DAN ON GRAPEWOOD
“D you’re looking very not-okay and, like, sick. Are you sure you don’t wanna tell us you’re not okay? You still remember that you have the freedom to say that whenever you want, right?”
“I’m okay,” said Dan, as a kind of wincing half-smile that looks premeditated the way it crosses his face.
“Okay, well then, like, talk. We’re sitting here on this substance, which we don’t even barely know what it is or how it’s supposed to make us feel or, like, how much to take as one dose, and you’re deciding not to talk, (which is fine, you have that right), but you’ve got to see how, human-being-with-agency to human-being-with-agency, how your silence could convey not-okayness to me, especially in this state.”
Dan looks up. All honest pain dissipates in his expression; the way his face moves belies how entertained he is by the thought in his head. He begins to laugh. “Man, I’m fine. Are you sure you’re okay? It sounds like you’re getting that way you sometimes get when you’re nervous.”
Dan stopped there to spare his friend Talis’ emotions, but could’ve easily continued: “...nervous. Like how you sometimes, if you feel like your point isn’t getting across to a certain group of people, keep tacking words and phrases on to the end of what you’re saying so as to enhance its meaning but with each phrase your meaning is lost further, like the time we were at Silverleaf back when Anna used to live there, and everyone else was sort of elsewhere at the party and sort of not ready to leave, and you came up to everyone individually and suggested sort of amicably but anxiously if we could maybe get going soon and everyone asked if you were okay then, too, and you said yes I’m okay I just want to go home and you were whispering this exact same conversation individually to each person we’d come with so by the time you got to the last person, everyone else you’d already talked to kept like glancing over, kind of concerned in a broad sense but definitely not motivated to leave, and then suddenly you were gone and we looked for you for like half an hour, and I stayed out longer just to make sure you were, like, alive and safe and sound and you ended up being asleep in Ethan’s hallway on the third floor of Grapewood, and--
“Yo if you start to tell me shit like that I will probably get nervous, like anxious, by all sound logic, right?” chokes Talis, looking anxious already. Dan realizes that maybe he isn’t okay either; he’d just been totally entranced by that thought and hadn’t looked up in a couple minutes, maybe longer. That stuff they took could be starting to work. He felt happy, though, and that was key. Almost as key as not being scared.
“Okay well then let me tell you this. We do know what this stuff is. Ergine, Stuart said, or ergoline. Synthesized from an ergot fungus, is what’s essential to note here. Acid basically. Most likely not LSD-25, most likely anything but LSD-25 given that Stu described it as specifically ergine and not acid, but acid basically.”
“Okay that doesn’t even like, attempt to help, Dan, man.”
Dan laughs, not at Talis necessarily but at the patent absurdity of the statement he’d just made, one so hyperbolic and simultaneously so earnest that Talis seemed, to any observer, Dan included, not to be immature, necessarily, or naive, but so depleted and honestly terrified, so at his wit’s end for no apparent reason that he’d allowed himself to slip syntactically back into the exaggerations which, in youth, help one to articulate to adults that which one later learns to say with big words. Which is, in essence, in this case, I Am Sad. I Am Scared. I Am Confused. Help. Dan feels bad for laughing but it’s heavy stuff, especially for him, and laughing helps him brush it off.
Talis looks up expectantly the way a penitent looks at a priest; he doesn’t know what Dan is laughing at or what was even significant enough in what he’d said to garner any reaction.
“All I’m saying is you’ll probably recognize the feeling once it hits you properly. Like, you can know what to expect, in some limited way”.
Then, before Talis can start up again, “Listen, I have to go meet Ethan at Blanchard’s. He just hit me up. Try to calm down and find something good to think about. Grey’s in his room, if you really need somebody to talk to, and the Xbox is right there if you need to distract yourself from yourself. If you absolutely need to lay down, don’t go in Ethan’s room, just nap in here. People will probably start showing up soon anyway.”
“Thanks, ma” Talis said, feigning sarcasm with a vocal inflection that wasn’t well-executed enough to be convincing. He actually did look like he’d appreciated the guidance.
Dan had known for, shit, a while now, that with hallucinogens, the only way to tell how someone’s feeling is by reading their face; their words will always betray them. In fact, all words can really, and do, do, is serve as a map back to the tripping person’s worst thoughts, what emotions they were trying to cover up with their words, words that they can now feel, so thoroughly because of the drug, are their only real connection between them and everyone else. No words could ever play genuinely enough with their audience to convey the intensity of this sensational internal crossroads of intellect and emotion accurately; the tripping person is certain of this, and so he intentionally acts phony. Faces can’t lie though, Dan concludes, especially when on acid.
And Dan left. He felt faster; it was starting to kick in, and the insignificant details that mortar pieces of our lives to one another and into their natural places were starting to melt into the background, all prior musings and ponderings on philosophy and on the physical world coming together in beautiful unison and collectively filing themselves under NONESSENTIAL. At once, he was outside on the street. He lit a cigarette.
Dan walked from Grapewood to Boysen to Ash to Harvard Ave, where Blanchard’s was, in what was, to him, only seconds. “This is good” he said to himself; and it was. No terror, no disembodied voices whispering languidly from out of the deep parts, just pretty headlights spinning beams of light with them down the road like silkworms, leaving their essences behind where they’d stood.
He saw the meat around the soul named Ethan leaning against the wall outside the bloated liquor store’s automatic doors, smoking its own cigarette and wearing a black leather jacket and all black clothes either way, as always. They began smiling at one another as the cracked sidewalk that lay between them started to shrink.
“Dan, dude, you didn’t eat that acid Stu had, did you? The kids on campus did today, and that shit is laced. Bryan Whitesell’s all fucked up.”
“Ethan, I know you know I took it--Isaac told me he told you. And also how can acid be laced? With what, like, Anthrax?” Dan posed this question genuinely.
Ethan laughs, “Yo, okay calm down, yeah, I can tell you already ate it. You sound insane.” Ethan took pleasure in saying the exact wrong thing to people when they needed it least, which Dan couldn’t say he didn’t get, on a level he liked very much to forget about. “What do you want?”
“Like a thirty of PBR? I have money from everyone” Dan said and handed Ethan a wad of fives and tens.
He was in and back out again before Dan was through his second Smooth.
Dan carried the thirty back because Ethan had his own booze in a plastic bag. There was something oddly comforting about being underage and openly carrying alcohol down the streets of a major city; during the first week of September, Dan remembers, when everybody gets back to the city from summer and BU’s freshman crawl is at full salvo, one can drink in the streets totally sans scrutiny. This sort of drinking is exponentially more odd and comforting and also eliminates that disgusting chug-and-run play broken out only when travelling from one party to the next during the colder months.
When they hit Ash, Dan gets a phone call, but it only rings once or twice before going dead. He’d forgotten he has a girlfriend now and she’d momentarily forgotten he was tripping and would not accept any incoming calls, and should not. Regardless, he must have been half-smiling when he looked at his phone because Ethan asked, “How’s that going, man?” and half-smiled knowingly at him.
“Good, dude. She’s great.” and Dan meant it. He thought he might call her later and tell her how happy she made him. Tell her she was most of the reason why he was fine right now, on this stuff, if he could work up the courage.
The acid-or-whatever was fully present now, and Dan watched thousands of similar thoughts rise rapidly and then fall in his head, made powerful enough by the drug so as to take on their own physical forms in his mind. Each glowed, flared up and smoldered with its own unique radiance, flowing freely from forefront to background, none begrudging any of its fellows the limelight nor edging its way therein, all equally beautiful, all equally good, all equally all.
“That’s good. I’m happy for you.” says Ethan.
They turn a corner and are back on Grapewood. Allston is beautiful in its own way, Dan thinks, but also, objectively, made from garbage. The low life isn’t just encouraged here, it’s a prerequisite. One sets oneself in the squalor, without protest, for the cultural real estate. To those who choose to live here, nothing is more valuable than a chance to be allowed a spot close to the action--to be awarded the opportunity to grope at the pulse of what’s next for us. Or so goes the myth of Boston. They seal themselves off in the winter and drink in basements with black mold.
To ascribe these qualities to the town of Allston made Dan feel very good about himself and where he was, even though he knew Allston was objectively a bad place to be and these things were mostly stories and dreams and not facts.
They got back to the third floor of Grapewood, where there was, astoundingly, a party going on. Kids here tend to call their houses by the names of the streets they’re on, like proper nouns, in, apparently, a further attempt to personify the chaos and thereby make better sense of it. A lot of people were already there and most of them were crowded around the bathroom.
Oblivious to this, Ethan spread himself like ectoplasm over the room, engrossed totally by hosting so many of his friends at once and therefore trying to talk to them all right away. Dan saw Shelly’s face over near the bathroom, though, and floated over silently to help. He was pretty sure he knew what was wrong.
“Dude Talis is --”
“Okay.” Dan said, not confidently or timidly or faux-convincingly, not quite telling Shelly that Talis would be okay or that it would be okay or affirming that he’d understood her. He said it as if stating a fact, as if Okay had always been and would always be and was no more or less significant than anything else and nothing else more or less than it. He knocked on the door and said it was him.
Talis opened the door. He looked stunned and like he’d been crying or sleeping or both. He was very pale.
“Forget I was coming back?” Dan said. It looked like Talis was about to try to smile but instead he grimaced and twitched and covered his mouth and blinked and shook his head. Dan suggested they go out to the front porch, and they did.
“What’s up, man. How are you?” Dan asked.
“Fine. I don’t think I should do this stuff anymore.”
“Sure, here. Acid?”
“Yeah,” with a slight waver.
“You’re probably right. It’s probably not good for us to be doing. I’m almost done with it too, I think.”
“Nah, I mean, like, it’s just really bad this time, like the visuals aren’t pretty. It’s just dumb stuff, like I keep thinking someone’s over my shoulder or watching me when they’re not. Also, it’s speeding up my thoughts and I can see them all in front of me and think them all at once and all fully, which is cool, but they’re not good thoughts, they’re kinda really bad. And the worst part is I don’t think it’s the drug, I think it’s me and the drug is bringing this shit out of, like, my deepest soul.”
“That’s just the drug, you’d only say what you just said ‘cause of the drug,” Dan said, but if you took even a quick look at his face you could tell he didn’t mean it.
“I just feel really uncomfortable, like, being alive right now.” Talis says, “Or, lately I’ve felt that way, I guess. It’s just hard to convince yourself it’s not there when it’s being thrown at your face, like, rapidly and like nonstop, you know? No reprieve.”
“Yeah. I do.” Dan said, and remembered how lucky he was to be in love, as dumb as that was. Even in states like these, it could shield a person from those kind of thoughts, or at least make it so those bad thoughts weren’t the only things in your head. Small infusions of really, truly good things can make bad stuff manageable, even on large scales, where, like, life and love are the factors in question, thought Dan.
“Yo, I have my board,” said Dan. “Let’s grab beers and go skate around down on the street. Do ollies or whatever.” He had meant merely to suggest that Talis do some ollies, but had vocally inflected demanding it, he was pretty sure. He let it go.
So while their friends drank and frolicked and satisfied cravings and acted upon whims upstairs, Dan and Talis went down where it was cold, dark and grey to move around, to occupy their minds and bodies with dedicated motion, to attempt to pierce through the thick miasma of bleak emotion that had made their hearts beat slow and stagnate, fighting against all odds. Talis looked happier or at least closer to contentedness. In a lot of cases, it helps when someone gives you a purpose, or when you give yourself one. Behind them, they could hear drivers begin to lean on their horns up Harvard Ave. The street was screaming at itself again.
ABOUT JOSH WARRENER
Josh Warrener is a student at Emerson College, a cofounder of Sad Squad Artist Collective, and a young, glistening writer. His work has appeared in publications by Akashic Books and Inquisition of Darkness. He may or may not be working on a book.