Talking About Psychedelic Drugs With a Fellow Mother at the Playground
Wendy Ortiz on the Urges That Never Quite Leave Us
I’m a knife cutting through the desert in a truck with the windows open, oven air blasting in my face and my curls getting tangled while a beer sweats between my thighs. One hand on the wheel. Time has no hold on me. There’s another five beers on the floor next to me and many more drinks ahead when I reach town, the old western town where I’ve laid my head a few times in the rooms with fake fireplaces, stumbling distance to the bar. The sun bakes my arm that’s parked in the open window, my left arm, freckled, scarred, the arm of the hand I write with, and my silver ring glints in the sun.
Wait, should there be a silver ring there?
Yeah, it’s fine. I can be partnered and still have this fantasy.
It’s my daughter that gets in the way of carrying out such a fantasy.
And my career, which would not look kindly on a DUI. So it remains unspooled. Remains in daydream.
We are at a playgroup at a playground with no fences and I have a bolter. At the moment, though, my toddler isn’t bolting but sitting in the sand with another child’s doll—oversized head, big doe eyes, and a voice that is disembodied because her mouth doesn’t move. I don’t even try to listen to what the doll is saying. I don’t need to know. My daughter doesn’t have much of an interest in dolls but this one is a stranger’s doll, and she seems taken with it. I look at the other mother I’m standing with, trying to carry on a conversation with.
Somehow we start talking about psychedelics.
“I’m kind of a psychedelic girl, myself,” she says.
In that moment I’m aware we’re heading into territory that’s possibly taboo, on this playground, among the mothers in the playgroup, the strangers standing around us in the sandbox. It’s a conversation I definitely want to go deeper into, as I, too, am “of the psychedelic variety.”
“Yeah,” I say. “I know what you mean.”
Because it’s been years since I’ve ingested a psychedelic. And it’s been years since I’ve even seriously considered ingesting one. I’m not the 15-year-old girl I once was, who looked up the drugs she planned to ingest that night in her health class textbook, dog-earing the page “Designer Drugs.” I’m not the 19-year-old girl who did her final paper on MDMA for “Drugs and Society” class, complete with an informal case study of her own Ecstasy use. I am also no longer acquainted with the people who made drug ingestion easy, or free, or carefree.
But I still identify.
The pulsing paisley waves still want to overwhelm me. I still long to see plants breathe once in a while, words appear in the sand when the tide goes out, every granule whispering their secret under my feet.“I am of the psychedelic variety” is code.
I’m sitting in the sand. Desert again. The place I once wanted to be my home until I remembered the ocean. There is a stillness in the air that almost sounds like the portent of a bomb. I’m waiting for it until I forget about it.
There’s the hum in my mouth I can’t be sure I’m creating. The sun bakes a point on the top of my head and I lazily lift my arm. I can see where my arm just moved from, the smear of movement, still apparent in the air. I let one arm circle lazily, eyes catching all the trails, until my shoulder surprises me with a small protest.
A lizard traipses by and my breath catches. I laugh out loud. The lizard was asking for it.
Night is still hours away and I have nowhere to be, and no one is looking for me, and I’m safe. Water, food if I want it, simple building blocks of protein and amino acids and nutrients I might require in these circumstances, where my brain is blown to smithereens and I am by my lonesome, recording it and living it, that altered space I am always trying to get back to.
There are several bottles of beer in our refrigerator that seem lodged there, in the back bottom shelf, never really moving until a group of friends is coming. Bottles of wine in our cupboards and living in our wine rack, gathering dust until I wipe one down and transport it in a paper bag to a party or to a dinner as a gift.
Rarely do I find myself with a particular thirst for alcohol in my house. The thirst finds me, though: as I drive down Western Avenue toward the hiking trail in Griffith Park, when I see Frank & Hank’s, an old haunt of mine; when a certain song arrives by radio station oracle and there is an afternoon or evening ahead of me with nothing I must do. Always during my twice yearly visits to the dentist, which makes me park somewhere near the Drawing Room, scene of so many previous blasted nights.
Even then, though, the thirst is contained.
The thirst wishes itself into my present, the kind that would have me day-drinking and happy-sloppy. Rarer and rarer, if ever.
I’ve caught myself telling students about how listening to music, to me, can often feel like ingesting drugs. About how I have to limit my intake, listen under ideal circumstances, because some songs have the ability to pull me under, steal an afternoon, rattle my heart and fuck up my psyche for hours. My only relief is if, in exchange, I’m able to write about it.
But why write about it when I can lose myself in it?
“I am of the psychedelic variety” is code.
My admission to students, to readers, about the power certain music holds over me feels weirdly vulnerable, as though you will find the music and play it to undo me, to liquefy and puddle me.
At age six, my child occasionally stared off into the middle distance and turned off her hearing, transformed into enlarged eyes, wan smile. Whenever I noticed I asked, Are you zoning?
“Zoning” is my code with her for enjoying what is in one’s head, what no one else can touch or see or feel, that landscape that is all one’s own, limitless. Ultimately unreachable but for the moments when the conditions are perfect to careen around in there while everyone sees your corporeal form upright, eyes glazed. This is my code for checking out.
My child slowly nods if she has even one tendril left tethering her to the earth.
My own “zoning” is composed of the few moments when I can let go of this plane enough to make the internal dive. The structures of my life don’t always allow for the complete “zone” experience. The structures of my life don’t allow for sweaty afternoons recovering from a pitcher of brunch margaritas. The structures of my life don’t allow for me to get in my car right now, point east on the I-10, and land with my head mushrooming under a brutal desert sun.
It might be a consequence of my mid-forties, because I never remember asking myself this before now, but how about making a decision I’ll thank myself for tomorrow? The structures of my daily life sigh long and hard but grind on. I amuse myself with a daydream involving camping out at the beach, planting a square bit of paper on my tongue, letting the sunrise destroy me. I ask for the plants to breathe for me, just enough that I can witness. When I switch on the radio it presents a song I can resist, or not.To even write this is to want.
My doctor notes in my chart that I am a “passive smoker.” A passive smoker like me can live for years smoking three, four, maybe five cigarettes a day. I can live with this definition of passive, applied to me.
Smoking cigarettes has never been a linear habit for me: I have gone off and on for years. I rarely smoked in any of my homes as an adult. Like many people, I smoke more when I’m drinking alcohol. Like many people, I smoke more when I’m stressed.
When my father unexpectedly died in 2014, I told myself, You get to smoke for as long as you want. In addition, I went unconscious in many ways.
Years later I look up from where I inhabit what little square footage I take up on this planet and think, It’s time. And as a natural purger, I make it happen. I quit.
I write to you, craving. I know there are music and texts I won’t gravitate toward in these next few fragile weeks of newness, because they threaten to drive me back to the pleasure, the simple pleasure of lighting this stick of tobacco. The ritual I’ve agreed to set aside for newer other rituals, still to be determined.
To even write this is to want.
The want of the chemicals that I know will work their weirdness in me. A place to step away to, me and my body, while not leaving completely. (I write, craving.)
It’s sometimes a struggle to be as contained as I am expected to be. Supposed to be.
The beers stand sentry in their long-held positions in the fridge. Empty packs of cigarettes with a smattering of loose tobacco in their confines lie at the bottom of the damp trash. Someone is looking for me, needing something. I feel my feet anchored to the ground, crown chakra itching. Something shimmers in the periphery.
I write, craving.
From ZYZZYVA No. 119, Fall-Winter 2020. Used with the permission of ZYZZYVA.