When I was 23, I took LSD for the first time. I have never taken it again since, just never had the desire; there was nothing more to learn.
At the time, I had no expectations of what was to come, other than I knew it would be a trip. Many of my friends had taken acid before, and later, speaking about this particular night, all said this was exceptionally strong acid. Of the 15 or so people who took it with me that evening, all sitting in a University bar in downtown Toronto, I am still friends and in touch with many of them. We still refer to it, simply, as ‘acid night.’
I was with a new girlfriend at the time, Jackie. She was a university student, recently come to the big city from a small town, to study business. We had arrived at the pub to meet friends and drink, and found out soon after that there were hits of acid for sale and every one of our group was taking it. I looked at Jackie and asked if she wanted to try. “Why not?” we both decided. We gave our five dollars each, were given a tiny white spot of paper, and put it in our mouths. I felt nothing, even after 15 minutes had passed. I had no idea this delay was normal. I remember turning to her just before it kicked in, just before we were herded onto that 12-hour train to chaos station, and saying, “well, that was a waste of five bucks.” The train suddenly arrived.
The following hour in the bar, as we all started tripping together, is a jumble of incoherent images. At one point, my friend, Andy, and I were on a small, crowded dance floor, moving our bodies fluidly, without care. In time, a particularly creative dance took shape: the ‘Spiderman’ dance. As we moved to the music we mimed the actions of the superhero, shooting webs at each other and taking turns being entangled and captured. We were locked in sync. The dance was fantastic. At one point I put my hands on the wall beside the dance floor, climbing it in my mind, looking back and shooting my wrist web at Andy, who fell to the ground, captured – only to spring up as Spiderman, as I transformed into the villain. We were locked in immaculate perfection to the music. Soon, the other strangers on the dance floor moved to the periphery and gave us full control of the space, watching. I recall one vivid moment: me, against the dance floor wall, Andy writhing on the floor, trying to extricate himself from the web with which I had shot him. I looked at the dozen or so people surrounding us, staring. And I remember thinking, with great elation, “they are really digging this!”
The last thing I recall from that bar was two bouncers escorting our entire group out the front door. As I went through the door, I heard one of them say, “grow the fuck up.” And off we all rushed into the summer night.
The rest of the night was a blur of laughter and friends; a spinning, swirling kaleidoscope of neon colours; a saranwrap covered melange of moving and undulating shapes. Reality had rattled itself loose from the bolts that normally held it down and in place. We tried playing pinball at an arcade on Yonge St. I paid for a game, shot the first ball into play, and the flashing lights, clicking counters, smashing bumpers all exploded into my sensorial world like a military attack. I let go of the flippers screaming with laughter. The game abandoned and forgotten, I turned and went outside. Standing there, on the sidewalk, I looked down at some change in my hand, and suddenly, global economics came into question. It was suddenly absurd and ridiculous. I pulled out some forty dollars that I had in my pockets, showing it to my friends, asking them, “what does this really mean?” With pure clarity I could see how strange a concept money was, and how destructive was the love of it. I threw it all into the traffic driving past.
There finally came a point in the evening, at the height of the mayhem, when I took a good look at Jackie. By this time, I had almost lost my ability to deal with the material world, I could feel my grasp on all things normal becoming thoroughly unmoored – and I could see the same total disorientation in her eyes. She suddenly looked like a small-town girl in a really terrifying city, and I could sense that her confusion must be many times more overwhelming than mine. I asked her if she wanted to break away from the group and go back to her small, student-residence apartment.
Her room was only about 70 square feet, but it was a safe cocoon for us, as we were at the height of the acid’s effect. I couldn’t touch her, because her skin suddenly seemed too strange, so she lay on her bed, and I sat on the floor leaning against the bed, staring at a the white painted, cinder-block room wall. . We talked, we lapsed into periods of silence, we laughed….I don’t remember much of our interaction from that point on. But as I sat on her floor, staring at the brick in front of me, the universe decided to give me a gift – a vision, that would change my life.
We were silent for a time, and as I stared vacantly the wall began to dissolve, suddenly and imperceptibly fading then ballooning outwards into a wide African savannah. A thin line of distant blue hills lay on the horizon. There were few stunted trees but all was spreading grassland, rolling out in all directions. It was as real as any reality I’d ever experienced. It had no dream-like quality, I was there; or at least my awareness was.
The sun pressed down on my body from overhead, with palpable weight, and felt hot on my skin. My perspective was not far above ground height and as I looked out over the slowly swaying bronzed grass, I saw animals grazing in the distance, their bodies distorting and shimmering in the rising heat. Dust tickled my nose. I could smell dirt. But there were no thoughts. No words. The chattering of internal dialogue was gone; there was only the sounds of the environment, breeze, rustling grass, distant hooves. All I was, was sensations. The world poured in through eyes, nose, skin, ears, but though I was receiving it all, I had no identity. There was no thought of a me.
But, there was a kind of center I could feel it, and I remember it still; a subjective feeling at the focus of these perceptions. There was an awareness that was at the core, a sort of felt-ness. There were no categories for things, no divisions. All of it was an entirety, a whole. I was in it, of it, part of it - a nexus, a focal point for sense data. I took in the whole scene without a single word to break up its fullness – no name to separate ‘tree’ from ‘sky', or ‘grass’ from ‘self.’ Just this center; just sensations; just being-ness – and all that was surrounding me. And without language, without thought, there was no judgment of my state. There was no feeling of evaluation, no feeling of expectation met or unmet. Instead, only an overarching contentedness – not with something or because of something, just a general blissful awareness.
And as this ‘I-ness’ absorbed the scene, a small herd of gazelle strayed into view, though there was nothing identifying them, just accepting them. I could feel some thoughtless emotion stirring. I could feel joy rising, I could feel hunger rising, my muscles tensing, and then a flood of happiness that I was going to eat one. I sat in that wordless feeling for a few moments, and then, just as suddenly as it began, it vanished and I was back in Jackie’s dorm room. My identity, thoughts, words, all came flooding back. I turned round to her, still reeling from the experience, and said under my breath, “I think I was just a cheetah!”