The summer I turned 21 was a bad one. I had just finished at beauty school — more on that here — and was working as some sort of hybrid cosmetic sales rep/office administrator at The Hudson’s Bay Company, in Toronto. I floated from counter to counter based on promotional events — one week, I would be at Clinique for their skincare event, the next at Elizabeth Arden for their “buy one, get one” event. I would spend some days on the floor helping the sales people and the rest of the time in the office crunching numbers for the head office. I was starting to realize I didn’t want to be a makeup artist after all, and I definitely didn’t want to do that sort of office work. By the time my birthday rolled around, The Hudson’s Bay Company was in the process of being bought by Lord & Taylor and hours were getting cut, so I was working fewer than 20 hours a week, anxious and stressed, and feeling generally unpleasant.
My boyfriend Daniel had just finished his last year of film school, and we were spending a lot of time with his classmates. I had worked as a makeup artist on many of their final films, and we were all really close. Earlier that year, his friend James had taken us to this special “cafe” on Yonge Street. I say “cafe” because it was just a place that sold weed baked into the usual suspects — brownies, cookies, etc.
I know all you Americans are probably like “OH PLEASE, CANADA, DON’T ALL YOUR COOKIES HAVE WEED IN THEM?” And the answer is no! Even though marijuana was decriminalized in 2007, it’s still a deal to be be caught with weed. It’s just not a “go-to-jail-for-the-rest-of-your-life” type deal. I don’t know how this place operated so openly for as long as it did, but it was shut down not long after my birthday.
We went in February and had their famous brownie milkshakes. I got high, sure, and ALLEGEDLY danced with a bag of potato chips at an all-night convenience store (I don’t remember that, and I still sort of suspect my friends are making it up), but it was otherwise uneventful. We just drank the milkshakes, giggled a lot, and then played Cranium until 2 a.m. We would have done the same thing sober. So James suggested we go back for my 21st birthday.
When we got there the staff seemed unusually happy, even for people who must have been perpetually high. “We just baked these new cookies,” they said, beaming from ear to ear. “They will fuck you up,” they promised.
In retrospect: what was I thinking?!?! If the STAFF at this type of place is clearly out of their minds from eating these cookies, how did I think I, a casual smoker and drinker, would react? I had never done any other drugs beside weed. But I don’t remember being nervous. I was just like, whatever.
The cookies were chocolate, with chocolate chips, drizzled in some sort of chocolate syrup, and I remember them being small. Later my friends and I would agree that they must have baked weed butter into all three of those elements.
The first thing I remember happening was the laughter. I was laughing so hard at my friend Claire — to be fair, Claire is hilarious, but this was different. It was like laughter I could hear but not feel. My face was numb. It was still light out, but I was starting to see black in the corner of my eyes. I was sitting in a chair but I felt like I was falling. I loved it.
I don’t know how many Hairpin readers know Toronto's Yonge Street, so let me explain: there is a stretch of Yonge Street that is gross. Between Bloor and Dundas, Yonge Street is filled with stores selling cheap merchandise or pawning jewelry, hot dog stands, tiny sidewalks, and way too many people. It’s unpleasant even without drugs. And it was on Yonge Street that I began to feel like I was moving on an escalator. Claire was laughing a lot, too, but my face was starting to hurt from laughing, and I felt claustrophobic and nervous.
We reached Yonge and Dundas Square. Again, to those who don’t know, Yonge and Dundas Square is a big empty space across from the biggest mall in downtown Toronto. Sometimes there are free shows there, or small flea markets on the weekend. On this Friday night it was just filled with people. We stood there for a bit — I think maybe everyone was debating where we should go next? I looked up and saw the gray sky and decided I was about to die. The sidewalks were reaching up to the sky, and the sky was reaching to the sidewalk, and they were going to form a point, and I would be crushed in the center. My breathing became erratic. Later Claire would tell me my skin looked as gray as I imagined the sky to be.
I had the good sense to realize this was the weed talking. “You’ve been under a lot of stress lately,” I told myself. “You’re anxious. This is just your anxiety being amplified by the weed. Take a deep breath and get some water.”
Of course, when I turned around to find some water, I saw two men in suits who had shark heads. OH, I realized, existence is meaningless, and tried to find the words to explain that to my boyfriend. Instead I just screamed and pulled him into a cab. By this point my tongue felt like it was fusing to my teeth, and I spent the entire cab ride trying to pry it off.
Daniel was still living with his family, so we went to his house. His mother was in the basement watching Brazilian soap operas; his father and sister were away for reasons I can’t remember. Daniel was, of course, also very high. We sat at his kitchen table and that’s when it happened — my heart. I knew it wasn’t a hallucination. It was beating too fast. It couldn’t stop. If I lay down I was certain it would explode. I sat at the kitchen table, trying to bounce my entire body up and down, thinking if I could get my body to catch up with my heart, I could stop it from exploding. “I can’t believe I’m going to die,” I said to Daniel. “I haven’t even paid off my student debt.”
He looked mildly upset. “It’s so sad you’re going to die!” he said, and then burst out laughing.
Daniel’s mother came into the kitchen and saw me. I think Daniel maybe went to get her? This is where the memories become very hazy. She took one look at me and sighed. “What a stupid thing to do.”
“You just can’t resist kicking me when I’m down,” I said, petulant that she would not help me without making some sort of comment, totally ungrateful for her assistance, just a general nightmare.
She took my pulse. “You’re having arrhythmias,” she said. "Heart palpitations." I squinted my eyes. “I hope this doesn’t influence your opinion of my character,” I slurred at her. She laughed. “One day,” she promised, “I will tell you my story. I did something even more embarassing than this when I was dating Daniel’s father.” “Cool!” I said. Then I passed out.
I woke up in the hospital standing in front of a nurse. “What’s your problem?” I remember her asking, me maybe yelling, “THAT’S RUDE.”
We sat in the ER for a while before the vomit started. I puked like whoa. Like, you would not believe the amount of vomit that came out of me. It started a chain reaction of vomit in the entire emergency room — all the other sick people started throwing up too. “Did you have salad for dinner?” Daniel’s mother asked. “A lot of it seemed green.”
A lot of these hours are a blur — I know at one point they tried to get me to take off my shirt so they could attach those little white round things to my chest. “Take off your shirt,” the obviously tired nurse said to me. “What?” I asked, not because I was offended, but because I actually could not understand those four words. She tried to take it off for me. I slapped her, I think? Probably not her face, but definitely her hands. I slapped her and also maybe pushed her, then calmly took my shirt off and lay on the table. “But not because you told me to,” I told her.
They let me go home that night. I don’t remember the rest of it. I don’t know if they gave me any medication or chastised me or even asked where I had gotten the weed from. I slept for 14 hours and was mildly high for the next 2 days. “I’m never doing any drugs again,” I dramatically declared to my friends (a lie). And the other people I went to the cafe with? They had a disappointing experience, they said. While I was puking in the ER they were playing Cranium and watching Beyoncé tour DVDs.
And Daniel? Where was he this whole time? Oh, you know, sleeping in the ER chairs. He missed the entire thing. By the way, we're still dating and live together. I'm still mad that he laughed in my face when I told him I was going to die.
In the early morning hours at the ER I do remember waking up in front of Daniel’s mother. “Tell me your story,” I demanded, and she did. It had something to do with her friend’s apartment and a toilet and Daniel’s father dragging her back to their apartment. I cannot remember a single solid detail of this story. And now I can never ask! For a long time, it seemed like we had an unspoken agreement to never speak of this again. It's unfair; I feel like I could really use some dirt on her to level the playing field. Five years later, she’s starting to see the humor in it — recently she did an impression of me. We were having dinner and she was like “Remember when you were all, boo hoo, I can’t believe I’m going to die?” Yes, Rebecca, I remember. Sort of.
Related: Cannabis 101.
Haley Mlotek is the PR Intern for The Hairpin and the Promotions Director for WORN Fashion Journal.