Monday, November 21, 2022

The Purging

I should be happier than I am.  At my friend's urging, I've been out more.  I take trains to distant towns to eat and drink with friends.  I go to favorite places with men and women I have recently met.  While out, I am embraced by those who have known me.  The holidays are upon us, and now Christmas decorations have been hung in my own hometown. 

Mixed in with this, however, have been floods, two hurricanes, twisted and broken trees, and now dreadfully glum weather.  Two weeks ago, I had dinner with the woman who is driving this post-Covid transformation. But, it seems, her ship has sailed and I despair of having dinner with her again any time soon.  I had become comfortably numb, as the saying goes, fairly comfortable in my melancholy solitude. There were no highs or lows, just the long, low hum of an nearly palatable routine.  Almost three years ago now, I was leaving the factory with trepidation but with hope.  There would be travel. There would be stories and photos.  Then Ili left and Covid shut everything down.  Alone in the house for days and weeks and months I ate and drank and wore pajamas and like others, blew up like Orson Welles.  

I had, however, a lovely butterfly and hummingbird garden and two cats to keep me company.  I took long walks with cameras and, as always, continued to explore the world in writing.  

But when the world opened up, I got an email.  The possibilities of life were upon me.  Friends travelled and chided me for staying home.  Their trips did not interest me, though.  The world had changed, I thought, and was a mere facsimile of what came before.  The old joi de vivre seemed strained and somewhat wary.  But maybe, I thought, it was simply me.  

So when the messages came and then the dinner, the past and present were conjoined.  There were happy impossibilities.  

My mother has told me at times that I seemed "low."  She worries about me, of course.  I have never been a "low" guy.  Not even after the terrible accident, not during my months of crippled therapy sessions learning to move my arm and torso again, nor in returning to the gym and the unimaginably light weights where hundreds of pounds used to be.  Nope.  I didn't moan or whine.  

But somewhere something changed.  I lost energy.  I lost drive.  I lost confidence, even among friends.  

Like everyone else in America, I've been reading about the use of hallucinogens in curing everything from alcoholism to depression.  Article after article touts the outcomes of LSD, psilocybin, and MDMA therapies.  I've had my doubts.  Growing up when I did, I knew lots of hippie burnouts.  LSD had not brought any of the people I knew enlightenment.  Indeed, I saw some of the brightest minds of my generation. . . get dumb.  I've never been much of a drug user smoking pot on rare occasions.  I've always touted opioids, of course, and have romanticized the smoking of opium which I have never done.  Like Baba Ram Das, I've always thought the way to enlightenment was through thoughtful living.  And as much as I love the wild writings of Hunter S. Thompson, for me, the drug use was only metaphorical.  Watching Thompson's great meltdown over the years seemed an apocryphal tale.  

But somehow, I've collected a great number of drugs in recent years.  I've used small amounts of Xanax to help me sleep from time to time, then marijuana gummies.  Once they were legalized, I had plenty.  Then a former colleague at the factory gave me some LSD which I put in the freezer.  I procured a large batch of mushrooms from Oregon.  A friend who grows pot gave me a big jarful.  All of these things sat untouched.  I started a yoga practice again and began some guided meditations.  The way to a better life was through a more wholesome existence.  But man. . . between yoga, the gym, and meditation, I was spending half my life.  

Out with the factory kids one night not long ago, I mentioned having a freezer full of mushrooms.  I was stunned.  

"Yea. . . I don't really like mushrooms."


"No.  I prefer dropping acid."


Around the table, the kids told drug tales of adventure and daring.  The shrink was the biggest surprise, liking to trip, he said, but preferring the hight on MDMA. 

"Oh, yes. . . I love Molly.  When I was clubbing. . . . "

Jesus Christ, I thought these kids the straightest of arrows.  I mean, without doubt, I am always the weirdest one in the bunch.  I have always had to watch myself, for I can clear a room with a single idea or confession.  But these weren't burnouts.  They had achieved.  They were high functioning Ph.Ds.  

For all my strangeness, I realized I was the most wholesome one in the crowd.  

But circumstances conspire, and going out and seeing my incredibly beautiful friend for a mere moment. . . it had merely shaken loose some old debris, a life remembered, perhaps no longer attainable.  I'd been sinking too much lately.  I had no purpose now, no large responsibilities, no stage on which to perform.  And by god, I had been a fantastic performer.  I performed such daring feats to astonished and admiring crowds.  The high wire, the trapeze, all the while laughing.  Though here and there, one might become accomplished in one trick or another, no one could perform them all.  Now I sat like a retired clown telling stories nobody believes.  

So fuck it.  I needed a lift.  Micro dosing, they say.  Just little zips and pings.  All of Silicone Valley is doing it.  Makes them more creative, more attentive.  It delivers a certain zest and focus.  So. . . O.K.  What the fuck.  

It had been two weeks on Saturday since I'd entertained my friend, but it seemed an eternity.  In a short time we'd been through two hurricanes and more.  I had decided to grill a steak, potatoes, and asparagus.  I bought a good bottle of wine.  I'd been reading about the incredible benefits of eating mushrooms.  Micronutrients.  Super foods.  Not the psychedelic kinds.  All of the rest.  I'd bought some mushroom powder that day to put into coffee.  I wanted to see if I felt what the Mayo Clinic and the WebMd websites said I would.  But I wanted to micro dose, too.  I wanted to feel a little ping, a little zip.  I wanted to be creative and walk on that old high wire again.  So. . . I grabbed the bag of mushrooms from the freezer and scraped off the smallest of pieces lying in the package.  Microdosing.  I put them in the microwave and heated them thinking to kill any bacteria that might be clinging to them.  

When dinner was done, the wine half gone, I poured a scotch.  I ate half a gummy.  And then, fuck it, I ate the shrooms.  

I sat down and watched tv for awhile, and at ten, getting sleepy, I went to bed.  

I woke up howling.  It was a strange, plaintive sound similar to the one I heard a bull make in a bullring in Madrid after it had been stuck by the picador with his banderillas.  He simply stopped in the middle of the ring, raised his head, and let go the high wailing cry of a banshee.  That is what I heard lying there in bed in the profound darkness .  The cry was my own.  What the fuck was that, I thought, and I closed my eyes to return to sleep.  But in a minute, I had woken to the same wailing.  And then, like a wounded beast, a low, growling cry from deep in my chest, my muscles tensing in panic.  I realized with alarm that I was not micro dosing.  Something really strange and deep was happening.  The cries alternated in periodic waves.  

I got out of bed.  I stood naked in the darkness disoriented, ready for flight or fight.  It was midnight.

"Shit, shit, shit," I thought.  I couldn't go back to bed.  I had to see what this was, would need to ride it out.  I walked through the house growling and tensing.  

"I want milk," I thought.  I need to boil some milk." 

I knew this was a dangerous idea.  There was still a tiny rational part of my brain telling me so.  No, no, I argued.  I can do this.  I pulled out a pan and poured in the milk.  See?  See?  Now be careful with the flame.  Don't forget.  Just stand here 'til it's ready.  I got the Golden Milk turmeric and spices powder and poured it into the near boiling liquid.  Then I poured the boiled mixture into a mug without spilling.  I thought I might need to go outside, need to walk into the dark.  No, no, said the little rational voice deep within my brain, that is not a good idea.  You are not dressed.  Bad things will happen.  

I walked to the couch.  The room was dark.  I leaned back and covered my mouth with a pillow and screamed.  I didn't want the neighbors hearing me and calling the cops.  I was like a wounded carnivore, cornered, surrounded.  The low, deep chested howls continued, fists closed, arms and shoulders and chest and back and all the muscles of my legs flexed and ready.  And then the plaintive wail.  The little rational voice was talking, trying to figure what this was all about.  I was pissed and wanted whatever it was to come near me.  I'd make it pay.  

"You're processing all those repressed thoughts and memories about your accident," the voice said.  It made sense.  I rubbed my hands over my broken bones, my clavicle, my shoulder, my ribs and scapula.  I felt the deep scars from the chest tubes and the long incision from the surgery.  More and deeper howling, more desperate cries.  I shook my fists in the air, but I felt frail.  "I will fight you with my fists," I thought.  "Come close.  Just come near."

I was a wounded beast.  Just that.  Caught, my foot in a trap, unable to flee.  I felt wronged.  I would die.  Just come close and let me exact my revenge.  

I knew death was near.  

I made another cup of hot milk.  I sipped it between howls.  I was certain I was purging all the fear and anger I had repressed about the accident for so many years.  This might be good for me, I thought.  Surely this is needed.  There was more to it as well.  It was the entire package, Ili's abandonment, the loss of the circus tent, the isolation.  Jesus Christ, yes. . . all the things that wounded me, all the things that trapped me.  Just come near enough and let me get hold.  

By two, I was exhausted.  The adrenaline dump was done.  I went back to bed for a strange night of sleep. 

I woke at my usual hour.  I got up in the dark, dazed and cloudy but no longer high.  I hit the button on the coffee maker.  I tried to read.  I tried to write, but my brain was not verbally functioning.  Where was the clarity, where was the bliss I'd been promised?  I had only the miasma of a pre-verbal fog.  

A long, slow, cold, grey dawn.  The temperature dropped.  Then the rain.  My body hurt.  I kept returning to the thermostat to raise the heat.  I would be trapped inside all day.  

I couldn't read.  I had a low hum of nervous energy.  I decided to organize the mountains of stuff I have stored in the study.  Closets full.  Drawers full.  I pulled one out, full of papers, pictures, paraphernalia.  I sat down and began making my way through.  I thought to discard things.  Oh, no, not this.  There were photos I would have to keep.  I put them in a pile.  I would go to the store this week and get more albums. Scraps of paper.  Written on a piece of cardboard in German letters not my own was an address.  Nothing else.  Who was this from?  The German girl with whom I was in love in Peru?  Here were notes and letters.  I read them, testaments to my passion and profound influence.  They proclaimed love.  I read the names.  I could no longer remember.  Stacks of them.  Some of their faces came to mind.  Here was one from a woman who'd seen me in the streets years after I knew her.  She wanted me to know.  My god, I've saved everything.  There was nothing to get rid of and I am terrible at organizing.  The floor filled up with piles of paper and pictures.  Stupid things.  The ticket stub to the Ryan Adams concert I saw at the newly renovated and just opened Beacon Theater.  Nope.  Won't ditch it.  

There was artwork I'd made, image transfers, hand painted images, small encaustics, collages.  I'd once been adamantly creative.  I've done nothing.  It fell upon me.  

The music played, sweet, sad, sorrowful things.  I was lonely.  I heard from no one.  I needed a nap.  

The dark, damp day drifted by like that until it was time to go to my mother's house for dinner.  I had convinced her to cook.  We sat and chatted as usual.  My cousin and her husband had gotten Covid.  It had caused her to go deaf in her left ear.  The neighbor had confessed to the same thing.  Jesus.  I had never heard of that.  This winter might be bad, my mother said.  Yes, I agreed.  We should stay away from indoor crowds.  This was not a happy thought.  I don't think I can take another season of isolation.  

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