She met him in October on the Georgetown campus. He was wearing a red a blue baseball cap. The wind blew it off and she picked it up. Returned it to him. They started talking about the weather, then science, and soon philosophy. Quickly, they became friends.
They spent several Sundays taking walks to the local farmer’s market to pick out apricots, then going to eat them on a blanket in the park. It was the most romantic thing she’d ever done. But they remained nothing more than friends, yet something more than casual acquaintances. After all, she had recently finished her journalism degree and worked at a restaurant part-time, and he was pursuing his Ph.D. at Georgetown. Both of them, divorced. Neither had time for dating – or at least – no desire in walking the path to another broken heart.
Once it got cold, he invited her to his house. When she walked in, she wondered why he had a rice cooker with aluminum foil on top. A device to make gold out of, he told her. He explained the whole process. His alchemy. She trusted him. He studied quantum mechanics after all.
The house was full of strange things. (No, not the kind of strange things mothers warn daughters about before they sneak away with a glass of wine and the latest E L James novel.) The kind of strange things that made her curious and ask a lot of questions.
In the kitchen he kept tiny bottles on the shelves, full of substances that looked like chemicals or powders. Others were full of herbs, leaves, and varieties of tea, with perhaps a few strains of medical marijuana in the mix.
“Entheogens,” he told her. “Meaning ‘generating the divine within.’ Or more simply put — plant medicines. They produce non-ordinary states of consciousness. People around the world use them for religious or spiritual reasons.”
“Oh, right,” she said. “I knew that….and what exactly do you do with them?
“Oh, sometimes people come to me and buy them. If enough people are interested, I’ll lead retreats where people could take the entheogens within a safe container, like a Santo Daime church, someone’s backyard in the woods, or a yoga studio.
There was nothing ordinary about him, she thought. And maybe that’s why she hung around.
“So….you’re dating a drug dealer?” Penelope gasped.
“Well, no, not exactly,” she said. “I don’t know if we’re actually ‘dating,’ we’re just friends. Anyway, he’s more of an um…urban shaman.”
“Is that what he calls himself, or did you just make that up right now?”
“I mean….I guess it’s the term he uses, but I still find it pretty fascinating.”
“Come on Nat,” Penelope reached out to touch her hand. “I’m worried about you.”
“He’s getting a Ph.D.! In quantum physics!”
“Hah….Denver worked as Noam Chomsky’s literary agent, and you saw how that turned out when I needed someone to drive me to Planned Parenthood last summer!”
“What, you prefer I date a nice normal guy? Like the guy at the coffee shop with muscular arms and the compass tattoo who talked to me about The Unbearable Lightness of Being and then asked for validation for the quality of his pictures on his Bumble profile?”
“No! No…that’s not what I’m saying. I just think you deserve someone who genuinely cares about you, Natalie. Drugs and things…whatever. I just don’t want to see you settling for someone who just who only cares about himself again.”
She enjoyed exploring his house. She experimented with the musical instruments he collected from his travels around the world, like the Aboriginal didgeridoo and Malian n’goni. She watered the twenty potted plants and herbs sitting by the window. She bought him a bamboo plant, a snake plant, and a bonsai tree, just to add something a little more ordinary to the most exotic mix.
The jars of entheogens were meticulously labeled with the common name and its psychoactive constituent:
Ayahuasca – Harmala alkaloids and DMT
Bolivian torch cactus – Mescaline
Fly agaric – Ibotenic acid and muscimol
Magic mushrooms – Psilocybin and psilocin
“When did you know you were….you know….a ‘shaman?’ ” she asked.
“Maybe as young as twelve,” he said, not noticing the glint of sarcasm in her voice. “I started out having out of body experiences. Lying in bed before I would fall asleep, it felt like my body was being submerged in water like I was about to cross over into spirit realm. Started perceiving what was going to happen in the future. Sometimes clairvoyant. I didn’t know what was happening to me. When one of my college professors gave me some of C. G. Jung’s literature on archetypes and the collective unconscious, some things started to make sense.”
He paused to take in the confused look on her face.
“Don’t worry,” he laughed, almost reading her mind. “I’ve looked into mental health issues – I don’t have schizophrenia, not possible. Doesn’t run in my family line. I believe my ancestors carried this knowledge, and it’s coming through me in this generational incarnation of the bloodline. And of course, Western medicine doesn’t have a name for these types of things. Hence, a lot of people do end up getting a mental health diagnosis. What I experience is just that – what I experience. Weird things happen from time to time, but it doesn’t dominate my life. And I find the plants guide me to what I need to know.”
Remarkably, Trevor was the most normal person she had been with, even out of her male friends. When she was with him she felt safe and calm.
“And how did you find the plants?” she asked.
“Maybe you should be asking ‘how did the plants find me’?’”
“Oh my friend,” she smiled and laughed. “You are such a mystery. I could write a whole book on you.”
“Oh? What would it be – fantasy?”
She blushed. Fantasies. She had a few. There was clearly some sexual tension between them, of course. But the two hadn’t had sex, or made love, or even fucked, or whatever you want to call it, in the time they had now known each other.
“Are you winking at me?!” she jested, then coughed. “No, you know I write nonfiction. And hard journalism.”
There was an awkward silence between them. She pointed to the stack of books on his table.
“Speaking of nonfiction, tell me more about the intelligence of plants they talk about in your books. What does it mean exactly?”
“Let me think…Well, you can’t compare the intelligence of plants to that of humans, exactly. It’s not as if they have a rational, thinking mind, like a brain or a computer. Scientists who study plant intelligence see plants as highly sensitive organisms – rather than passive players in their environment. Plants monitor their internal and external worlds for informational and functional shifts – like changes in soil, water, light, etc. Just like our eyes have a sensory inflow from the spectrum of light to perceive colors, plants have gates of perception that allow sensory inflow from a spectrum of what is going on around them. Then, they integrate that information into their own state of being”
“Yes, now, go on.”
“When I take the plants, they can guide my body into that same level of perception. I can’t explain it well, poems seem to do the talking for me from there.” He pulled a book off of the table and turned to a bookmarked page:
It is actually a kind of dreaming
And not the kind of dreaming you are thinking about either
But a different kind of dreaming entirely
(It’s like the dreaming you do when you are reading this book)
The dreaming is the central core of what this book is about
It is the kind of dreaming that Goethe was engaged in
When he learned about plant metamorphosis
And Luther Burbank when he looked deep into the plant
And saw every environment its ancestors had ever lived in
And the same kind that Barbara McClintock did
When she watched individual chromosomes in corn shift their structure
It is the same state of mind that writers enter when they create words
It is also how Gaia dreams the world into being
And is the kind of dreaming you can do, too, if you wish,
If you decide to walk through the doors of perception
And find out what is on the other side
“It’s lovely. I love it. You know I love poetry. But let’s go back to what you mentioned earlier – how DID the plants find you?”
“Ah! Right. Five years ago, not long after I moved to the city for grad school and was living in a condo, and I had a dream that I was wandering around this big house with secret passageways behind bookshelves, hidden staircases, and a big front yard. I felt curious and elated like I did as a child discovering life’s mysteries for the first time. The next day got a lead from someone I had met randomly at a bookstore in Adams Morgan. The price was unbeatable for the city, almost like a gift from the gods.”
“Yeah, really, it’s impossible to find something these days,” she commented.
“And the next week, I bought this house. Everything you see here, the books, the jars, the labels – all already on the shelf from the previous owner. An Italian immigrant, I heard, who had passed and left nothing to his grandchildren who all live in various parts of the country and want nothing to do with his past. The plants were the passageways waiting for me to explore their world of insight. Their potential to heal us and bring us more into our true natures.”
She stared at him in silence.
“Trevor, I think you’re pretty cool, you know that?”
He laughed and went to go prepare her a coffee. “I guess you’re not so bad either.”
As much as Natalie enjoyed hanging out with Trevor, she simply couldn’t bring herself to opening up to him intimately. Perhaps is came from her unhealed past. Her first boyfriend told her about his trips on acid at 17 and became a heroin addict by the age of 22. In her last serious relationship before her marriage, her boyfriend smoked a joint nearly every time they saw each other, which would make him fall asleep during sex. And then in her marriage — the most disastrous of them all – her husband was a physiatrist who eventually began abusing the opioids he gave to patients and had convinced her she was both anorexic and had bipolar disorder. Neither of which were true.
Natalie was never sure why she attracted these types of men into her life. Aside from the usual alcohol and weed in college, she had never really taken drugs herself. Things had not been great, and her friends never knew what she saw in these men. All of them, to varying degrees, had expressed interest in social and political change, but never really seemed to put much action behind their words. Their drug use came first.
Trevor, on the other hand, didn’t seem to care about politics at all. When he wasn’t working with the entheogens, he put all of his energy into his studies. She knew there was something different about him. They kept their boundaries, and she let the man remain a mystery.
In February, Penelope and Natalie got their nails done for Valentine’s Day. She told Natalie she has a dream where she is pregnant. They stop by a drug store for the test and sure enough –
“I can’t believe it’s going to happen. I’m going to be a mom!”
TO BE CONTINUED