He was the quiet one in the group. I would watch from across the room and wonder where he really was, his long legs tucked under him, his big hand cradling a clean-cut chin, the long dark curls dancing over his faraway blues. I wanted to know about Jim. Under circumstances decidedly different than any I’d ever been exposed to before, I found out.
The rest of us in the group were regular people. Freddie worked at Safeway, stocking shelves. Martha was a licensed masseuse. Sally, the chatty one in the group, was the post mistress in town. Sam was a real estate broker. And I worked for an insurance company. But none of us knew what Jim did and never asked. With Jim, you let him be. He didn’t offer anything and no one else wanted to pry. The monthly neighborhood potlucks were the only time the others saw Jim. Except for me. We met once a week in the local diner, had lunch, and talked.
I think I was in love with him. It’s hard to explain because Jim wasn’t my type. I’d been into men who were gregarious and bold. But after my divorce to Charlie, I was done with fast talk and control. I felt disconnected to myself, like I was walking around in someone else’s body looking for my real body. In Jim’s presence, I felt inhabited.
Jim was sensitive, and attentive to my needs. Before, I was usually the one running around trying to make some guy happy even though I was suffocating. Jim gave me space to breathe. Jim made sure my coffee was refilled, seemed interested in my growing up on a ranch, even asking questions about life insurance. But mostly, I listened to Jim talk. Maybe he was lonely and needed a friend. I was certain he wasn’t in love with me.
It took months of lunches before Jim told me what he did with his time. I assumed he had some inheritance that allowed him the freedom to stay home, but I never found out. What I did find out, when he wasn’t having lunch with me once a week, was that he was either hiking in the mountains, tending his many ducks and chickens, or experimenting, processing, and taking DMT.
DMT, or di-methyltryptamine, is what shamans have been using to open gateways into other worlds for decades, maybe even centuries. Jim was introduced to it in Bogotá, while hitchhiking around South America. That was fifteen years ago and Jim kept on using the drug. It’s not technically a drug, as Jim would say, it’s a natural substance that comes from milking the Buffo toad (more on that later).
Jim normally never volunteered details about his experiences on DMT. I wanted to know more and pressed him to describe what it was like. He told me, “Sometimes it feels like I’m resting in an adobe church in Mexico at midday in summer, and being so calm and cool that I could probably write an entire novel in two hours. Other times, it’s totally alien.” I hadn’t a clue what he meant.
At other times, he said, it was like he infused with the earth's memory and saw epochs come and go; blasts of spitting fire, births of continents, the forming of mammoth ice flows. I asked if he was ever afraid or worried for his sanity. “Never,” he said.
During the monthly neighborhood potlucks, we’d all be chowing down the meatloaf and cheesecake and Jim would barely eat anything. When people asked how he was doing, Jim always, always said, “Terrific. Really good, thank you. How are you doing?” They never felt like they should ask anything else.
Jim pondered. He pondered before he spoke and he pondered while he listened, his brow all scrunched together. I never saw him make quick judgements. Jim was thoughtful and kind, but I never really knew what he was thinking. At one of the potlucks, I timed him sitting in a chair, his chin cupped in his hand, not moving for 25 minutes. While the rest of us were arguing about the Academy Award nominated movies of the year, Jim sat silently, his breathing imperceptible. When he finally dropped his hand and looked up, his eyes were blank. I asked where he’d been for the last 25 minutes. He said, “25 minutes? Where? Nowhere? Why do you ask?” None of the others in our neighborhood knew about the DMT and I wasn’t about to tell them.
At our last potluck, Jim interrupted us and silenced the room by saying, “Do you know our brains have at least 100 billion neurons and at least a hundred trillion connections. How many connections do you think we use thinking about what to have for dinner?” None of us took offense because he had a good point. We stopped eating, hoping he’d elucidate but all he said was, “We probably use less than ten percent of our brain’s capabilities. What do you think?” That started a lively conversation but Jim never added another word.
Jim was distant but with everyone, like with me, he was sweet, attentive, and generous. He always had good things to say about everyone present; commenting on my dress, Freddie’s latest observation about Trump, Sally’s cooking, the wine Sam had picked out for the occasion, Martha’s salad. Jim was what my mother would call a good boy. And yes, he was eccentric but not in a segregated way. He was one of us in body, only his mind wasn’t.
Everyone loved Jim’s cooking. He would bring the most amazing concoctions to our potlucks and every month it was different. One time he brought a home-reared chicken he’d simmered for two hours with potatoes and 30 cloves of home-grown garlic. Another time it was charred steak, marinated for 24 hours in red wine and rosemary, accompanied with diced carrots in a cinnamon sauce. Our favorite was flourless chocolate cake and no matter how often we begged, Jim only brought that particular dessert the one time. He also gave each of us a jar of delicately-flavored Pennsylvania peaches he’d preserved. We bugged him for more of that as well.
One day at the diner, Jim told me about his DMT experiences. How he inhales the DMT from a long blown-glass tube he fashioned himself with a tapered end to suck on. He holds the vapor in his lungs until his brain morphs into a kaleidoscopic light show, at least that’s what he told me. He said the entire trip only lasts four minutes. During one experience, after he saw the lights, Jim said he dropped into the center of the earth and became the earth. His body was the earth body, as large the earth itself. “All through my four thousand-mile radius coursed multitudes of wind and rain, grasshoppers and tigers, baobabs and oak, toucans and rhinoceros, and all manner of insect.” Each breath Jim breathed was the breath of all these creatures. He gave them life. They gave him life. He felt his own body grow tiny and he wanted it to completely disappear. He wanted to become all the mass on earth and inside the earth. Forever.
After he told me all this, I had the urge to pull him close, stroke his black curls and whisper, Give me life! But I didn’t; we were in the diner, and I hadn’t the guts to come clean.
Jim was handsome in a muted, understated way, with a long nose and thick long eyelashes that fluttered over half-closed eyes whenever he spoke about his DMT experiences. How I longed to kiss those eyes, and caress that ball of muscle at the base of his thumb. I wanted to run my fingers down each vertebra and listen to his heartbeat – not because I wanted to necessarily sleep with him but because I needed to find out what he was, how he was thinking. It was as if his sights were trained on some universe light years away.
“Claire, if you become what I become and have witnessed what I have witnessed, all the rest is dead.” Inside I got angry when he said that, implying that I was dead. Compared to Jim I was but I didn’t need reminding.
It had to be the DMT. If you get the substance by milking a very special toad found in spring in the Sonoran Desert, what did I expect? Jim insisted it wasn’t addictive.
He was surprised when I asked if I could join him, just once (I was prepared to take it more than once to become undead but I didn’t tell him that). Then to my surprise he said, “I would be honored.” But first he had to take a trip to Arizona to milk some toads, and could I wait?
Could I wait? Are you kidding? My job with the insurance company was a dead end, every day the same, with a quota of life insurance forms to be processed. It felt as if my brain was getting smaller and if humans only used 10% anyway, then what was I? I’d never once left the state of New Mexico. I was divorced, never had children, and getting fat from sitting around all day.
I would wait because I longed to have more in my life. More awareness, more connection, more imagination. If I could experience one of those huge earth breaths, my perception of reality might shift to a bigger picture. I needed that. Even though Jim and I were different, I wanted to be Jim. I wanted his abstract mind, his self-discipline, his apparent control over reality, his youthfulness, his strength, his sensitivity, his health. He veritably glowed well-being. Compared to him, I was dead.
Jim left for Arizona to get his supply of DMT and left me with a book to read by Terence McKenna. The author told of a trip to the Amazon with his brother when he first discovered DMT. The real world revealed itself to him and he spent the rest of his life searching for more DMT, experimenting on himself, writing books about it, and lecturing on its virtues for humanity. McKenna felt every human being on the planet should take DMT and see the truth. This book was Jim’s Bible.
I wanted confirmation that taking DMT wasn’t dangerous. McKenna wrote that after four minutes the initial intensity fades and after 15 minutes the entire psychedelic cycle is complete with no side effects. I was somewhat reassured. McKenna also wrote, “DMT is only dangerous if you feel threatened by the possibility of death by astonishment. So great is the wave of amazement that it approaches being a kind of ecstasy in and of itself.” That was enough for me. If I was to become unstuck, I needed astonishment. And Jim certainly astonished me.
McKenna also said that we already have DMT in our brain, which is why the experience only lasts four minutes. I liked that. The idea of tripping for two days was horrifying to me. McKenna also pursued novelty, which he said was essential to staying connected to Life. Every time I was with Jim, he’d open me up to something new like no one had ever done before. So I figured taking DMT might even make me novel for Jim because I worried that I was boring and he’d lose interest. I needed Jim’s friendship.
Milking a Buffo toad is fascinating and bizarre. What you’re actually smoking is the venom of the toad. In May, when the rains come to southern Arizona, hundreds of these toads collect in wet areas. Jim was told about one pond by an old American Indian where there are plenty of toads. It was the Indian who taught Jim how to milk the toad. Jim found this particular DMT was a lot more potent than the synthetic DMT he’d been using for years.
Milking the toad is a bit creepy. You hold the toad over a glass plate and stroke the glands until the toad spurts the milky substance onto the glass plate. The ‘milk’ dries quickly and you scrape the powder off the glass and store it in a sealed jar. Luckily the toad is unharmed and released back into the wild.
When it came time for my experience with DMT, Jim had me come stay at his house for three days.
Day One was to prepare the body and mind.
Day Two would be the trip.
Day Three was the come down when he would monitor me.
I told the neighbors I was going to Colorado Springs to visit my sick aunt. None of them knew I was going to do this.
Jim’s house matched his eccentric persona. On every window sill were piles of rocks, dried pinyon roots, flasks of dried herbs, bleached bones of birds and animals, Kiva dolls, and different sizes of glass tubes. Hanging on the walls were pictures of mandalas, handmade prayer wheels, African masks, eagle feathers, and bundles of dried flowers. In the kitchen were rows of dried mushrooms, trays of wheat grass, buckets of grapes to be processed into wine, bowls piled high with fresh mangoes and oranges. Everywhere I looked there seemed to be science projects at various stages of fermentation. One bedroom was completely monopolized by marijuana plants. I suspended my judgement, determined to focus on whatever novelty came my way, dope included.
The first day Jim had me fast, as well as drink three glasses of warm apple cider vinegar that made me want to puke. He also started me on massive doses of Niacin which flushes the system but due to the high dose was 20 minutes of excruciating hot flashes. My skin crawled and I bounced around like a jack rabbit.
All through the day Jim asked me questions, culling out any hidden demons or fears.
What were my recurring dreams? The cattle breaking out of the fences.
What are my worst fears? I didn’t tell him it was being boring, so I said, again, the cattle breaking through the fences.
When did I last experience ecstasy? I had to be honest with him and I said never. He said, really? I assured him it was the undeniable truth.
Then he asked me what do I crave? I blushed when he asked and pretended my shoe was untied and bent over and said, Nothing. I craved his mind but I could never admit that to him.
He asked if I’d ever been abused, physically or emotionally. I said not that I knew of.
He asked if I had an invisible friend when I was a child and I said no.
He asked if I’d ever taken cannabis and I reminded him I’d told him months ago about my one pot disaster but he had me tell it again.
Finally, at the end of a very long day, we took a cold shower and then jumped into his steam room. He built it last year using green tiles he’d found at an old building site. And yes, we were both naked and yes, I was ashamed of my body.
But that feeling was quickly overpowered by the magnificence of his body. His skin was all-over dark from the sun, including his buttocks which I assumed must mean he hiked barefoot and naked in the mountains. His entire body was crisp lean lines, as if everything had been stretched taut, then snapped clean of any fat. But he was not skinny nor was he particularly muscular. He was more sinew, like a wild animal. In fact he looked more animal than human – without his clothes he moved like one of those large feral cats.
He wove his way around my naked body in the steam room adjusting valves, spraying me down with a hose, adjusting a cushion behind my back. I kept waiting for him to brush my body slightly but he never once made contact. Maybe all the DMT made him sexless.
At one point I whimpered, not knowing how much longer I could bear the heat. “Are you OK?” Jim asked. “Maybe you best get out.”
“No, I’m fine,” I managed to mumble and I was. I was the finest I’d been in my life. I felt alive. And being with Jim, naked and sweating, was exhilarating. He was the most unself-conscious being I’d ever met. He was unfazed, it seemed, by anything.
That night I fell into bed exhausted in a darkened room which had neither windows or lamp. My sleep was dreamless and uninterrupted. In the morning, my fast continued. After the Niacin flush which lasted even longer because he gave me an additional 500mg dose, we did some yoga stretches in his living room.
I managed to keep my eyes closed during most of the stretches, trying to quiet my racing mind. I was anxious and my alarm was accelerating. After yoga, we prepared for the feast after our journey, as Jim called it. We made bread, marinated some elk meat, carefully cut up veggies, decanted a bottle of wine he’d made himself, set the table with candles, and finished off the chores by feeding his fenced-in ducks and chickens kept in the back yard.
After all this, he read to me a few pages from Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China, while I stared out the window at the setting sun over the mountains.
A slant-light sun sinks into mountains. A silver moon drifts.
Sleep lingering, I wander river country to ease medicine in,
frost-edged winds tearing a thousand forests of leaves away.
Propped on my bamboo staff, all idleness, I count crane nests.
That’s all I wanted to do right now – count cranes’ nests. Instead, it was time to take the DMT.
Now for the moment of truth.
He made sure I was relaxed on the couch with lots of pillows behind my head. I sat looking at the Cimarron Mountains through the big picture window. It was a calm clear evening.
First, he had me take several long deep breaths, and then put the tapered end of the glass, smoking tube to my lips. I was supposed to take one long inhale until all the DMT vapor in the tube was gone. But two seconds was my limit. A lungful of vapors exploded from my mouth.
One moment I was inhaling vapors of toad venom and immediately in the next I was engulfed in an array of phantasmagoric white light, all cubes and right angles, shattering through me.
The light entered me.
It went away.
It consumed me.
I ran to meet the light.
I ran away from the light.
I was one moment craving, and the next cringing.
The earth was talking in a language I didn’t fully understand; only that it was dying.
The earth was dying.
That’s all I remember.
Jim told me later that I had cried out, then for a long time after sat stone still, my eyes open and unblinking, focused on the Cimarron Mountains. No matter how much I bug him about it, he has never told me how long I stayed like that.
All I know is that I experienced the complex connectedness that McKenna wrote about in his book. Only it wasn’t the experience I had prepared for. I connected with the planet. I felt the earth. And it communicated to me that it was dying.
Later that night, after I’d sufficiently returned from wherever I’d gone, we started our feast. I was staggered by how much I ate, and amazed at how delicious each bite was, how other worldly the textures and colors impacted my senses. But after dinner I lay alone in that lampless dark room and silently wept for the Earth. I was deeply filled with a great sadness.
I now understand why Jim seemed so distant. When you have a seismic experience like that, one that rocks you to the core of everything you think is real, how can you sit around and talk about the Academy Awards? To this day I continue to feel altered, and honored, as if I’d spent those minutes or hours in the presence of enlightened beings who imparted to me a profound truth. I’ve since quit my form processing job at the insurance company and I’m now working for the Environmental Defense Fund. It’s the least I can do.
I shared a vast experience in Jim’s world. I understand a little bit more about him. But mostly I learned about myself. I do have the capacity to feel connected, to love deeply, to crave companionship and now, to have a deep friendship. That is more important than having a partner. My DMT experience was undeniably loving and also intensely sad.
I walk a lot now, mostly the easy trails around the mountains. I like to hug trees.
I’ve not taken DMT since because I’m scared to. Jim assures me there is nothing to be afraid of but I’m afraid to be filled with such great sadness again. It was appallingly painful.
I went in. Into the earth. But maybe what I did was go into myself. I went in and felt the pain. It was electrifying.
Dian Parker is a freelance writer for a number of publications: Image, Woodstock, Best of Central Vermont, Trendwatch, White River Herald, Vermont Art Guide, Kolaj magazine, Art New England, NatureWriting, and OpEdNews. Dian's short stories have been published in Artificium, BlazeVOX, Anomaly, Peacock Journal, and the James Franco Review. Dian has recently completed a short story collection.