By Alexander Greco
April 20, 2019
I began coughing immediately.
“Kmpfff! Nnggk… Kmpff-kmpff! Oh, shit—kmpff—shit, that’s—nngk—strong.”
My friend laughed. “It’s not that strong, chill.”
I kept coughing. “Damn—knpff —I don’t know. Feels pretty—nkguhh—pretty fucking strong.”
My friend started packing their things. “You’ve never done it before, how the hell do you know?”
My coughing dwindled down to a few precarious remainders. “It doesn’t feel like it’s not strong.”
“You’ll be fine,” my friend said, then stood up to leave.
“You’re going?” I asked.
They stopped and looked at me. “Yea, gotta study tonight.”
“But we just started…”
“You just started.” My friend smiled impishly. “Have fun.” And then they left.
The door closed, and I was left alone with the occasional cough and the ringing city-silence for companions. I was left alone with this burning in my chest, and nothing to do.
Nothing changed, I didn’t feel weird at all, and there was no anxiety or fear or paranoia that I noticed. My throat burned like a smokestack in summer, although that was a weird way of putting it. I was just normal me.
I stood up walked through the house to my back porch—back to the place I like to sit, when I smoke my cigarettes and watch the sky—and there I stopped and looked at a tree.
The wind was grabbing at it, and pulling it up into the sky—leaves were dancing like birds on a leash, careening through the air in frantic spirals. All throughout, little gestures and handwaves of cardinals bearing gold and jeweled—
I blinked. Woah. I think it was starting.
I sort of took a moment to feel myself. Yea, I felt it now. It was here—something, whatever it was was here. Clouds of thunder cracking across muscles and tendons, and I could feel great webs of sensation tracing lines of being through my body. Thoughts, people’s faces and their words, them speaking things into my own thoughts that walked around, all toward some epicenter, some place we were all coming to.
“Oh, shit, woah…” I tried to calm myself down. I didn’t feel bad, but… this wasn’t what I was expecting. I cleared my throat. It felt dry. My tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth. My eyes, my head, and my neck throbbed in a weird way. It was like a headache, more like a head-hum that vibrated church bell ringing and summer-sun radiation from dilated blood vessels carrying a fluid jewel.
God, what was I saying? No, I wasn’t saying anything, I was thinking it. But… I wasn’t even thinking it, it was like I was visiting some other place in my head, some other place where I was only halfway in the real world.
I stood up.
Water. I needed some water. I walked inside the house.
Water, I need water. Some water.
My hand pulled a glass from somewhere in the kitchen, then the faucet was on and water was filling the glass.
What am I doing? I wondered, what am I witnessing? I’m watching myself pour water into a glass, because my throat is dry and my tongue is sticking to the roof of my mouth. Yes. Yes, I can see myself doing it—I can watch myself pouring the water out, yes, I can see myself being a person who’s mouth is dry, that’s what I’m being. Look at me, I’m really going after it. Huh, it’s full. And I’m drinking it. Oooh, I can feel myself being a person who thinks this water feels so good. I can see myself being this fucking baffoon, standing glassy-eyed and confused with a glass of water. And for a moment, for a snapping fraction of a second, I was terrified of what I saw.
But then, it was gone. And what I saw… All I saw was reality, wasn’t it? Some form or fashion of it.
And I think that water did help.
I moved my tongue around my mouth and swallowed. And everything felt fine. And here I am, standing in the middle of this room with a glass of water.
I looked around. Was this what it’s like? I wasn’t expecting something like this. It’s not bad, it’s just… It’s strange. It’s not like normal reality. Everything becomes something different.
I walked upstairs with the glass of water. I felt a little wobbly as I walked, but I had no difficulty making it up the stairs, or opening the door. I walked to the bed, and sat down. And I felt… strange… but I felt fine.
What would I do? I wondered.
What should I do while I’m like this?
I looked above me, almost out of some arbitrary instinct. I looked first at the ceiling fan, and then at a spider crawling on the ceiling above. I wonder what it would be like to be that spider? I wonder what it would be like to crawl upside down, clinging to the heavens with eight arms, and gazing at the strange earth beneath. And to this spider, for all it knows, this room might only be a pocket dimension nested within the greater, outer dimension of the sky.
And maybe for all spiders across all of the world, all houses are all pocket dimensions that the giant and terrible humans reside in.
Wow. Why did I think that thought? I wondered. Why did I walk down that road, tread the neuronal pathways that—
Why am I treading anything? What am I doing? What is happening in my head. Oh, god-fuck, what is happening?
I inhaled. My chest hurt. My lungs I think. Hadn’t quite recovered. I filled my chest and felt my aches.
And then I exhaled.
I felt myself deflate and the emission of my body escape. We’re never not gasping for air, like fish with legs that convulsively suck air from their environment before puffing it out. We’re so strange… so strange…
And this. This was strange…
What had my friend given me? What was in that? Was that… Was that stuff real? Was that stuff… laced? What was it? How well did I really know them? And how did I know that what my friend had given me was good?
Was this what it was like? Or was this what it’s like to be poisoned? Was this what it was like to die, gasping for air? Oh god, was I the fish that I heard? Was I the gasping, dying, drowning thing retching clammy carbon dioxide into my ears?
I stopped and listened. No. I was breathing normally. My chest did hurt a little, but that drag had burnt much more than a little.
Jesus, am I really being paranoid like this? What am I doing? What am I saying to myself, in my head. Where am I going, and what am I hearing in those places—who is saying it?
Am I saying it to someone else? Is someone else speaking to me? Where’s the voice coming from? What is this thing in my head? It’s like there’s this place I keep going. It’s like Wiggin’s game that he kept playing, over and over and over again. And it’s like this dream he steps into. And that’s what this is… I keep stepping into a dream, then stepping out again.
A shower. I need a shower. It’s already late in the day. I’ll take a shower, then I’ll go lay down and sleep for a while. I’ll go sleep. I’ll go rest. A good long rest.
I stood up. Just take a shower. A nice, warm, relaxing one. Go turn on the water.
Get the water just right.
Turn the knob in the middle, make the shower come on.
And then I stepped inside, and let the water come down on me. It was warm, very warm, and nice, so nice. Yea, this is what I needed. I needed to melt away in the water. Melt away with this cascading tide. One glass wasn’t enough, I needed to be taken back. This was a strange attempt at something, but I’d already lost it.
They’re marching away, aren’t they?
I didn’t turn the bathroom light on, I realized that now. The door was slightly open. Through the doorway, light streamed through into the steaming pocket of dark space. And through the doorway, I watched them all march away.
All soldiers of lost anxieties, and all dark thoughts resigned to death in the name of the Father, the God Emperor, the Wise King and Tyrannical Ruler, the child the man the elder. All violent tendencies, survival tactics, and insecure, rat-like thoughts of teeth-bearing. All marching with the turning of the season, all marching with the tune of a relaxed heart and deep breath, all marching with the swords I’d armed them—with anger as ore and wit as a hammer.
I watch them all march away.
I lean on the wall like a bent and tired titan leaning against a mountain in the twilight. I watch myself lean there, and I am gone from myself. I hate myself, and I love myself. I know myself, and am ignorant of myself. I slander myself, and defend myself.
Outside it’s a whole other world. Outside it’s something else. There’s me, and I’m watching myself through some hole in the sky, but I am still inside this box of perception. I’m still inside this shower, though lean through a window in another dimension, and I can only peer out from my small, dark corner and wonder what world lies in the Outside.
The Outside of everything I can see in this given moment. The Outside of my knowledge of what is and isn’t. The Outside of the reality we can rely upon—the snakes and the poisons, and the padding and the sharp corners, and the stories and notions we lean upon as a crutch—that exists solely as the abstract and the unknown.
That which lies outside the shower. What is it? Why am I afraid? It’s just the city. It’s just people. It’s just buildings. It’s just roads, and maps, and streetlights, and storefronts, and Google maps with directions and reviews and recommendations and related links, where your vision becomes a splintering windshield after the collision of the world-on-its-bicycle-riding-in-front-of-you, but you’re going too fast to stop.
I rinsed, shampooed, rinsed again, then stood in the shower for a long time. I’m just someone sitting here, thoughts racing, and I’m just watching myself. I’m watching the sensation of wwater falling on my skin. I watching my feet making contact with the slippery bathtub, and the scant friction raging against the skin of my feet is saving me from chaos. I’m watching my eyes stare at the walls, and stare out the doorway. I am my senses and my thoughts—a tunnel of perceptions and conceptions, brick and mortar made of my beliefs and my fears and my tactile reality.
Eventually, I stopped the water.
I couldn’t actually tell you how long I was in the shower. I don’t think it could have been very long, but it seemed like each moment had been packed with something extra. Every second got its dollars-worth from me, and every arc of thought was some chapter from a confused adult’s picture book.
Jesus, calm down. Calm down, calm down, calm down.
Step out of the shower.
And then I wrapped the towel around my waist and walked into the bedroom.
Sit down on the bed.
And I sat there, calmly exhaling and inhaling. Or was I inhaling and exhaling? I don’t know. You couldn’t do one without the other. Just like there was no crest without a trough, there could be no breath without a sigh, no excitement without relief, no relaxing without tensing.
And I sat still. I hoped my mind would sit still as well. I hoped to hold onto the reigns long enough to get a hold of these thoughts that may or may not have been my thoughts. A place in my head that may or may not have been a place in my head.
“Shhh… Calm down… Relax… Chill…” I spoke to myself—the calm part of me speaking across the table to the anxious part of me.
My calmness put a hand on my anxiety’s shoulder. This is just a ride, my friend. We’re on a roller-coaster, and you can’t put your hand out to grab the rail and stop it. Just go with it, lean into it. Push yourself into the stream, and see where it takes you.
We clinked glasses together in a bustling room of quiet luxury.
What if it’s like a superpower, I asked my dinner-companion, but you just don’t know how to control that superpower. What is it then?
I guess it doesn’t have a name. I guess this thing, you can only explain what it’s like. So, people call it “getting high”. I didn’t feel high. I didn’t feel up. I didn’t feel myself in any direction but inside and outside.
But then I looked down at myself, and maybe I was high. I looked through some window up above myself, and saw myself sitting on the bed. I could almost see the thoughts forming in my head. I could almost see the small storms in my consciousness. Was it “me” that was getting high?
I was just two eyes watching my real eyes watch the world. I was just two ears listening to what my real ears heard. I was just two hemispheres of a brain, thinking about what my real brain was thinking about. I wasn’t high. I was inside. I was in the trenches. And I was through a window.
I was outside of it the same time I was on the inside.
I turned and looked out the window.
I was through a window, standing outside. I was through a window, standing with everyone else out there. I was through a window, imagining what thoughts must go through everyone’s head.
I was through a window, watching everyone else evaluate what reality was focused through their eyes. They get this moving photograph, and they base all their life’s decisions on it. Forks of lightning deciding instantaneously which path to take through the air.
One person passed by the street, a single lighthouse of consciousness that hummed from down there to up here, and I felt so alienated and comforted by that light. What ships have sailed and coursed through their mind that might find safe passage with me? What secret galleries have they kept locked from the world around them that I might be allowed to see? What underground vaults of thoughts and memories might be buried in that person—what might they have forgotten about?—and what windows have they slammed shut and drawn the blinds on?
Has the world gone dark for these people? Has the world gone dark for me?
In the great Outside, that great, external dimension I only peer at through windows, the city street has become an empty runway for self-imagined nightmares. The street-lamps stand like industrial guardians—guarding a dream of peace and order, and civility and modernity. The buildings peer down on this lonely traveler, cameras and sensors and cellphones and narcs, judging and waiting for something inside this person to burst forth.
And if I watched long enough, I might watch some poor citizen—perhaps “high” like I am—exhibit the non-canonical, non-conforming, non-civilized behavior that would have them dragged away from society. We don’t like sickness here. We don’t like strangeness. We don’t like outbursts of inhuman humanity. We want cookie-cutter civility, and we want each step to be taken like an American would walk them.
If I stepped onto that street as I am now—if I left my small pocket reality of insecure security—the whole world might collapse upon me in injustice and disgust. If I stared too long at a single brick in the buildings, those buildings might reach out and pull me into their iron bars and shatter-proof visitation windows.
What would anyone who’d ever cared for me think if I was seen on the Otherside of civilization? What would anyone who’d ever cared for me think if I was displayed in the iron-law zoo for dangerous animals? What would anyone who’d ever cared for me think if they saw me cowering in my cell—all at once a threat to society, a quivering, anxious child, and a spiteful, festering golem of tar-black resentment for the Outside? That world, that world I can’t encroach upon, that word, that word that dictates “our” reality and “their” reality.
And to anyone that didn’t care about me, would I just be a statistic to them? A number they’ll never know, but they can guess at. An animal in an encyclopedia they can’t understand except with pictures and Oxford definitions. I will be an animal and a number to the rest of the world, an aberration of humanity that can’t be equated for in the algebras of our Social Contracts.
I looked up from the street.
I looked all around the city, for as much of it as I could see, at least.
But we’re all animals, I thought.
We’re some aberration, hiding in our caves, in our pocket dimensions, and peering out of windows with eyes peering out of eyes.
It’s a big city.
How many other people out there are “high” with me? How many other people are walking the streets, though we’re sitting on our beds, or at our desks, or in our living rooms, looking through the window and walking like projections in the Outside?
How many of us deserve to be locked away behind iron bars, simply for falling apart on our own time? How many of us deserve the blockade and the humiliating social spectacle of a medieval witch-burning, simply for our insides bursting into our own protected pockets? Would you lock me away for my messy little world, so long as I kept the streets clean of my sickness?
So strange that we fear the Outside, when it’s the Inside where the unknown dwells. Am I what the street-lamps fear? Am I what dirties the street? Am I what erodes the social fabric?
Or am I just an animal, self-contained behind eyes behind a mask behind a window?
Or am I just high?
Lay down, I told myself.
Close your eyes.
And now, sleep. Rest. Dream. Revive.
not like this
But in the dark, and behind my closed eyelids, I went somewhere. I went to that other place, that Inside place, that reality in my head. I didn’t dream, but I walked through my thoughts, my memories, and my self, almost as though it was a dream. I didn’t sleep, there was too much noise in the silence and too many bright colors in the dark, but god I’d never felt so relaxed. I didn’t revive or recover or rejuvenate from the day’s toils, but sometime around 4 AM, still awake in my head in my bed in my room, still watching from behind a window behind a mask behind my eyes, I think I died. By the time the sun disturbed the silence, what had died had still not come to life again.
And that’s what it’s like.