There are a few moments of brilliance in our lives. Moments we are changed by, with such striking epiphany that it shatters our foundation, lays some cement, and promptly rebuilds a much finer, stronger foundation. These are the moments in relentless December nights huddled beneath a blanket in a snow-locked dirty car, your frozen hands resting against her warm tidal chest. These are the sun-rising-over-this-ending type moments— "beautiful, but annihilating."
This is mine.
I was twenty-one, living in Logan, Utah. During what our group of friends had come to affectionately call, "Burrito Summer." It was a time-locked juvenile haze. Most of us had just "Come of Partying Age", or were dealing with MIP (Minor in Possession) charges. Blood flowed as thickly as wine in ramshackle homes, and we were drunk on both. I had just spent another semester at college falling in love and failing school. Following those disasters, I was working at a web hosting company as technical support, learning that existing only in technicality was not enough. I had lived in a small house by the temple for a little over a year at this point. It was the first place I could call home since I was young. I had settled into an unimposing life, living only as freshly drinking-aged adults believed could be right. I worked a challenging, but lachrymose job, with weekends free to drink and love. I found myself caught in a whirlwind of music and bodies, until I would wake in mewling predawn to repeat.
It's important to note at this point, that this was something I considered relative success. I was neither actively hurting people, nor failing at something. A marked improvement on my track record. I was wholly content, if not fulfilled, doing an excellent job of "just not thinking about it" in the way only young adults can. Burrito Summer was filled with blissful melancholy. It was a plateau after tumultuous change and loss—a blinding haze of punk music and partying. Soon a friend offered me Mushrooms. It came out of nowhere and like the rest of my decisions that summer, I spent little more than a moment considering. I called my girlfriend immediately.
Kate and I had met in a class concerning South African literature while announcing our names, where we were born, and things we liked. Not long after, we were watching and performing slam poetry together, and making out to the State Of The Union address. Her favorite author was Sylvia Plath. The spring after we met she gave me her copy of "Ariel" shortly before attempting suicide. She was the moon, and a redhead, out of the ash I rise with my red hair, and I eat men like air.
In those weeks she was hospitalized I devoured that book. After being released she moved home to Idaho briefly, then came back to Logan. She lived two blocks north of me; her room was always too hot that summer, and we burned together every night. Except the nights when she would lose her hands, or herself, and we would lay curled like question marks on her Twin Sized Mattress with my breath beating against her neck, trying to hold her hands to convince her they were there, that she was here. Bipolar disorder has a way of taking things from you. Dissociative Manic Episodes, they were called. I was well acquainted by the time I met her, having spent the last eight years of my life asking a lover why a horse had bitten her, why she was in a river when she can't swim, why she wanted to fuck on a tennis court so badly, why she had tried to die tonight.
Our relationship was caught somewhere between mania and the moon. Whatever happened, always did so quickly. Mushrooms were no exception. "So theoretically, would you ever do Mushrooms?" I asked immediately after she picked up the phone.
"I guess I would try It someday."
"Ok cool, I have two-eighths, what are you doing tonight?" This was how things went.
I began preparing for the night's adventure. I contacted friends who had experience in this realm, asking them questions like: "So... do I just eat it? Do I get lights and crayons ready? What kind of music should I listen to? What should we DO!?"
We gathered the next evening at her house, with a small bag of goodies and a lot of misconceptions. The house was haunted by nervous chatter and anticipation. Boiling water screamed like a starting pistol, and we eyed each other. One cup of "herbal" tea and a lot of gagging later, our bellies were full of prison sentences and psilocybin. A painting of stampeding impressionist elephants and some neon glow-in-the-dark Jackson Pollock ripoff made for easy conversation. Splattered paint hung above our heads like a premonition. This nervousness lasted only minutes, replaced abruptly when I tried to stand up, and exclaimed loudly that my knees were gone while wobbling around the room. Soon we were upstairs blasting the playlist we had affectionately called "triplist". Soon I was dancing half naked with partners made of sound. Kate was crying on her mattress, clutching at the denim quilt, overwhelmed by the beauty of the world, her ghosts, and demons resting quietly. Then I kissed her, and fell halfway into her heart and couldn't or wouldn't leave. The music tasted like what we'd been feeling all night, and the colors of that white walled room split into every brilliant thing we could imagine. I was true, swirling. For a while longer, we spun and smiled. I was briefly upset with a window I didn't like, but quickly forgave. Soon I was laying on the ground with her. She stroked my cheek and looked into my eyes. Hers were growing and spinning, and she cried into my ear, "Eli, your soul is sick."
I am unsure if I can properly convey the profoundly devastating impact hearing something like that from the person you love most in the world can have, even when sober. I have no better way to describe it than, I shattered. Truthfully, I recall little after that. In retrospect I realize I had taken nearly five grams of Mushrooms, thinking that it couldn't be that different from a lower dose. If you know anything about Mushroom dosage, that number will drop your jaw.
Here is how I CAN describe things—what happened in my own heart and mind. Things became very warm, and I became a marionette. Fish hooks sunk in the corners of my mouth, slowly losing my understanding of reality, staring at Kate and our newly arrived babysitter, our friend Nic, asking them questions with what they told me the day after, were the saddest eyebrows they'd ever seen. "Are you happy? We're having a good time, right? Everyone is happy." I was trying to take control of my reality, trying to establish what was and wasn't happening, and I couldn't. I began to panic.
"Am I dying?"
"No, you're not dying, you're going to be OK."
"I am dying. I am dying, I am dying. You are lying to me." That was when I became truly lost. I'm left with only feelings and vague recollections. It's difficult to explain what it feels like to have truly lost your mind. Hallucinogens are a mind breaking experience. You can see what is in front of you, can hear what is being said, but you can't trust your own perception of reality. That's the only way to explain it: It is being unable to rely on the only thing you have always had. The only personal and omnipresent conceptualization of the world you have—your own mind. In this way, it's freeing, because once your grip on the here and now leaves you, you are left with everything else.
Memory fades in and out, at one point I was told I could not take my pants off, not being able to trust anything, I assumed that the only way to survive was to be naked. That I was being tricked and had to take them off. I am a very large man. My pants did not stay on. Then I was out of time. Potooweet, I heard. A pricking in my arm and I was in a hospital—and I was dying. Blurred faces hovered above me, I was in a tent in the desert. I was in the room tripping. I was waking from a coma to a forgotten face smiling at me. "Why did a horse bite you, why are you here". I was floating free in water. I was in the room with my laptop leaving my hand sailing towards the window. I was stroking my lover's face apologizing, explaining I wasn't normally violent. Then I was gone.
I will fill you in briefly with the actual details of that night, as remembered by Nic. I can't vouch for some of these things, and I cannot present them elegantly, because I don't remember them.
I began to wreak havoc. I pulled a record player off the wall, flipped a desk, and moved towards my girlfriend calling her by another name—a name long since buried and forgotten—a bastion of my anguish and broken past. I tried to relive uncountable traumas. This all scared her immensely and she left to stay with a friend for the rest of the night. I punched my babysitter twice; tried to kiss him thrice. I ripped a book's cover off, and tried to vomit. I do remember the dry heaving. That is the factual account. Here, is what I remember— I was alone with the devil. I am not a spiritual or religious man, I am staunchly an Atheist, but in that night I was alone with the devil. I was in hell. I moved in loops, standing and walking to the door, twisting the knob of a locked door, turning, taking a lap around the room and ending facing the window. I would breathe deeply knowing that this was the moment I would die. I would brace to jump out of the window, then move to sit down, then catch the image of a book out of the corner of my eye, and understand everything. Again, I will break this barrier between myself and you, the reader, because I need to convey just how truly impossible it is to describe the understanding and meaning in my mind at that time. I had been reading my favorite book, Infinite Jest. Seeing its cover there sitting in, what was in my mind literal hell, was THE epiphany. Everything made sense in a moment. The entirety of my existence made sense. I had been brought to that moment, naked on a bed in a whirlwind of destruction. Every moment of my life led inexorably to this night. I stood, knowing that the locked door would open this time, because I understood now. It would open and I would be free to create the new universe, but It would still be locked. So I would walk into the wall, turn and lap the room, stare at the window, prepare for death, then sit, then understand again. This went on forever. Each time my beliefs changed and I was changed. Sometimes I would understand and feel complete euphoria, and others I would have been the cause of the death of the universe and would cry—cry for the death of my family and loved ones, for every moment of life I re-lived until that tiny death. Still others I would turn to the devil and plead."Why, am I here? Please, what did I do?" I would ask, always knowing.
Soon I was tired. I couldn't loop, I couldn't understand anymore, I sat looking at the devil as he told me to put my pants on. Then I understood again. He spoke softly to me; "Take a breath. Put your pants on. Good, now listen. You must listen."
You must listen. To this day that phrase means more to me than he could ever know. I had loved a girl for eight years, and had hurt her more than I could ever atone for, and I had been trying every moment of my life. I had set myself on the rack—bore scars from years of self-immolation. I had forgotten how to love or maybe had never learned.
"Look back in there." He gestured heavily behind us. " You know what is behind. You get to choose. You. Get. To. Choose.
My eyes raised to the miasma of pain I had left in that room—tables overturned, papers scattered, a record player in pieces, and a smashed laptop lying like a shattered vigil. I looked to the hallway that led outside. I chose. The door opened, my face burrowed in my hands, and I wept.