Ayahuasca Part IV: Takeaways

What do you say about an experience that challenges your notions of what’s real and what isn’t? Well… This, I guess.

I had done plenty of psychoactive substances prior to my experience with Ayahuasca, and I did a fair amount of academic research on it leading up to the ceremony, but there just isn’t anything that prepares you for the kind of journey I was taken on. Every image that I saw with my eyes closed felt real – as if I wasn’t coming up with the images on my own, but I was being granted new eyes to see things that had always been there. Like in dreams where you’re convinced that you’re actually in that reality, but I never lost the sense that I left my reality – only added on new layers.

I interpreted the universes I saw as universes that exist simultaneously with this one. I knew that the spirits I encountered were very real, and many were there to help me. Not only that, but the other people in the room seemed to be able to tune into the visions I was having, and react to them in ways aimed at assisting me with them.

Prior to “releasing the dragon,” I had vivid images of the Spirit of Ayahuasca in a humanoid form, her hair made of long vines, her skin translucent, her heart and veins clearly visible, green, and glowing with life. Her and the Shadow Dragon stood side-by-side, arms outstretched, clearly holding space for my healing process as a blinding white light came from behind them. 

At the end of the ceremony on night two, Randy said, “I don’t want this to come off as egotistical, but I view myself as somewhat of a healer, and I was trying to help Sean release some spirits.”

“Let me set your mind at ease,” I said when the feathers were passed my way, “You hit the nail on the fucking head with that one.”

I view myself as an empiricist – I hold a very scientific worldview, but as any good scientist would, I leave open the potential that my view can be improved upon or disproven based on new evidence. This particular set of evidence caused me to challenge a lot of notions. It also ripped open a lot of old wounds, reexposing them to the open air, and if I’m being honest, I wasn’t ready for it.

I can see how, with the right guidance in the weeks following the ceremony, this would’ve been ultimately very good for me. I did not, however, have any plan whatsoever for the integration of this experience into my life. I should have set myself up with counseling to accompany this event, but I did not. I should have sought help to interpret these images and form constructive ways of dealing with them, but I did not. 

I do not see myself doing a ceremony again for some time – I still have a lot to go over spiritually, mentally, and emotionally after this go round. If/when I do embark on anything even remotely similar to this, I will have a very particular counseling plan set up so I don’t fall back into depression like I did this time. Without that plan, all those wounds just left me thinking, “Ow, this really fucking hurts,” as opposed to, “Here’s what I can do to help these wounds heal.” 

Ultimately, I’m glad I did the ceremony. I’m glad that I stepped outside my comfort zone to explore my reality in such an expansive way – I am, afterall, a dedicated explorer. Also, now that I’ve done this the wrong way, I feel certain that I’ll do it the right way going forward. If you choose to do anything like this, make sure you’re set up with a strong support system afterward, and be open about the fact that things aren’t okay. This particular form of medicine is powerful and can lead to amazing insights, but it’s also unrelentingly honest about where your weak points are, and without the proper guidance, that can really fuck your shit up for a while.

Take an honest inventory of whether this or any other psychedelic is the right choice for where you are in life before you do it, and make sure you’ve got a plan for afterward, otherwise you’re just doing drugs, and potentially causing more harm than good. Happy traveling.

Ayahuasca Part III: Dragons and Purging

I woke softly when the sun rose, and everyone else joined me in consciousness shortly after. We were all quiet and contemplative while we prepared a breakfast of of fruits and some plain organic oatmeal I brought (if you’re wondering how much like cardboard it tastes, the answer is “a lot”). We arranged everything in large bowls, then placed them on the alter, and returned to our mats.

Prayer circles of water and food happened. We gave gratitude for each bowl as we passed it from person to person, saying “hayllalla” as we went, which translates to “well-being.” Holy shit did food taste good. I had eaten very little in the preceding days to account for the vomiting and diarrhea portion of this experience, but I restrained myself from shoveling too much into my face because night two of ceremony loomed in the near future.

We went around the room sharing some of our experiences from the night before and the Curandero offered his interpretations. Apparently the Spirit of Ayahuasca is often interpreted as a large snake, which I didn’t consciously recall knowing. Maybe I read it somewhere, maybe I unwittingly noticed the snake on the tapestry hung on the wall, or maybe (and here’s where I landed) I really fucking saw the Spirit of Ayahuasca as she wound her way around my innards. Maybe her twisting and turning in my stomach was her way of routing out all the spiritual knots I’ve accumulated in my thirty years of life. Who knows?

After we broke off from the morning circle, I spent probably an hour or so writing in my journal (I’ve since drunkenly misplaced that journal, so there’s probably shit I’m missing in this retelling, but oh well). Then I went to the middle of the large stretch of grass and did my thirty-minute stretch routine, taking in the morning sun and accumulating a good number of new mosquito bites. Was I secretly hoping the Curandera was watching me from the window while I did those stretches? Maybe – she was quite attractive in both appearance and aura. But her love for her partner (the Curandero) was clear and I had no interest in getting in the way of that. Fun to think about, though.

Anyway, Randy wanted to go back to LA Fitness for the sake of showering, then he wanted to get an air mattress to use that night, and go to lunch. I had no real interest in doing any of that, but I was his navigation (he had me turn on the audio for Google maps, but also regularly requested updates on how far we were before the next turn), and he had really grown on me, so I was down.

In keeping with “la dieta,” I had steamed rice and steamed broccoli at the Chinese restaurant we stopped at. I went crazy and added a little salt because I like to live on the wild side. Randy had shrimp lo mein because he clearly gave zero fucks about the purging potential. Somehow, he managed to avoid purging the previous night, which he attributed to his antacids. The man’s a spiritual beast in sheep’s clothes.

We got back, meditated, napped, and chatted a bit before reconvening for Night Two of ceremony. We all knew what we were getting into, but I wouldn’t call any of our feelings “excitement.” Night One was taxing physically, mentally, and emotionally, and from what I read, the intensity was supposed to compound on the second night.

My intentions had been whittled down considerably. That night my only intention was “to ride the coils of the serpent as the surfer rides a wave.” Poetic as fuck, right? After night one, I relearned something I already knew from previous psychedelic experiences – those drugs (or Spirits) are gonna take you wherever they want anyway, so just sit back and enjoy the ride.

The Rapé was considerably easier to deal with. It was really just about calming the fuck down and not trying to breathe through your nose at all. It involved a lot of spitting as saliva gathered in your drooped-open mouth, but it was manageable and I gagged much less. Others were not so lucky and heavy bouts of vomiting ensued around me. I was glad I figured it out, but I felt their pain when I heard the heaving and bucket splatters.

I did my best not to be inspired to throw up, closed my eyes and meditated until She was ready to take me on my next journey. My good friend The Shadow Dragon showed up to say, “Hey.” I was touched that he would visit me, then I realized that he had always been with me – he was there watching, protecting me just outside of my field of vision. I felt bad for not seeing him and thanking him sooner. He was pretty cool about it, though. He just gave me a knowing look that said, “I’m here for you,” then curled up by my side.

I was suddenly launched into a kaleidoscoping fun-house mirror universe. It was filled with creatures similar to the previous night – demons if you will – and one of those douchebags had the nerve to teabag me. I found that very funny, but still, dick move. Luckily, when any of those spirits got too costic, The Shadow Dragon would flap his wing and they’d skedaddle.

Back in the physical world, I was in a lot of pain and discomfort. My stomach was cramping and I almost continuously felt the urge to vomit. I’d sit up and dry heave for a bit, then lie back down to resume my tossing and turning on the mat. After one of those bouts, I was violently thrown into a number of memories from my childhood. One involved being so scared that I hid in a closet. I was afraid of the dark back then, but I was more afraid of what was going on outside of the closet, so I thought, “Fuck it, the dark’s not so bad.” (I was like six when this happened so I probably didn’t say it exactly like that, but you get the idea)

First I experienced the memory as if I was there, then I became an outside observer as the Me I am now. I met Young Me in the darkness where he sat huddled and alone, and I took him into my arms and held him. I gave Young Me the type of love and protection that I didn’t get in that moment. “It’s alright,” I told Him/Me, “you’re safe now.”

Just then I got yanked back into reality. “Wait! I’m not done hugging me!” I thought as I opened my eyes and let out a barrage of dark brown, mostly digested, very bland foods into my dog dish. I was able to recenter, close my eyes and do a little more hugging, then I felt much, much better. I felt warm and grateful that The Spirit of Ayahuasca had granted me that opportunity. I cried tears of joy and chuckled at the ridiculousness of it all. I also opted out of Round Two of the medicine because I felt pretty fulfilled in that moment, and fatigued from all the purging.

Grandmother Ayahuasca wasn’t done with me, yet, though. I settled back into Her world, and had visions of being a dragon. I saw my scaly red skin and felt my wings expanding behind me. I was sitting up, and I could feel myself stretching my limbs like a dragon just getting up after a long nap on a mound of gold in his cave. That transitioned into very vivid images of me murdering people. I was slicing throats and plunging long blades into stomachs, but somehow I was still doing it tenderly – almost lovingly.

In the same first-to-third-person perspective shift that I had with my memory, I reinhabited myself and saw a man in a black leather hood standing in a room lined with his victims. I knew immediately that he was a past self – someone I had been in another life. I also knew that he had never been loved, so I embraced him like I did with Younger Me. He collapsed in my arms and wept.

I opened my eyes and heard the Curandero chanting about dragons. Then I saw Randy flailing his arms about wildly. It looked as if he was gathering energy in front of him and then shooing something away, but he was definitely flailing in my direction. Finally he said, “Be free!”

Just then I realized that I wasn’t the dragon – I was holding onto this spirit. With that, I vomited one last time, and when I closed my eyes again the dragon (this past self that I just met) spread its wings and flew away from me. It was like having a huge weight taken off my shoulders. I felt lighter, and instantly sober.

I had every bit of mental acuity back, and I was content as fuck, so I just sat there for the remainder of the ceremony jamming out to the chanting and percussion of the Curanderos. When the circle closed, I had some more Rapé with the Curandero, then gathered my things and made my way to the tent I set up the day before, but didn’t have the energy or motivation to make it out to the previous night. I curled into the warmth of my experience and my only-slightly vomit-stained blanket, and was lulled to sleep by Mother Nature’s song.

Ayahuasca Part II: Randy, The Serpent, and The Underworld

The recounting of my Ayahuasca journey would be incomplete without full coverage of my main man Randy. I needed a ride to the ceremony, so I asked the Curandero and he connected me with Randy. Initially, we’d all be riding together, but the Curandero and his partner (also a Curandera) ended up riding separately, so that left me and Randy to figure things out on our own. In total, we communicated through 18 emails, 5 phone calls, and 6 text messages over the course of the three days leading up to the event. As a retired software engineer, he’s the first to admit that he isn’t “the best at people,” but he’s very thorough with his communications, specifying routes of travel, time of travel, and one or two alternatives. He even clarified if I’d be using Siri or Google Maps on my phone to navigate after he picked me up from the train station (he had a phobia of driving in the city, so I needed to make my way to the suburbs to meet him).

When he picked me up, he said, “I was lucky enough to grab a free parking spot right over there. It was free for 3 or 4 hours, so I went to the coffee shop to answer some emails. It’s a really nice coffee shop. They have free WiFi and the coffee is pretty good.” It went on like that for a while.

I don’t know exactly what I was expecting him to look like after our extensive electronic communication, but it was different than what I got. He was a tall man in his seventies (best guess), slightly hunched from years of being too tall and sitting in front of a computer. He wore a plaid button down short-sleeve shirt tucked into khaki cargo shorts held up by a belt. Long, spindly legs reached from the shorts to the top of his white socks that filled his large white running sneakers. He wore glasses, and his phone and glasses case were clipped to his belt. He was a kind, gentle human, and based on his appearance, he would’ve been the last person I picked out of a lineup to go on a psychedelic ‘trip’ (he kept using that word and correcting it to ‘journey’).

We stopped at Costco so he could fill up his gas tank, then we stopped at LA Fitness so he could check out the facility and brush his teeth, then we stopped at a few other shops for groceries and some other random shit. Finally, we were on our way to the property in Wauconda, IL where our trip – or journey – was to take place.

The property was motherfuckin’ gorgeous. It was tucked back away from the road and surrounded by tall, beautiful trees. There was a rolling meadow that lead down to a large pond, and everything was a vivid green even before the hallucinogens. You could hear occasional cars drive by on the road and there was construction on the adjacent property, but when the sun started to set, Mother Nature was the only one making noise. Daytime cicadas gave way to nighttime crickets and frogs. Coyotes and owls punctured the continuous hum of the amphibians and bugs every once in a while, and the leaves rustled in response. Mother. Fuckin’. Gorgeous.

The ceremony would be taking place on a covered patio, which was fine by me because I got like 7 mosquito bites in the first five minutes after I got out of the car. We removed most of the furniture from the room, then when the Curanderos got there, we removed the rest and set up the alter and our respective mats, pillows, and blankets. Also, we each got our own “purge bucket” in case we couldn’t make it to the one bathroom to vomit. Mine was a porcelain dog dish, and I was concerned that it wouldn’t be large enough.

We moved pretty quickly through setup, and all sat down to begin the ceremony after some of us meditated for a bit. First, the Curandero gave a summative, “Here’s what to expect out of tonight” talk. Then we had a brief water prayer circle where we presented each other with the life-nourishing water that we’d later all be expelling violently from our bodies.

Then we had a round of “Rapé,” a powdered tobacco similar to snuff, but mixed with tree ash. The Spirit of Tobacco was described as a grandfather spirit – social, calming, and providing focus. It was poured into two small piles on the Curandero’s hand, then scooped up in a small, wooden pipe. Then you helped guide the pipe to your nostril, and it was blown forcefully up your nose on both sides. It burned, made your mouth water, and if you let it hit the back of your throat (or heaven forbid swallowed any) it made you gag.

Then we all went up one by one to the alter to receive “the medicine.” The Ayahuasca root is mashed and boiled along with Chacruna, and the end result is a thick, dark brown tea of sorts. Based on my experience with mushrooms, I figured it would taste awful, but I was delightfully surprised by its sweetness and palatability. After we sat back down, a condor and eagle feather – symbolizing the spirits of the North and the South – were passed around, we summoned one or both of the spirits and shared our intentions for the evening.

I can’t recall each of my intentions, but I can say with certainty that I had the longest list. As the Rapé took hold, my nervousness turned to excitement. As evening darkness settled in around us, we fell silent. The Shaman eventually started chanting lightly, and I could feel the edges of a drug state creeping up on me. I went prone and closed my eyes just in time to catch a flood of images rushing past my eyelids. They came too fast for me to make heads or tails of them. I opened my eyes and was surprised that my vision wasn’t really affected with my eyes open. There were still little hints of hallucinogen here and there, but compared to the technicolor world inside my head, the outside world was muted.

I closed my eyes again and found myself in a rainforest. I saw a large serpent descending from a tree in front of me. She (I intuitively knew it was a female) lowered herself until we were staring at one another eye-to-eye. “Hey there, Snake.” I said. She said nothing, but she then phased through my face and slithered down into my torso. I had vivid images of her writhing around in there continuously, and they were accompanied by my stomach feeling unsettled. I was never scared, though. Somehow this all seemed very natural.

My eyes shot open as a very clear and present need to expel my stomach’s contents from both ends took hold. I made my way to the bathroom and locked myself in, grateful for its presence and for the moments of quiet that punctuated my purging. Per the “what to expect” conversation, we were to have a second round of medicine, and while I sat on the toilet I thought, “Well there’s no way I’m doing that!”

When I got back to my mat, the Curandero said, “Alright, we will now open up the circle to the second round of medicine.” So of course I did it. This time, the Rapé was administered via a large, hollowed out bone that allowed for much more of it to be given much faster. I gulped down the second helping of tea and got back to my mat just in time to take advantage of my dog dish. After expelling a plethora of dark, brown matter from my person, I laid back down.

This time I had visions of my skin being charred from head to toe. Then I started to see demonic faces – some with horns, some without skin, some with red, glowing eyes, some made of lava. I saw one of them run his hand along the entirety of an animal (it was either a warthog or a possum, couldn’t tell) and with the passing of his hand, all of the living tissue was stripped from the bone. Again, none of this scared me – it just was. Finally, I was surrounded with these creatures in their world – a post-apocalyptic wasteland filled with burnt, crumbling buildings and swirls of ash. Honestly, I felt very at home.

Then vomiting. Much more vomiting. As I started to come to, I realized that the two Curanderos had stopped their rhythmic chanting and drum beats, and the circle was coming to a close for the night. The two feathers were being passed around again so we could share the gift of our voices. I was still hunched over my bowl when I heard Randy say, “I’ll wait for Brother Sean to feel a little better before I pass him the feathers.”

“No… Skip me…” I muttered as saliva dripped from my lips.

But he didn’t. He waited. Then he said, “Hold the feathers – they have healing powers.”

“Ugh.” I said. But I took the feathers, and thought, “I’ll be damned. I feel better.” I explained my violent transition from one world to another and the serpent and probably a host of other things that I just can’t recall right now.

“You were in the underworld,” the Curandero said in a calm, “well duh” kind of way.

I remember thinking, “I wasn’t just in the underworld – I was a fucking king there.” and I had a vision of me with a gold crown on a delapidated throne, then I passed the fuck out. 

Ayahuasca Part I: The Leadup

The organizer a local Meetup Group I frequent sent out the usual reading material prior to the monthly meeting. Feel free to read the whole thing, but if you’re not inclined, it’s the manifesto of Mother Ayahuasca (the spirit of Ayahuasca), describing herself, her intentions, and her journey through the world. It offers information while still being some degree of readable, but I had a little trouble with it because I’m generally not one for indulging in that particular brand of whimsy.

I had known a little about Ayahuasca for years, but felt strongly that I had more to learn, so I was excited to see the headlining speaker at the Meetup, who was a Curandero (a healer who uses traditional remedies, also referred to as an Ayahuascero or Shaman). As with the reading, though, I was hesitant to throw my support in the ring for this guy and his practices just yet because my background is in the more modern psychological practices. For a long time, I held the “newer is better” belief, and it still lingered around in my brain coloring my view of older practices.

When I got to sit in front of him and hear him speak, I was impressed by his sense of humor, his down-to-earth attitude, his traditional college-level education in sociology, and the laid-back assuredness that can only come from 19 years of working with Ayahuasca. I asked him the requisite, “What kinds of questions do you ask people before you work with them?”

“The biggest questions we ask are, ‘Are you on any medications right now? Do you have a history of mental illness in your family? Have you ever been diagnosed with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder?’ Things like that.”

He also qualified it by saying, “That said, have I still given the medicine [Ayahuasca] to people on medications like lithium? Yes. Have I still given it to people with schizophrenia? Yes. But it’s all on a case-by-case basis after sitting down with them and discussing potential problems.”

He also said, “Usually when it’s time for you to do the medicine, the spirit of Ayahusca will call you to her.” And I definitely heard the call.

This guy had exactly the kind of practical approach I was looking for, plus I just fuckin’ liked the dude. Before we hugged each other goodbye, I overheard him mention the potential that he’d be doing a healing ceremony sometime before he headed back to Peru, so I connected with him on Facebook. He wouldn’t know the details for certain until he had confirmed enough participants to make it worth his while and had returned from the Sun Dance he was headed to (a Native American ceremony involving hours and hours of dancing).

Before he even left, he sent me a message confirming that it was happening, and providing some reading material on “la dieta,” which gives some fairly strict guidelines on the types of food you can eat leading up the ceremony. You were supposed to start it as much as two weeks in advance, but being me, I waited until like three days before. Scientifically, the point is to have very little in your stomach that might increase acidity, as Ayahuasca can be pretty hard on your digestive tract. Spiritually, the point was to eat a diet as close to that of our Peruvian predecessors as possible to maximize our ability to commune with the Spirit of Ayahuasca. So it was a lot of fruits and vegetables, and very little seasoning (if any).

I spent many of the days leading up to the ceremony reading about the science and tradition of this particular plant medicine and listening to personal accounts. Honestly, most of it was an attempt to assuage my growing nervousness about being ripped out of this world and shown the more sordid parts of my history. Every account I heard went something like, “There’s nothing particularly fun or enjoyable about the experience. Usually it’s actually pretty rough and it was one of the most trying things I’ve ever done. But it was absolutely, 100% worth it.” It was also described as, “ten years of traditional talk therapy crammed into two nights, with extensive vomiting and diarrhea thrown in.”

Really selling it, right? Anyway, a few days before the ceremony, right after I had really committed myself to the diet, I sat down to meditate. Once I was able to clear my mind, I saw a figure making its way toward me. I intuited that this was the Spirit of Ayahuasca. When she reached me, she placed her hand on my forehead, and I felt warmth and comfort and calmness. She saw me stirring about in my own mind, and took time out of her busy schedule to put me at ease. Nervousness lingered a little, but I was as ready as I’d ever be to take this journey.

The Bears Won

The Bears were doing well and the bar was humming along at a manageable pace. There wasn’t much of a need for me to be there anymore, and the bartender had just accidentally opened a bottle of Old Style, so clocking out was the only reasonable thing to do. I saddled up on the other side of the bar to knock back way too many shots and beers with the regulars and randos I had come to know so well (or at least was very friendly toward with all the shots and beers on board). One of my coworkers got her purse stuck in a bike lock, and I was able to pry it out, which affirmed my functionality and gave me the bravado I needed to start sending out “Hey. What are you up to?” texts.

The first and only person that I really wanted to see was a good friend who lived less than a block from my bar. She was a regular, and we were fast friends as we shared a lot in common. It didn’t hurt that she was (is) incredibly attractive and charismatic, I suppose. She was in Boystown (if you think that sounds like a gay neighborhood, you are correct) drinking with her friend, so I Ubered my way over.

Her friend was nice enough from what I remember, but she and I were both particularly drunk, so as we are wont to do, we started making out and hanging on each other. At some point her friend started hitting on another gentleman and probably got fed up with our overt display of affection, so he excused himself to the stairwell to continue his conversation out of our line of sight. Fingers crossed he got some action – it’d only be fair after what we put him through.

After making the vast majority of the gay folks around us uncomfortable with our hetero tongue exchange, some loud and enthusiastic conversations with the bartender, a brief stint in the stall of the women’s restroom (there was a gender neutral bathroom, but the stall didn’t lock, so…), and repeatedly pulling my friend off the bar after she hopped up there, we decided it was time to move on. No, not just move on, it was time to fucking dance!

“Hey!” we slurred at the bouncer. “We know we’re drunk and we need to leave. Where’s the best spot to dance?!”

We made our way to a cavernous spot nearby that had a large, pulsating dance floor at the back, where “Slave 4 Britney [Spears] Sundays” was in full swing. She led me by the hand directly to the front, and we hopped straight up on stage. The bouncer responsible for the stage said we were cool, so we ground and gyrated our drunk selves through the next hour and a half. There were trips to the bar to get drinks, but most of them ended up disappearing after we set them down to keep dancing. At some point I was so sweaty that I took my shirt off, but like most nights like this, my memory of it is limited to snapshots of the fun and frolicking like a montage under a strobe light. For the sake of mentioning a couple, we danced with probably five or six other people and at some point I picked my friend up for some dancing with an acrobatic tilt. I also remember us drunkenly yelling, “I love you!” at one another, but with lights and music and hormones blaring, it’s hard not to get caught up in the moment.

Anyway, she had work the next day and was conscious of the time, so we eventually hopped off the stage, I put back on my shirt, and we headed back out to the street. After some convincing, I dragged her to one more dance spot with a Latin vibe. We didn’t finish a couple more beers, then I got us an Uber to her apartment. I kissed her goodnight, said an awkward goodbye (my doing, not hers), then walked the half block back to my still-open bar where I regaled the patrons and my coworkers with stories of my exploits.

After sharing a cigarette or two with some guy, we made enough of a connection that he was intrigued by the prospect of an after-hours joint I’m a member of. We made a stop at his apartment to drink some whiskey that was too high quality for how drunk we both were, then I lead him into the dark, dingy world of Chicago’s late-late night crowd. To his credit, he hung in there for a bit, but eventually his head started to nod and he got my approval to excuse himself (not that he needed it, but he asked for it).

Left to my own devices, I flirted with a lovely trans woman for a while, made some random friends, had them buy me my final beers and shots, then walked through the 9am sunlight to the bus stop. A bus and a train later, I was back in my apartment ordering takeout food I didn’t really need. As with most nights like this, it ended with the sun high in the sky, empty to-go containers, and the strong notion that I probably didn’t need to do it again for a while. Though… It has been a while…

The Radio Silence Is Hurting My Ears

Yesterday afternoon around 5:45pm a woman jumped in front of The L in what police are calling an “apparent suicide.” She jumped off the same platform I find myself on most days, as it’s two blocks from my apartment, and it connects me to the rest of Chicago. Per my MO, I was glib when I talked about it with my coworkers last night.

“I mean, suicide is a selfish act already. Why do you have to add to that by screwing a bunch of commuters out of being on time?” I said.

“Right? Plus now there’s a guy that has to power wash the front of that train. He’s fucked up for a good week.”

I think we both had pretty good points there, but I still can’t help but relate to the lady. Lately, I’ve had serious depression gnawing at the edges of my consciousness, waiting for moments of quiet to chew threw my mental walls and say, “Jump in front of that train!” or “You’ve got that gun… Have you considered…”

My schedule is full and my dog always needs walks, so I’m pretty capable of pushing those thoughts back with reasoning or the emotional appeal of sticking around for the pup, but that doesn’t make the thoughts go away. It just delays them – suicidal procrastination, if you will.

The dark thoughts aren’t all about ending it, obviously. That’s just sort of a fun fantasy that the thoughts play around with. The more prevalent rumination is meaninglessness. The feeling that the days don’t matter, that my contribution to society doesn’t matter, that I don’t matter, etc. I’m reminded that all of that isn’t true when I talk to friends or family, but I find it difficult to reach out to anyone, and if someone reaches out to me I tend to reject it, so I strongly encourage you not to view this as a call to arms.

In fact, stop worrying! I’m fine. I’ve always been fine. I’ll always be fine (I mean, we all die eventually, but I won’t be dying any time soon). I can’t always worry about your worrying in my writing, otherwise I’ll just be stuck not writing anything at all. Sometimes I just need to write things down to process them – share where I’m at in order to move forward, which is what I’m doing right now. I’ve been stuck in a quagmire of writer’s block that stems from my concern for your feelings, but I’m pretty sure that hasn’t been healthy for me, so we’re all going to have to suck it up and power through it.

My point – if there is one at all beyond the need to vent – is that I understand that woman. Her choice presents me with a stark contrast between my feelings and her action. It highlights for me the fact that I don’t want to be her. I’ve got very cool things to accomplish in the near future. I’ll be applying to grad schools soon to study things I’ve always had a sincere interest in. I’ll get to research and teach ways of viewing the world that I believe in strongly, and that’s cool as fuck. This little vortex of negativity is temporary.

Mother Nature is wasting no time in driving the point home, as it’s raining heavily outside right now. Annie might’ve been a little overly optimistic, as the most recent weather forecast says it’ll keep raining for a few more days, but the sun will come out again. This storm will pass as all storms do, and unlike our sister on the L, I’ll live to see that happen.

In case they have WiFi in the afterlife, I’d like to take a quick moment to say, “Thank you, you kind, tortured soul. Whatever your misdeeds in life, in death you’ve had a strong positive effect on at least one person, and I appreciate the fuck out of you. Rest easy, dear.”

Becoming Steve

“Steve, do you think you’ll have these reports done by the end of today?” Jarred asked, punctuating the question with a burp.

“Of course, boss.” Steve said, hunching his shoulders to brace for impact.

“Thanks, brother. You’re the man!” Jarred said as he slapped Steve on the back, dislodging his glasses from his nose.

Were Steve the type to mutter under his breath, Jarred would’ve gotten some harsh, inaudible words right then, but he wasn’t. He was a nose-to-the-grindstone, no-nonsense accountant, who – unlike many of his colleagues – was entirely satisfied with his life. His Spartan workspace was the picture of workflow perfection: each piece of paper, each pen, each post-it, all painstakingly placed for optimal efficiency.

His apartment was the same. He bought the model apartment – the one used to show potential buyers what it might look like if Pottery Barn sponsored a living space, but had a low budget. He didn’t want to have to think about where to get the faux-worldly vases or the clocks with just the right amount of quirk. Who has the time for that? – he might say, without irony, if anyone ever asked. When he was home, his TV was always on Fox News or the History Channel, and his central air always kept the room at an appropriate 71.5 degrees.

After completing his reports on time like he always did, he got in his Kia and made his way through the rush hour traffic while listening to sports highlights on his favorite AM station. He liked it because they would alternate between sports and conservative talk radio, and he didn’t even have to change the dial.

He popped his usual microwave meal into the oven and watched it spin as the timer counted down.

*BOOM*

Erland was jolted awake from a deep sleep by the crack of thunder and heavy rain pounding against his tent. He clutched his assiduously cleaned and sharpened axe and looked around at the well-organized pelts lining the interior for signs of immediate danger.

He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and stepped out into the rain. Today they were scheduled to raid the village, which they spent weeks reconnoitering in small groups, so as not to raise suspicion. Their camp was set up deep in the trees surrounding the village and you had to really be looking to see them in the heavy downpour. He quickly readied himself and joined his companions at the edge of the forest. Under the cover of the storm, they crept up and seeped into the village before the village roosters even opened their eyes.

The attack began, not with a warcry, but with the muffled sounds of blades sinking into the unconscious, extending their slumber indefinitely. Finally, someone in the village sounded an alarm and the fighting commenced in earnest.

“It’s hard to explain,” Erland said to his closest and only friend, Sture, “The settings all seem foreign and overly bright, the people all seem so… clean, and that’s not to mention the magical carriages and glowing parchments I told you about the other day,” he continued as he plunged his axe into a farmer charging at him with a pitchfork. Careful not to get too much blood on himself, he put his foot on the farmer’s shoulder and shoved the body away from the embedded axe.

“Odin is testing you,” Sture said. “Now, more than ever, you mustn’t let that old trickster distract you.” Sture swung his sword through a wooden door, fortuitously striking down a man cowering behind it. “See, brother, the gods reward focus!”

“You’re probably right,” Erland conceded, but he couldn’t shake how much he actually enjoyed the dreams. Was he born in the wrong time? Did the dreams take place in the past? Was he among the gods in his sleep? Or was it the future? Had man managed to master the ways of the gods? Why do “accountants” kill so few people? What kind of a name was “Steve?” By Odin’s hammer, what was a Kia?!

These thoughts plagued his waking hours. He inexplicably yearned for “oatmeal,” which he knew bore a striking resemblance to gruel, but was considerably sweeter. For the time being, he shrugged it off as best he could, assuring himself that setting fire to the small structures he had cleared of living inhabitants and their valuables would provide sufficient comfort and, he thought with a sigh, distraction.

Erland was tired after a long day of murder and pillaging and asleep before his head even landed on his furs.

*BEEP**BEEP**BEEP*

The oatmeal Steve always ate for breakfast was done. He took it out of the microwave after the requisite one-minute cool-down suggested by the box, then stirred in some sliced banana. He sat down at his designer table and watched the morning news while he ate, sipping half-caf (the fully caffeinated stuff made him jittery).

When he got to work, there was a sign hung over his desk that read, “Happy Birthday Steve!” Honestly, he had forgotten that it was his birthday, and he was deeply troubled that the sign ruined his cubicle’s functional aesthetic.

Gary leaned out of the cubicle next to him, “Hey man! Happy Birthday!” Steve found a way to appreciate that, as he considered Gary to be one of his closest friends. Steve didn’t know if Gary was married or if he had children, if Gary had grown up in the area or moved there, or anything at all, really, except that he liked his coffee black, he preferred the double Windsor knot for his ties, and he also kept mostly to himself. They never talked outside of work, and they didn’t talk that much at work either, but that’s exactly what Steve wanted from a friend.

Steve did not appreciate the Happy Birthday song lead by Jarred at lunch. Most of his coworkers were off key and Steve didn’t like all the attention. He hoped that taking down the sign would stop this nonsense before it started, but no luck. Thankfully, he made it through the rest of the day largely unbothered and went home with a small piece of leftover cake, that he took solely to appease Janet – the habitually disheveled receptionist who bought the cake. He promptly threw it in the trash as soon as he got home and popped his usual evening meal into the microwave.

* * *

Erland was shaken awake by Sture. “The Christians have found us!” He ran from Erland’s tent, sword in hand, followed closely by Erland. His fellow Norsemen were falling all around him as the heavily-armored Christians went from tent to tent, slashing at anything that moved with glinting longswords.

Erland swiveled around and caught one of the knights in the neck with his blade just before the knight caught him. He tried hefting the axe away from the collapsing Christian, but it had lodged itself in the mangled metal of the chestpiece, and he knew if he pulled too hard he’d be spattered with the Christian’s blood. Heavy footsteps came up quickly behind him and they were upon him before he could loosen his axe. He turned in time to see the longsword enter his abdomen to the hilt, then slide back out again, bringing with it a torrent of his own innards.

He collapsed to the floor and stared up at the sky. As the clouds cleared for a moment, he expected to see his life flash before his eyes as the Valkyries came down to carry him to Valhalla. Instead he saw only the sliver of blue sky as it faded into darkness, and for whatever reason, it was the events of Steve’s life that flooded his consciousness. He remembered growing up in the suburbs of Nebraska. He remembered being bullied in high school. He remembered his quiet, study-intensive college career. He remembered the sense of pride he felt when he earned his CPA credential.

*BEEP**BEEP**BEEP*

Steve’s 5:45am alarm woke him from a restless sleep. “What a weird dream…” he said to no one in particular, then he started his daily routine, just as he always did, contented in his clean and orderly existence.