After the Sound Bath, During Yotto’s Set, at the Woogie Stage

    April woke abruptly to the sound of marvelous drums and horns, their school’s percussion-inflected fight song overwhelming the walls and screaming into her room from underneath the crack in the door. The room still mournfully dark after she lifted her sleep mask, her displeased cat tangling his claws in her hair. The pull of the darkness was bone-deep, but just before she could fall back into the seductive warmth of her covers there came the drumming from her roommate’s palms against her thin particleboard door and then the sharp light from the living room and, finally, the heft of both of them belly-flopping atop her diaphragm. 

    The wake-up call was agreed to the night before. There were things to do, Kamikazes to shoot, signs to make, and school spirit to be applied. Between the three of them, they had two flasks filled with blueberry vodka and if they took roughly three Kamikazes each prior to leaving, plus a beer or two at State Street, they could, in theory, keep themselves sauced through the duration of the game without getting themselves too pissed. They would blast music and take shots….one would work on a sign while the other two painted a cardinal and white S on each other’s bellies, then they’d rotate so each had a sign and each had an S. This would go perfectly with their matching cardinal sports bras and white hooded zip-ups. 

    As April painted an intricate marijuana leaf on her sign, Immy’s disheveled ex-lover, referred to in their apartment exclusively as ‘asshat’, emerged from her room. His heels boorishly collided with the old hardwood with each step as he walked past them and out of the apartment without so much as a nod. Erica looked up from the S she was painting on Immy, and April whipped her head around, the two roommates casting reproachful looks at her. 

    ‘What the fuck?’ April said, dropping her brush on the coffee table with little regard for the paint on it.

    Immy’s face turned a similar color to the S being painted on her stomach.  ‘Relax, alright... I was wasted.’

    April picked up the brush, pushing her tongue into her molar and rolling her eyes. ‘That’s bullshit,’ she said. 

    ‘Oh, don’t shit yourself, April.’

    On more than one occasion, April had pondered an adult, animated comedy-drama series about fuckboys and the self-destructive girls who indulged them, starring her roommates and the absurdly douchey, want-to-be players who came in and out of their apartment. The performances were so outlandish and, quite frankly, cartoonish, she was often at odds with which side to blame. On the one hand, there was no excusing boys who behaved like borderline sociopaths. Yet, at the same time, the fallout her roommates experienced being so predictable, how mad could she really be when known fuckboys did fuckboy things? In many instances, she’d told her girls not to respond to their text messages, to stop going back to them. And yet this trusty council had somehow served only to befoul her when they did eventually respond and go back to them, routinely leading to accusations that she did not support their relationships. ‘Not everyone has what you and Leo have,’ they would tell her. April had since resigned herself to nodding and allowing them to weep. Nodding and allowing them to plunge in err into their basic and yet tattered capacity to forgive. To swim around their open wounds, searching the ocean bottom for the magic key, which they always eventually found and that seemed to unlock their delusion, giving power to the allowances made for these boys and restoring hope in a future with them.

    ‘He has a beautiful dick,’ Immy admitted. ‘And can we just agree that guys with great dicks are all assholes?’ 

    Erica moaned. She did agree with Immy on this particular point, she said. Billy, one of her former lovers, also had a great dick. Perfectly straight and optimal in length, it was especially rousing to her the first time she reached into his pants to wrap her hand around what she facetiously described as beer can-like thickness — and it seemed to only grow, in size and in wonder, once inside of her. He too was an arrogant prick, she admitted, in spite of having what she considered to be a dad-body and middling handsomeness.

    With no interest or intention of commenting further on big penises and their contribution to male immodesty, April told them she was feeling sleepy.  And so, after placing a dollar bill over three pills and crushing them underneath a lighter, Immy divided up the 60 milligrams of Adderall IR for them. The three snorted the lines and threw back their final shots. They threw the final handfuls of glitter on their signs, shaking the excess onto newspaper sprawled out on the floor, and went off to separate mirrors to apply stickers resembling the eye-black worn by athletes beneath their eyes.

    For an art student, April participated little in the community of her highly respected art program. Her relationship with art itself was not without certain conflicts which appended her periodic doubts in this, an ivy league school, being the place where art prevailed. Her fellow students all seemed to tout immaculate portfolios and all excelled with a pencil, many admittedly as far back as elementary school. In this program, they learned to expertly sketch and mix colors and apply paint. Their ability to replicate nude art models and photos they’d taken mightily improved and, in some instances, they were able to inject real style into the subject matter. But a majority of these students, it seemed to April, were incapable of combining subject and predicate. Something that sadly sent them flailing into the realm of the try-hard and the overtly corny when asked to compose something of substance. 

    By this time, April began approaching the world with a computative pessimism. She’d developed and focused a social algorithm into an elegant mathematical proof. Training herself to unconsciously overlay it onto everyday life, allowing her to rapidly scan and bucket patterns in human behavior; which were the best and which were the worst, which were heartbreaking, and which deserved to be mocked. This formula would also be adapted and auspiciously applied to how, logically, all things ought to look or sound. Contained within the refined measure of this formula, her style, for instance, clearly borrowed from current and vintage trends. And yet, signature outfits like chunky Prada loafers and a lacy granny-dress worn with an oversized t-shirt ingeniously ribbed at the unmistakably cool with such satirical precision that it was elevated to a level above that of “cool”, one that was effortless and idiosyncratic, a status all her contemporaries seemed to be striving for. Other students frequently raved, with explicit envy, over the flowing originality of her Instagram posts… like a consciously blurry photo of a man she caught walking his German Shepherds up a hill in silly, fur boots, captioned: Must love Uggs.

    In her art, April enjoyed finding clever ways to portray what the American dream looked like when it failed. Delicately reflecting on our collective sense of disappointment and compromise, she became, at that time, particularly drawn to American consumerism. Adding Coca-Cola cans to a sculpture, hiding cheeky designer labels and Whole Foods bags under a fluorescent, spray-painted backdrop that she dressed with abstract ballerinas legs because of what she considered their aesthetic vision and logic.

    A part of her did pine for at least one like-minded, artistic friend — a muse of sorts — and there were a handful of kids in the program whose art April trusted. There was one girl in particular who created Rube Goldberg-style machines. For one show, this girl built a contraption that answered only to the varying pitches of her screams. April watched in awe — imagining the two of them in a deep, synergetic friendship, one of thoughtfulness and honesty— as the tiny Asian girl cried out and as each cry triggered elaborate domino effects that would at long last lead to tiny cars in a mock traffic jam being moved forward a few inches. Sadly, when April attempted to befriend her, she realized this girl suffered from crippling shyness. On the occasion she was able to work up the self-esteem to talk to April, she continually diverted their conversation to her restrictive interest in bees and their work habits or how they colonized their hives. Social challenges such as these were common in the students April found interesting and were too much for her to overcome in a time she was seeking fun and good times — eventually leading to her decision to associate with students outside the program.

    Soon after, they were out on the street along with a crowd of their friends, being led to State Street for Keggs and Eggs by a caped man in aviator goggles and a red Speedo. April zipped up her hoodie and blew into her fist. The air was damp as though the clouds had settled on land to sleep and were taking their time getting up, throwing grey tones over the day, moving slowly, finishing their paper and coffee before making their ascent back up to the sky. 

    As a profusion of distinctly shaped cannabis vapes (PLUGplay, Puffco, and Pax products) made their way around, April found herself sewn up in a severely opinionated, taste-test style discussion —  one in which she was badly outmatched in both pot competence and tolerance — that left her woefully high. She watched their mouths move, falling behind her eye sockets and deep within herself, thinking the Pax (which vaporized flower instead of oil) was clearly the best and the Puffco dabbing device (which she now knew was far too potent to be so casually passed around) was clearly the worst. She chugged a bottle of water, seeking to settle her twitching, at the same time questioning whether she was noticeably twitching or if it merely felt that way. Erica called her name several times and April’s head movements flickered like a strobe-light as she turned to her.

    ‘Huh?’ She smacked her lips. 

    ‘Oh my god, April. You’re totally faded,’ Erica said, handing her a water bottle and pill from her bag. ‘Here, take a small piece of a Xanax.’

    ‘Aren’t you not supposed to drink on Xanax?’

    ‘Yeah, but if you take a little bite you’ll be ok.’ Erica said. ‘I have a banana in my bag too if you need.

    April tilted her head and looked up like an infant. ‘Can we split it?' She asked.

    Before long they had arrived. A shoddy, exposed brick bar, ornamented with stereotypical metal and neon beer signs, the windows boarded up and its scuffed checkerboard floors seemingly doused in syrup, State Street maintained stalwart status and campus fame by heedlessly slinging swill with ironic intention and indifference before football games. At State Street, April sat at a large, pill-shaped table drinking keg beer from a see-through plastic cup, waiting for a chance to bounce a quarter off the table and into her neighbor Heather’s cup. The beer’s off-putting, light-struck flavor was being stabilized by the frothy keg foam and the beer’s ice-cold temperature. Though, feeling like the booze was simultaneously working against her internal, daytime clock and also poisoning her, she was being careful to take sips in small doses, attempting to add only to the euphoric feelings and not to nausea that occasionally flared.

    April was excited to see Heather but recognized the glibness implied in her alienating demeanor, in addition to the prolonged silence, was sure to drive her away. Only, since sitting down April’s hunched position had grown ineluctable. Her spine gradually warping itself more and more into a harp. Her shoulders incrementally raising higher on her neck and slouching further forward. Until, finally, she’d found herself creepily hovering over her beer, stuck in a cracked-out, cretin-like state. She took a deep breath and began picturing herself sprouting from a flower, playing this mental image on a continuous loop until bit-by-bit she was able to unsnarl herself. She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply through her nose and exhaled slowly through her mouth and eventually was less clouded in fear and self-doubt. Having finally recouped some of her social facilities, April recalled the last time she and Heather had seen each other on the final night of Lightning in a Bottle during the Tune-Yards set. She turned to Heather and asked her where she disappeared to that night. 

    ‘Oh my god, I never told you?’ Heather replied. ‘I don’t think I’ll ever be the same after that night.’

    Heather’s voice sounded husky like she‘d been yelling the night before and April had to scoot her chair in closer to hear her. Heather was a sort of chic hippie. Some days she appeared to be a free-spirited daughter of a proud Native American, full of environmental wisdom and spirituality. Other days a photographer from Brooklyn, on her way to a swank art show. When she spoke seriously, her face had strong lines that April found dignified and sexy, and when she smiled her mouth took her whole face with it, creating a different face entirely that was more dorky and endearing. 

    As it was, Heather confessed, just as the sun was setting that night on the festival grounds, in an act of overzealousness and haste, she took all five of her tabs of acid at once. To not take them all at once seemed to her at the time so life-as-usual, she said.

    ‘We were dancing and I just felt really good, really confident. You know?’ She said, ‘like I could handle it.’ 

    The strange thing, she went on, was that she took them after the sound bath, during Yotto’s set at the Woogie stage. April scrunched her nose, confused by Heather’s timeline.

    ‘Wait, but you were with us for like four hours after that,’ April said, almost as a question.

    ‘I know. I guess the tabs had a delayed fuse,’ Heather said. Considering the extremeness of the dosage, she felt profoundly ambivalent most of the night but recalled one moment when the Tune-Yards were performing the song Powa. The highs and lows of Merrill’s vocals as she belted out the crescendo ascended and dropped from pole to pole, the huge, diverging sound reverberating from each speaker like rays from numerous sci-fi stun guns all fixated on her, expeditiously working their way closer. The group was dancing and Heather was hula-hooping off to the left when she was suddenly caught in the sound’s waves and, feeling she may abruptly lose the ability to stand, darted toward their camp.

    ‘Why didn’t you ask one of us to walk you back?’ 

    ‘I really felt like I had to go right then and, in general, I’ve always had trouble asking for help.’ Heather admitted. 

    On her b-line towards the camp, she remembered walking down the main road, weaving through mobs of dancing festival-goers with her one hand attached to her forehead like the rounded brim of a baseball cap, seeking to conceal her eyes from the fluorescent wonderlands and art installations and the many kiosks of glowing and flashing, light-up products working up unkind hallucinations. By the time Heather reached Favela Bar, still a ways from the campsite, she could no longer lift her feet off the ground and was instead forced to drag them. The soles of her shoes grated against the pavement and the continuous friction eventually anesthetized her legs, resulting in a short-lived belief that she was on a hoverboard. 

    April ate peanuts out of a metal pail on the table and urged Heather to continue (mostly by nodding and raising her eyebrows to fluctuating levels). Once it became clear Heather wouldn't make it to the camp, she threw her body into the arms of a man working a taco cart and asked him to walk her to the med tent, explaining that she’d taken too much LSD. The man knelt down, inviting her to hop onto his back, and carried her like a bookbag to the med tent, where he left her in the care of the Zendo Project (a group of caregivers who provided a supportive environment to festival-goers having difficult psychedelic experiences). For much of the night, Heather told her, she had been dropped into a deep and grey abyss. The sensation, she said, was similar to the floatation therapy, sensory deprivation chambers that were all the rage, only the abyss also deprived her of thoughts. It was notably different from the psychedelic journeys she’d been on previously. In this instance, she said, she was not forced to relive her past. ‘I wasn’t thinking about my ex or my family the whole time and wasn't forced on a melancholy quest toward self-discovery,’ she explained. What she did describe being held in was nothingness and April asked if that felt at all like achieving a sort of Buddhist enlightenment.

    ‘The thing is,’ Heather said perplexedly, ‘there were moments when the void felt pure, where mental chatter cleared and a level of tranquility set in, but, I always feel like there's an undercurrent of dismay or trepidation lingering in the background when I’m on acid, so it still seemed kind of far from zen.’ The abyss, which held her mind so pendulously, moved through time at a cruising speed like a blimp. Floating in its grey and indifferent, potentially infinite space, she explained, didn’t willfully drown out her thoughts but the vastness made her feel truly small and insignificant by comparison, and being as alone and unavailing as she’d ever been, it seemed eons passed in there with little to ponder.

    ‘How long were you in there?’ April asked. 

    Biting her lip, Heather looked up at the corner of the ceiling and gathered she was probably in the tent from 1:00 am to 10:30 am, though she noted the entirety of that ten hours was not spent in the abyss. Periodically, she would surface and talk a bit with her Zendo sitter. She remembered attempting to convey her mind was not lost, she knew her name and knew who she was. The sitter and her both agreed at the time that this was a positive sign. Yet, somehow, no matter how long she was able to sustain a conversation with the sitter, Heather would still inevitably fall back into the abyss. It happened, by her estimation, roughly fifty times. 

    “Oh my God...that’s my nightmare,’ April said and asked why she felt she was presented with nothingness rather than the usual emotional turmoil she’d experienced with other trips. Heather fell silent for a moment, crumbling a paper straw wrapper between her fingertips until her blank stare happened upon April’s and they both laughed.

    ‘Sorry, I’m not really sure,’ she said. She held the security in her life dear, that much she didn't want taken the wrong way, the financial stability, the peace of mind from her relatively safe environment were aspects she deeply appreciated and it was not as though she didn’t also appreciate life’s preciousness. Yet the reason she’d taken all six tabs in the first place, Heather gathered, was she’d, on some absurd level, come to harbor a subtle resentment—not entirely for feeling safe, but towards feeling unadventurous in her bubble of safety. The goal was to have a good time, of course, but to also temporarily turn the keys over to a bus driver she knew to be capricious at best. It was a feigned and calculated risk, Heather admitted, but one that still left the door open to a near-total loss of control. Near because she knew there to be an escape valve built into the danger...that it was bound to a limited, albeit imprecise, amount of time. In a way that was the beauty of it, she said, equating it to falling from the sky onto a virtually prefixed and soft, self-fulfilling landing place. Perhaps, in other words, she said, she felt nothingness and emotional turmoil were the same things. Two paths to the same low-level, drug-induced comprehension of self.  

    In the abyss, she realized her insignificance, that she was small, but understanding herself wasn’t. Finding narrative threads from her life to pull on was a worthy cause. Heather had begun seeing a therapist weekly, she admitted, and it's led her to looking inward more. As a result, she said, there was less to be gained, less to be discovered from drug use. Rather than fishing for the occasional epiphany and aha moment in an altered state, she’d begun experiencing them with some regularity. 'Did you stop using drugs?' April asked and Heather told her she hadn’t but she’d stopped investing time spent high attempting to come to profound ideas. She instead preferred to devote it to more down-to-earth matters such as everyday phenomena. April, finally starting to come down from her own high, asked her for an example and Heather shared a recent experience: waking from a gummy-induced slumber with a full bladder. 

    With a bit of a blush, Heather described getting out of bed one night in the nude, needing to first overcome an initial unwillingness to leave a warm bed to confront her cold apartment. After getting out of bed, though, she noticed her roommate left the heat on and was instead starting to feel as though she might be slightly warm. And yet, as she sat on the toilet, completely exposed in the bathroom faintly lit by a distant street light, she didn’t feel anything. In addition to leaving the heat on, they’d also left the bathroom window open and the combination of the open window and central heat created a thermal vortex, an absolute stasis in body temperature. A favorite pastime of hers, she said, was to drive around on a cold night with the windows down and the heat turned up, but, in those instances, the balance was created by a surplus of hot and cold, whereas what she experienced in the bathroom was a zero-sum. As the pee carried on, the absence of either a  hot or cold sensation had her questioning if she was awake at all. It seemed not only possible but likely that she was still in her bed urinating in the sheets. She began an acute search for sensation and was sure the mental scan itself would cause some form of horripilation or the opposite but, still, she felt nothing. What if she was no longer alive? She asked herself. Perhaps she’d died in her sleep and her soul, not yet adapted to a sensationless world, had left her to carry out the acts of a living person. Tactility returned moments later when she washed her hands in cold water, and recounting it now she felt a bit silly. But finding the absolute center, the exact point of balance in any form was meaningful to Heather and was profound enough to shake her grip on reality.

    ‘I’m sorry, I’ve been talking a lot,’ Heather said laughing and reaching out to clutch April’s forearm. ‘Am I an insane person?’

    ‘No!’ April said. ‘No. No. I think it’s interesting and, honestly, I got so high on the way here it was nice to just listen.’

    Over-analyzing herself in this way sometimes made her feel self-absorbed, Heather said and asked April if it made her seem self-absorbed, but April told her it didn’t. Lately, April had started playing a self-imposed game during conversations—deducting a point for every self-reference and awarding one for each question asked. The strategy lay in chaining questions; random queries depleted quickly, but attentive listening and follow-up questions led to more meaningful exchanges, awakening her curiosity, fostering greater interest in others, and promoting less selfish engagements in conversations. The practice became so second nature, April no longer worried about dominating conversations, but it seemed in this instance, she unintentionally made it feel unbalanced in the opposing direction and now needed to contribute.

   'Last semester, I got a bit obsessed with staying "just right",' April told her. She never let herself feel too hot or cold. The right vibe became essential, absolutely had to be on point, leading her to stay in more where things could be carefully controlled. Where every space inevitably became a meditation hut, embracing muted, neutral tones and blending rich, soft fabrics with rich, hyper-textured throws. Where the lighting was perfectly layered and meticulously dialed to cover every square inch and eliminate any trace of glare. Where mood music, from playlists she dedicated countless hours to curating, was seamlessly woven into the backdrop. Where diffusers unleashed soft plumes around the clock, filling the air with top notes of amyris and bergamot and bottom notes of lavender and eucalyptus. Where all clothing choices needed only to prioritize comfort. 'At one point, I remember getting a mosquito bite and thinking it may be more than I could handle,' she laughed. There was something empowering, though, about letting go of moment-to-moment unpleasantness, April said twisting a ring on her finger, 'to letting things be as they are.' In time, she recognized it was crucial—for cultivating resilience and adaptability—to strike a balance between seeking comfort for wellbeing and embracing discomfort for growth. The turning point came, she remembered, going deep down a rabbit hole on the unique ways various animals hibernated. She adored these plump little dormice, taking pleasure in how they nestled into their nests for an extended winter slumber, their heart rate and body temperature falling to the degree that their bodies were cold to the touch—but still felt alive and fleshy—as they conserved energy to survive off only the fat reserves collected over the year. Youtube then pivoted off hibernating animals and took her to a video of a dog being rescued. 'This poor dog’s ears were completely infested by ticks,’ April said, ‘at least thirty ticks per ear!’ She insisted that if dogs weren’t house pets, they’d just have to adapt to a life marred by tick-infested ears...at best hoping the death rate of the ticks outpaced the number of ticks hopping in. She came away from it all, she said, hating ticks, obviously, but also touched by the way things could hunker down when the world was giving so little or taking so much.

    ‘Ew, I think I’ve seen that dog video. I couldn’t watch,’ Heather told her covering her eyes. Dogs did so well using their mouths and noses, it was probably the only time she really felt bad for them for not having hands, she said, finishing her beer and asking April if she was ready for another. Sadly, another was not an option for her, April told her.

    ‘No. Really?' Heather said subtly attempting to sway her, but April insisted. 'It was so great chatting, girl,’ Heather hugged her tightly, gripping the back of one arm. ‘I’ll see you at the game, yeah?’

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