“Don’t forget to breathe.”
Those starry-eyed nights. Those times when nothing could be wrong with the world, or at least, the solution to all the world’s problems seemed so very simple.
But there it is again. Like your heart just skipped a beat, maybe two. As if your heart decided to up and stop for two beats. Your lungs decided to stop imbibing oxygen for a moment. Your fingers and toes go cold, then as the blood rushes back, a prickly sensation sweeps across your skin.
Realization. Coming to. Finding that this isn’t the real world. Your happy thoughts interrupted by the dismal ugliness that surrounds you. You’re just scooting along in the sludgy lowest of lows.
I open my eyes,
but I am not in my apartment
but the music is not there
looking down, my body is not visible
a calming vision eases into focus
as far as is visible, there is naught,
but a vast expanse of cloud – lucid and clear
every color across the spectrum,
in and around it
I take my place in the ethereal beauty,
this multicolored mist;
each particle bearing its own colors
the aura of wind is all that is audible
gentle, but strong – blowing ripples in the shimmering fog,
elucidating the individuality of each speck
and I am in the midst
one individual as a part of the whole.
And then you wake.
It came to a point where all I had to do was make a slight motion or facial expression for my friends to understand what I meant. A stupid TV show we all liked had a recurring bit where the slang between punkish characters became total gibberish: “It-eh-na-ye-et-oh… ‘Naw mean?” Roughly translated: “Aw man, I had to go get my car registered, but it didn’t pass emissions, and I had to wait the whole weekend to get the work done on my car before I could get my tabs, but I got pulled over on Sunday and the cop wrote me up not only for the tabs, but for my expired insurance, and I was so pissed! Do you know what I mean, bro?” Whole sentences were communicated in gibberish between the two characters, but not an ounce of meaning was lost. These bits were subtitled as if the characters had actually created their own language, but the show was making fun of the stereotypical druggy whose speech was so slurred that they couldn’t speak normally anymore.
There it is again – a pack too many cigarettes, three too many energy drinks, not to mention the hallucinogens you took a few hours ago. Each deviation is a life-threatening death-note from your heart.
If you slow your breathing when you’re body is in a comfortable resting state, your heart-rate will begin to drop; beat by beat, your bodily tempo will decrease to the point where arrhythmia is so obvious that even the least self-aware person will begin to perceive discrepancies in the pattern.
When you’re trudging across the ocean floor, scooting from thought to thought at what feels like an eternally slow-motion pace, every heartbeat is like the sounding of a kick-drum. Slowly – beating – away. You fall for what seems like millennia, pondering thoughts previously thought, searching through memories, opening your mind to anything that is visually perceptible, looking for the answers to questions you can’t even put into words. Caught thinking about the expanse of space and time, it’s impossible not to feel distanced from everything around you; the one thing that pulls you back is the harmonious relationship between you and the rest of the universe – a Zen oneness that prescribes itself as the solution to the world’s hurt.
The clock reads 12:36.
I’m sitting with some friends in my apartment, a freshly sparked cigarette between my fingers. The room is dimly lit by a heavily shaded lamp in the corner; the shadows frolic between the light of the lamp and the colorful low light of the music visualizer on the television. Radiohead plays softly from the stereo, adding to the room’s low-key persona. I hear myself breathing as if filtered through water. Another person is snorkeling through silent laughter, unable to emit a real sound. Another cigarette is burning, and I hear the crackle of tobacco as it burns within the paper. I feel the smoke pass like charred cotton down into the smoker’s lungs as if I were taking the drag myself. A slight snore escapes from a pile of blankets on the sofa, but the sleeper resumes his normal breathing.
I realize the music has stopped; it’s not been playing for the last who-knows-how-long. Nobody else notices, but it drives me crazy. Hyper-aware of every sound occurring, from the hum of the fridge, to the occasional car passing on the road a quarter-mile away, I wrack my frying brain to figure out how I could have possibly missed the end of the last song. My eyes are closed, and they have been closed for I-don’t-know-how-long. It takes every ounce of will to reopen them and allow the world to flood in like a bursting dam. The sleeper sleeps; the smoker smokes. The snorkeler has tears streaming down his face from his inability to laugh. My cigarette isn’t a quarter of the way finished; it still burns as it had before between my fingers. As I begin to attempt sucking it down – terrified of the world’s unexplained presence surrounding me, feeling like I’m going to black out from the knowledge of all the space enveloping me – the snorkeler looks up, a plethora of stars in his eyes, and cheeks shining with tears.
“Don’t forget to breathe, man.”
I gasp and my pounding heart skips a few beats. I begin to breathe again, sucking in as much air as I can, consuming that which fills the empty space around me. The snorkeler smiles and nods at me before closing his eyes and returning to his shuttered laughter.
The clock reads 12:41.
Earlier that night, all a little more mentally intact, we talked about the way words work: words are so unnecessary; all meaning can be conveyed physically in one way or another. One friend described a world where proper language wouldn’t matter: a world where subtle hand gestures, facial expressions, and monosyllabic noises would be all people needed to truly convey meaning. To help embellish his point, I chimed in, “It-eh-na-ye-et-oh… ‘Naw mean?” gesturing pointedly with my hands, and exaggerating the idea with eyebrows to the ceiling. They looked at me like I had invented the wheel; we laughed until we choked at the aptly timed gibberish. We laughed more-so at the idea that the mentally deficient punks who used this sort of speech in a bad TV show might be closer to our idealized oneness than we were.
Downers do exactly what you think they would do; hallucinogens – they’re a little trickier. Each person responds differently, but the same base effects apply: the users’ perception of time changes drastically, their breathing becomes inconsistent and their heartrate speeds and slows erratically, every action takes a monumental amount of mental and physical effort, and, perhaps most importantly, all emotional responses are heightened. The idea that everybody taking hallucinogens is in for a crazy, weird, mind-altering ride is definitely true. The idea that everybody taking hallucinogens is going to see some “crazy shit” is a fallacy. Previously experienced visual stimuli can lead to the user seeing things that aren’t really there, and I’ve heard some crazy stories, both good and bad, about people seeing some “crazy shit.” My experience with hallucinogens has only led to being more appreciative of the utter complexity that lies in everything that is physically before me. When I closed my eyes, I went to other places, different dimensions even, through my thoughts. But when I opened my eyes, the complexities of everything in front of me became lucid, and clear. Though the solutions to life’s quandaries remained ever out of reach, the fact that I could see them, and know what I was looking for, made all the difference.
The smoker is lost in oblivion, though his eyes are open, stuck in his head for an eternity. The sleeper continues to sleep, rustling occasionally. I start another Radiohead album and the snorkeler looks up, surprised by the noise.
“When did the music stop?”
“I don’t know, man. I was wondering the same thing.”
Reaching towards the table between us for my cigarettes, I see the snorkeler unclasp his case and pull a smoke out. My eyes haven’t finished catching the glint of light caught in the metallic reflection before he pulls out a second smoke and whips it at me. It arcs across the room, suspended in time as we watch it. Even the smoker turns his head in slow-motion to observe its flight. The cigarette descends, filter downwards, directly into my breast pocket. The smoker guffaws and pounds a pillow half-heartedly with his fist – his most enthusiastic action that night – as the snorkeler and I, mouths agape, stare in speechless awe at the perfection of what has just occurred: if he had meant for it to land there, it surely would not have. Giver and receiver both burst into tears because we cannot laugh. Pulling the cigarette out of my pocket now would be a sin, but I do. The snorkeler eventually collects himself, still choking back sobs, and leans over the table, flicking open his Zippo. He calms himself fully, breathing deep, and lights his cigarette, then invites me to share the flame. I see the galaxy reflected in his teary eyes as I too lean over the table.
“Don’t forget to breathe,” he says.