I sat on the ground, tearing leaves, tearing leaves, tearing leaves, into two, three, six equiangular pieces, from the apex of each ridge down to the stem, like the pie pieces in Trivial Pursuit.

Dirt on my feet. More and more leaves. I’d been there for what seemed like days, in a dirty creek bed on the side of a road. Hours earlier this creek had shone like the grandest vistas of Yosemite, with frothing embankments and towering trunks, an endless maze of living nature. But recently everything had shrunk and darkened, a visual plague cast upon a plot of land sucking all the vibrancy. Ugliness highlighted every surface. Idle pieces of trash pierced my field of vision as if spotlights shone on them.

Reality set in: that I spent my night rolling around a drainage ditch; that a pedestrian had hours earlier mistaken me for a homeless man; that I was a semester from graduating high school and hadn’t bothered to apply to any colleges yet. These weighed on my mind with an unbearable gravity — a force that crushed the feeble psychological scaffolding my 18-year-old psyche had duct-taped together. I broke down.

It would take another six hours for my body to metabolize my brain out of its chemical prison, another 24 before I felt physically “normal” again. Sobriety may as well have been a lost dream, a hopeless moment that passed and would never return, like accidentally recording over an important home movie with something trivial.

Austin appeared beside me, squatting sympathetically, eyes kaleidoscopic: “Mark, you need to get up. Stop thinking about it. You need to get up and move around.”

I was on the brink of tears. “What are we doing, man?” My knotty hair was pulled back into a ponytail and tucked under the collar of my black coat. My clothes covered in dirt, “What the fuck are we doing?”

Everything that once felt important now felt silly and meaningless.

Creative monochrome urban mix of illustrations background

“Hey, hey… relax, it’s going to be fine.” He was speaking softly. It felt both soothing and patronizing.

“Stop focusing on the negative thoughts, and try to think positive. If you think positive thoughts then more positive thoughts will come, and then from those more positive. That’s how it works. There’s like, a momentum to this stuff. Remember?”

I stop tearing.

“Austin, don’t you get it? We’re wasting our lives, man. We’re wasting our fucking lives. Totally wasted.” More leaves, more squares, more pies. He’s gone.

I look up. The twigs of the silhouetted trees crawl like floating ants. It’s been at least eight hours and the visuals still won’t stop. I look back at my pile of leaves. Each one I tear multiplies. And multiplies. And multiplies. An asymptotic growth rate, approaching but never quite reaching infinity.

An angst I’ve never felt before surges inside my chest with each of my shivers. It’s cold. I forgot it’s cold. My diaphragm heaves blank, empty emotions at my mind. Like waves hitting a cliff-side, I can’t recognize their form or where they come from, but I feel the pain and angst all the same.

I close my eyes. Bright orange grids flash through my mind, vectors converging at a single morphing point – a constantly shifting perspective. Am I the point or am I the one looking at the point? If I am the point then who is looking at the point? The grids stretch and play, curving and bending on their own, reaching for a non-existent horizon.

Closing my eyes only makes it worse.

Austin is back. “Mark, you need to get up and move around. It will help. Trust me. You can’t stay here like this.”

“Austin, what are we doing, man? You and I are the smartest guys I know. And we’re fucking homeless.”

“We’re not homeless, Mark.”

“But we’re ruining our lives, this is how it happens, this is how it starts,” the shivers come back. I look down at the endless pile of leaves. Their edges flutter at my retinas, as if buzzing. They’re mocking me.

What’s the point of tearing into infinity? The thought felt profound at the time.

It wasn’t.

The biggest misconception about psychedelics is that you hallucinate actual things: dinosaurs in cars, cherry trees in the living room.

You don’t. Psychedelics are all about perception and perspective. You don’t necessarily see large things that are not there. You see what’s always been there in a multitude of new ways. Patterns emerge in everything. Your mind emphasizes what it used to ignore. Reality becomes amplified to a staggering degree. The soggy mud puddle on the driveway suddenly bounces with reflections of light, dancing with your eyes and mesmerizing your mind. An otherwise banal living room carpet comes alive with an endless amount of patterns and miniature tassels, waving and weaving, every strand working together in perfect harmony to make the carpet whole. And dude, you get to walk on it!

The perceptual shifts happen conceptually, too. John Lennon said the world would be a better place if everyone did acid once. He didn’t say this because he wanted people to hallucinate cotton candy or talking balloons. It was because psychedelics force perspectival shifts. You’re forced to see what has always felt obvious and true in new and different ways.

Usually, it does this for stupid stuff like discussing the societal value of an eggplant or pondering whether right/left actually exist or not. But every once in a while you’ll get stuck on a concept — like say, the value of your life and how you’re utilizing it — that you can’t shake off. And then it seriously freaks you out. You’re forced to reconsider what you always assumed to be true. And once you’ve seen the new perspectives, you can’t unsee them.

“Will you at least come lay under a blanket? Everything will get better in a few more hours. The sun is coming up,” Austin said.

Psychedelic black and white picture

A few hours pass. Time is also asymptotic. Zeno’s Paradox: half of a half of a half of a half of a half of a — the point of sobriety is only approached, never fully reached. The temporal mathematics of ruining one’s own life. Each minute turns into its own hour and each hour divides into its own minutes, wasting one is wasting eternity. I look at my leaves. The pile is no less infinite than when I started it. Finally, a rational thought bursts through: Listen to Austin, he’s more experienced with this stuff.

“OK,” I say. I get up and follow him to where some blankets are laid out. Alejandro is already lying under one, jabbering to himself about eggplants, the major theme of the night.

Alejandro is ceaseless and nonsensical, traits that made the beginning of the trip a blast, but now reaffirm everything I didn’t want to become. It was his idea to sleep in the drainage ditch. It was his idea to steal the eggplants from the grocery store. It was his wacky ideas that sent me into my existential crisis. And now he continues his rambling unabated and nihilistic. Is nothing sacred? Eggplants are. That is his worldview: eggplants.

I crawl under a blanket. My body aches from the Strict-9, my jaw sore from clenching. I roll onto my back and face the grey, apocalyptic dawn. The twigs buzz above me, scurrying and dispersing and reconfiguring into new patterns over and over and over again against the sky. They won’t stop. The wind blows infinity across the ground and across my blanket. I shiver.

“I’m not going to do drugs anymore,” I announce. “I’m done. Forever. And I’m not just saying that. I really mean it. I’m sick of running away from myself.”

Austin and Alejandro burst out laughing.