Ouija Boards, Acid and Retinol Cream
(What follows is my first memoir piece for STAREHOUSE, chronicling some of the highs and lows of my spiritual and mental journey of the past 25+ years, however real or imagined. I had previously published parts of this as a note on Facebook. I have changed the names of all parties involved; the rest is all true – or at least what I believed to have happened to me.)
A spiritual awakening implies that previously in my life, I was not awake. I had fallen asleep, gradually at first through detached, selfish behavior and then more directly through a series of increasingly expensive, self-induced chemically tuned lullabies. I had removed myself from all of the work and all of the play, having little time or patience for other people and even less for a positive, spiritual life. God became a vacancy sign, and then gradually read “Closed for Business”.
If I ever had any form of religious or spiritual devotion in my youth, it was steadily based on negative beliefs; rebelliously turning all crucifixes upside down, taking smirking snapshots in area graveyards, rolling a defiant joint on any available bible. Some of this is expected and probably normal for a boy who felt compelled to reapply his Mark of Cain Tattoo every morning on his pale forehead. But somewhere the colors seemed to blur, and this mockery became a sort of accidental sorcery. Everyone has a ghost story, so now I’m cutting my own eyeholes into this sheet.
I like to say I was ‘Prayer-Retardant’ until I got finally clean and handed in my resignation as God, but that isn’t really true. I knew what religion could do and what a church was. When I was small, my family went to church as little as humanly possible; two quick funerals, a reluctant wedding, and maybe stopping by to drop off an annual, holiday donation. Religious piety conflicted with football. But I wasn’t raised by wild animals, and my parents had some kind of devotional upbringing, so they gave my brother and me a thumbnail sketch about Jesus, God, and the difference between right and wrong. I eventually became a master at splitting that difference, but as a boy I believed in Santa Claus, Popeye, and the music of KISS, so God was simply placed in that same toy box. To this day my Dad admits that he has had a lifelong problem in separating Goldilocks from Yahweh, and I can still suffer from the same hindrance of rational reasoning, quite possibly the enemy of carefree faith. But prayer intrigued me. I liked the idea of talking to something invisible, always listening. I can clearly remember being five years old and exhausting myself as I prayed in bed, blessing everyone I knew and verbally going down the line, “Please bless Mommy, Daddy, Ed, Grandma, Grandpa, Lady the dog, Presto the Clown….” Whether this worked I do not know, but I must acknowledge that three of those listed are still alive today and they could never make those charges stick on Presto, Louisville, KY’s premier TV kiddy host.
As I grew up I became precocious and then bored, and my insecurities and frustrations found a mirror in heavy metal, a music seemingly written by emotionally arrested ‘adult’ teenage boys for actual teenage boys. No one cool wants to hear about charity and grace roaring through a stack of amps so Satan and blasphemy were the only ways to strut and posture. My older brother went head first into this foul wave, and seemed to have an otherworldly ability in sussing out the vilest records; “Black Sabbath” blew the goat’s horn and then “Venom” and those make up wearing Swede’s “Mercyful Fate” led the charge. He would studiously watch 80s-era faith-based productions of ‘anti-rock’ shows that illustrated the seductive, evil horror of ‘backwards masking’ in vinyl, scribbling down which albums contained demonically encoded messages in the grooves. I can clearly remember Ed with a legal pad and pen in his hand, shushing me as he tried to crack the cryptic cipher of Black Oak Arkansas’ “Raunch and Roll”. It only got worse. If there was ever a generation gap, it only widened with Celtic Frost turning Our Lord Jesus Christ into a sling shot on an album cover.
I was probably nine years old the first time my brother tried to summon Satan. I don’t know where he got his information from or what Adolescent Spell Book he used, but I now believe that almost any 13 year old with a shitty attitude can wreak true, eerie, havoc. A broken match can still ignite an inferno. Magic is surely hormonal on some level, and puberty may be the most direct example of a heightened, conjured consciousness in the human experience; one day a choirboy and the next day stoned with “Dio”. Ed had surrounded himself with a negative energy, and I was his imp and familiar, scribbling copious notes. It seems like this event occurred on the first night of a three day weekend. Somehow he and I wound up inhabiting the top floor of the family home, with three bedrooms at our disposal. A walk down the hallway would show the evolution of a child, with my bedroom alive with hamsters, colored marker drawings and “Conan-ish” things, and the playthings then changing as Ed’s drum set, guitars, and obsession with all things knife-based became apparent. All of his activities eventually dove-tailed into heavy metal and then segued into Satanicum Adolescentum.
Ed had made a few Hail Mary passes at Black Magic in the past. A well worn and crack-spined copy of “The Satanic Bible” made that clear. His Trapper Keeper Folder was layered in variations of “666”. This particular night involved a primitive looking tableau he had constructed on a thick piece of wood. A nauseatingly orange pentagram was figured on a pasty coating of bile covered greenish-brown paint. Ed had set tiny, painted pewter figurines (the kind used for role playing games, the Parcheesi of Doomed Teens) in some ritualized positions. The rest of what happened was between Ed and his weird Gods. Friday night was altered. I was in the other side of our floor of the house when all of this went down. He ran into my room and demanded that I come with him. I was so excited to be invited into his world that I didn’t notice how frightened he truly was. I remember him being trembly and pale, pointing to an unexplainable, shifting silhouette on the wall, and then hurling a 3”crucifix in the direction of this menacing shadow bobbing on the white latexed wall. It is funny to me now that in the middle of his concentrated anger he got religious pretty fucking quickly. The dark outline immediately vanished and we never did find that cross. There was a split second of something bad in that room. It happened so quickly that it felt like we were holding our breath so long we had forgotten how to move or inhale. In the nearly 30 years since this happened I have pretty much told myself it was a bullshit moment, a fabrication, but it is still a memory and part of two brother’s weirder, shared moments.
As we transformed into teenagers, our misfired spiritual direction only continued to grow, and water sought its own level. Ed had met a new friend on the Metal Path. Jake resembled a younger Neil Young, could hammer out raucous chords on his Mosrite Guitar and performed a beautifully nasal and monotone recitation of Social Distortion’s “Breaking Glass”. Even more importantly, his step mom was an actual psychic who apparently had all kinds of otherworldly abilities. Jake was one of a stream of reluctant adoptions my parents endured and he seemed to be waiting for us when we came home from school. His own home life was a mystery, so the day that he actually invited us into his family home found us racing over on our bikes.
On this particular afternoon, we were the only ones there. The house seemed normal enough, the only sound being a powder blue ceramic clock ticking away in the living room. He showed us his room which passed all of the Teen Metal Standards; posters of such luminaries as Ozzy and the Scorpions plastered the walls, and a homemade bong was hidden obviously away behind the wall’s loosened, brown paneling. The Stepmother had her own library that was also her ‘sitting room’ where she received her clients, who were mostly hysterically middle- aged, chain-smoking women from the greater beaches area. Jake was forbidden to enter this room, let alone show it off to two of his friends, so we walked down the hallway in quiet and deliberate defiance. As we stepped into the cluttered room it felt like the central heat had kicked up a notch. Rows and rows of books lined the walls, and my eyes tried to focus on everything but it felt like I could see nothing. Every space seemed to be fighting with some sort of curio box or wall hanging, and an actual crystal ball sat on a table covered with an actual pentagram. It felt like the air in my lungs had turned solid. Ed seemed to share my discomfort, assuring Jake that “this was cool” but he hung by the doorway, waiting for this now uncomfortable tour to end.
Jake lowered his voice, “You guys gotta see this”.
He started digging around under an ornate wooden desk, which seemed like a very bad idea.
In his hands was a bundle of burgundy colored felt-cloth that was tied with a yellow, braided cord. As he pulled the tie, the cloth fell away, revealing what looked like a piece of cracked earthenware. It was a reddish-brown dome, but there where hints of gray and white under the layer of grime. We all knew it was a human skull; a real skull.
Ed started to nervously say, “Jake, this isn’t too coo-…” when the skull instantly cracked into dust in Jake’s hands, as if something had smashed it in anger, spraying shards in all directions, covering us in bones and God knows what else.
There was a split second, a hand moving once on a clock, as we raced from that house and ran to our bikes piled on the lawn. We were quiet and red faced as we pedaled home. In the confusion, Ed wound up riding home on my much smaller bicycle, but he just pumped his legs faster. I’m pretty sure that night there was a reprieve on the music of Black Sabbath.
My adolescence was a slow uphill climb. Junior High was a blur of being self conscious to the point of invisibility, hearing only the sound of my own nervous breathing as I walked through the hallways of school. I was reassigned to all Honors or Gifted Classes, where I found company in a Math Guru with Tourette’s and awkward yet cute girls that were just starting to develop their obsessions with Sylvia Plath, a whole other kind of saint. I felt fragmented and incomplete. I can clearly remember sitting in a cubicle in the school’s library, watching an educational slide show for my English Class and discovering the word, “Antipathy”. It meant aversion or hatred; hostility. This is what I have, I told myself…antipathy. Two things occurred in my life. I increased my intake of pot and I began practicing the Smite Prayer, as in “God please kill them”. When I was eventually diagnosed as having Bipolar Disorder, I ripped God from the universe.
My older brother surrendered to a deeper level of metal. He started ordering homemade fanzines and demo tapes from various bands around the country, and eventually Europe. This was a faster metal, now deemed thrash metal or speedcore of the 1980s, but his real craving was for what was now being called Black Metal. These bands played on the outer rings of a black planet of distortion and blasphemy, each vocalist growling out with a fury towards Christ. This shit was personal. Denim vests were now covered in blood. My own tastes were as much reactionary to his own; for every Slayer or Bathory song he would blast, I would listen in solemn brain fry to the Grateful Dead or Jefferson Airplane. This led to much blotter LSD, which led to the most horrific and essentially satanic acid trip I would ever endure.
How could we not drop acid on the 4th of Fucking July? I had first dropped acid in the previous year of 1986 when I was fourteen, and I became a devout believer with that initial, frantic surge of the drug. My friend and initiator, Warren, played an LP copy of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” – in Quad Sound no less – but I was unfazed and bored. As a joke he popped on Chuck Berry’s Greatest Hits, and my chakras cracked like a whip. This was it! I can clearly remember listening to “Havana Moon” and was in silent awe as the universe took on a frigid, aquamarine hue. I recognized this place as one of comfort and vowed to spend much of time there, if only for eight to twelve hours at a time. The Mom of a close friend, an adult I actually trusted, had told me she ‘worried’ about my immediate love and enthusiasm for LSD but I just giggled at her concerns through perpetually dilated eyes. We already had several hits of reliable Clown Blotter tucked away in our freezer, carefully hidden and buried in the icy frost like a fossilized UFO. Since my parents lived a mile from the beach, our house was considered ‘base camp’. My friends were smart enough to not drive when tripping on acid. Breaking and entering, huffing Freon, fistfights, self-inflicted tattoos and simple vandalism were completely allowed, but they had the integrity to never operate an automobile while hallucinating. I reverently peeled open the square of foil and we all then each took a hit and placed it on our tongues. The twenty minute walk to the beach and strip on First Street consumed us with an interior electricity, passing around cigarettes and waiting, forever waiting for the acid to take hold. Now and again one of us would wave a Marlboro around in the darkening sky, looking for visual trails, or let out a sudden war whoop. Half of the fun of tripping was fucking with someone else as they began to peak, waving your hands back and forth in rapid karate chops around their dilating eyes, slowly chanting to them “You’re running through a tunnel…” LSD was never a social or friendly drug for us; it was like lighting a stick of dynamite and passing it around, wondering who would first be destroyed by that blast.
We arrived on the beach wired for sound. At first the fireworks were beautiful, deafening flowers blooming in the sky over the sea. I had also secretly dropped another hit before the first mortar exploded. Gradually, I started to feel flushed and hotter, but shrugged this off to the Florida humidity. The booming report of the colorful rockets started to become slightly too intense and uncomfortable. I looked around at the yellow, red, and blue faces of my friends and the other people celebrating under the shifting lights. I tried to yell some form of communication to the stoner nearest to me, but he was overwhelmed as if he was possessed by laughter, streaming tears now turned to wet tattoos on his crazy face. Louder and louder still, I began to flinch from all of the sound and color, the smoke seemed to now bubble and hiss not from the explosives around us but from the black ocean itself. It all turned terrible. “This is like hell”, I said over the roar of it all to no one. This is hell.
Something flipped a switch somewhere, and everything and everyone died but it seemed like no one else had told them they were dead, so I was frozen in the sand and too afraid to let them all know. They were all dead but they would not lie down. My friends were having a grand old time, two of them were performing a mad man’s version of a bluegrass promenade, swinging their partner round and round in time to the evil concussive blasts from above that now shook the earth. Smoke continued to spill out of the ocean. I am in hell, I assured myself.
It was hard to imagine, but even harder seeing on the face of that little girl. She was maybe six or seven at the most, and was proudly showing her Daddy the fluorescent light-stick in her hand. I stared at her fully paralyzed. She was small like a little girl but had the face of an old hag… no, something even older. She was dead. She was a dead, evil little thing only no one had even told her so she kept on playing and laughing. Her face was a wrinkled, gray smile and as she now cackled over at me, it seemed as if the decaying meat was dripping off. She pointed the glowing, green rod at me as if it were a wand. When I looked around to inform my friends that there was a fucked up, zombie-child on our beach, I came to understand that they were also insane with the same, now shared decay. I started to walk away from that beach. The sand became deeper and denser the closer I got to the boardwalk. When I looked down the sand was the color of the blackest blood. The sand seemed to be pulling on my feet, knowing I was trying to escape. Everything in my sight began to lurch in a rhythmic, negative tempo. This is hell, I told myself. This is not like hell; this is hell. I need to get out of here. I need to leave hell. I looked around at the crowd under the streetlights and that was a terrible mistake.
I was the only living thing in the universe. Even the No Parking signs were dead. The letters looked like some banished runes. The smell wafting from the overflowing trash cans was all pain and rot. The wooden boards on the side of an ancient souvenir shop were bent upward like hungry fangs. I tried to light a cigarette but was so upset I lit the filter end and wound up inhaling a chemically noxious hit…more putrid, rotting shit. A hand grabbed me and I whirled around. It was what had once been my friend Long, recently released from the “P Farm” for grand larceny and now freed to walk the earth as a zombie stoned on acid.
His voice seemed to rumble out of his chest cavity, a guttural and mucous filled hiss, “Man! Dan….I- I am tripping balls”.
I tried to respond, to make peace with this new monster, but in my heart I knew this was a trick. His eyes had changed into solidly opaque, lime green spheres and they were unmoving, trying to stare into my soul. This is Satan. I am in Hell and this is a form of Satan. The devil now owned my mind.
I backed away and kept moving forward. There were police cars everywhere throwing blue and red beams of light around that quickly turned into their original form, vampire bats. I tried to lock my eyes forward, looking at nothing but then taking it all in. I was finally able to light and then smoke a cigarette, so that became my focus. I crossed the main drag, 3rd Street – and lit another cigarette. Maybe the tobacco would protect me, a voodoo shroud. Now my friends were stumbling through the loud, festive drunkenness of the night, their footsteps surely guided by darker energies. Their motivations were only bad and wrong, put here to bring me down to some inevitable, bottomless pit.
“Dan…wait up, man!” my friend Bruce cackled behind me. His teeth dropped out of his rotted head and clicked on the ground. They all seemed to howl and hiss in demonic joy at this, finding more and more pleasure in the fact that I was now walking a full block ahead of them. It was now a taunting chase and they were just letting me run myself out. I’d be theirs’ soon enough. Some black bell would ring and they would overtake me in flames. Hours seemed to go by. I swear that the sun rose and fell in that mile long walk; an evil day seemed to pass over us all. The night kept smiling around me.
I was in the homestretch. I could see the red brick of my parent’s house. The monsters trailing behind me in the near distance were now laughing under the streetlight, collectively fumbling with a cigarette lighter as one of them, John, swatted at moths under the whiteness around them. I could clearly see his pointed tail hiding in the shadows of his pants leg. I had the key to the front door clutched tightly in my knuckles.
I was so winded from walking at such a fast pace and chain-smoking Marlboros to ward off these horrors that I barely had the breath to rasp out a weak, “Good night, man!” I unlocked, opened, and then closed and locked the front door in one, fluid motion.
Thankfully everyone in the house was asleep. I had a hard enough time acting straight around my parents on a good high. I was not prepared to see my Mom in her true, accursed form. I quickly grabbed our cat Garcia and locked myself in my bedroom. I was afraid to turn on my lights, fearing it would encourage my former human friends to tap on my window, to drag out our little party. The lights were off but my room was exploding with energy, vile vibes seemed to pulsate in an even time. Translucent lines of light seemed to run around the black room like an animated circuit board, and when I closed my eyes they remained, but now changed color to a deep burgundy, the color of pumping blood.
Finally there was mercy, as I heard the clack-clack sound of the engine turning over in Bruce’s Volkswagen Rabbit and then they were gone. I held Garcia against my breast. She seemed to be breathing in time with me, realizing how freaked out I truly was. I cautiously turned on my bedside lamp. The cat’s hair seemed to flow and curl like feathers in an invisible wind. But she was an angel, there to protect me. I fumbled around on my bookcase until I found the only thing that could save me. I had found it on one of my many flea market book searches. It was an old paperback, a hippy relic, a “Jesus Freak” published Holy Bible entitled, “God Loves You, Man!” On the cover there was a woman in a yellow turtle neck sweater and wearing a black, peace sign pendant whose face seemed almost overcome with spiritual rapture. I held my cat and bible with an equal measure of intensity. I spent the next few hours like that, gradually parachuting back to sanity with Garcia, murmuring countless staggered prayers while the Beatle’s “Rubber Soul” softly playing in the background until I came down from hell.
This moment had briefly sworn me off of acid but not my spiritual hitchhiking on the back roads of God. My brother and I pored over Neville Drury’s “Dictionary of Mysticism and the Occult”. I soon realized that the quickest way to contact the universe was by way of the Ouija Board, the Devil’s Speak and Spell. Any cautionary warning I had heard regarding this practice only encouraged my resolve. A quick trip to the beach’s “Pic N’ Save” soon found me alone in my room, candles lit, with squinting eyes and fingers lightly resting on the plastic planchette, as the board rested on my knees. The board itself was unremarkable; the letters of the alphabet, ten numbers, and the answers ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ book ended at each corner. I would whisper quietly if anyone was there with me but never had any response. Soon my legs would start to cramp from my awkward lotus position, and I would grow bored with trying to summon something.
My friend Dindi was an adventurous sort, and she had actually pointed out that the Ouija Board’s instructions suggested that a male and female use the board together, each placing their fingertips on the plastic teardrop shaped device. We sat in reverence and began our interrogation into the other realm.
“Is there anyone here that wants to speak?” she asked.
The planchette immediately began to move along the board with a soft, scraping sound.
Over the course of that day and the following week we had amazing results. We realized that if we moved in different parts of my room and the house itself, we would get varying responses. We contacted one spirit with the sinister name of “Red” in the corner of my room. In the garage we spoke to a spirit that could only speak in “Yes” or “No” since it had died as an infant and was unable to spell. The board confirmed to us that the Devil was absolutely real and Jesus was the son of God and Jack Kerouac had made it to heaven; yet the board was indifferent to the music of Sonic Youth. All of these results seemed to satisfy our quest. Yes, we had found something “out there” and now we were bored with this game. Sixteen year old table- tappers are an impatient breed.
In my later teens I met a girl who was as crazy as me so we agreed in calling it love. She matched me drink for drink, drug for drug, and seemed to be possessed with my same manic sense of trying to navigate life. We had an almost apocalyptic sense of affection for one another; but between the spikes of aggression there was a deep love. Kathy shared both my love of literature and nihilistic world-view. “Fuck or fight” we’d say to each other, only half-joking. Days were spent working at restaurants and nights found us chugging beer, getting high and inevitably rolling around like wild cats, locked in what sometimes ended in ambiguous bruising. All was fair play. We’d fall asleep mumbling to one another and hit the reset button the next day.
I woke with a start one night, the bedside lamp blinding me awake. I looked to my right and she was red faced and crying, looking at me in an anger that bordered on violation and disbelief.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?”
I started to get pissed, amazed that she had the nerve to wake me up to argue, especially when she knew I would have been more than willing to do so after a good sleep. I rolled my eyes and began to reply with my own volley and retaliation hit.
She then added to her question, “What the fuck is wrong with this place? This is fucked up….”
I was now dumbfounded by her question and soon forgot any fight. When she saw the sleepy innocence on my face she told me what had happened to her; or really, to us. She told the story like this:
“I woke up in the dark and I couldn’t move. At first I thought my body was asleep but then it felt like somebody, something was holding me there on the bed. I couldn’t move my hands or feet, I couldn’t even raise my head. It was hard to breathe and I started to panic, I started to cry. It was so quiet in here. I looked at the window and there was a white light streaming in. It looked like a giant flashlight was being aimed through the blinds. But there was a shadow, Dan. It was a big, lumpy silhouette of something big, a big being. It was rocky and looked like the Thing from the Fantastic Four. It didn’t move. It was like it was watching through the closed blinds at us, at me. I started whimpering and tried to cry out but I could only whisper. I started whispering at you, ‘Dan, Dan wake up!’ You didn’t wake up, and I thought I was dying or was already dead and was in hell. Then you spoke. Your mouth and lips never moved, but your voice seemed to just come out of your head like a recording…’This happens all the time…they’ll leave soon…don’t fight it…’ and then it stopped and suddenly I could move again and I just woke you up… What the fuck is wrong with you?!”
Then she broke down again in convulsive sobbing, her body shaking like a crying child. I had no answer to give her. I was now frightened. I held her that night with all of the lights on until we finally passed out asleep. Over the next few days we began to joke about that night, and eventually we just stopped mentioning it until maybe a week had passed. I was in the other side of the house watching late night TV, when Kathy came charging into the room looking as scared as she was angry.
“What in the FUCK is wrong with you? What are you doing in your goddamned room?”
I felt like I knew what she meant when she said this, but I didn’t want to feed my own fears so I forced myself to be calm.
“What do you mean?”
“I was just in your room, and there was some fucking laughing, some giggling coming out of your closet. It sounded like a little man; it was like a little thing lying on the ground…like it was looking at me under the closet door and it was laughing at me…”
We both were quiet then. This was crossing into a place we never asked to be. This was weird in a bad way, not in a weird fun way like all of the beer and acid. This was bad. We both felt even younger then. We were scared children.
We armed ourselves with a ball bat, carving knife and an industrial sized flashlight, even though my bedroom was lit up like Christmas. She later said that this made all of it worse. This time all of the lights were on and she could move. When we opened the closet there was nothing there. No little “Goat Man” like she feared, nothing was there. That night I slept on the couch and she slept in her own bed, twenty miles away in town. Any strange visitations soon passed. Years later in a phone conversation Kathy brought these things up, using them to convey just how bizarre and intense our love had been but I tried to delete the memory of those nights and we have not spoken about these things since.
My twenties and then early thirties went by in an increasing blur of alcohol and narcotics. I didn’t think I was an addict. I knew I was an addict, and addiction leaves no time for any contact with things alive or dead. It separates all things. The more I used to get ‘out of myself’ the deeper and deeper I found myself thrashing around in a pool of self-obsession, splashing around in terror and resentments. I spent months of my life trying to go to sleep as my heart pounded in my chest, my bloodstream at war with itself as beer, cocaine and valium played King of the Mountain on my central nervous system. I lay there nightly plotting the death of a good friend that wronged me, a guy who bailed on my last apartment and stuck me with every bill, still unpaid as the days staggered by. In my mind I envisioned his death, and imagined finding a desolate beach at night where I could torture him, a place where they would not find the body let alone hear the screams.
I was sick. I was losing it. I was Edgar Allen Poe raging on speedballs. I was always alone, the only successful spell I had ever truly cast. I slapped the world away. I broke up with a girlfriend of ten years. She complained too much about my hateful ranting. I hung out in my room, one lamp lit with its angry, red, whorehouse lampshade. Over time I could feel a palpable presence in that room as I got high. As I surrendered to a deeper level of shooting up dope, I broke down the last walls of my own castle, letting all of the bad things back in. I don’t know if they had ever really left, or if they had just been hiding in darker corners. I would inject drugs into my wrist or the crook of my arm and would once again be unable to breathe. I would go stand and weave back and forth in a cold shower, or wrap wet towels on my neck and chest, gasping through slow, gulping breathes. Then I would do it again and again, every time the same result, the same soggy and weak corner of hell.
I soon started praying when blood would register in the syringe.
“Please God don’t let me die! Christ if you are real … please – do not let me die! God I accept you. Christ I accept you. God help me. Don’t let me die. God do not let me die!” And I would shoot up again.
I’d pray every time. But no God ever put a needle in my arm. Over and over, I did.
I’d lay there in the dark, The Band’s “Music from Big Pink” faintly playing in the background on the outer realm of my awareness, some kind of protective hymn, the CD player on repeat. I became more and more aware of a thing, a concentrated force that would seem to materialize in the chair next to my bed, a few feet away in front of my desk. It was a black, oily, scaly thing. It looked like static, like steel wool waiting to rub off my flesh. I was certain that it had long, curved white fangs. It kept its fangs clean. It would spin in that chair. It was waiting me out. Other nights I would lie perfectly still, terrified because I knew that it was there but it was deliberately being quiet until finally it would ramp up the game and then the whispering would start. It whispered my name softly, “Dan…..dan…..dan.” It was winning a game it had made up, but I kept playing along.
And for whatever reason something pulled me back. I honestly no longer care to know what it is. Sometimes I call it the Universe, sometimes I call it a Higher Power, my higher self and sometimes I call it God. Sometimes I call it no name but I pray and speak to it. I began to have new reactions to reality; polar opposite spiritual things began popping up around me. I hate to call them this, but I do call them miracles. I have reclaimed that word…one day a red butterfly began flying almost protectively next to my head as I walked down to the marina at two months clean from drugs and alcohol. It bobbed along next to my head for nearly five minutes and then playfully vanished back into the woods. I began seeing more and more that in the same way I had been wrong about drugs, I was also wrong about many things. I was wrong about women. I was wrong about my family. I was wrong about other people. I was wrong about God. I realized that God was not a bounty hunter after all. I guess I had taken all of the anger, shame, and guilt of my entire life and had rolled it up into a ball, threw it into the clouds, and called that “God”. I am grateful to be wrong. I now know it is better to stand corrected than to die in a confused sense of correctness.
I still do not wave a religious flag. I don’t endorse any religion; I do go to some religious-themed facilities where my mutual support groups meet. I still have a healthy disdain and skepticism for all religions, and ‘blind’ anything – especially faith. God knows that my faith and belief and trust are completely conditional, I need a little face time – a little proof – so God is nice enough to surround me with Neon Signs of a spiritual presence. I no longer sleep in fear. Whatever was spinning in that chair and cackling my name has moved on, evicted surely by my newfound love for myself. I still believe in the power of Slayer. And I am still awake.
“God is at home, it’s we who have gone out for a walk.” – Meister Eckhart (1260-1327)
Daniel A. Brown (clean date 9/6/07)
Thanks for sharing your journey! The piece is beautifully written. I am ready for your book. Deanna
You write brilliantly, Dan…and think deeply as well…thank you for sharing this.
Holy crap! What a ride.
Your writing is indeed excellent and the imagery terrifyingly provoking.