The first time I met you was in high school at a punch party at a fancy house in Marin. The host, the son of a recording engineer who had worked with Mickey Hart and Grateful Dead, had made several pitchers of strawberry punch laced with LSD. He wasn’t trying to trick us into drinking it like those maniacs did back in the 70’s in Golden Gate Park. He offered it to his guests, but only if they wanted it. Neither of us had ever done any psychedelic drugs, but for some reason we each said why not.
It took about an hour for the drug to come on. In the meantime music I’d never heard before filled the room. Plucked stringed instruments in minor keys, soft drumming on hollowed out logs, lots of humming. There were native artifacts and instruments all over the house, and I vaguely remembered that Mickey Hart was an avid researcher of indigenous music from around the world. You and I didn’t say much, but at one point we found ourselves sitting next to each other on a couch, our shoulders and legs touching, and we stayed there for a long time looking out at the woods behind the house. Other people sat down beside us on the couch, people whom we also enjoyed touching, at least I did, but they only stayed for a while. You and I didn’t move. We could feel the music from another place and time being imprinted on our brains. We were both virgins at the time, and while others went off to the various bedrooms, we remained, taking comfort and feeling excitement from each other’s’ bodies and smells. Under the influence of the drug, the music impregnated us with wonder. Later, we went out on the redwood deck. We heard the trees breathe and the creeks flowing into each other under the ground. Birds flew over our heads and said welcome, we’re glad you’re here. There were lots of unfamiliar animals who clustered in the trees making odd noises while they sunned themselves. Later I found out they were spirits, and I’d be seeing lots more of them during my life.
Then your family moved to Europe or somewhere and I didn’t see you again for years. But when I started a Master’s program in Anthropology at UC Davis, there you were standing in ine at orientation.
“It’s you, isn’t it,” I said. “From that party with the strawberry punch, and the redwood deck.”
“Of course, it’s me,” you said. “I knew we’d run into each other sooner or later. Don’t I get a hug or something?”
After orientation we went out for a drink at an outdoor cocktail lounge and found ourselves sitting on a couch once again. We ordered punch, but this time with wine and fruit juice. In ten minutes, we were smiling like we’d never left that party. You said you wanted to study the Ashaninka nation in the Amazon rainforest, who had an internationalist, spiritual concept of how to deal with the timber companies. I had spent a year in Papua New Guinea and wanted to return to study with the Melanesian wise ones. We started seeing each other, and by the end of the academic year, we decided to get married. We’d met a lot of interesting people in the program, one of whom was a shaman from the Native American Church and performed the ceremony. Then we spent a week in a special wedding hut on the Hopi reservation that friends of ours had access to. We took mushrooms the third day. The vomiting was awful and invoked chaos in our brains and our souls. It made us question everything. But when the drug levelled off, and we were alone, under the sky, we realized how most of our life had consisted of constantly questioning everything and harnessing ourselves with self-loathing and fear. We would have to let that go and see what else was out there. We listened to the hum of the starlight as it travelled through space. We’d never heard it before.
The years went by. We travelled, worked, had children and raised them with the help of magical beings from who knows where. We got old.
When you got sick, we were living in Oakland, and I spent as much time as I could by your bedside. When you died, your spirit visited me and said I should move out near the ocean. I’d never liked the cold, foggy coast of the Bay Area, but you were insistent, so I sold the Oakland house that we’d owned for decades and moved to Point Reyes. As soon as I got there, I understood. You were inside the fog, as it rolled in every evening, and you’d stay through the night and most of the morning. You embraced me with your fingers, and where others needed blankets and parkas, it was easy for me to stay warm outside under your caresses. When the fog cleared and the sun came out, I would look for you in the trees and the forest, and while I could easily see the birds and the leaves blowing and even the airborne spirits that I’d seen since that first time we took LSD together, I couldn’t see you. You lived in the fog and were invisible. I just felt your presence. You had no body, and that was fine. You told me many times that the universe is timeless, and that you were just existing in the next phase, the phase after life on earth. But you also said that your phase wasn’t permanent either, that there was another phase, that the beings whom you had encountered in the fog, in the clouds and under the ocean, all said there was another phase after theirs, and then another and another. Of course, I thought. How egocentric and ethnocentric to think that there would only be two phases: life and afterlife. You told me that in order to prepare for what comes next, I should study mushrooms, listen to music, and spend a lot of time outdoors. Most important, you said I should try to not regret anything about my life. You said it was simple. “It’s not easy,” you said. “But it’s simple. Practice not being afraid and do good things. Everything else will fall into place.”
“Will I see you on the other side?” I asked.
“That’s not quite how it works,” you said. “But we’ll be close.”
After your passing, all our friends said I should move back to the city. “Aren’t you lonely out there?” they would ask. “Aren’t you worried something will happen?”
“I know something will happen,” I’d say with a smile. I couldn’t really tell them I was getting ready to join you in the next world. Alzheimer’s, they would have whispered. Dementia.
As things were coming to a close, my body was in a lot of pain. But I was ready. As I was slipping off, I thought of how we first met and The Grateful Dead.
I’d never understood their name until now.
By Paul DeLong
On September 4, 2022
Wonderful. Thank you for writing and publishing this story.