LSD, round two

It starts with an invitation to a concert I'd never have gone to on my own.

It isn't that I don't like Diana Ross; I do. But I'm a casual fan, not a devotee. I'd never have bought myself a ticket to the Hollywood Bowl that night. Gratefully accepting an extra one from a generous friend, however, is a different story. And that's where this story starts - with someone doing something kind for me, and me fucking up that kindness royally. Way, way too many of my stories start this way.

I meet Alfie and two others at Hollywood and Highland, and the four of us walk up the street to the venue together. It's mid July, sticky and hot even at sunset. Despite my joblessness, I'm in high spirits, a month into dating Timo. Thoughts of him are a constant susurrus in my head, and I have to force myself to leave my phone in my bag with the bottle of Malbec I've brought as an offering. (Alfie, as expected, rebuffs any attempt to pay him back.)

His friends are smart and funny; we make a jocose foursome as we climb the crowded hill. I especially click with Cara, the willowy jazz singer freshly transplanted from New Orleans. She's pierced and tattooed, possessed of an impishness she couldn't hide if she bothered to try--which she doesn't. Her eyes are black buttons that dart from me to Alfie back to me again, reading us, sizing us up with quiet intelligence. We discover that she lives a few blocks from me, cashiering in a pizza joint on Sunset while she gets her bearings. The two of us quickly fall away from the others who've now joined our party; we confer about music and our neighborhood and somehow, suddenly, drugs.

There are eight of us total, some familiar to one another, some strangers meeting for the first time. I know half of the group, but mingling with the rest comes easy enough after we've trooped in, single-file, to our seats. Almost everyone has brought something to eat or drink, and we pass trays of charcuterie, raspberries, brownie bites, and plastic wine goblets up and down. Everyone is tipsy within minutes, and it's a genuinely mirthful crew. 

Cara and I sit snug next to one another, giggling and gossiping about nearby patrons, cutting up like high schoolers in the back row of class. When I express embarrassment about my poor contribution to the party, she waves her hand in dismissal. "I didn't bring anything." The black button eyes flicker toward mine. "Unless you count shrooms."

She's counted on my reaction, which is a dropped jaw and raised eyebrows. "Shhhh," she warns, eyeing Alfie over my shoulder. So she's picked up on that already, has she? Likewise knowing Alfie's disapproval of drugs, I lower my voice. 

"Are you serious?" I can't hide my excitement. It's been a while. Shrooms are scarce lately. 

She nods, eyes shifting, while she reaches surreptitiously into her cross-body purse. The next thing I know, a small, foil-wrapped disk is being pressed into my palm. My heart thumps. Something about the illicit way she's presenting the gift tells me she knows what she's getting me into, and it's either a lot of fun or a lot of trouble, depending on one's perspective. 

I ask about the source in a play at due diligence, even as I peel the foil carefully away from the chocolate. "My boyfriend makes them. They're the best in LA. You'll see." Her eyes lock on mine meaningfully. Oh yes. Adventure time. 

Vaguely I wonder at the fact that she's already found a boyfriend in her new city, and a talented alchemist at that. I also wonder whether Pinkman knows him. I'll have to get her number before the night's over. 

If they're good, that is. 

And that's the last thing I think before I ingest a peanut butter cup-sized serving of what, dear reader, turns out, quite fucking clearlynot to be chocolate and psilocybin, but chocolate and LSD. Very, very, very, very good LSD. 

I don't even notice that the chocolate is completely smooth as it melts in my mouth. It doesn't occur to me that I'm not tasting the usual mashed-up, bitter bits of dried mushroom stem and bulb. That all I taste is sugar, cocoa, and butter. That there is nothing solid in the edible whatsoever. 

I'm just psyched as hell to be tripping with my friends at the Hollywood Bowl. Even if I have to keep it a secret between myself and the one I've just made twenty minutes prior. 

---

The come up is rough. Rocket-ride rough. My cheeks flush and my eyes swim, and a curl of nausea wraps around my gut. Cara, who's fifteen minutes ahead of me in her trip, keeps her eyes tightly trained on the stage. I try to catch her attention peripherally, but she refuses to look my way. I'm not sure what's going on, why she's avoiding me, but something starts to slip off-kilter in my brain. The playfulness between us has dropped out, and with every second that passes I'm incrementally closer to panic.

They're just really strong, I reassure myself. You've been here a dozen times. You always feel a little sick. You'll be fine. They'll level out soon. 

"Wow," I mutter, hoping to elicit a response from Cara. She just smiles and nods ever so slightly, still with her eyes on the stage. 

I spend the next ten minutes trying to find something to hold onto, visually and psychically. The nausea has abated, leaving in its wake a dizzy mental twist I haven't experienced in over a year, but which is instantly recognizable. Far, far down in front of me, the blur of lights and color and costume begins its telltale transition into multi-dimensionality. All in a rush, it dawns on me. I've taken LSD. There is no mistaking it. The unforgettable effects I first encountered on my birthday last year in Joshua Tree compound by the millisecond, and I know.

I know.

Gulping for air, I excuse myself and make a scene trying to disentangle myself from pair after pair of legs as I flee our party's bench. I can feel dozens if not hundreds of eyes on me. Dozens if not hundreds of curious frowns. I don't care. I have to get away, get some space. I know what I'm in for, and I'm trying not to freak out before I can get a handle on the situation.

The night is mercifully cool as I stagger down the raked aisle alongside the amphitheater. No idea where I'm going. No idea what I'm going to do. I'm clasping my phone like the lifeline I know it is, putting off the inevitable. The pine trees lining the walkway loom like green giants overhead, their edges vibrating, rainbow-bright. In a little bit I'll be able to bear looking at them. Maybe ten or fifteen more minutes, if I'm lucky. Maybe longer. Eventually I know, if the trip goes right, they will be stunningly, heartbreakingly beautiful. But right now, I have to take in a little as possible, visually. It's far too overwhelming, because I'm still coming to terms with the fact that I've just taken a drug that, the last time I took it, made me want to kill myself. At first, anyway. 

I need to talk to someone I can trust. Someone who will calm me down, not scold or criticize me. Someone who will listen and walk me back from the ledge. 

My options are limited. My closest friends and I are on shaky ground. Two I'd like to call would be extremely unimpressed with my choice tonight, and would definitely make me feel worse about it. One is at home with spouse and kids, and an LSD-frenzied call from me would be wholly unwelcome. It doesn't occur to me to call Cameron, who probably would have been an excellent choice. Instead I decide to call my ex-boyfriend. 

No, not that one. The one before that one. The artist. If you've been with me for at least three years, then you know who I mean. If you haven't, all you need to know is he was the one that helped me when my dad died. He's a touchstone in my life, and remains a friend. And I trust him. I used to call him "A" on my blog. His real name is Greg. 

Greg, obviously surprised to hear from me so randomly, picks up within two rings. I pour my words out as quickly as I can, grateful for the familiar voice on the other end. 

"Greg? I'm at the Bowl with some friends, and someone gave me acid, and I didn't know I was going to do it, but I did, and I just need to talk to someone for a moment, ok? I know I'll be fine, I know the deal, but right now I'm just really scared because it's really, really, really hard at first until it levels out, and can you please just talk to me for a minute until I'm ok? Please?"

You know the tone of voice that someone who cares about you deeply sometimes takes, when they're exasperated beyond belief, but they also have enormous compassion for you, because they know you're something of a fuckup, but they love you anyway and would do anything to make sure you're okay?

That's the tone of voice I latch onto for the next ten minutes. And I am thankful for it. 

I don't remember much of what was said. I kept repeating myself; that I know. LSD looping: it's real, it's unavoidable, and it's one of the worst parts of the trip. Recursive thoughts that become verbal tics. I probably just kept saying how rough the beginning was, but that I knew I'd be okay in a little while. Greg did what he could to keep me calm, joking with me, reminding me that there was nothing I could do so I might as well give in and enjoy it. 

At some point, Cara finds me. Her eyes are round with fear, and she searches my face even as she asks concerned, solicitous questions. We play a game then, and the game is this: we both know she's given me LSD, not shrooms, but my poor reaction has terrified her; she is sure I'm going to tell Alfie, a friend she very much doesn't want to lose, so she pretends not to know what's really happened. We go back and forth, back and forth. I tell her I'm not stupid. "Please just be honest with me," I beg. "I know the difference between shrooms and acid, and it's okay, maybe you didn't know? Maybe your boyfriend mixed up batches or something?" I cast about for any excuse for her. I don't want to believe this stranger has drugged me. But I can tell she's lying, and badly at that. I can tell she's only trying to cover her ass, afraid of getting in trouble with our more conservative mutual friend. 

We spend several minutes lurching around near the bathrooms and smoking area while she tries to keep me calm and quiet. I realize she's not as high as I am. She might not even be high at all. I can't decide what to do with this information, where to put it or how to feel about it. 

And then, as abruptly as clicking to the next slide of a View Master, everything that is horrible about LSD becomes everything that is magical about LSD. Because that is LSD. 

So.

Now I'm faced with the task I couldn't accomplish the last time it was set before me, sixteen months ago: trying to explain why acid--as I have seen twice now--is the most powerful and life-changing substance on the planet. Why it will leave you breathless, tear-stained, and giddy with joy. How it will morph the physical world into a wonderland of possibility and living poetry. How it will crack your self-perception into a kaleidoscope of new, impossibly thrilling perspectives.

I will say it clearly and without qualification: LSD is my favorite thing in the universe. I wish I could put into words what it has given me in terms of self-awareness and self-love. I wish I had the courage to do it every month. I wish for everyone I love the gifts it has to give. 

Alas. It's LSD. Fat chance.

I feel like the posts I wrote after Joshua Tree were comprehensive, to say the least. I don't know that anything I could add now would further illuminate...what I'm trying to illuminate. But my god. All I can say is that last year wasn't a fluke. It really is a rabbit hole at the bottom of which is the pure light of consciousness. I know, I know. Believe me, I know. But there's nothing for it. I can't talk about acid without sounding like an insane hippie. It's acid. 

It all came out, of course. Everyone found out, including Alfie. You cannot hide being on LSD. LOL at the idea of that, really. Cara and I rejoined the group about halfway through the show, but almost immediately I had to leave again, so that I could literally run up and down the side of the amphitheater, crying with happiness, calling every friend I could think to call, leaving crazy-person voicemails about how much I loved them. The clarity and sense of serenity were even deeper than they'd been the first time. Or maybe I was ready for them to come sooner. Less afraid. Either way, I just wandered around, occasionally watching the vibrancy onstage but mostly communing with the trees and stars above. 

After the show we all trekked out together, snaking through the parking lot down to the boulevard. Brake lights smearing the night. I had to hold someone's arm. I took huge gasping breaths, amazed at how lovely even the traffic was. I apologized over and over to Alfie; so did Cara. He assured me he wasn't angry, but even in my altered state I could tell: Cara would be excommunicated for her sins. 

We ended up at Alfie and Kenne's house, where I staggered about their backyard in a dream state while they babysat. You could not commission a set designer to decorate a more acid-trip perfect setting than Alfie and Kenne's backyard. Trees and flowers, potted and wild, big and small. Riotous color and texture. Stone and pottery and brick and little kitschy plastic yard toys. I was in an absolute reverie of delight and gratitude. The spell broke internally, and I confessed to my friends about something that had recently happened to me. I sobbed and sobbed, relieved to have the truth out. Cara held me by the arms and made me look her in the eye while she told me what a beautiful soul I was. I'd long since forgiven her, and made her promise to thank her boyfriend for giving me this experience.

I texted Timo. Just his name. If he'd replied I would have told him I was tripping on LSD and happily thinking of him. He didn't answer, though, which in retrospect was probably good. It might have been a bit much, having not known me for very long. 

Eventually I wore everyone out. Kenne and Alfie went to bed, Cara went home after staying out with me for another couple of hours, and I found myself alone in front of a dive bar in Koreatown. I was still soaring. I called Greg, or maybe he called me, to make sure I was okay. I was fine, but I knew my night was nowhere near over. I took an Uber to Hollywood, and the babysitting baton was passed to my old neighbor turned boyfriend turned ex turned friend. He sat with me patiently in another dive bar while I babbled. He smiled with amusement when I cried with joy. And finally, sometime around 2am when I was finally able to eat, he bought me food. Then he put me back in an Uber and sent me home, aglow and abuzz with new life. 

LSD, round two.