Please welcome today’s guest writer, Jon Gorter. Jon recently graduated with a degree in writing and environmental studies. He currently lives in Aspen, CO, where he enjoys working alongside marmots, moose, and a great horned owl leading interpretive hikes and environmental education programs. His dreams include: flying, breathing underwater, having lengthy conversations in Thai, and never being able to outrun the enemy when in danger.
I can still remember the first time I lied to my parents.
I was seven years old and was obsessed with Indiana Jones like he’s obsessed with his quest to find relics and salvage them in museums. LEGO pyramids and tombs complete with booby traps and secret passageways lay strewn about the floor of the room I shared with my brother growing up, like little, tangible fragments of our imagination on display (in layman’s terms, we had a messy room). My friends and I had countless imaginary archeologist-themed storylines we’d play after school. The obsession with Indy goes on.
Was it healthy? I don’t know, but when I was next door at David Mason’s house one day and heard that his older brother, DJ—a tall skateboarder with short cropped black hair, a few years ahead of David and I, who was also the democratically anointed leader of the neighborhood tough kids—was going to watch Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom my ears perked up. I ran home to ask my parents if I could stay over and watch it because, somehow, I had never seen it before.
“Not a chance.”
“Nope. It’s too inappropriate for you, buddy”
“But—bu—bu—is it reeeeally?”
*que puppydog eyes*
I was devastated. For one, I desperately wanted to watch this. It had jungles. Gold. Adventure. Romance. At least, I gathered that much from the graphic art on the VHS sleeve. Also, this was Indiana Jones. C’mon, I practically knew the guy—he was wholesome, morally just, always doing what needed to be done—he was my childhood hero! How could he be in a movie too inappropriate for me to watch?
I couldn’t shake the desire to watch the film so I hatched a plan, and faster than Indiana could crack a whip I was at the Masons’ house squeezed under the living room couch, peering through my fingers as Indiana navigated the Temple of Doom with his team of sidekicks. I could barely breathe. Because of the excitement? Maybe. Because I was under an old, stuffy couch, hiding from my parents? Probably.
But as I watched my initial enthrallment began to sour. I was supposed to love this film, right? Wrong. In actuality I hated it. All of it. The movie was obscenely dark and violent. Hearts were getting pulled out of people’s chests right before they were sacrificed into a pit of fire. A pit of fire?! What happened to just punching Nazis? And worst of all, I spent the whole movie hiding in shame. I lied to Mr. and Mrs. Mason and told them that my folks said I could watch it. The Mason’s were probably confused, then, as to why I watched it from underneath their couch.
After my stealth viewing of Temple of Doom I went home and felt horrible. I tried unsuccessfully to avoid my parents. They knew. So I cried. I cried because the movie sucked. I cried because I disobeyed my parents. I cried because Indiana Jones was my hero and he let me down with a lousy film. My parents were forgiving and understanding. They always were. But no matter what they said to console me I knew I had done something wrong. I slept that night warm in my leopard onesie but wrapped in a cold blanket of shame.
There’s an impulse we have to hide when we’re ashamed. Adam and Eve, perhaps the most classic mythic figures representing the foundations of humanity itself, hid after disobeying God in the Garden of Eden. Gollum, the mischievous, hobbit-like creature in the Lord of the Rings, is always sneaking around—I think, because he lives a tormented life of shame. When we do something we’re not proud of, we hide our deeds from the world.
But shame can be complicated. Sometimes, experiencing shame helps us recognize that we’re doing something wrong and can nudge us into doing what our conscience tells us is right.
But other times shame is unwarranted. It can result from recognizing aspects of ourselves that we’re perhaps not confident or comfortable enough to accept, like not fitting a social standard or not having the right type of fashion or not being good at the right sport, and being ashamed of that perceived shortcoming.
For example, in high school I was into musicals and choir and poetry. Sometimes when I would hang out with certain friends I would feel too embarrassed to talk about which poetry I was reading lately or which musicals I was listening to, so I stifled those parts of myself, even while hanging out with some of my closest friends. Shame kept me from fully expressing myself with my friends, preventing opportunities for my friends and I to accept each other for who we really were. And as time moved on our friendships inevitably faded.
I just graduated from Calvin with a degree in environmental studies and English writing, and have been living in Colorado with a summer gig leading guided hikes in and around the town of Aspen. So far, not much has changed since graduation. I don’t feel particularly wiser or more enlightened than when I was a student. I still geek out about birds and plants, I still call my parents on the weekends, and I still watch Netflix when I’m bored. But now, living in Colorado, all the sudden there’s been a shift in the law simply due to a change in geopolitics. All the sudden, cannabis is legal.
It seems silly to me—move a couple of miles west, cross a state line, and a formerly demonized substance is suddenly legal. Being legal, it’s a part of the social scene out here, like craft beer in Grand Rapids, or wine in central California.
I biked past the bank, past a high-end furniture store, past an art gallery to the front step of one of three dispensaries in Aspen. Inside, the store was clean and well lit. Polished countertops held various items for sale and orderly glass display cases decorated the walls. The people were friendly, no one was walking around high, smoke wasn’t billowing out the front door. Compared to most bars, this dispensary felt like a pretty clean place.
For so long, pot has been an underground item sold at inflated prices to accommodate the risk a dealer has in distributing pot illegally. Now that it’s legal in Colorado, prices are much lower than back alley deals and statewide consumption is more regulated that it ever was pre-legalization. Pot isn’t addictive in the same way that alcohol can be, and it’s much easier on one’s body to process. It can help reduce anxiety, alleviate pain, calm hyperactive minds. And though it’s often scrutinized as a gateway drug, in actuality, it is an effective substance to help addicts of stronger drugs gain control of their addictions.
With the benefits of the drug known and the full legality of the product apparent, I was surprised to find myself struggling with the whole process regardless. I was nervous to walk in the store, unsure about smoking the joint after that, and a subtle cloud of shame hung over my head as I biked back home to light up with a friend that evening. Even while participating in an entirely legal system, I still had a residual sense that I was doing something wrong. Something made me feel on edge, like I ought to be checking over my shoulder every now and then. Something made me feel like I had to be sneaky.
Sneaky. I hate that word. To do something sneakily means you’re trying to hide something from somebody, and it coincides, I think, with shame. When we try to hide our actions from others, we live in a constant fear that our deed will be discovered. And even if our deed is never found out, we carry the baggage of shame with us, like a scar we’re too afraid to show.
Before lighting up that night, I bought a lighter at the gas station. The cashier handed me a black BIC with the text “Can you keep a secret?” written on it in a gold, cursive font. Scandalous. I laughed. No, no I will not let secrecy have any part in my actions. I would rather be honest and vulnerable, I think, than to live in fear, hiding out under an old, stuffy couch.