It’s been over an hour since Nathan and I took four mushroom caps and stems each, and I still don’t feel anything. I’ve already finished my orange juice, which he says speeds up the process and strengthens the hallucinations. But the only change I’ve noticed is an upset stomach. Probably why Nathan disappeared into the bathroom a while back.
We’re at his older brother’s house, which was once their grandmother’s, as is obvious by the dated decor and non-grounded electrical outlets. I have no idea how to turn on the TV, let alone the Nintendo, so I listen to my iPod on shuffle instead as I open the fridge to find a Shiner Bock.
I don’t really like beer, but Shiner is pretty good and at least I’ll be buzzed if I drink it quickly. Tonight is supposed to be a spiritual journey, a vision quest to talk with my patron gods and plan for my future, but instead I just feel nauseous and slightly tipsy as I chug the remaining beer and walk back to the well-worn couch.
As I sit down the iPod shuffles to “Kiss The Bottle” by Foo Fighters, an eerie coincidence.
“What if I use my iPod as a divination tool?” I wonder, “Maybe the gods are trying to speak to me through music.”
Just then my stomach kicks and my mouth waters and I know I’m going to throw up. Nathan warned me this could happen.
I run through the house to the guest room and then the half-bath and kneel in front of the toilet. But nothing happens. The music shuffles to “U” by Pearl Jam, triggering every feeling I’ve ever had about my best friend and pen-pal-turned-girlfriend: love, shame, guilt, jealousy, deception, manipulation, humiliation, impotence, grief.
I see our childhood paths cross and recross, our failed reunion years ago, and our most-recent breakup. I’m fighting back tears while I hug the porcelain and pray. But this was not the prayer I learned in church, or the meditation I practiced with Nathan.
My brain shuts down, leaving only the primal stem of our animal ancestors. I speak to the cosmos in dark forbidden languages. I cry out to my gods in agony. I cannot take this life anymore. I want to die. I thought I was supposed to have visions and hallucinate? I feel tricked and disillusioned, reminded of my failed baptism at age 13. There is no God. There is no Odin. There is no Tlazolteotl. There is no Dionysus. There is no Mama Santo.
I am alone.
I am no longer in the bathroom, but on the waterbed in the neighboring room, rolling myself back and forth on the waves. The silk sheets feel smooth against my skin, and only now do I realize I’m naked, save for my disconnected headphones dangling between my legs.
I crawl under the covers to see a small glowing blue box at my feet. I hold the screen inches from my eyes, fascinated by how the text moves and breathes on its own. I reconnect my headphones and my ears are filled with “The Great Gig in the Sky” by Pink Floyd. I wrap the sheets around my body like a cocoon and try to sleep this off.
But now my life is flashing before my eyes at breakneck speeds. There’s me in Kindergarten, forgotten, and walking home. There’s Daddy hurling me against the wall and then bribing me with Starbursts. There’s faces I no longer remember and events I’ve already forgotten. In a moment I see myself in the eyes of God and realize my insignificance. My life is over, and I have nothing to show for it.
I don’t want to be high anymore. What if I die?
I don’t want to be high. I don’t want to die.
I don’t want to be high. I don’t want to die.
I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die.
Now I’m standing in a desert surrounded by bleached white bones, looking at the enormous black wolf from my recurring dreams. Fenrir the Devourer opens his jaw and speaks, “It’s too late. You’ve been dead far too long. You were given gifts and you chose to hide them. You are a coward. You deserve to die.”
More images flash. A 9-year-old wearing panties and smiling in the mirror. A 12-year-old crying herself to sleep. A 15-year-old stealing clothes. A 17-year-old attempting sex.
Back in the desert, Fenrir stares with cold yellow eyes and I hang my head in shame and defeat.
“You have known what to do from the beginning, yet you refuse out of fear. The gods have lost patience with you, Boygirl. Now you are mine.”
Except now I sit atop Sleipnir, my eight-legged steed, wielding a mighty spear. Huginn and Muninn spread their wings as they ride atop my shoulders. I have sacrificed myself to myself upon the tree of life for nine days and nine nights. I have plucked out my own right eye in exchange for eternal wisdom. I am the God of Inspiration, Magic, Prophecy, Poetry, and War. I unleash my battlecry as I charge into the Gates of Ragnarok. Fenrir opens his mouth and swallows me whole.
Cold darkness surrounds me. A booming voice, both everywhere and nowhere says, “Every journey begins with the first step. It will be treacherous, but you have my blessing and my gifts.”
Only silence follows.
“Is this Death?” I wonder, “It’s so anticlimactic. Where’s the bright light? Is this Heaven or Hell? Maybe the rabbi was right. Maybe the afterlife simply is.”
A pale blue dot approaches through the darkness, and a strong hand grips my left shoulder from behind.
A slight, olive-skinned man with the horns of a ram approaches, offering his flask to the hand behind me.
“Hail, Father of Wine.”
The faceless hand grips harder as he accepts a swig of mead over my head.
“Is this your Boygirl?” He asks.
“Nay, though she has my blessings, Hades will not accept her.”
Dionysus nods, excuses himself, and walks away into the darkness once more. The pale blue dot approaches still.
“Hail, Mother of Death. Is this your Boygirl?”
A wide-hipped, dark-skinned woman eyes me closely, her face, simultaneously young and old, is framed by fine jewelry made of bone and ivory.
“Nay, she is not one of my children. But I shall grant her safe passage through your realm if she continues to show me respect.”
Mama Santo turns her back on me and just as quickly she is gone.
The pale blue dot is now a beautiful naked woman with fluorescent butterfly wings and a white death mask through which she gives me a warm smile.
“Hail, Mother is Filth.”
She takes my right hand and my left shoulder throbs in pain from the responding grip behind me until I yelp in pain.
“I have come to claim what is rightfully mine, Odin. You’ve done all you could for her.”
His voice booms in indignation, “That may be, but this Boygirl must still decide for herself.”
“Very well,” she tugs my hand once more.
“Boygirl, do you wish to stay here in the dark? Or follow me?”
There is an eternity of silence before I speak.
“I’m ready, Mother.”
Allfather releases his grip and Mother of Filth pulls me into the air as her bright blue wings flutter up above.
“Do you know who I am, Boygirl?”
“The Mother of Filth?”
She looks down at me through her death mask and once again she smiles.
“You may call me Tlazolteotl, Child. While it is true that I rule over all Filth and Vice, I am also the Goddess of Purification. I will teach you to eat shit and produce gold. I will show you how to transform your body as well as your mind. Above all, I will teach you to see even the lowliest life as a vessel for hope. Now fly, my child. Go!”
She releases my hand and I fall all the way down. All the way down past the stars and past the earth and all the way down into my own mother’s womb. I hear her voice surround me as she asks, “Look, don’t you want to see the Moon? Get out!”
But I can’t budge. I can’t breathe. All I can do is struggle and thrash until I begin to see stars from avoiding drowning in my own amniotic fluids. But when I finally gulp in out of desperation it is oxygen that fills my lungs. And then I see the pale blue dot again. I tuck my arms to my side and wriggle my face toward the light, closer and closer. With one final thrust I push my face into a cool breeze. Then one arm. Then the other. I heave myself free from her womb.
I fall onto soft carpet and look up to see the waterbed, shocked by my fall and sudden sobriety. The only sources of light are my iPod and a red digital alarm clock. It’s four in the morning. I walk back to the bathroom to pee, where I find my abandoned clothes.
Once dressed, I stand at the bedroom door, scared to leave my sanctum. What will I tell Nathan? What does this mean for my future?
But Nathan must be in Mason’s room because the living room is still empty. I fish through my bag for my cigarettes and then walk out the back door. The brisk wind cools my sweat-covered face as I sit down on the porch swing. As I light my cigarette I’m kissed by faint droplets, so I cup my hand before I inhale. The back door slides open and Nathan silently sits next to me.
“It’s raining,” I tell him as I shake out a cigarette for him from the pack.
“So it is,” he replies, reaching over me for my lighter on the armrest.
Eventually he asks, “So how was it?”
Our two clouds lift into the air in laughter.