I stood in a cow pasture with Denis and Marcia, trying to differentiate between good mushrooms and bad mushrooms.
In the dark.
“I honestly can’t tell if it’s purple or polka-dots,” I said.
“These are what we want,” Denis finally decided, handing Marcia his flashlight, flicking the fungus and shoving it inside a plastic bag. Denis spoke with a thick Long Island accent that seemed out of place in Pasco County.
We drove back to his apartment where Julie waited for us. Marcia boiled and filtered the mushrooms. I parked myself on the couch and looked over People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) brochures. I’d recently read Diet for a Small Planet, which argued for universal plant-based eating.
Then these brochures came in the mail.
I believed in signs. My friends did not.
“I can’t just go back to the days when I was ignorant. I can’t pretend I don’t know that meat is unhealthy for my body, unhealthy for the planet, and goddamn fucking cruel,” I said.
“Sure you can,” Denis said, with a wink.
Denis, Marc’s friend, had a beautiful face and boatloads of charm. This allowed him to access the hearts and bodies of all my friends. He liked Julie best.
“Is this going to be your new cause?” Julie asked, leaving Denis on the floor to join me on the couch. “Animals now?”
“Going to be?!” Marcia yelled from the kitchen. “Already is. Katie got me kicked out of five grocery stores last week and three malls.”
“Why?” Denis asked.
“We put WARNING: TESTED ON ANIMALS stickers on Gillette and L’Oréal products,” Marcia explained. “Apparently that’s frowned upon in retail establishments.”
“One day companies will be forced to disclose that they test on animals,” I said, still looking through the brochures, “or they’ll stop doing it. You’ll see.”
“You already don’t eat enough,” Julie said. “Now you’re going to dismiss meat, chicken, turkey, and fish? Anorexia!”
I got up and went into the kitchen. I didn’t know any vegetarians except a few hippies downtown. None of them were even fairly normal; they smelled bad and threw fake blood on people wearing fur. If I gave up meat, I’d do it right. Non-judgmental. Pro-choice across the board. Regular showers.
A fun and nice-smelling vegetarian.
I made grape Kool-Aid and Marcia added the drained, filtered mushroom juice. We poured four glasses and turned on Tomorrow Never Knows by The Beatles. Marcia advised us to chug our drinks because, despite the Kool-Aid, our beverages would probably taste like the shit we pulled those ‘shrooms out of.
We did as we were told.
John Lennon’s vocals filled the apartment.
“It is being… it is being.”
We waited for something to happen. Something that would expand our minds.
“It is knowing…it is knowing…”
We waited a while. Denis suggested we go swimming.
When we got to the pool, I stared at the water. Bright blue and glowing, as if a thousand lights were shining out from inside the pool. I looked around at the grass, the flowers, the plants and trees and felt like I was standing in the middle of The Wizard of Oz.
Julie started singing The Lollipop Guild.
“The mushrooms are working,” I said.
Marcia grabbed a life preserver and floated in the water, saying, “I am an alligator” but making noises like a frog. Julie and I joined her in the psychedelic pool while Denis settled on lounge chairs and talked to himself.
I saved dozens of half-drowned bugs and crickets that night. A few times, as I scooped them up one by one and deposited them on the edge of the pool, Julie came up from behind me and squashed them.
We were clearly not on the same trip.
Colors in the water changed intermittently. Red, blue, green, and yellow – all glowing and bright. I felt wonderful, warm inside and happy. At peace with myself, the world, and everyone in it. I found a float and got comfortable, lying on my back and letting my fingers dip into the water.
I hope this is what dying feels like, I thought.
I heard a noise, like a door creaking open. A door that needed oil.
I opened my eyes and saw a big yellow bus down below in the water. I blinked a few times, confused. Through the open door, I could see that Lenny Bruce was driving. John Lennon, Jesus, and Jim Morrison were there, too. Waving to me. Beckoning me.
“Katie,” I heard. “Whatcha doin’?”
I turned my head. Denis sat up in the lounge chair, concerned.
“I’m going with them.” I pointed at the bus. “With Jesus and John Lennon.”
Denis moved to the edge of the pool. Marcia and Julie were gone. I looked back at the bus. Lenny was waiting for me.
“Katie,” Denis said. “Katie!”
“I want to go with them, Deny,” I said.
“Hey,” he held out his hand to me. “You can visit anytime you want, but you gotta come back. Right now. You gotta come back.”
I looked at the bus. I looked at Denis.
“You gotta come back,” he repeated. “Marc will kill me if you don’t come back.”
Lenny was shutting the door. He looked as sad as I felt. I got out of the pool and Denis walked me back to his apartment. Marcia arrived a few moments later. She had driven Julie home.
“How were you able to drive?” Denis asked.
Marcia once took ten hits of acid and drove to Miami to see a concert. Marcia was a pro.
I walked into the bathroom and, despite their warnings, looked at myself in the mirror. I couldn’t look away and got lost for a few hours. Who was I? Who was this strange creature behind my eyes, nose, and mouth? I felt beautiful. A child of the universe.
I threw up.
Denis took care of me, calming my confusion, answering all my questions. I’m pretty sure I’m the only girl he ever loved that he never laid a hand on. I wanted to call Marc.
“He makes the best steak,” I explained. “But I won’t be eating cows anymore.”
Denis and Marcia convinced me to wait until morning to announce my big decision. They thought maybe it was a hallucination. A phase. They didn’t know me too well.
I snuggled into bed with both of them.
“But listen to the color of your dreams…” I sang softly.
Then I fell asleep.