Saturday, 13 September 2014

"So... Why Lawrence?" (pt4) - Significant Dates, and the Hippie Shack


October 8th is a significant day, in my personal history.  Two significant life events took place on that day.  I was born on October 8th, and a year later my dad passed away (cancer) on October 8th.  Growing up, I thought that really meant something.  The idea I somehow arrived at was that the coincidence of those two things was not a coincidence, and was somehow connected to being sick.  In my way of thinking some cosmic force was either punishing or testing me, and the reason for either one or the other was totally lost on me.

In Lawrence, I was working part-time at a pizza place.  Late September J came into this pizza place on my lunch break and told me that a blood test told her that her T cells were dying and that she needed to go in for more tests to understand exactly why.  I have a clear memory of that moment, and a clear memory of the feeling of being sucked back into a vortex, reeling while I processed the implications.  T-cells get killed off by HIV.  A promiscuous, IV drug-using girl was at reasonably high risk of contracting HIV.  I was sitting across from a promiscuous, IV drug-using girl that I was in a romantic relationship with.  She told me she knew for certain that it wasn't HIV, and I bumped up against a firm part of the inside of my brain that absolutely did not trust that she was telling me the truth.

Planned parenthood.  Needles.  Swabs.  The whole gamut - "I've been sexually active with someone who's a promiscuous IV drug-user and I need you to test whatever you can think of."

They did exactly that.  I asked when the test results would come back, and they said "well it's late September, so come back October 8th.  We'll have the results by then."

October 8th is a significant day, in my personal history.  Significant life event #3 was apparently incoming.

I kept going to work.  I kept going home to the Hippie Shack.  I got an invitation to a birthday party in my honour, and J told me the cake would have a maple leaf on it.  I can't remember anything about how the time between the test and the results went past.  I remember only vaguely how offended J was that I was so scared.

In the afternoon of the 8th I went to get my test results.  They sat me down and gave me a clean bill of health.  I went outside and sat down on the sidewalk and burst into tears, the cicadas screeching in their metallic and harsh way in the background.  I felt the whizz of air from the bullet that I had just dodged.  The implications would have been staggering - the number of people she was at risk of transmitting to were equally staggering.

Back to the Hippie Shack.  I was the first one to arrive at my birthday party - sure enough there was a cake with a maple leaf on it.  There were also a half dozen bottles of various spirits on the kitchen table, and J was off picking up some LSD.  It was a hell of a party to throw for a straight edge kid.

Everyone got drunk.  One person took so much LSD that he sat still and didn't speak or move for the next several hours.  J took 4 hits of LSD.  I watched.  I didn't do much more than watch, and reflect.  The enormity of what had almost happened gradually settled into my shell shocked consciousness, and the fact that it was October 8th sat prominently in my silent contemplation.

J was soaring on her LSD trip.  We got in a small argument.  She went downstairs, to the room with the bare concrete floor and I followed her.  We made up.  We made out a little bit.

Maybe you can immediately identify what happens next because you're aware of some of the quirks of LSD, and maybe you're a stranger to that experience.  I was a stranger to that experience, so what came next was absolutely unexpected.

"You would have to ingest a ridiculous amount of LSD for it to even be present in sweat. A few drops of acid as metabolized into hundreds of drops of sweat comes out to a negligible amount leftover, if any."

She had ingested a ridiculous amount of LSD, and I came into contact with a fair amount of her sweat... or maybe I just had a psychotic episode, or maybe I don't have any meaningful explanation of what happened next.  All I know for sure is that something gave way inside of me, and something changed.  Describing the exact nature of the process is difficult enough that I won't attempt it right now.

1:30am, October 9th, J was asleep and something inside of me rang like a bell, loud and long and deep.  I knew I didn't need to have that experience anymore.  I didn't need to be sick anymore, and so I wasn't.

"When we have a toothache, we know that not having a toothache is a wonderful thing.  But when we do not have a toothache, we are still not happy. A non-toothache is very pleasant." -Thich Nhat Hanh 

13 years.

13 years since I had been "not sick" and I didn't remember what being "not sick" felt like until 1:30 in the morning on October 9th. 

It's not an understatement to say that Lawrence, Kansas made the rest of my life possible.  At 18 the best I could picture for myself was a lifetime of Person with Disabilities benefits, trying to find a way to contribute something meaningful to a world that I couldn't possibly belong to.  At 19 years of age, 90 minutes in, what was possible became suddenly and radically different.

A week later, I was carpooling with some of the other guys from the Hippie Shack.  They were going to New Orleans, I was going to the airport in Kansas City so that I could fly back to the Pacific Northwest, where I came from.  One of them asked, "when will you be coming home?"

I didn't have the heart to tell him that Lawrence wasn't home. 

As for when I was coming back...

Thursday August 4th, 2014.  Turns out that was the answer.

Today, when I walk along the sidewalk, my feet touch these bricks and I remember the fear and the blinding impossibility of what changed.  That's why I felt like I needed to come back.

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