“This is it,” I thought as I huddled under a pile of musty sleeping bags, ratty blankets, and discarded coats in the back of my friend’s mini-van, trying desperately to find some warmth and stop shivering. Despite the warm mid-afternoon August sun pouring through the tinted windows of the van and the weight of layer after layer of material pressing down on me, the tremors continued to wrack my body, and I knew that this time, there was no coming back. I’d gone too far.

I’d spent the past two years dropping acid on a regular basis. One to three times a week, placing the small squares of paper on my tongue, tasting the slightly metallic tang of the chemicals as they leaked out of the hit and into my body, feeling the paper dissolve into a mushy mess in my mouth until I spit it out and waited eagerly for the familiar sensations of an acid trip to take hold. “Seven hits and you’re legally insane,” we’d remind each other as the drug started to take hold, laughing as we tried to calculate just how many times we’d tripped and how many hits we’d taken. Soon our nerves would jack into overdrive: each touch a new experience, sending us questing for the perfect texture; sounds would sharpen, gaining depth and dimensionality undreamt of on more sober days; colors brightening, shimmering and dancing before our eyes; and sometimes — though less often for me than for some of my friends — our minds, unsatisfied with the paltry sensory input we were providing, would start to invent their own and the hallucinations would kick in.

This time, though, it wasn’t fun. Instead of acid, my usual drug of choice, I’d instead embarked on an altogether different trip — the ticket this time being a full eighth of the dry, foul-tasting fungus known colloquially as ‘shrooms. Curled in the fetal position in my improvised shelter, hearing the muffled sounds of friends and strangers laughing and partying outside the van, I knew that this had been a mistake, and feared that it was one for which I would be paying for the rest of my life.

My friends and I were at Alaska’s annual Talkeetna Bluegrass Festival, an event that, for many people, has more to do with round-the-clock partying and indulging in intoxicants both legal and illegal than it does with folk music. Two hours’ drive north of Anchorage in Katie’s borrowed mini-van, surrounded by the tall fragrant evergreens and birch trees of the Alaskan wilderness, a large parcel of land had been plowed into the festival arena. Beyond a gate made secure more by the Hell’s Angels standing on either side than by the orange plastic security fencing stretched across simple wooden poles was the official festival area: a large stage in front of a trampled dirt field, with gaily colored booths set up around the perimeter to hawk everything from gauzy handmade faerie wings to glassware pipes (conspicuously missing the “For Tobacco Use Only” signs so prominent when sold at smoke shops in the city) to plump, succulent sausages.

This area was dwarfed, however, by the campground: seven football field sized swaths carved out of the surrounding forest containing thousands of cars and enough people to make the festival the third largest community in the state of Alaska for this one weekend each year. Dust-coated sports cars, SUVs, station wagons, mini-vans and full-size campers competed for space with tents, blue tarps, and all manner of improvised camp sites. Leather-clad Hell’s Angels would roar through on ATVs, barking at campers to move their sites this way and that so that more cars could inch their way through the narrow, muddy lanes, made all the more impassable as each new carload of people emptied and and began wandering throughout the site. Campfire smoke would mix with the sweet smell of marijuana, one campsite’s techno would battle with another campsite’s Metallica, and with nightfall, sudden explosions of sound and color appeared as fireworks flew randomly above and about the campgrounds. In short, chaos — made all the more incredible when experienced from far outside the rational norms of sobriety.

Since LSD takes a couple days to work its way out of the body, and Friday had been an experiment with “day-tripping” (an unusual experience for me, as I generally preferred to spend my acid trips in dimmer light — a ‘cockroach,’ according to my friends), dropping another hit or two of acid wasn’t an option. So, when an acquaintance sauntered by our campsite and mentioned that he had some mushrooms available for interested parties, it didn’t take me long to decide to give them a try. I had tried mushrooms twice before, neither time with much success, merely getting mildly irritated and going to bed. “Well, if a sixteenth didn’t do much for you,” advised Chad, “try an eighth.” As these things so often do, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Money changed hands, and I was handed a plastic baggie with four rather unimpressive looking shriveled brown mushrooms inside. I sniffed them and made a face. “_Man_, these things smell like shit!”

“They should,” laughed my source. “They’re grown in it!”

Knowing I wouldn’t be able to stomach just popping the foul little things into my mouth — I’m not fond of eating normal mushrooms, let alone mushrooms that so pungently betray their origin — I dug into our food supplies, poured a large bowl of applesauce, and crumbled the ‘shrooms into the bowl. Picking up a spoon, I put the first bite into my mouth — and discovered to my dismay that the tart sweetness of the applesauce hardly disguised the foul taste of the fungus at all. In fact, not only did the concoction still taste foul, but the mushroom pieces had become quite unpleasantly moist, sliding down my throat like slightly spoiled oysters. Still, I was determined to give ‘shrooming one last attempt, and I managed to work my way through the bowl.

Three hours later, and I was regretting my decision unlike any other I’d made to that point. While the initial sensations had been not entirely unlike those of an acid trip, things soon took on new and uncomfortable tones. Even though the late summer sun was still shining down on us, I kept getting colder and colder. Sounds became more and more disjointed, leaving voices and music muffled until they grew close and suddenly exploded into full volume within my head. I soon retreated into the back of the van in an attempt to gain a little more control over my surroundings. The sensations continued to increase, however, forcing me to close the back gate of the van and crank every window shut so that as little sound as possible would leak in. After a few minutes of digging through bags I had every piece of fabric I could find wrapped around me. Still, I could feel myself sinking deeper and deeper into the effects of the drug — and for the first time in my years of drug use, I was scared.

Unable to do more than huddle in a ball and let the drug run its course, I listened to the sounds of the festivities outside. “Is he okay?” I heard someone ask. I wasn’t, but I couldn’t unclench the aching muscles of my jaw in order to say anything, and soon I heard their voice fade away after they gained friendly reassurances from my campmates. “He just needs to be left alone for a bit,” I heard, and I felt my fingernails cut into my palms as another spasm of shivers ran through my body. To be alone was the _last_ thing I needed right then, but there was no way for me to let them know. All I could do was lie there, wait, and hope that there was going to be an end to this.

Four hours later, it slowly dawned on me that I hadn’t actually felt things getting worse in a little while. Cautiously, I unclenched my fists and moved some of the pile aside, pushing myself up to lean against the wall of the van. The sun, on its long journey toward setting, was peeking between the trees, sending stripes of shadow across the windows. As one enthusiastic campsite a few cars down sent an early roman candle shooting blue and red balls of flame into the air, I realized that the shivers had stopped. I wasn’t anywhere near sober, but I had peaked. I’d made it through the worst of the trip, and had finally started the long, slow process of coming down.

As I pushed the back gate of the van up, the outside world seemed to pour back into my shelter. Music, conversation and smoke drifted in. Chad looked up from the stick he held over our campfire, and a little bit of marshmallow dripped down and sizzled on the glowing coals. “Hey. You okay?” I nodded. I would be okay, or at least I was pretty sure I would be, and that was close enough. After a short pause, Chad nodded back, then turned back to blow out his marshmallow and add its gooey white stickiness to the in-progress S’more in his hand.

For the rest of the night, I sat in the van, watching people walk by outside, listening to the random snippets of conversation and music, and occasionally exploring our food reserves for tastes and textures that I could handle. Letting the rhythms of the ongoing party outside wash over me, I turned my thoughts inward, prying open all the musty mental boxes and psychological cubbyholes that I’d constructed over the past few years, pulling out the contents, shaking the dust off, and investigating whatever I uncovered. As rain started to fall and passersby slogged through the muck of the suddenly soggy campsites, I slogged through the muck in my mind, facing demons I had hidden from during the years of self-medicating my way out of having to cope with the world around me.

As the morning sun broke over the treetops, I stepped out into the crisp morning air and found Chad and Katie. “It’s time to go home.” They nodded, Chad grabbed the keys and took the driver’s seat, and we slowly worked our way back out to the highway. While Katie slept in the back, Chad and I talked about my night. “I’m done,” I told him. “It’s been a fun couple of years, but it’s time for me to start facing things again.” We fell silent as Chad drove, and I watched the light flicker through the trees and the gentle curves of the road unfurl before us as we continued into Anchorage, the rising sun at our backs, and a chemical-free life before me.

—–

Paper number three for ENG101. On the one hand, as this was a ‘personal narrative’ essay, it was right up my alley — not only is it one of my favorite forms of writing (purely creative), but after the number of years I’ve spent babbling on this website, it’s one I have a lot of practice with. The downside, though, was picking a topic — after the number of years I’ve spent babbling on this website, I had to find something I hadn’t rambled on about already! Eventually, I settled on a story I’ve been meaning to tell for some time now: the last time I did any sort of illegal narcotics.

In the end, I got a perfect 4.0/100%, and JC asked for permission to hold onto a copy of the paper to use as an example of good writing in future classes.

Yay for drugs!