August 30, 1969
The world was a tidal wave of color.
We were somewhere deep in Central Park when things started to look different. The small squares of LSD-soaked paper that Javi, Fitz, Blythe and I had eaten nearly an hour ago had taken effect. First came the colors. Everything looked brighter, more beautiful. Even the green of the streetlights looked somehow inviting.
When I looked down at my body, first my legs and then my hands – which are odd looking things to begin with – I saw that I was coated in an orange, fuzzy sort of aura which was only visible if I didn’t look directly at it.
I looked over at the others, who were all coated in various shades of their own. Blythe was a soft yellow, Javi purple, and Fitz a lush blue.
“Do you feel anything?” Blythe turned to Javi.
“Yeah, I think so.” He wiggled his fingers in front of him. “Do you?”
“Everything looks like a cartoon, kind of. Do you see that?”
“It’s like – it’s like we’re in a diorama or something,” said Fitz, his eyes bugged.
“No way, man,” Blythe said, looking around the park like she was in a zoo. “That’s so crazy.”
“I see that!” Fitz said. “It’s like the Museum of Natural History! Those setups of the watering holes in Kenya and stuff, except like, we’re inside of it.”
“Look at us, we’re a bunch of dinosaurs clomping through Jurassic times! Eeoough,” I cried, tucking my elbows behind me and turning my hands into claws.
“Hah! Is that supposed to be a dinosaur?”
“Yeah, man.” I drew my hands up to my chest. “Nobody knows what they sound like, for all we know they could make a noise like that!”
“Eeoough, eeoough!” Javi joined in, and we ran ahead, crying our dinosaur cry until we were laughing so hard we couldn’t walk anymore, both of our faces flushed as the world stretched and shrunk around us. The ground beneath our feet looked like moving snakeskin.
When Blythe and Fitz caught up, we all slowed down our pace and tried to act more normal. The park had grown crowded, or perhaps I was finally noticing all the people around us. I was now very aware of what other people might think of me. Could they tell we were high? I put my hands in my pants pockets to look like I was chill, and then I took them back out. Was it normal to put your hands in your pockets and just… keep them there? We passed a duck pond and when this woman passed me, she turned to speak to her friend, but as she opened her mouth, I swear her whole face turned into a bird, and her beak-mouth cawed loudly at me before morphing back into a human mouth that looked something funny. Perplexed? Or was she alarmed? She definitely knew we were high.
I fixed my eyes forward, looking at anything but the other human faces we passed. Partly because it felt like each time my eyes met a stranger’s there was a world of unspoken exchanges going on, which was entirely too much for me to handle or decipher, but also because I just plain didn’t enjoy them. How horribly ugly they looked! All the redness in their faces came through in great blotches, their skin looking waxy and their teeth somehow framed by a brownish-yellow hue. Were my teeth like that? I stuck my hand inside my mouth, or at least as much of it as I could fit, and tried to feel my teeth. They were large stones that were made out of, what – bone? Couldn’t be. The top of my mouth was a bizarre wrinkly texture with great rivets towards the front. When I began to gag, I pulled my hand back out of my mouth, only to find that Fitz had been eyeing me the whole time. He had a disgusted look on his face that, as soon as I took my hand out of my mouth and stared at him blank-faced and covered in drool, morphed into a loud, shrieking laugh.
“What’s he laughing at?” Javi asked me when he saw that Blythe was just as confused.
“Teeth,” I said. I wasn’t even sure that was right, but it was the first word that came to my mind. They stared back at me, waiting for more of an explanation. So I averted my eyes upwards and kept walking.
The clouds were safe to look at, with their ability to morph into different shapes. First a dolphin, then a butterfly and then into a human, swimming through the sky. Yes, this was much better than looking at faces. The trees were lovely, too, with their bark breathing through moving rainbow patterns.
We made it around the pond and were headed towards Mid-Park when I heard this young man asking a homeless youth if he knew where the ducks went in winter, and if they’d be leaving soon. I looked at the ducks. They looked fragmented and blue. I swear they were shivering, looking as though they were trying to take flight, but somehow they were staying in the same position, their geometric wings taking them nowhere. I thought about how winter was only a month away and I could see them dying from the cold already. That was when I knew it was time we sat down and stopped walking.
“I think it’s time we sit down and stop walking,” I said.
“Amen, sis. My legs feel like they belong to a different body,” said Fitz.
Blythe spread out a blanket she’d brought in her bag and we each assumed one corner, laying down on our backs with our heads collected in the center. We lay down for a while, quietly observing the trees and sky above us, before things began to pick up pace, the clouds and tree line all morphing into angled patterns, as if looking through a kaleidoscope going sixty miles per hour.
Everything around me seemed wrong. Well, not wrong, exactly. But troublesome, at least. Trying to ground myself in reality, I realized I couldn’t recall almost anything about my life. I wasn’t even 100 percent certain about my name. But the others around me, I knew who they were. Well, I suppose that’s not true, either. I knew that they were friends of mine, and I knew we were in Manhattan. But for the life of me, I couldn’t recall any other detail. I rolled onto my stomach, feeling a wave of nausea come on particularly strong.
“Did you ever think that, like, maybe plants are actually farming us?” the one boy said to no one in particular.
“Hah! What do you mean?” asked the other boy.
“Like, they’re actually growing us. For oxygen and stuff, you know? Maybe we’re the ones being farmed.”
“Yeah, I get that,” said the girl, in between stifled giggles.
“No, you know what – I just heard myself. That would be crazy.”
Then the other guy spoke. “I was just thinking, you ever realize that things are never really like… on fire. Fire is on things. You know what I mean?”
“Yeah and like, flammable… and inflammable… mean the same thing,” the first boy responded.
“Far out.” The second boy looked over at me. “How you doing?” he asked.
“Yeah… I’m good…” I said, barely able to focus on their conversation. I was still trying to remember who I was. What the hell was my name?
“What are you thinking about?”
“Uhm… just. What… what do I do every day?”
“Yeah, man. Good question. What do we do with our lives? A day is such a small thing, really, but then if you look at a lot of days all together, that’s like… a life.” Everyone laughed at this, except for me.
“Yeah,” I said, “but I meant more… what do I do every day. Like, actually. What do I do?”
“What do you mean?” asked the girl, rolling over to look at me. Her face looked real funny, the same way everyone else’s did, but my stomach did a little flip when I saw her. There was something special about her, I could tell. I liked her face, even with her garish features. Her pupils were leaving her eyeballs, dripping down into long oblong shapes that blurred and bounced in and out of her pale green eyes. I looked away after that. I was supposed to be saying something. What had they asked me? It was me who had asked them something, I remembered. About what I do every day.
“I just mean, I don’t know. I don’t remember what I do every day? I really can’t remember.”
“Well” – she looked at the two boys before turning her eyes back to me – “you go to work? Are you for real?”
“Oh, yeah. Work. What is that?”
“What’s work? Or where do you work?”
I didn’t know the answer to either one of those questions, so I just said, “Both.”
“You work at a shop, in the Village. Bigelow Apothecaries? But it’s your day off… so we’re in the park. And what is work? Work is… bullshit.” Everyone laughed at this, too, except for me. “Do you really not know what work is or are you messing with us?”
“No, I do. I just forgot, I guess.” Everyone was silent for a while before I asked my next question. It tumbled out of my mouth before I had decided if I wanted to ask it, but I was dying for the answer. “And my family isn’t here?”
I couldn’t tell if it was just in my head, but everyone looked uncomfortable at this question. The panic had risen higher in my chest and now felt like it was coming out of my lungs, frothing out into the back of my throat. Nobody answered for a little while, so I asked again.
“Where is my family? Are they here?” I was trying to mask how scared I was, but I was pretty sure it came through in my voice.
“No, they’re not here,” she said, looking down at the blanket and tracing the moving patterns with her fingers. Were we seeing the same shapes? There were huge swirls spinning across the blanket, furling and unfurling themselves with very little inertia. The blanket was all sorts of colors, blue at first but also shades of purple and sometimes pink.
“Where are they?” I asked, watching her finger.
“Seattle,” she said, “far, far away from here.”
My heart rate eased up. “I think I like that.”
They all smiled at me. One of the boys said, “Yeah, I think you do.”
I rolled onto my side and stared off again, thinking about my family. I had some, I knew that much. Everyone did, even if it didn’t always feel like it. But why were they in Seattle, and why was I so far from them? A pleasant breeze came and knocked several of the brown leaves up off the ground and into the wind where they performed a little dance for me before bowing and falling back onto the earth. How did I even know these people sitting beside me? Their names were coming back to me now: Blythe, Javi, Fitz. I felt like I knew them, but I was almost certain they didn’t know my family. Did we all come to Manhattan together? Or did I find them here? And why did I leave?
“Something is different about me,” I said, interrupting their chatter again only this time, it wasn’t a question.
“Yeah, there is something different about you. About all of us.”
“What’s different about me? About us?” That’s how I knew them, the ‘something different’.
“Well, you’re gay, for starters. Is that what you’re thinking of?” said Fitz, smiling sideways at me.
“Oh, yes. I think so,” I said, “and that’s a problem, isn’t it?”
“For some people,” said Blythe, “but it shouldn’t be.”
“I can’t help it.”
The two boys started laughing again, but the nice-looking girl reached out and touched my hand. “You don’t have to, with us.”
“You all can’t help it either, can you?” I asked.
She shook her head, but she was smiling. How curious.
“What does it mean, to be gay?”
“It means you like chicks,” the two boys said at the same time.
“Oh, yes,” I repeated, “I think I do. I like chicks.” I paused. “What do I do with them?”
They all laughed again. One boy said, “Don’t ask me,” and the other boy turned to the pretty girl and jabbed her with his elbow. “Aren’t you sick of that question?”
She rolled her eyes.
“Do you remember what happened in June?” asked the one whose name I thought was Fitz, ignoring my question. His two front teeth bulging and shrinking as he asked me this. All the freckles on his face were connected to form some sort of constellation.
“June! That was a big deal. June hurt.”
“Yeah, June hurt. But good things are coming from it. New and old alliances coming together. And they’re talking about doing a march or parade next year. Something like that. Keep the momentum going. Let them know we’re not going to be quiet again.”
I mumbled back at them, a quick and apparently unconvincing “mmhm.”
“You understand us?” she asked. “What else do you want to know?”
“Nothing,” I said, rolling onto my back again. “I’m just thinking. It doesn’t seem like a big deal. Being gay.”
I pretended to be calm, after that. In between these beautiful moments of clarity – a butterfly floating a few feet above my face, the clouds morphing into beautiful imagined creatures, the sun peeking through and blazing with a silvery haze – I saw visions. In alternating patterns came my unwelcome guests. First, the look of disgust on the cop’s face as he punched me, sending me to the ground outside of Stonewall in June. Second came a past version of myself, looking into the mirror, my fingers tracing the large crescent bruise under my eye which was a horrible purple in some places and yellowed in others. Third, the mortician pulled back the sheet and asked me Can you identify this body? To which I reply with a loud cry, the word dad coming out garbled. It was as if I could still hear myself, a year later and miles apart. And then the rotation repeated. The faces came in stilted and intangible, and they lingered longer than I wanted them to. Sometimes they stared back at me, as if veiled behind something untouchable. At other times I swore I heard them speak to me, though their voices were faint at best. And in between the revolving visions, I would snap back into the conversation happening around me to find that the others were still happily observing the trees, the people and the patterned sun. It was an hour that felt like a lifetime before the visions began to fade, and finally relented.
We lay on the blanket until the sun began to set, which meant it was just past seven. Over six hours into our trip, the acid was, at last, wearing off. Though I was still far from sober, the events of the day seemed blissfully distant to me now. The colors around me were still swollen with a type of vivid that I would try to hold onto, even after it faded completely. As we walked through the park, the worst of the trip far behind me now, I smiled as I passed each dazzling thing: the orange of the sunset looking brighter than I would have thought possible, the grass poking through the autumnal leaves and rolling through with changing green hues, the sharp whistling sound of the nesting birds. The undercurrent of fear that had defined my day no longer taunted me. It had all come back to me as we made our way back through the park, headed towards the Village to go get pizza and sit in the boys’ apartment. I was in New York City, nearly three thousand miles from home. And home was a cold, damp place in the most northwestern part of the country. It was a place where my mother lived and rotted in our old wooden house. It was where my father died, now buried beneath the pines. In the southern part of Seattle, a place I called home, I existed as a performance and acted as a shell. But here in New York, I thought as I held on tightly to Blythe’s hand, I felt like my skin had never fit me better. I breathed in deeply and tilted my head back to stare at the star-deprived sky, and felt the warmth of Blythe’s lips against the hollow of my cheek.
My plan for the day had been to forget everything that had put me where I was today: my family, the police, everything that had happened in Seattle. Phantom hands still pressed against my neck, the graze of knuckles against the crest of my jaw. I wanted to be removed from my mind, to become transfixed on things that weren’t really there. A patterned sky. A ray of sunlight. The rainbow of fallen leaves.
But like most things in life, I was learning, you cannot control the outcome.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ruby Solomon has tried many things for the first time this year, including but not limited to: taming a lion, landing a triple Axel jump, defying gravity and writing a novel. It is debatable whether any of these have been successful, but the latter is the thing she is most proud of. Her novel takes place in 1960s NYC and centers itself around the Stonewall Uprising.