“I took too much,” I told Louise.
She stared at me as if she was on LSD and not me.
The world had started to change, going terribly wrong when all we had wanted to do was celebrate Louise’s birthday.
In LA I had taken so much acid that it had become a little like eating the tabs of candy off of sheets of paper the way I did as a kid.
“You build up a resistance,” Dan Newhaul told me back then.
So I didn’t think much of taking two four-way tabs when my friend from the messenger service offered me some.
Louise, who was as fond of acid as I was, seemed peeved at not being able to take any now – you can’t take acid when you’re pregnant.
Then I didn’t think about it any more, and took the long walk from East to
to have dinner with her at some posh little Italian place we really couldn’t
afford, even sipping a glass of wine or two before making the long trek back. West Village
Fillmore George (aptly named because he worked as a state hand at the Fillmore East) invited to his apartment up stairs to partake of weed and endless sessions of The Grateful Dead, which we did, and where I started to notice things going off, horrible changes in the faces of my friends I’d never seen in previous trips, flattening from both sides until they were all nose and ears with eyes popping out their sockets to hand by their optical nerves.
“How much is too much?” Louise asked, a tremor real or imagined crossing over her expanded belly where our baby rested inside of her. I tried not to look at her face, fearing it would look like the other faces.
“2000 mics, maybe more,” I said.
Her shrill voice sounded like a siren in the dull softness of the room as she called George over, he stirring from his lethargic haze to make his way to where we sat near the window.
“I think Al is freaking out,” she said.
The words send a chill through me and I pressed myself back against the couch as the images got worse and even more terrifying. I saw the fabric of reality growing frayed before my eyes, leaving me in a void of blurred shapes and mumbled words.
The Dead, which had seemed so lackluster when I was straight, pounded on the sides of my head with their music.
Then from somewhere beyond the room, I heard the sound of sirens, and jumped up to look out the window where I saw a dozen police cars pulling up in front of our building and dozens of cops pouring out to come get me.
I ran to the door.
Everyone in the room turned to look at me as I fumbled with the door knob I could not manage to turn. None of them had moved. George told me to calm down, saying there were no police. My throat went dry as panic rushed into my head. People had talked about people losing their minds on LSD. Louise touched my arm. I told her I was scared, but didn’t bother telling her that the walls were melting and that flames shot around me, scorching my skin. I told her I had to leave, and she nodded, helping me on with my coat. The smell of lint was suffocating.
“We have to find Hank,” she told me as we made our way into the hall and down the stairs to our first floor apartment.
But I was too scared to face the street and the walk around the block from 5th to
Looking out the glass door, I could see the cars turning into beasts with
gapping, hungry mouths looking to feed on me. I knew too well about the muggers
and rapists, and thought I could not protect Louise if any came after her. And
I told her I couldn’t face them.
She looked scared; I said I might be able to sleep it off, when I didn’t know if sleep was possible at all.
The drug was rushing through me like a freight train its whistle blowing steam out of both my ears.
“Monee,” she said, referring to a local prostitute who had befriended us. “She can get you something to bring you down.”
Hope surged in me thinking that Monee’s Black Panther friends would have something to relieve me of this madness.
So when we got out onto the street, we turned right instead of left, heading into an area of The Lower East Side that was as dangerous as any part of the city, a hostile world full of even greater madness that would crush us if we made it too obvious as to how vulnerable we were. The dark brick tenement buildings bled from suddenly exposed veins. Grim faces appeared in the brick, grinning at me, or crying with some private agony I did not understand.
Was this what my mother had gone through during her years of madness, seeing walls turn into people and people into walls, losing touch with feelings and senses and thoughts. I remember when I was nine she thought the walls were talking behind her back, plotting doom against us.
I clutched Louise’s arm as we passed doorway after doorway, one more ominous than the next, each revealing the red eyes of some beast ready to leap.
A year earlier, I had seen similar eyes in similar animals staring at me from the back of a van in
the same drug pulsing through my veins at the time, not so terrifying them as
they were now.
Then Louise shoved me into one of the doors and through the vestibule and up the stairs. I felt like the six-month old baby again, crying from my crib in
Paterson after my
father put me down and vanished into the blackness of the room.
Monee chased out her company telling them she would give them double next time, and then led me into her apartment, a place of shimmering black walls, red curtains and bedding. She asked Louise what I took, and Louise told her – as I felt the acid burning me from the inside out, flame pouring out of my veins, melting my fingernails and my skin.
“Can you get him something to bring him down?” Louise asked.
Monee wasn’t sure, saying that her dealer was out of town and the only other son of a bitch she knew was a guy named Spooky, and Spooky hated her guts.
Her voice stopped like an eaten cassette tape and I tumbled head over heals in space, my stomach revolting with the threat of vomit, my head twirling around on my shoulders like a top.
Monee went to her dressed and came back carrying a pistol, one of those guns people would later call a Saturday Night Special. The room exploded with the slamming door as she left. My voice sounded distant, my spirit floating above me like rising balloon.
Monee had laid me down on her bed and so I watched the room spin, and eventually closed my eyes, only to open them to hear other voices.
“Do you think he’ll be all right?” one cold voice said in a room that was no longer black, but clinically white, with doctors and nurses hovering over me, staring down at me.
Monee’s chest bulged out of a doctor’s outfit as she held a glass of water to my lips, saying, “He’s a strong boy, he’ll do well.”
Louise stood near by holding the hand of a child that looked about two years old, a child who kept calling me “Daddy.”
“He’s making progress,” another voice said. “Two years and he’s already learning out to speak again.”
I mumbled. The words came out as gibberish, a child’s first attempt at speech.
Please God, I thought, not knowing what it is I prayed for. The long faces over me simply stared. The child reached out to me to touch my arm, but the fingers turned into a claw.
I woke the next morning to the same black and red room with a still pregnant Louise half asleep in the chair near the bed. My head ached. Monee was half asleep in another chair still dressed the way she had been for her previous caller.
“I’m alive,” I said.
“Yeah, you’re alive, you asshole,” Monee said. “But if it wasn’t for your fuckin’ old lady, you’d be long gone.”
Louise sighed a happy sigh and fell back to sleep, the bulge of our child shifting as she shifted, still waiting for her own moment to arrive.