birthday trip (part one)

Both of us are a little burned out, by the time we head to the desert. Ready for a break, anxious for a change of scenery.

We agree to take half an hour to vent and catch one another up on our respective work developments/dramas, then put the subject aside for the weekend. To kill some driving time, I read aloud from the School of Life's Book of Life - the chapter on relationships I'd dipped into days earlier. There's a series of interesting prompts I stumbled across in the "Artificial Conversations" section that I want to put to my boyfriend of eleven months, who is game, because we still love stuff like this. We still love playing games of questions, swapping stories about ourselves or our experiences that otherwise we might never disclose.

His answers are unsurprising, but I'm not in it for surprises anyway. Half the pleasure of listening to him speak at length on any subject is the measured, careful way he thinks things through. No exaggeration, no hyperbole. A willingness to back step when necessary, to correct himself. An ability to admit when he just doesn't know. A readiness to acknowledge and laugh at his shortcomings as much as tease me for mine. A keen sensitivity to even the slightest shifts of my mood, as dictated by his answers. He remains the clearest, most honest communicator I have ever been with.

We've gotten a later start than we'd wanted, so it's dark when we reach the gated property. Timo's roommate's car stirs up dust down a long driveway lined with white flowering bushes I spent most of my life around but still don't know the name of. I've come equipped with more baggage than the duffel bag and backpack into which I've stuffed my essentials: I've come, unavoidably, ready to judge this house, this weekend, and this experience against my last visit to Joshua Tree.

The home we've rented is quirky and close-feeling, packed with tchotchkes, dozens of funky, mismatched lamps, and provocative, if amateurish, art. Fruit flies pressed in thick acrylic frames. Salvaged carousel horses with chipped paint and toothy grimaces. Canvases that look distinctly DIY, with sloppy lettering and random imagery. Slanted windows intensify the claustrophobic vibes, and I feel a quiver of disappointment and a needle prick of fear: this probably isn't a good house for me to drop acid in.

Still, it is delightful to be away. We unpack.

When I'd told Timo I wanted to take LSD with me to Joshua Tree, he didn't exactly jump up and down with excitement. He'd been picturing something more along the lines of a romantic getaway than a stint babysitting his psychonaut of a girlfriend. But we talked, and I explained that it was really all I wanted for my birthday. That it was important to me. That it's the closest I come to a spiritual experience, ever, and that it feels like the equivalent of a year's worth of therapy. I didn't expect him to understand. I don't expect anyone to, really. I know how absurd it sounds.

But Timo being Timo, he understands. More than that, he embraces it. He looks online for information about how to best support someone tripping on acid. What to do, what to say, how to keep them safe and feeling positive during their experience. He puts together a "Life is Beautiful" care package, with colorful, sense-enhancing stuff for me to play with while I'm high. Glow sticks and light-up balloons. An oversized bubble-blowing wand. Art supplies. A glittery HAPPY BIRTHDAY banner to hang in the trees. Sparkly, tactile-minded toys to delight the child in me, during my very grown-up adventure.

I pull these things one by one from the gift bag, while the music we've brought spills out open doors and windows, into the endless desert night. Each item makes me more giddy than the last, until finally I run outside, my favorite of the balloons in hand. Timo follows, snapping into life a pair of glow bracelets. Between us we've got an armful of light in an otherwise dark yard.

Tomorrow afternoon this place will be a veritable wonderland to me, three-dimensional and alive and more beautiful than my altered consciousness can stand. But right now it's just a sprawling expanse of typical desert landscape, flat and dry and still-hot, even though the stars have displaced the sun.

The balloon pops after one or two playful bounces, so we turn our attention to the glow toys, videotaping them in slow motion and then time lapse, just to see the effects.

Back inside, I empty the bag's remaining contents, among them five or six rainbow-hued plastic leis. I scoop them up, laughing. "They were colorful," Timo explains unnecessarily, smiling happily at how much fun I'm having.

"So awesome," I say, also unnecessarily. And because it is a hundred degrees outside, and because I am marooned with my boyfriend on two acres of private land in the middle of the desert, on my birthday, I decide there is nothing for it but to take off my shirt and wear only these leis until we finally go to bed, whenever that may be. And once I've done that, we don't notice much other than the music filling the house, and the fact of our aloneness. And the smiles on our face change, then, from joy to something else. And for the next little while, I try in my way to give something back to the man I love, for all that he has given me tonight.

---

Later in the hammock, all the house lights shut off, we are still and quiet in one another's arms. The wind is delicious, and relentless. Rushing around the yard; scraping the house. Making eaves creak and tree limbs sway and wind chimes sing. Chills run the length of my body, not because I am cold, but because I am anticipating tomorrow. In fact I've not been able to think of much else since we arrived. I've been constantly calculating my environment, wondering what and when and how and how much. Is this crazy, crowded house going to freak me out? Where do I want to be, when it hits? Where will I go, if I get frightened? Should I even do it? What if it's bad again, but this time for longer? What if it's worse? 

And at the end of these fears, like a wishing well becoming still once more, is the calming truth: It will be worth it. The bad is bad, yes, but the good is a heaven like nothing you know, the other 364 days a year. And anyway, who wants to stay in the shallow end, all the time? Life is for living.

I snuggle deeper against Timo's chest and let the wind whisper its promises, its invitations. Come play with us, it says. Come see.

Melancholy settles over me, and I fantasize about the hammock freeing itself from where it hangs, carrying the two of us off into the black sky. A magic carpet with its own mind. What then? Timo would fight it, would want to come home to all that he has and all that he is here on earth - but me? Why not me? What would I miss? What and who would miss me? Not much and not many, I decide, but not bitterly. The freeness of my simple, small-scoped existence is equal parts terrifying and exhilarating. I could disappear forever and only a few people's lives would be disrupted, and briefly at that.

But a few is better than none. And that's a warm thought to anchor oneself to, on a windy night like this.