the second half of chapter twelve.

First thing:  Maybe you should read the last few posts, to refresh your memory.

Second thing:  No long absences in the future.   I promise, okay?

Back at his house with no more fireworks hiding in his pockets, Mr. Gingersnap transformed from imp to dutiful host.

He put my bike in his garage.  “Don’t feel creeped out by this.  Or trapped or whatever.  As soon as you are ready to go, I’ll come down and unlock the door.”

All of our friends arrived a few minutes later.  I helped him mix drinks, slicing limes, and cracking ice trays.  We passed beverages around on a metal tray.  Now was the time to be charming, while creating the facade of malleability.  Guys love that.  I giggled at his jokes and proclaimed my undying love of NPR.   I hoped that my underwear were reasonably attractive and free of holes.

And then the main event arrived.  Apparently everyone was planning on partaking in CG’s large stash of psychedelic mushrooms.  This scheme was hatched while I was in the bar restroom, trying to make myself look less tired.

I was nervous.  My college roommates had eaten a bad batch of mushrooms; they spent an entire evening vomiting and sobbing in our room, while I hid in the closet that held my bed.  The air smelled like bile and gravy,  I silently wished I had chosen one of Pennsylvania’s fine state schools, instead of an institution filled with drug-addled aspiring hipsters.   Perhaps purchasing hallucenogenics in Washington Square Park is always ill-advised.  Or maybe they just ate too many.  Regardless, I was traumatized.  I vowed to never consume weird “natural” drugs.  Synthesized, processed substances seemed so much more reliable.  I imagined even the shittiest heroin was created by solemn, lab coat-wearing scientists.

Everyone gathered in the living room, sipping cocktails while passing around a plastic sandwich bag filled with allegedly harmless mushroom.  When the bag of treats reached me, I hesitated.

“What’s a matter, Abbie?  Are you planning on going home early?”  This was uttered by an alleged musician in a tattered plaid shirt.  His band was awful.

I shrugged my shoulders shyly.  “I’ve never taken mushrooms before.  I don’t know how much to eat.”

This elicited a chorus of “Awwww” and “So cute.”  A girl declared, “Abbie is so innocent and midwestern!”  I made a mental note to sleep with her boyfriend the next time she was out of town.

That’s me.  Wholesome, naive Abbie.  Snow white soul.  No trespasses.  No mistakes.   No regrets.

I rolled my eyes as I tossed a palm full of something resembling dried insects into my mouth.  “Close your eyes and think of England,” I muttered as I forced myself to chew at hyperspeed.  A too strong gin and tonic washed away the dust.

Time jumped forward.  I found myself sitting on the couch, surrounded by casual acquaintances, realizing that at any moment, the real Abbie was going to jump out of my skin.  “Surprise, fake friends! I’m a crazy, miserable mess!”  And this version of me, the true sad I, would be worse than ever.  I would pull the suitcase of burdens out of my chest, spreading the contents out on the table for all to see.  The proud door-to-door saleswoman.

“Can I interest you in tales of suicide attempts and drug addiction?  Perhaps a fine portrait of me, sobbing on my knees in a midwestern cemetery?”

My full inventory of pain, all at a low, low price.

Never again would I be able to grocery shop without feeling sympathetic stares from all directions.  I would have to move away.  Where?  California.  That was a big state with an economy the size of France.  An easy place to get lost.

There was no solace in that plan.   I have always been afraid of earthquakes.

The living room disappeared.  I began wandering through the house, looking for a place to hide out.  Silence and darkness would help me pull my head together.  I ended up on CG’s bed.  A breeze slipping through the window.  Sturdy Scandinavian furniture.  Nothing semi-disposable.  More soothing than a padded cell.  Rust sheets, with a high thread count.  I wondered if he realized that his bedding matched his hair?

Something was wrong with me.  I was about to go crazy.  Days and months of hard work, all down the drain.  I could destroy my new life in just a few minutes.  Little effort would be required.   And there was no one to save me.

Time passed. Or maybe it did not.  Soon CG was sitting next to me.

“Are you sleepy?”  The tenderness of his words surprised me.  I imagined he was planning to slip a pyrotechnic under my pillow.  At the very least, he was hoping something embarrassing would start spewing out of my mouth, some conversational fodder for boring nights at his favorite local dive bar.

Was I tired?  “I’m not sure.  Is it late?  I was just feeling funny, like I needed to lie down.”

He laughed.  “It might be late.  But somewhere else it is early, right?”

And then I realized that maybe HE was tired. Perhaps he wanted his bed to himself.  “Are you sleepy?  Should I go?”

More laughter.  “I doubt I am going to be sleeping any time soon, because I ate all of those mushrooms.”

I paused for a moment.  He was tripping?  Did that mean that I was too?  Before I could ask, he answered my question.

“Yes, you chomped down a pretty heavy dose.”

And then I started laughing.  Like, hysterical, tear laughter.  “I can’t believe I forgot that I took drugs!  I actually FORGOT!”

He laid down next to me, giggling with me.

I sat up for a moment.  “‘There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.’”  And then I flopped back down on the bed.

“Aldous Huxley! I’m impressed.  I thought maybe you were just one of those pretty girls with a well-rehearsed smirk.”

I raised my finger to my lips.  “Shhhh…let’s pretend that I just quoted one of those Bridget Jones books.”

We both laughed.  It felt so good.  More cleansing than crying.  Infinitely more intoxicating than a bottle of bourbon.

And then I remembered something important.  “How will I get home?  I’m too confused to ride my bike!”  These words were half an octave higher than usual.  My heart began to race.  I imagined myself meandering through Southeast, my path turning infinite circles around the Fred Meyer.   I would never find Belmont.

Maybe he was hoping I would spend the night.

“You can stay here as long as you want.  Everyone else has gone home.  But we can watch a movie or listen to records or even take a walk.  Whatever you want.”   He rubbed my arm.

The room was silent for a while.

He coughed.  “Where are you from?”

Ah.  Time for the interview.  I scrambled through the files in my mind for the folder labeled “Abbie’s Backstory:  The Pacific Northwest Edition.”   I couldn’t find it anywhere.  Clearly some misfiling had occurred;  I would have to hire a new secretary.

Wait.  Surely I could remember the contents; I certainly had recited the same quasi-facts often enough.  Something about being a college lesbian and moving westward to find myself.

He laughed at my hesitation.  “Maybe you have forgotten?  Okay, how about this:  Why did you move here?”

Without thinking.  “Natural disaster.”

He grabbed my hand firmly, entwining his fingers in mine.  We returned to silence.

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