I came up on acid in Rocky’s hotel room. Our room overlooked the snowy mountains of the Sierra Nevada, and the ice beamed waters of Lake Tahoe stretched out beyond a snowy bank dotted with great pines.
It wasn’t my first time doing acid. But it was my first time spontaneously going up to the mountains of Northern California to crash with a friend more than 10 years older than me, to ski at Heavenly. I had gone there to burn a hole in my pocket with my new credit card, as I prepared to start my fancy, high paying tech job at Postmates that I would quickly come to hate. Rocky was 34 years old, from China originally, and obsessed with Burning Man and Elon Musk. He’d been drinking the SF Kool Aid since before I graduated high school. He was about 5’4’’ and had acne, but still had an infectious laugh and a kind heart, as he wandered around the world, searching for the love of his life and an idea that would bring him to build a billion-dollar company.
We took the acid outside in the snow, along the grounds of the hotel that would have been some fancy, glazed over golf-course in the summer. It was a little tab of strawberry flavored jelly, like a chewy candy. I insisted we needed to take it early in the day, but Rocky protested. So we finally got to it, $500 dollars later after a hungover, expensive morning of skiing and snowboarding. Then, of course, after about half an hour we didn’t notice anything different. Thinking the drugs weren’t working, we took more. This time the jelly was peach flavored. I didn’t notice that it had started to work until we got back to the outdoor stone fireplaces by the hotel. That’s when I noticed that the centers of the rocks had tiny little beige eyes, speckled like frogs eggs. And they were moving.
For a while we were quite giddy downstairs by the steaming outdoor pool, and pretending to read newspapers on the plush couches by the lobby. But eventually, we started to laugh at each other too much, and so we went back to the room. Taking acid is kind of overwhelming to describe in words, because you access all kinds of parts of your visual memory and your brain, and it all kind of lights up together. There wasn’t much space in the room, so I decided to take a shower in the bathroom, while Rocky turned up his drum and bass techno music in the bedroom, soaring to the outer reaches of the Black Rock desert.
I took a shower. The warm was warm, trickling down across the cream marble sides of the walls around me. I knew that I had better put on some clothes soon and get out of there, before I was too high to function. I just about managed to wash my hair. Luckily once I got out, I found my black turtleneck dress in the bathroom and put it on. Feeling that Rocky’s techno music was definitely not the vibe, I found my Airpods and my phone, and I put on Beirut. Then I stood in the bathroom mirror. The sweet, tender voice of a man longing for times passed cried out in quiet pain amongst the gentle chords of the ukulele.
“The times we had
Oh, the wind would blow with rain snow
We’re not all bad
We put our feet just where they had, had to go
Never to go…”
It was too much. I looked at myself in the mirror. The ends of my blonde, towel dried hair curved upwards, like they had little floating lights on the ends of them, like little shoots stars and wands. I looked at my skin. It was aging, then getting younger again, then aging. Tears rolled down my cheeks. I wept. A full body, soul-clenching weeping. I had been coming to this part of the world, the Tahoe National Forest, since I was a child. My mother had come here as a child. I thought of my grandfather, an honest Jewish man born in 1925. Dead some ten years. I thought of the happy summers of my childhood. The family swims around the small, remote lakes. The enduring sun beating down through the crisp, dry mountain air. The dragon flies and the sparkling blue damsel flies. The dear running over the brush spotted hills of the rock faces. The rusted ancient equipment behind the fish porch, remnants of miners past. The lush donkey’s ears of the sage, its earthy smell overwhelmingly me, as it crunched beneath my flip flops or my hiking shoes. California, I cried to myself. Sobbing. All the glory of my most beautiful memories, lost. Locked away in another distant time. Growing older. Moving on. Longing, wishing so desperately to be able to return to that childhood innocence. When I didn’t yet fully understand that my world and everyone that was in it would someday disappear.
That experience shook me. The trip lasted well into the night. For months after, I lived with that excruciating nostalgia. I lived with the pain of lost times. It brought tears to my eyes, like the bulbs of bluebells that grow each year and flower again every spring, unrelenting. It haunted me. It wasn’t until two years or so later, I found myself on a Clubhouse call with a psychologist who focuses on psychedelics. I finally found a way to seek help. I asked a question to Tim Ferriss, yes, the very famous Tim Ferriss, about what you should do if you have had a bad trip. Luckily the psychologist stepped in and said he would I could have one counseling session with him for free.
When he called, I told him about what had happened. I told him that I didn’t understand why I felt so nostalgic, but something about going there in the winter, when I usually go there in the summer, and the cycle of the seasons just messed me right up, doing the acid at this very transitional moment in my life. This is the gist of what he said to me:
“If you think about these emotions differently, the core of what you are feeling stems from a place of great joy: the joy of your family and the joy of these childhood memories. So of course, with the environment, you felt distant and cut off from that. But you still have access to these experiences again. You can still go to these places with your family in the summer.”
With these words, I found myself slowly being able to work through these distressing, extreme feelings. And I resolved to do less acid, or no acid at all. I much prefer magic mushrooms now anyway.
This piece was from my first time in the UnMute writing series, led by Ann Randolph, January 2022.