When I lost my mind
There was something so pleasant about that place.
Even your emotions have an echo
In so much space
And when you're out there
Yeah I was out of touch
But it wasn't because I didn't know enough
I just knew too much
- Lyrics from the album St. Elsewhere
I was a quiet kid. I never caused any trouble or even minor disruptions. I remember once when I was at the dollar store with my paternal grandmother, Grammy, she bought me a plastic dagger with a holster that I tied around my arm. It was the coolest thing I’d ever owned at six years old, and as we walked out of the store the holster fell off my arm. Grammy kept walking ahead and I ran to catch up. I left the holster on the ground, too scared to ask her to wait for me. Another time at school I pissed my pants when I didn’t ask Miss Henderson if I could go to the restroom. Hell, this trend of not rocking the boat was present even when I got a haircut. My hair was medium-long and parted to the side with mousse, and as I sat down I made it my goal to be the perfect client. I tried to predict every “now turn to the left” and “look down” so that the barber wouldn’t have to tell me or guide even my head to the side or down with his hands.
At school I was the same. Very obedient, and always straight As. The only thing I could remember going wrong at this age was a bully I had. I don’t remember too much about him, but I do remember Dad showing up to the cafeteria decked out in his brown police officer uniform sized at least XL. His golden badge was shining high above my head as he asked me to point out the kid who was bothering me. I pointed to a kid across and further down the long brown table, who promptly hid his face in the square plastic bowl of Frosted Flakes. I’m not sure what else Dad said, but that kid must have dove into that bowl or something because that’s my last memory of him. Did you know my dad could beat up your dad? I did, and I didn’t doubt it. He was my shield, and he’d drop me off at school in his cop car, and WHOOP the lights as he said “Bye Mario!” through the speaker.
These were happy times. My parents and I spent a lot of time together. We made frequent trips to Hollywood, Florida, to eat at our favorite pizza place by the beach, where we’d always order the white pizza. They took me to Disney World and to all my soccer games and practices, and one time they even picked me up early from school to head to Metro Zoo. I couldn’t believe it; school was everything, yet there I was, between Mom and Dad and swinging from their arms as we went to go see the albino alligators. I loved the animals, and loved learning about dinosaurs, and insects, too, and they always bought me tons of books to keep my young mind piqued.
We lived in a big house for just the three of us, a three-story pink home in a neighborhood called “Allegro.” My parents had the top floor and I had the second. When I wasn’t in my room playing with Legos or reading books and I’d go upstairs to play in theirs. One favorite game was hiding under the covers of their king-size bed and crawling around in circles until I had no clue which wall I was facing. I’d throw off the blankets and for a second I was lost. I wasn’t facing the TV or the wooden bedstead, but some wall I’d never noticed before. In that brief moment of disorientation I felt like the world was a new place, and even something so mundane as a wall, when seen in this new light, was enough to get me going in circles beneath a blanket. The novelty of the experience is what hooked me. It also explains why I watched Fantasia over and over and over again. Barney wasn’t enough for me, oh no, I wanted bright vivid colors thrown at me in new ways, sharp contrasts of dark and light. “I love you, you love me,” yeah, yeah, Barney, I loved you too, but you couldn’t compare to an actual tyrant lizard engaged in mortal combat with a spike-tailed foe. You taught me the magic words, but please don’t pretend you offered anything as riveting as the evolutionary trail of some of earth’s most magnificent creatures and the story of life and death set to Stravinsky’s hopeful melodies and dissonant chords. My young mind couldn’t speak these words, of course, but I worshipped nonetheless, repeating “again, again” in between bouts of wide-eyed wonder.
I was still six when Michelle was born, and now I had someone to look after and even play with. By the time I was seven I was already changing her diapers, giving her the bottle, and burping her, and just a year later she looked just like the little girl from Monsters Inc and would follow me everywhere, walking that tottering walk that toddlers do. We played together all the time, especially the game where I laid on my back on the couch with my arms tight to my sides as she tried to kick me off.
A few years later we all moved to a new house, a one story with a pool in a nicer neighborhood. I was about twelve by then. Things started to change. We took fewer trips to eat out. Mom wasn’t a teacher any more, and her new job meant she was always away on business. Dad didn’t slack off with the added income, and after 9/11 he began working a lot of overtime at PortMiami. 90 plus degree weather in near perfect humidity while decked out in dark brown in a working a job he hated, and on his feet the entire time, it must have been hell. No wonder he started coming home tired and angry. I could tell how bad his mood was by the way he opened the door. It was thick, dark, heavy wood, and he’d bully it open and throw it shut behind him. By the time it hit the frame I’d be in or heading to my room. Every little thing set him off. Maybe there were dishes I didn’t put away, or maybe I fucked up and dropped a glass or spilled milk. If it wasn’t him yelling at me it was Mom. Grades were a big deal to her. I was always the smartest kid in every class, and she had high hopes for me to get into Harvard. By the time I was in sixth grade I went from bringing home straight As to Ds and Cs. It was like the only attention I got was when I did something wrong. I didn’t catch all of it, though. Michelle got it too for whatever fuckups a six-year-old is capable of doing. The worst fights were between Mom and Dad. That scene in The Godfather with the smashing scenes comes to mind. I don’t think Dad ever hit her, though. Sometimes after their fights I’d go in Michelle’s room just to be with her, to feel better let her know it was ok.
Without the yelling it was a quiet house. There was rarely any talking, just the extremes of shouting or silence. Looking back it’s no surprise I started smoking weed, not even thirteen yet. It made me laugh, I actually smiled. There’s not a single photograph of me smiling at that age, not in any of the family reunions or events, but when I was high you can bet your ass I was cheesin’ big. I was happy, or at least it felt that way. My first drunk was just a couple years later, and in high school I had learned to properly half-ass school and appease my parents with a photo-shopped report card. Despite a few Cs and Ds somehow still get a full-ride thanks to all the AP courses I took and a decent score on the SATs. I tasted freedom in college, and by the time I was kicked out I was smoking blunts every day and dealing Xanax bars while snorting the ones I kept.
My parents sent me to Indy to restart my life. I had given up Xanax by then, having learned through experience that it was bad for your brain, and even made it back to school. I switched majors from psychology to biology, and divided my mind between devotion to my studies and the constant need to make myself feel different. I didn’t know I was bipolar then, but looking back there was a definite trend. I’d wreck a car one semester, and get As and A+s the next. I’d give up drinking for a year, find myself a nice girl and excel at work, only to relapse in Florida, punching a woman in the face and fighting cops. Whatever I was looking for I wasn’t finding in a bottle and I wasn’t finding in school. I turned to new chemicals as a last resort.
I did my research and found out about a chemical called dimethyltryptamine, DMT for short. It’s endogenous to our bodies, but if you want more than what’s already in there it can be cooked right in your very own home. Did you know I got in A in chem lab? I pulled out my old lab notebook, ripped out the pages that showed how to create green crystals and gasses that would burn in different colors (this was the teacher’s attempt to make chemistry cool) and put the recipe down for a different type of crystal. The lab and equipment were simple affairs, a small kitchen in a one-bedroom apartment, a pipette made from a turkey baster combined with a Visine bottle, and other supplies you can find online. Just Google “Acasia and Lye” and you’re good to go. After some careful measuring, pouring, and diligent note-taking, I poured the fluid into a Mason jar and put it in the freezer. Three days later I opened the freezer, and while I didn’t find Jesus, I did see small white crystals on the bottom of the short Mason jar. I scraped them out and into a glass pipe traditionally used to smoke methamphetamine. It looked like a bubble on the end of a thin glass stem, with a small entrance for the crystals. I heated the side until the glass glowed yellow-orange beneath the black stain from the lighter’s flame, and turned the pipe. The crystals fell into the hot spot, and soon the glass was filled with thick white smoke. I took the hit.
The smoke tasted like lighter fluid and copper. After the first drag I felt invisible waves thumping into me. It was like being at a concert with the bass turned way too up, but no sound. Outside my apartment I heard a neighbor walking by, talking to his friend about some movie.
“He was launched to another dimension.”
Immediately everything was in double, and the unadorned white walls of my apartment melted unto themselves into a giant checkerboard of diamond's light. I closed my eyes and I saw a ball, painted in squares, purple and red. It shone like wet pearl in the sun, and bloomed into a symphony of geometric shapes, each more complex than the last. It was a living fractal, an impossible flower with no sun to lean towards, no bees to attract, existing for the sake of existing as a beautiful impossibility. Again and again it flowed from inside out of itself. Each birth swallowed me whole; I was looking at the spectacle while being lost in it as well. The colors and their combinations were always new, and though the shapes were never the same they shared the same quality, of impossible beauty brought to life. It was like the world itself was stuck in a dream, had realized it and had come to life. Matter had a flow, a pattern of truth, a beauty that could never express itself in four dimensions. But here reality realized it was alive and in its newfound consciousness realized that beauty is its ultimate expression, and so formed itself around that concept.
This was a world I couldn’t imagine, and I was absolutely enthralled. It was Fantasia all over again. Again and again, because one drug was never enough, and LSD and mushrooms supplemented my psychedelic voyages. Different drugs do different things, and though these last two never launched me past the fifth dimension, they had another effect I couldn’t let go of. Now let me paint you a picture. Imagine a long voyage away from home, in a country or city you never chose to go to, but had to nonetheless. Imagine those closest to you visited rarely, and most of the time you spent living in this new home you spent with roommates that were never happy. One would come in late every day, dressed in black and slamming doors, shouting at anything. The other would come to you and remind you of all the things you did wrong, spitting between sharp teeth. And after surviving them both you’d retreat to your room, finding peace and solitude in a book, until you heard they’d found each other to yell at. You’d put on head phones to hide away a little more, but every now and then you’d hear the smash of porcelain, or be called to take a side. Imagine their shadows chased you all your life, even after you left their hell, and then one day you walked in your room and saw a wooden box with a red button on top. You press the button and all of a sudden you’re back home. The shadows are gone, nowhere to be found. Your parents are there, and they’re like the way they were when you were young, patient, caring, and fun. Imagine you’re back at home and you’re free to walk around without the fear of knocking something over or whatever fight was sure to break out next, that you can walk smiling outside to a bright green endless field where the clouds are few and always white, and always look like something you recognize, that favorite animal, favorite toy, cartoon character. On the fields you can run and jump and never fall, held aloft by a cool breeze. What a relief this place would be, what a gift the box would be. It would be like with just a press of a button you could alive again, before the blame, before the shouts, before the arrests and the hiding and the fear. It’s no wonder the last time I got high and the feeling set in that the first thought that came to my mind, with tears in my eyes, was “I’m back home.”