Sacred rites of an acid house

Beyond the bad food and the bad poetry, a tribe of students seek life's mysteries in a collective hallucination.

Published September 21, 1998 7:53PM (EDT)

Between August 1995 and May 1996, residents and friends of residents of H College Apartment #119 consumed more than 200 doses of
LSD. No person or experience between that time and now has
failed to be colored for me by the things I saw and said and heard in those
incandescent mornings, nights and afternoons. Occasionally I still wake
up from wild fractal dreams, the ozone stink of my own terrified sweat
filling the room, sure I've fallen into the acid space my friends and I
once named Perimeter.

We were freshmen, 17 or 18 years old, living away from
home and parents for the first time in our lives. The building that we
lived in became our identity, the mark that set us apart from the rest of
the school. We went there to read, get high, hang out, have sex, cook
wretched meals of ramen and canned corn. We went there when there was
nothing else to do, nowhere to go, when we wanted to simply be, and yet we
complicated Being. We established slogans: "When you're not going anywhere,
you're going to 119." "There is that which is the source of
motion, and to which all motion returns. The Apartment is the Unmoved
Mover and the destiny of men."

Perimeter meant land between the Self and Other, Sane and Mad, the
Mind and World. These dichotomies, and thus the schematic possibility of
our drug-mediated adventures, were taught by our professors. We threw our desperate enactment of them in their faces like an accusation of their age,
a testimony to our courage. No one could be strong who didn't ride along
the edge of madness, testing intellect against the unexplainable. We were
the young Americans pondering infinitude with what we held to be tremendous
energy. Nighttime and daytime were dreamtime, and the kids who went to
class and went to sleep and didn't go to the Apartment were the weak, the
small, the uninitiated.

One month Becky and Ramien tripped every day; they
kept a journal more and more obsessively, then summoned everyone to witness
an improvised ceremony on the last day. We crouched on the concrete
porch of the apartment building. Ramien laid pieces of wood
scavenged from the corners of the storage area deliberately into a
hexagonal pile. Becky spat thrice: into the woodpile, off of the steps
and at Ramien. He did not wipe the spittle off his dark shoulder but
stared intently at the polygon he'd made. Becky's eyes were such narrow
slits that no white was visible. She poured something (scotch whiskey, it
was later determined) out of a brown glass bottle onto the heap and dropped
a match on it. The trip journal was produced, and the two explorers read
passages seemingly at random to the rest of us, and to a few "randoms" who
wandered by. Every time one passed the journal to the other they would
cooperate in ripping a page out and letting it drift onto the little flames
by their feet. They read loudly. "MONDAY: DOSED AT 9AM AND WENT TO
FOR OFFICE." Another entry from later in the month was less coherent.
(ACTUALLY TWO). CRITICAL INFO: NEG, NEG." The ceremony continued for over
an hour, but only a few of us watched the whole thing. When it was over
the journal was empty. Becky and Ramien stood with necks bent in S-curves
looking at the sun. They turned inside. I turned on "Simpsons." Ramien
packed a bowl.
There were casualties. Gregory moved out of the Apartment halfway
through the year, shouting wildly that his grandfather had died for our
sins. Jason lasted a few months into sophomore year, but went into
seclusion, emerging to disrupt parties with barely coherent demands that
the music be changed to Philip Glass, or to play intricate but cruel games of flattery and insult with his girlfriend. Kristin's
native psychic abilities were keyed up to such a pitch of sensitivity she
went into convulsions when she saw in a dream that Brian, studying abroad,
had been arrested for boisterous drinking in Paris. Members of the
Apartment crowd were sent to jail for drug offenses, placed on disciplinary
leave, spoken of in serious tones by the administration behind closed doors.
But it was also a time of awe, of a great and supernatural beauty
we had scarcely known existed. Lovers learned to speak to one another
without making sounds. We all learned how to hold each other's hands and face down acid-summoned monsters decorated with kaleidoscopic glamour.

And there were kindnesses, too. We all trembled before the holy power of our own words and ideas, and gradually the power of our kindnesses. Minutes before dawn in early winter I awoke in someone's living room from the darkness of an alcoholic sleep. Opposite me a girl named Ruth turned in her sleep, pulling her arms into her chest for warmth. Ruth had sex with everyone I knew but me and Gregory by the end of the year, and at this particular time she hadn't spoken to anyone in over a week. Stephen and Leo were playing chess in silence and watching the last fragments of color drain away from their hallucinations. Stephen moved his rook to Nick's last file and leaned over Ruth, placing a blanket from the back of his chair on her pale body.

We're older now, living the quiet, studious lives we always meant
our parents to imagine, but today a ring of youthful and unfamiliar faces
sits smoking cigarettes between the Dining Center wall and the hedgerow along L-dorm. They are the kids we were, in tie-dyes, bells and leather jackets, most of all with bright red eyes from too much grass and too little sleep.
Stephen and I linger, watching the girls to watch the girls, and watching them
all to remember.

By Isaac Zaur

Isaac Zaur is a senior at Haverford College.

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