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Davis, California

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Column: Ayahuasca

Alice, the girl I had a crush on for two years, was the first one out of all of us to do weed in high school. Five years later, we’re at McDonalds – somewhere she only agreed to go to because it was Filet-O-Fish Friday – and she’s telling us about ayahuasca, a root drug she took during her trip to Peru last fall.

“The shaman put a bowl in front of me,” she said, “because a lot of people who take it for the first time vomit and have diarrhea.”

When she took it, the shamans were motioning as if they were sucking in and spitting out snakes from her head with a straw. Though Alice’s friend was laughing the whole time, she said she didn’t hallucinate. Alice asked her afterward why she was laughing. She said it was because Alice was pointing to her head the whole time, yelling “Serpiente!”

Apparently, ayahuasca is a drug a lot of foreigners use to overcome heroin addictions or clinical depression.

“It forces you to confront parts of yourself that you don’t want to face in your every day life,” Alice said.

As she tells me, I keep my eyes fixed on her, hoping to catch something no one else sitting around the table would pay attention to. I’m hoping for her to slip something in that only I notice.

In the same way I doubted her political sincerity during her vegetarian phase in high school, I’m trying to figure out how genuine she is – or if she’s just another cultural capitalist looking for an exotic experience overseas. It’s kind of like how my high school friends doubt if I actually am queer as I say or if I just want attention.

When Alice took ayahuasca, she said there were inky figures that came out of the back of her head. She told her sister, who said not to try it again because they could be real spirits. The pastor’s wife at their Korean church in Diamond Bar used to say she saw demons in the corner of rooms or sliding down from the ceiling. When people asked her what they looked like, she said they looked like ink.

I wonder what those inky figures would become if they’d leaked out of my brainstem or through a hole in my ear instead of Alice’s, taking the form of images and memories I try to forget so I can get through the day.

Perhaps one would become my childhood neighbors who jumped over the fence while my family was at church. They reached in the fountain to crush the goldfish with their hands.

Once I heard my mother screaming in the backyard, I rushed out to see if she was okay. It turns out she was screaming because the spout of her watering pot was clogged with dead goldfish.

Perhaps another would become the girl whose heart I broke, because for nine months, I couldn’t tell her that I didn’t have feelings for her without lying. She was crying in the passenger seat of my car when I said I was sorry she had so much love to give and nowhere to put it. I was sorry I wasn’t big enough to take it all.

One of the active ingredients in ayahuasca is DMT. It’s called the dream drug, because your brain produces small amounts of DMT when you’re dreaming. But only in birth and death does your brain release large amounts. That’s why people describe their experiences on ayahuasca as a death and rebirth experience.

I hadn’t taken hallucinogens in a long time since I quit after a string of bad trips. The last time was when I smoked weed at a friend’s apartment. She was crying because she said there was so much beauty in the world she couldn’t handle it. She said if she could have any wish, she would take all the sufferings of the world on herself.

After a few hits, I thought for a moment that Jesus had come down to me in the form of a bisexual Indian girl from Fresno that I was smoking with.

“You’d probably die,” I said.

“Yeah, I think I would.” She smirked.

These days, I kneel down beside my bed at night like the cartoon illustrations of good Christian boys I’d grown up seeing during Sunday School. The lights are off. It’s so dark that even the walls and the windows look covered with ink. The book of Psalms is in front of me. Though I can barely read it, I imagine this is how dark it is beneath the shadow of His wings.

I pray because I think Jesus actually could bring the dead to life.

GEOFF MAK hopes the Easter Bunny will make a revival in Davis this Sunday. The day he was declared kitsch was a sad day indeed. E-mail him at gemak@ucdavis.edu if you think economic incentive to legalize opium in Marja and weed in California is justified.


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