Bamboo shadows on a rice paper floor

Today is the first warm sunny day since last fall, and every square yard of earth is covered with shoots, buds, tendrils, flowers, and new leaves. By afternoon, I was drowning in…what? Fecundity? No. Reality. I became confounded by the thought that being alive is so intense that I can't imagine how I've pulled it off all these years--or how I can possibly continue to pull it off. It's usually a bad idea to smoke pot when I'm anxious, so I contented myself with 30 mgs of oxycodone. Thirty is a wee small dose for me, but it's frightfully high by most standards, and I've vowed to never exceed it. Odds are that 50 would make me feel really good, but after a week on 50, I would need 60 to feel really good, and then the day would come that I would lie down to enjoy my opiate euphoria, and I wouldn't get up again.

At bedtime, I added 600 of Neurontin (another painkiller) to the oxycodone and, curiosity getting the better of me, smoked some pot. As soon as I turned out my light, the hallucinations started. A long procession of indistinct gray images appeared one after another after another until they exploded in a blinding barrage of light, color, and movement. Afterwards, the darkness pullulated with images that passed before me like so many room-size flash cards. Some were still lifes. Others were in motion. The one that touched me deepest was that of my dead neighbor, Belle, and her dead poodle, Lily. I liked Belle, but I loved Lily. (How I wish I could draw close to humans the way I draw close to dogs and, now that I have Brewsky, cats.) I fought to stay awake, but the Neurontin eventually won.

It’s now 2:50 in the afternoon on the following day. I feel hyper and am so near the edge of reality that I could easily start hallucinating again. 

Oh, NOOOOO!!ll! Leg cramps! WHOA! I had to to throw myself to the floor to massage them, only I would scarcely start on one before another one stabbed me. Paul Butterfield ( is starting into "East West" again. I've listened to all 13 minutes and 14 seconds of it scores of times since yesterday because I want to go deeper into whatever trip this is, and psychedelic music sure helps. 

The room is now pulsing ever so slightly, and I am very close to being dizzy. Everything around me—my monitor, the pictures on the wall, the chair in which Brewsky lies sleeping—appears to be slowly moving further to my right. Objects are also expanding and contracting as if breathing, yet I'm less surprised by all this motion on the part of inanimate objects than I am that I never noticed it before. In other words, I don't feel like I'm hallucinating; I feel like I'm seeing reality more clearly than ever, yet my rational brain keeps suggesting that it's pretty damn unlikely. I'm also jerking and trembling, almost too much to write, and I don’t even know why I'm having this wild trip. My best guess is that I’m high on some medication that I’m not supposed to get high on, although the only new drug I'm taking is the antibiotic Cipro (to hopefully rule out prostate cancer), and the only problem I've ever had with antibiotics was the runs. I definitely like this better. But what if it's not a drug behind the weirdness? Would I be okay with that? Probably. This will surely sound strange in the kinds of experiences I'm having, but I feel secure enough in my sanity to allow myself to be insane.

...I did it. I looked up Cipro, and sure enough, running amuck in a blind panic while having outrageous hallucinations are two of the 150 or so side-effects, and they actually looked pretty good compared to some of the others--liver failure, tendon rupture, cartilage destruction in weight-bearing joints, death! The website advised that I contact my doctor immediately about the hallucinations. Yeah, right. The odds that I’m going ask a doctor to fuck-up a really good drug trip are WHAT exactly?! Years ago, some other drug had euphoria listed as a side-effect that I was supposed to call the doctor about. I thought it would be pretty funny to get my internist out of bed at 3:00 a.m. to complain that his pills were making me exceedingly happy.

...Now I'm lost in the spaces between things. What is this nothingness that exists between us? Neither matter nor energy distinguishes it, yet we all agree it's there, and that entities which do consist of matter and energy couldn't exist without it. What, then, IS it? Is it a void—whatever that means? Might it swallow me up? Has it already swallowed me (all of us) up? Is that the problem, and does it go all the way back to the Big Bang? I often feel desperate for answers to questions that don't even make sense to a lot of people. Unfortunately, the questions that plague me most don’t necessarily have answers. They’re the SCARY questions, the ones that make existence too ironic to be believable, and so it is that I tremble.

Trembling is actually a big part of my life when I’m alone (I try to avoid experiencing life deeply when I'm not alone because people commonly interpret my intensity as something to be fixed or pitied, and this makes them a complete drag to have around). Drugs like pot — and Cipro, it would appear—that have the power to cause hallucinations, crank up my intensity many times over, which is why I’m drinking coffee and smoking marijuana right now. Life would be easier if I gave them up while I was on the Cipro, but it would also be less rewarding.... I just restarted "East West" for about the 100the time.

It's now another day—I don't know which one—and I'm still lost in a world that looks surprisingly different than any world I've ever seen. I went early to my second ever Qi Gong class today so I could stand directly in front of the teacher, Matsuko. I was very much enjoying the music she was playing because I imagined myself on a rice paper floor that was being slowly encircled by bamboo shadows cast from plants that were swaying in a soft breeze. This pleasant fantasy soon turned into a compelling hallucination in which I lost all awareness that I do now or ever did exist as anything other than Matsuko’s hypnotically undulating arms. I had been mirroring her body--but especially her arms--for nearly an hour with complete concentration from no more than eight feet away, and that, combined with my Cipro-altered state, bewitched me so profoundly that I ceased to exist in my own mind. All too soon, an internal (and maybe infernal) spring snapped me back into myself, and, remembering where I had gone, my eyes moistened with affection for this person whose arms I had experienced as if from the inside. I was so moved that I was contemplating leaving the room so I wouldn't make a spectacle of myself, but then my eyes looked of their own accord into Matsuko’s eyes for almost the first time since the lesson started. She was back at me as if in accepting acknowledgement that whatever I had just experienced, it must have been a doozy. After class, I very much wanted to tell her all about it, but I'm seriously considering becoming her student for the long haul, so I didn't dare risk it. 

By Jove, I feel inspired to write a proverb. Here it goes: "You should neither assume that your experiences during a drug trip have anything at all to do with the people about whom you have them, nor should you imagine that those people would be pleased to hear about them!" 

It is now yet another tomorrow—at least I think it is; I’ve edited this so much that I’m about to fall over—and I just took my last Cipro. I've been in a significantly altered state of consciousness for five days and have even gone out of my way to intensify an effect that the drug's manufacturer considers a grave problem; I'm tired. Really though, if they want you to call your doctor, shouldn't they give you a better reason than that you just embarked upon a five-day, all expenses paid, psychedelic vacation to the mountaintop of the holy mystics?

I finally put aside "East West," and have since been listening to various artists (Yanni is currently doing a great job with "In the Bleak Mid-Winter”). I want to share one of those artists with you. Please do me the favor of listening to Suzanne Ciani's "Silver Ship" for ten seconds. If you're not hooked by then...well, I would be astounded. In the presence of such perfection, I'm ever struck by the thought that it only takes a few minutes of absolute beauty to erase an entire lifetime of mistakes. Unfortunately, this speaks to the rarity of absolute beauty.

A troubled man’s re-conversion and death

I’ve only known one person who had serious and prolonged doubts about religion who ever permanently returned to it, and that person was my father. He didn’t regain his religion because he finally found answers to the questions that had plagued him, but because his wife died and this left him alone, feeble, in failing health. His only help came from his daughter who found little time for him despite the fact that she lived in a house that he had built for her next to his own.

After his re-conversion, Dad and God conversed at length every night. God invariably monopolized the conversation, but Dad never complained. One of God’s messages was that Dad was about to win the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes, so he no longer needed his life savings. Dad told everyone at church that he had already won because in his mind, the fact that his number hadn’t actually been drawn was a technicality. His brothers and sisters in the Lord (Church of Christ people call one another brother and sister) were so delighted that they stopped treating him like a disheveled old eccentric who ranted during services, but like a beloved elder whom they were very glad to see. I called his preacher, and told him that my Dad had very little in the way of life savings, and that he hadn’t won a damn thing. The preacher suggested that I just wanted the money for myself.

A few months later, Dad left Mississippi and moved to Oregon to live with Peggy and me. Each morning over breakfast, he would stare at us through Ancient Mariner eyes as he conveyed God’s latest message. We comforted ourselves with the knowledge that he at least hadn’t brought his yard sign to Oregon, the one announcing that he was a “Prophet of God.” He did bring his habit of standing up in church and rebuking the congregation because, as God told him, they sinned by not using the King James Bible. The people in the two churches he attended here were as obstinate in their sins as the ones in Mississippi (living prophets are usually considered insane), so he eventually stayed home on Sundays.

His next brainstorm was to order business-size cards containing his name followed by the word “prophet,” our address, and the sentence, “Come see me if you need help.” He planned to give these cards to homeless mean and anyone else who looked down and out. Peggy and I stopped laughing about the hellfire sermons he was inflicting upon churches now that he represented a threat to our own lair. It was tough knowing that we simply had to impose our will upon this man who had been mentally ill since childhood and who valued independence above life itself. Indeed, Dad’s drive for independence was such that he would permanently balk if he even suspected that someone might be trying to persuade him to do something.

Peggy and I were the only people I ever knew who had an intuitive understanding of how to present a proposal to him in such a way that he wouldn’t lower his head like a bull and start building toward an explosion. On his worse days, a person needed tact to ask my father if he wanted a cup of coffee (“I don’t have to beg!”). On his best days, we could come right out and ask him to do almost anything as long as we made it clear that it would be a tremendous favor for which we would be eternally grateful. So it was that we picked a good day to ask him to cancel his card distribution program, and he agreed. We weren’t always so lucky, and there were two occasions on which one or the other of us simply had to say, “I’m sorry, Tom [Peggy called him Tom; I called him Dad], but such-and-such just isn’t going to happen.”

Peggy’s turn to confront him came when we told him that we were going to build a room for him at the other end of the house because we were a married couple and needed our privacy, Dad said he would go live under the bridge across the street if we didn’t want him with us anymore. Peggy responded, “I’m awfully sorry to hear that, Tom. We’ll really miss you, and if you ever want to move into the room we’re going to build, you’ll be welcome. Then, she asked if he would like to go shopping for furnishings for the new room, and he said he would. My father’s love for Peggy was one of the thing that touched me most about him.

My father said that his time with Peggy and me was the happiest of his life, yet he realized that his deteriorating condition posed a threat to his independence, and for this and other reasons, he decided to die by not taking his Lasix (a diuretic that he used for congestive heart failure). Other reasons that he wanted to stop his medicine were: he felt it beneath his dignity to take pills for a chronic ailment (“I’d rather be dead than to know that my life’s in that bottle,”); he believed God wanted him to go off his medicine as a test of faith, and would save him at the last minute; and he said that drug companies were greedy, and he had rather die, “…than to let the sons-of-bitches cheat me.”

I experimented with sneaking his pills into his food and found that I could get away with it indefinitely. I couldn’t justify it though. I had to think about the matter long and hard because I wanted to be sure that I was deciding on the basis of fairness and compassion rather than my desire to be free of the stress of being his caregiver. I talked the situation over with Peggy and several friends, and they validated my decision. That was important to me because my own feelings were so ambivalent. The crux of the matter was whether Dad was sane enough to make such a choice, but since he had always been insane, the distinction seemed less important than it would with someone who was acting out of character.

Nine days before his death, Dad apparently lost hope that God would save him because he said to me, “I want you to promise that you won’t let me suffer, even if you have to ease me out.” I promised, although I felt annoyed that he was willing to put me in possible legal jeopardy when he had already endured so much suffering without ever once thinking to ease himself out. I had grown up listening to this man threaten suicide so often that it got boring, and now he wanted me to kill him! Still, I considered it my duty. Death is no stranger to me, and I know I could euthanize someone. If you’re horrified by this, let me inform you that I’m no less horrified to live in a country that thinks it’s God’s will to let people suffer to any extreme, no matter how hopeless their condition. 

Drowning over a period of days or weeks isn’t the worst possible death, but it’s plenty bad enough.  In fact, it’s so bad that my father needed many attempts before he was able to pull it off.  A day after he would stop his Lasix, he would look puffy, and his breathing would become labored. A few days after that, he would be too weak and uncoordinated to walk, and it would take him considerable effort just to lift a spoon to his mouth. His skin would turn the color of burgundy; and he would gasp for air like a fish out of water, his whole body swollen. He might stick it out for a week or more before he would go back to the Lasix. By the next day, he would be a new man.

The good part about dying of congestive heart failure is that when you’re pretty far gone, you fall into a coma. After that, you don’t appear to suffer, but the people who are sitting there listening to you drown on the green slime that bubbles continuously from your nose and mouth are doing plenty of suffering for you. Against his wishes, I saved my father the first time he came close enough to death to pass out, but after the cursing he gave the doctors, the nurses, and me when he awakened in the ER, I knew he was ready to die and that I was ready to let him. That was two years before the end, and as bad as those two years were, I’m proud that I didn’t ship him off to some waiting room for the grave like my sister wanted to do, and I’m proud that I married a woman who treated my father as lovingly as if he had been her own. Without Peggy, who knows what my father’s last years would have been like.