the men who serve under them, but they must love them as a unit, not as individuals.
How much more difficult must it be for an officer to send into harm’s way an enlisted man for whom he cares in a deeply personal way? Such emotions compromise objectivity in the same way those feelings might compromise objectivity between psychiatrist and patient.
Compassion? Sure. Empathy? Most definitely. Love? Never one above another.
I invited the corpsman to our home on Mere Point Road, and he came over to the house on a snowy and frigid March evening. Darkness came early. I had carefully closed all the drapes and turned off any non-essential lights. I had some music playing through the Fisher speakers as big as end tables I’d brought home from Sicily.
My guest was a good sailor, a hard worker who followed the rules, at least when on duty. He was an attractive man in his mid-20’s, blonde, tall, and slender. He wore neat but casual civilian clothes except for his highly polished, inspection-ready, black military shoes.
I asked him to have a seat on the sofa as I took my usual over-stuffed chair. We made small talk about our plans once we left the military.
He brought out the weed and a cigarette wrapping paper and instructed me on constructing the doobie. He instructed me as if explaining to a new Corpsman how to apply a wound dressing. I bungled through, rolling the cigarette. Then he took the cigarette from me and repaired it.
He said as he demonstrated, “First, you light it. Inhale deeply. Then hold your breath for as long as you can. Then exhale.” Only wafts of smoke returned with his exhale.
I took a drag and inhaled it deeply.
“That’s harsh!” I said, choking, as I exhaled all of that first drag.
“Try it again. It’ll get easier,” he said.
At that time, I smoked cigarettes, but I never inhaled them deeply. The smoke was acrider than cigarette smoke. I inhaled, held it, and exhaled. I waited. Nothing. He continued to take a toke occasionally. Each time he handed it back to me, I inhaled deeply and held it for as long as possible before exhaling. Nothing.
“Are you feeling anything?” I asked him.
“Yes, Sir.” He remained fully aware of our rank differences even though I had billed this as a social visit. “Feelin’ pretty mellow.”
I was determined to make the best of this one-off experiment. I still wasn’t feeling anything, or so I thought. So, I continued to inhale. Suddenly, the doobie morphed into an improvised explosive device.
I felt battered and broken. I began to believe that Navy Intelligence Service surrounded the house and used infrared devices to watch me smoking dope with an enlisted man.
I panicked. I needed to move around. So I asked, “Would you like to see the rest of the house?”
It was a small cape cod, not much to show. We had two small bedrooms and a ¾-bath on the first floor, and another two dark bedrooms and a bath on the second floor. It had a separate dining room, which was too small to hold even an average-sized dinner party. The kitchen was a large, eat-in kitchen with a floor covered by cheap, olive-green carpeting that could have been a military issue. The tour didn’t last long enough, and I was still not thinking clearly.
“Let me show you the basement” (where there was nothing at all to see.) I opened the door, stretched out my hand, and invited him to descend first. As he passed in front of me, I experienced an overwhelming urge to touch this young man, to feel his body, to kiss him, to fuck him.
Even without the impact of the THC in marijuana, my thoughts had been twisted. Everything I was doing went against military regulations. My rational judgment was impaired, and I was losing control. I imagined that not only could the NIS see through the drapes, but they could also see directly into my mind.
I thought, My military career ends disgracefully. My marriage is over. My medical license is in jeopardy. I have desires I don’t want to have.
I was a married man, a recent father, a Navy officer fraternizing with an enlisted man, smoking dope, and wanting to do something strictly prohibited in the Uniform Code of Military Justice. It was riskier at the time to talk about being gay than to talk about smoking weed.
The most frightening realization was that I knew I could do nothing to help me regain control. The paranoia over-powered my sexual desires until my distorted thinking safely passed.
Looking back, any one of several Corpsmen or women could have mentored me through my first experience with marijuana. But I had chosen a young Corpsman whom I had always assumed was gay. And I liked him—more than I realized.
I now believe that when he came to the house that evening, he had suspected that I was curious about more than just a trial run of smoking weed. But the military code loomed large for both of us.
With his more experienced use of marijuana and less impaired thinking, he had the good judgment not to encourage any sexual advances.
Now I’m gay, divorced, and retired. I think I’ll have one of those brownies.
All I Want is Grandma Olson’s Cookies
Christmas for me is about the memories and not about the tinsel
Loren A Olson MD - Medium
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Read an excerpt from Dr. Olson’s award-winning book, Finally Out, here.