The syntactical nature of reality, the real secret of magic, is that the world is made of words. And if you know the words that the world is made of, you can make of it whatever you wish. —Terence McKenna
Something in me vibrates to a dusky, dreamy smell of dying moons and shadows. —Zelda Fitzgerald
With the chemicals came the grit. The gall to knock on my door in the dead of night, this portal of a fellow boarder who he had only mumbled hey to in passing. I opened up a slit, in response to his too hard knock, while scanning him for signs of inebriation. Yeah?! I barked. Even in the dim wash of a hallway bulb showing him, I knew. Hallucinogens. He reviewed my face and entered the room like a god, without invitation. Perhaps he sensed the passivity in the tired yellows of my eyes, the world-worn slump my shoulders and the slight concern in my Yeah?! My space, its objects and I would not put up any fight.
Reckon I had the kind of room that supported trips- bundles of sage, towers of backlit quartz, turquoise in dinged sterling, wolf themed junk, a complicated tapestry with a sordid history hung, a haphazardly arranged glow-in-the-dark constellation by which nothing could be predicted, paperback classics by varieties of bold white men and suicidal women… plus there was zero threat of visitors stopping by since I was in the thick of a self-imposed exile. The breed of isolation sought after a breakup (you the abandoned) or when you are anxious about HIV test results again or when you realize that you are not living up to your potential, the potential your mother dreamed, and it’s because you are who you run with. The proof was in the room.
The moon was so bright white that it looked bruised, casting the perfect shine to live this scene by. All my lights were dead, next paycheck I swore- light bulbs. He sat in the center of the inky room. I settled into a corner, a safe distance away, to observe what might unfold. I felt like a transpersonal-anthropologist-of-suburban-rites upon whom a case study had been thrust. The case of a working-class American male of run of the mill heritage who had partaken of a large dose of possibly enlightening, maybe nefarious ergot-born cubes of spiked sugar. Aside from the fact that humans imbibing on LSD have been known to leap from tall structures either in flight (tragically failed birds) or fight (chased by threats drawn from overworked imaginations) and claim to be able to access the far recesses of their own minds and in this state have produced spectacular works of art, I knew little. Cinematic slashes of moonlight bathed his haggard but still charming face, his normally sky-blue stoned eyes were giving way to wide-open pits of Yves Klein blue, receiving but giving nothing back, so by virtue, everything was given back. He did not speak, but I could hear him in my bones. What was heard was garbled, in tongues, whispered loud. My skeleton was alert.
I was zipped up to my nose in a sleeping bag, inhaling moist breath mingled with olfactory ghosts of campfires and wild sex past. I nestled into my sagging, vinyl chaise lounge chair (a life worth living involves improper beds sometimes), debating whether I should feign sleep or hightail it out of there. Both options seemed cowardly so instead I began a too complicated deep breathing exercise I learned from a shrink, mouthed silently all things pass and studied a cutout of a Timber Wolf’s head that was pinned to my ceiling. I focused on the space between the wolf’s eyes until the brute became Cyclopean. A fog like low-lying clouds made of TV snow rolled in on the periphery and closed in on the eye until everything faded to black. I had gone stone blind. My breathing became natural. My body levitated I am sure, just as a prepubescent first discovers she can truly become "light-as-a-feather, stiff-as-a-board" when she allows herself to be held by sisters in that slumber party ritual that demands an invocation of the purest sense of self. A temporary death- God, I loved it.
Devils! The clatter of compact disc cases being strewn about took me out of my trance. He shuffled through my classic rock heavy collection and settled on the album “Desperado” by The Eagles. He set the title song on repeat, tinkered with the equalizer until Don Henley’s pleading voice was given precedent. He sat cross-legged, with his palms facing up on his knees, his head like a lost dog sniffing the wind for a trace of home. After listening to the song, a half dozen times, he began to cry, slowly falling over and rocking himself in a fetal position, gurgling like he was dying or laughing.
I would not admit it then, and hesitate now, but I treasured that mawkish song- the lulling piano, sedate drumming and clean lyrics. Like feelings you have when conscious of being alone in a crowded bar, hovering outside of yourself as others frolic in jolly groups or sexy couplings, as you are maybe waiting for someone who will never arrive or seated all alone by choice, not a hellish sensation but a godforsaken one. “Desperado” was the one song soundtrack for our silent archetypal roles that night. If he was the outlaw riding wild and charting new psychic territories then I wished to be the gritty, unpredictable Queen-of-Diamonds. Not the reliable Queen-of-Hearts. All the cards were stacked against us and we didn’t want to be anyone’s best bet. Where was the power in that?
We were tenants in a newly divorced (read despairing) man’s place, an unintentional haven for kids cast out of their family homes- deadheads, tweakers, trippers, cosmetologists, astrologists, drunks and future writers. I knew little about this boy who was succumbing to some kind of LSD fit on my bedroom floor. He left his door half ajar most of the time and I once took this as an invitation to peek inside. What was deduced from the rubble was that he liked things that came in foil or needed foil to be executed- burritos, heroin, hair bleaching... nothing adorned his walls but a photo of himself as a child, standing alone at the edge of an unidentified wooded area, holding something tawny furred going cold that he had probably reluctantly hunted down. Between the hunt and the foil was a vast blank. I removed his various black hairs from the shower drain. He slipped me my junk mail. We both stole from our landlord’s pantry. We kept to our rooms. Bathed occasionally. Paid rent late. Received no calls. Were not visited.
I am certain now, recalling the predatory glean in his eyes when we happened to cross paths, that he harbored a crush on the person he believed I was. A girl he had constructed. A lady who would allow him to trip on acid in her bedroom on some painfully beautiful moonlit night. A woman who might let him play the song, on a soul-numbing loop, that gave voice to his own fractured identity. A person he could trust completely with his demons and foils and dead hair. He saw a wife, a sister, a mother- how was I, a stranger, all of these and none of these at once?
He started sobbing, as his musty punk odor became the air. His body faced the wall, his forehead pressed against the scuffed and webby baseboards beneath the window where no beams shine. He was a dark mass emitting strange gurgles punctuated by breathless snorts and diaphragm-deep growls. It was hot as sin in this shrine and I began to feel sick. The room tilted. I unzipped myself from the sleeping bag, coughed up nervous phlegm, straightened my spine and tried to resume breathing exercises. The deep and deliberate breaths would not soothe, as I could only manage the labored breathing of a lost animal on a hot, dangerous road.
Be calm. I reminded myself that I was “studying”. No negative hypotheses must be pre-maturely formed. I should remain detached and objective. Whatever it was that was happening to him, in his mind and body, was not happening to me. His apparent suffering, possible terror and resulting expansion were not mine. I was in control, even if he could not be. He would not be able to hurt me. His very life and mine were only entwined by dumb fate and shared moonlight. This will pass. Be calm. Be calm. Be calm. Inhabiting the same room does not require the habitation of the same psyche. All things pass. Queen of diamonds, not hearts! This too passes!
I tried to cough away some of the mounting panic and emitted a shallow laugh that sounded as if it came from outside of myself. I felt a rising compassion for him; his exposure that by some kind of screwed up psychic transference was causing me to feel emotionally naked. Nauseated. Dizzy. Helpless. Should I hold him? Speak gently to him? Wake the landlord? Wake the others? Call an ambulance? Kiss him hard? Slap him silly? Dunk him in a tub? Run? I wondered if he was going to die, be sick or harm. Would I? All variations I was not keen on in equal measure. I wished something would happen- anything to cut this tension frosted over by an increasingly lame song. Desperado, why won’t you please, god please, just goddamnit come to your senses?
I remember how I longed for the moist chill of night air. My tongue was felt. My eyes stung. My limbs tingled. My stomach lurched. My heart galloped. How did the room close in on us while simultaneously seeming to open up into a vast desert-like place? I tripped over miles of books, dirty plates, plastic goblets, clay beads, tumbled rocks, quirky socks, lipsticks, small bills, dead bulbs, snapshots, doodles, notes and curious girl baubles until I finally stood at the window, my pulse in my throat. I pushed the screen out as he latched onto my ankles like a child who does not want to leave a toy store. I let him cling as I leaned out into the night air. I took orienting breaths. 5-4-3-2-1- an influx of fresh oxygen activated a hyper focus, manic sensations washed over me, the kind I am plagued by and in love with at once. I could have shaken him off, hit the street to some other kind of life, but I stayed.
Out there. The bowing lamps lit the empty street revealing star spanked asphalt flanked by tidy homes in manicured rows. Night owls nestled on sofas framed by alluring slits in curtained windows, basking in mood enhancing glows, nursing nightcaps and numbing off on late night television. Foxy teens tangled in flirtatious ways and passed around spiked chalices. Pampered house pets were stroked and confessed to. There was the weep of a newborn craving warm bodies and mother’s milk. It all made me feel an ache, so I stopped observing the silhouettes of human life.
I aimed sharp focus on the many-hued moonbeams refracting off of the dewy roof of my car, how precious it was, fluid reincarnated- from ground to sea to tears to cloud to sweat to dew to eternity and back. I paid close attention to the way various types of velvet, dry and smooth leaves rustled under the weight of early birds. Caws, shrieks, and whistles signaled danger + love + dawn approaching. I followed the hungry meander of a feral cat until it was only a speck, gobbled by the horizon. I caught the reflection of my own small face, two black pits looked back, and I stared them down until I turned Cyclopean. A fog rolled in. My ears filled with earth. My nose decoded only dust. I tasted zero. My skin released me. I let everything go and disappeared.
Humanity beckoned and I woke to it. I felt warm and vital again, the breeze tickling my arm and bringing up goose pimples. I tasted my own fresh hunger and relished the phantom flavors of good tastes to come. I smelled the rich wetness of the neighbor’s fresh mown grass, the erotic mammal scent of this boy gone at my feet, and the perfume of early rising folks tending to their bodies. My eyes remained closed, as I marveled at the network of delicate blood orange veins in my eyelids, fluttering open to dashes of corporeality. I could hear the sound of tires treading ground, people returning home and some leaving. How sweet it felt to exist right where I was, not coming or going but suspended.
The next day was being born, casting its dreamy indigo over the room, as the moon retreated. His strong hands gripped my ankles, begging for something that did not feel sexual. I was no longer afraid but rather sympathetic to his desperate behavior. It mirrored my own hushed shame, housed deep within, which caused me to cling to things that did not want to be clung to. But was I so feeble? So truly pathetic? Did outcasts like us snivel about, low to the ground, grasping at metaphorical ankles while seemingly significant people carried on with their meaningful lives, each ignorant to the secret pains of neighbors? Or were he and I not pathetic but rather valiant, with our bleeding hearts and brazen manners, our collective riot call to burn out but not fade away? Powerful desperado’s and queens-of-diamonds!
His hands were wolves.
The titillating story, meant to satisfy the literary rubbernecker, would describe in nail-biting detail how he dies, in the thick of a psychotic rape scene, from a lethal cocktail of hallucinogens plus uppers, while I struggle under his violent weight as his mind leaves the earth, ensnared in some kind of schizophrenic head trip, his lithe body racked with gross spasms, rolling eyes, and twisted mouth frothing something foamy onto my heaving bare breasts.
The gentler story, for the optimists, would claim that I helped him “come down” by cradling him in my arms, whispering him through his inner-child mess, making reference to that solitary hunt photo on his wall and listening to him tell of how that first mammal killing shook him. All this confiding of pivotal childhood moments, his and mine, would inevitably bleed into a 24-hour love making session that reads so truly tender that it births love. The kind of love we root for.
The ridiculous story, created expressly for pothead homicide reenactment junkies, dramatizes how he killed me due to falsely believing I was a Cyclopean Timber Wolf trying to attack him with the blunt end of a kaleidoscopic Jerry Garcia candlestick holder. A crime for which he is granted a too light sentencing based on a temporary insanity claim. As I lay, another girl, to rot dead in the ground.
But it was none of these sensational scenes. It was just one peculiar night under the same moon that held a whole world of peculiar nights, the earth’s clock frittering time away while we observe it through our own particular lenses, trying to make meaning and connect, life is fine.
Sometimes I think about how less lonesome I might have felt if I had swayed myself into developing a return crush on him. That night, we could have coupled as beautiful orphans rising. Our days could have stretched happily in that single room, a huddled duo feasting on bargain cereal and baked potatoes until we got our big breaks. Together we could have light.
I could still be a writer. He could be… that which I will never know. We could have had a simple life. We could have lingered in that radiant suburb forever. Held hands many times. Raised an easy family. Adopted two retrievers and a doggish cat. Hosted reggae barbeques. Learned to mingle. Planted the dirt. Had benign affairs. Attended competitive games. Collected lawn chairs. Organized the garage. Played bingo. Twister. Uno. No more Solitaire. We could have become, what they call- decent.
But this is not what happens when we fall asleep and wake up alone.
I was arrogant in thinking myself superior to this messy specter, this unreliable shaman, this shadow who needed me in the darkness. Now I see how much I needed him. How much the song meant to me too-
…And freedom, oh freedom, well that’s just some people talkin’
Your prison is walking through this world all alone…
I let him go through the motions of a chemical / emotional labor on my floor. He let me see him. He let me go through the birth of getting pure, seeing things anew, fighting fear, salvaging material for future remembrances, the kind that will save me and just maybe, Him.