And when you wake up in a city that you don’t recognize, and the traffic lights blink angry, it is not because the city has grown cold. It is not because your hands no longer fit his.It is because it is someone else’s turn to lean out her window in to the cold, cold morning and say,“Baby, look at all those traffic lights, blinking their way into dawn.”
By the time the sun begins to sink below the horizon, turning the sky blood orange the group of friends decides to venture towards Strawberry Fields, and pay homage to John Lennon. Along the way, they stop alongside the lake and sit down on a bench near Bow Bridge. Directly across the lake, the iconic Dakota Hotel looms and reflects in the glassy water. A swan glides across the lake, sending ripples out in every direction. Clara leans her head on Silas's shoulder, “It feels like it’s happening in slow motion,” she says barely above a whisper and she feels Oliver nod his head in agreement. She wipes a tear from her cheek, feeling that if they stayed there, the moment would just continue in perpetuity.
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“It’s perfect,” Oliver agrees.
“It’s like we're watching a moving painting,” Silas says and then pauses, “Did I just say that out loud?”
Just like that, the serenity is disturbed by the group's uproarious laughter and the swan flies quickly away.
Daylight fading faster by the minute, the park is nearly shrouded in darkness by the time they arrive at John Lennon’s memorial. As they approach, Clara feels her chest tightening and hears yelling coming from up ahead. She grasps Silas’s hand and draws close to him. He looks back at her and winks, “Just New York, come on,” he tugs her forward.
The sudden change in lighting proves difficult to adjust to, and Clara’s body is sporadically fluctuating between temperatures, leaving her with feverish cold sweats. Looking down at her hands, she becomes suddenly aware of the blueish highway of her veins. She feels like she can sense her blue blood moving through the thin superficial veins and pumping into her arteries — she can feel the slow steady drumming of her heart. “It’s just the acid,” she tells herself, unsure whether or not she actually said it aloud. Either way, no one seems to notice.
When they arrive at the circular memorial, littered with dying flowers, they notice two men in ragged tie-dye shirt screaming at one another. “We’re not in Neverland anymore,” Clara says, this time knowing that she’s spoken out loud because she is surprised at the volume of her own throaty voice. She notices how hopeless these men look — like they are stuck in some purgatorial place between an anti-war protest and a Beatles concert, not quite able to join the twenty-first century.
“Imagine,” Silas says, “Imagine being like that,” and he shakes his head wearily.
Clara notices how manic his eyes look all of the sudden. Silas is looking on the scene like a crazed animal. She watches him light a cigarette and he takes a heavy drag as his hand trembles slightly.
“You look like you just saw a ghost,” she nudges him and tries to feign some sense of playfulness because she knows all too well that these men remind Silas of something he wouldn’t dare acknowledge — something unsettling in its familiarity and fragility. The fact that life or a moment could ever be so fragile seemed to break the balance in Silas.
Suddenly feeling a surge of energy and the instinct to protect herself and her friends from whatever was about to happen, Clara shakes Silas and pulls him close to her. She grins at Oliver and the others.
“Let’s run,” she whispers into Silas’s ear.
“What?” he responds with his eyes still glazed over, staring at the old men.
“Let’s RUN!” Clara yells and grabs their hands.
The group begins sprinting back towards the lake, laughing like unmedicated runaways from the asylum. After all, this is how they dealt with anything and everything that even made them slightly uncomfortable or scared — they ran as fast and as far as they could in the opposite direction. It never mattered what was in the other direction so long as they felt the rush of air on their faces and the world under their feet on the way there.
Despite the fact that Central Park closes down at dark, it takes them about two hours to actually leave. As they walk hesitantly towards to southwest exit, they all feel unsure which way they need to go and whether or not they have the ability to navigate the looming city around them. The buildings at Columbus Circle and the rushing noise of traffic feel stark and unwelcoming contrasted with the park which has held them womb-like for hours. Silas stops everyone in their tracks.
“We need help,” he says suddenly trying to pretend like he isn’t still wildly high. “I’m going to call Neil,” he pulls out his phone and stares at it, clearly unable to read anything on the bright screen.
Fortunately for them, their friend Neil worked at a hotel near the park and had just gotten off work. A few minutes later, he meets them at the southeast exit and smiles as he approaches the group, “I am here to guide you, my children. We’re going to a party in Carrol Gardens,” he extends his arms in either direction like some great prophet come to save them.
Clara looks down at her phone for the first time in hours and realizes it is not even 9 o’clock.
“I feel like we’ve been here for millennia,” she says giggling and realizing she’s misplaced her shoes. She resembles some sort of deranged woodland creature, having rolled around in the grass and run barefoot through the park all afternoon. The acid haze begins to subside and — while the boys couldn’t care less — she realizes she is in desperate need of a shower before any other social engagement.
“Can we please go back to your’s first?” she pleads with Silas.
“Of course, my wife. Let’s go,” Silas says and the three boys and Clara head towards the subway.
As they peel into the uptown subway station the petrichor of coming rain lingers in the air and Clara knows without a doubt that it will be pouring rain by the time they arrive downtown. The subway gets held up in the tunnel outside Union Square. If hell is a place — it is being high on acid and stuck on a New York City subway car on a Friday night in the summertime. The air inside the car feels wet and smells like gyros, Irish Spring soap, and burnt bodega coffee. Clara is sitting next to Silas and listening to him make jokes about some guy that is on the other side of the train car. Clara is acutely aware that this man is within earshot. She tries prodding Silas to encourage him to stop talking, but he barrels on. Clara looks at Oliver, who is sitting across from her. They barely maintaining their composure, unsure whether or not they are most likely to explode into laughter or screams.
“I feel like everyone knows we’re on acid,” she whispers in Silas’s ear. “Please shut up.”
The moment seems to stretch on forever in every direction. Despite her many attempts, Silas continues to talk much louder than she feels is appropriate, and Oliver has committed to his handsome stoicism. Clara notices a man writing in his journal unbothered by the chaos around him, and a small child tracing the subway lines on the grimy map, and the old lady that’s reading a spin-broken copy of War and Peace and wiping sweat from her brow. Clara notices how committed everyone seems to be to ignore the world around them, while also being an essential part of it. New York City teaches everyone how to commit to everything but people. It strikes Clara that this city is both satin and razorblade — willing to soothe and scar is one fell swoop.
Pulling herself from her daydream, Clara looks over at Oliver who is still staring blankly ahead. The subway begins careening forward and as it pulls into the station, Oliver looks her dead in the eye and says, “Let’s get the fuck outta here.” They both grab Silas and split out of the doors right as they slide open.
They race through the 14th street subway station, gripping each other’s hands. The way Clara’s hand slips so smoothly into Oliver’s hand sends a rush of endorphins through her body setting her nerves on end.
Once they’ve made their way inside Silas’s apartment, Clara pulls out her bag of cocaine and pulls off her filthy pants in one sweeping motion. The boys look at her and she laughs suddenly aware of her stark pale legs and her lacy underwear on display. The moment only lasts a second, all of them still coming down from the acid that is surely stunting any sense of sexual energy. Clara sits down on the couch and begins her cocaine ritual and Silas begins rolling a spliff.
She slowly cuts up six lines. Rolling her bill and inhaling deeply, she slides the bill across the mirror. She luxuriates in the hissing noise her nose makes when snorting a line. Instantaneously, she feels the stimulant rush overcoming the psychedelic high. She feels suddenly alert and aware of her body again. Acid had always been a daunting journey for Clara — blissful and challenging — she was always relieved when it ended. Cocaine served as the perfect reset. She leans over and hurriedly snorts another line, now desperate to erase all feelings of psychedelics from her system. She leans back and closes her eyes. She feels the coke clearing her mind, leaving her feeling sharper. She tastes the gasoline drip coming down from her sinuses. Clara tosses Silas the bill and jumps up to go shower.
She leaves the boys to their spliff smoking and mindless banter. Stepping into the small bathroom, Clara opens the window and feels the now cool, wet air pour into the room. She perches herself on the ledge and lights a cigarette. Looking down at the street sixteen stories below, she feels like she can see every single raindrop landing and fracturing the inky asphalt. She can hear them splashing into dirty puddles and then her attention refocuses on the sound of the bathroom — the silence is deafening.
Clara’s ears ring and the silence begins to sound like its own kind of music. The murmur and laughter from the other room seep in from the crack beneath the door. Yet somehow the boys feel a million miles away. She finds solace there, knowing she is alone and also only steps away from them; knowing they are near enough to reach out and grab ahold of if the aloneness ever becomes too overwhelming. She sheds the rest of her clothes and steps into the shower. Standing under the stream of piping hot water feeling every single drop falling onto her bare skin. She watches as the dirt falls from her body and creates a pattern in the pooled water near the drain. This is her baptism.
She lathers peppermint-scented soap over her skin and feels the way it electrifies her pores. “I am alive. I am here,” she whispers aloud to remind herself. She rubs her hands over her body and notices the way skin touching skin feels. She glides her hand onto her silk-skinned inner thigh and then places her hand on her vagina. She applies gentle pressure and it sends a shiver up her spine and then down to her toes. She grabs her cigarette from the ashtray on the window sill and takes a slow drag. The paper dampens, pressed between her prune-like finger. Methodically she turns off the water and steps out of the claw-footed tub.
Standing in front of the mirror, soaking wet, Clara stares at her body. Her skin looks somehow new — like the psychedelics, blow, and being clean have turned her into some sort of reptile that has shed a layer of skin. People have always told her not to look at herself in the mirror when she’s high on LSD, but she’s always found it to be spectacular. “I am this body,” she says and she continues rubbing the soft contours of her hips and breasts.
“My wife, get the fuck out here,” Silas yells as Clara finishes drying herself off.
Clara knows exactly what time is it. Their friendship is tied together with a web of rituals and practices, each prescribed to a particular time and place. They love each other through moments of music sung aloud to each other; sharing poems they’ve written; shots of cheap tequila followed by thick lines. These may seem like artificial and toxic platitudes to some, but Silas and Clara ritualize everything in their friendship in order to build a world together.
Wrapping herself up in a kimono, Clara walks back into the living room. As she stands on one side of the apartment, Silas presses play on the iPod, and the first guitar riffs of “Give Me One Reason” by Tracy Chapman rumble out of the speakers. This is their song. This is a ritual they’ve come to call Tracy Time. Oliver and Neil sit down on the couch, giving them the floor. Clara looks at Silas and he extends his hand, bowing to her. Clara’s eyes well up. She always cries when they dance to this song — partly from inevitable intoxication but mostly because it all feels too visceral for her to bear in these moments. She reaches out and places her hand softly into his, “Husband and wife shit,” she says and then he sweeps her into a wild frenzy of faux-ballroom dancing while they belt out the lyrics to the song. Give me one reason to stay here, and I’ll turn right back around.
Spinning in circles around his apartment, they sing every line and the rest of the world slides away, ceasing to exist. They will perform this same ritual a hundred times over the course of their friendship — most people assuming that they are just overemotional and drunk, which would be true but not the point. Like so many things, the lyrics and rhythms of this song penetrate Silas and Clara in the same way — this is how they feel the world together.
The night blurs into a montage of overpriced Ubers, skyline views from the BQE, and a kitchen table covered in cocaine at some girl’s brownstone in Brooklyn. They spend the night lighting cigarettes with the end of the ones they’re already smoking.
On the walk down Silas’s block, it is nearly sunrise and Clara notices how hauntingly beautiful the humid streets are at this hour. The blood-red fluorescent lights on the corner bodega reflect in the murky street water. Rats, — fatted from trashcan-Chinese food — scurry through side streets to avoid the flash of the morning sun that is due to creep over the horizon any minute now. Clara and Silas avoid the coming of the sun the same way, except through drugs, 40-oz Olde English, tequila, and Marlboros — always avoiding drowning at dawn.
Arriving back in the safety of Silas’s apartment, they tear the sheets from the bed and gather all the food-stained throw pillows. They build a fortress from the bedsheets and crawl inside. They lay down and stare up at the white cloth hanging loosely above them. Turning their heads towards each other, their noses almost touch. Their mouths come together for an instant. Clara notes how their tongues — numb from another night of cocaine — feel like limp day-old deli meat in her mouth. They pull back quickly.
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“It’s the acid,” she mumbles, “We’re still coming down. That was stupid.”
“Yeah,” Silas says nonchalantly as he lights a cigarette and laughs it off — cataloging it away with all the other things they didn’t talk about.