There’s an old joke common among Catholics, of a man thrown overboard from his ship and swept out to sea. As he treads water, he says a prayer and is immediately filled with an overpowering sense of peace - he knows that God will save him.
A castaway, stranded upon a raft, comes upon the man and offers him assistance, a way out of the water. The man thanks the castaway but demurs, saying he doesn’t need the help - he is a Catholic, and his God will save him.
The raft floats away and the man continues treading, when a canoe pulls up beside him and offers a ride back to shore. Again, the man turns the offer down - he is a Catholic, and his God will save him.
After a while, a motorboat arrives and once more offers assistance, and once more the man says no - after all, he is a Catholic, and his God will save him.
The man drowns.
After he reaches the pearly gates, the man requests - demands - an audience with the Lord, and it’s granted.
“Lord,” the man says. “What happened? I prayed to you. I’m a good Catholic. Why didn’t you save me?”
God looks at the man and sighs. “I sent you three boats,” He finally responds, “The fuck else do you want from me?”
I tell you that story so that I can tell you this one:
When I was sixteen years old, I finally stopped fighting facts and agreed to get an eye exam. I failed it. As far as news goes, I’ve had worse. Poor grades in school, bad driving, being absolutely miserable at lacrosse - all my personal failings were suddenly explainable as accidents of biology, as curable ailments rather than symptomatic of a more deeply rooted problem. I’ve never been one to seek out excuses for my shortcomings, but when they’re handed to me on a silver platter, well - I was raised Catholic, after all.
The afternoon after I finally got glasses, I went for a walk with my mother along the bike path near our house, that runs ten miles from my sleepy suburban town into the heart of Boston. We were talking about something I can’t remember anymore - to be honest, I was barely paying attention at the time. I was instead staring off the sides of the path, transfixed by every tree I saw.
I was in the middle of an epiphany. For my entire life, I had assumed that everyone saw the world exactly as I did - I had spent my entire school career losing letters from the nurse saying I needed an eye exam, and didn’t realize what I had done until I kept terrifying instructors at my driving school. And so I had simply assumed that, like me, everyone saw trees as multicolored blurs; shades of green and red too far removed to make any sense of.
The realization that normal people could see branches and - god forbid - individual leaves was shaking me to the core.
There are three points in this story that I cry - just a little, not enough for anyone to notice - because of trees. This is the first.
I tell you that story so I can tell you this one:
For my undergrad, I decided to go to tree school - a four year college funded by the State of New York, where I would specialize in forest ecology and fall in with a gang of backpackers and rock climbers who would rent a campsite somewhere down south for spring break each year and spend the week rock climbing, backpacking, and pursuing some slightly less wholesome interests.
And so it came to pass that I did acid for the first time in small-town West Virginia, at the foot of a hillside covered in rusted farm equipment and chestnut oak.
Before I took my tab, I told a friend that if I didn’t completely lose it while tripping, I was going to be sorely disappointed.
I didn’t; I was. My friend wasn’t upset. I’m about six foot three, just shy of two-hundred pounds, and have training as a lumberjack; my friend had no interest in having to control me for a full day.
Still, that first trip had me referring to acid for months as the only drug I ever wanted to do again. The euphoria it brings on is like nothing else - like your body has taken all the happiness it had stored up for the next day and gives it to you all at once. It’s too bad the next day feels the same way - that you don’t have any happiness left for that day, just grey apathy in its place - but I think the tradeoff is worth it.
I distinctly remember staring at the hillside next to camp and watching the lines of the trees slowly undulate, waving up and down like a banner hung just for me. This was the world I was obsessing over - the world I was majoring in - recognizing me, validating the choices I had made.
This is the second.
I tell you that story so I can tell you this one:
Growing up near Boston, I became proficient at public transit. Boston is an unnavigable hellhole of triangular blocks, unmarked lane merges, and sudden dead-ends, primarily home to overaggressive misanthropes driving beater cars from the mid 2000s. As such, I stuck to a personal policy of refusing to drive in the city, instead spending the extra half hour it took to catch a train into town.
As such, when I had to get into New York City for a conference, I had no intention of driving myself. Instead I bought a seat on a bus - the cheapest available, of course - leaving Syracuse at eight in the morning, due to arrive in the city by noon, one at the latest.
A friend of mine recently tried to sell me on weed pills as a go-to anti anxiety treatment, to make long car rides and public transit in general more bearable. I can’t get into it. I’ve got no real objection to pot, it’s just not something I have any urge to do again.
Acid, on the other hand.
It was a weird bus ride.
Not the least because I didn’t realize anything was wrong until about two.
Our bus driver had gotten lost - not just “wrong turn” lost, but “wrong borough” level - at some point after entering the city, and was flying down streets and around corners, desperately attempting to find the Port Authority without a GPS.
I’ll admit it: when I realized what was happening, I nearly bugged. Psychoactives can be finicky - the tendency is for the drug to amplify whatever your emotions are at the time, and so the slightest hint of anxiety can balloon into a full-blown panic, can have you clawing at your face and howling at the moon before you even know what’s come over you.I didn’t, though, thanks to one small moment as we shuddered to a stop at a light nowhere near our destination. Out the side of my window, I caught a beautiful sight shaking in the cold February wind.
It was a tree, thin and bare in the winter sun.
I could make out each and every branch, see how they swayed in the breeze.
There are three points in this story that I cry - just a little, not enough for anyone to notice - because of boats, maybe sent from God.
This is the third.
Written for reQuest 2018: "Write a daylog where someone took acid and rode a bus in NYC."