I ate mushrooms for the first time at age fifteen, with a pale and haunted girl who wandered into my life for only this purpose, then disappeared. We walked under the full moon through crumbling Greek architectural structures in Montecito, California, kissed for a short while like Victorian ladies. It was everything one would want from a first-time experience. I went to sleep blissfully, having visions of insects and dirt, tears streaming down my face in gratitude.
The next day I had plans to visit a juvenile-detention center, as part of a teen-outreach program. The volunteers gathered in the parking lot outside. While we were standing around I told the head facilitator what I had done the night before, that I had eaten mushrooms with a girl and it was beautiful. She fired me on the spot. I waited in the car, sobbing hysterically, while the rest of the group was inside for nearly two hours. I loved the teen-outreach program, and also loved the facilitator, a 28-year-old woman whom I was having a scandalous sexual relationship with. She broke my little mushroom heart.
It’s possible that, without meaning to, I associated that traumatic experience directly with mushrooms. They didn’t come up in my life at all until fifteen years later, in a tiny coal town in New Mexico.
Greta had a shop that sold candles, blown glass, handmade ironwork, and antiques. She had red hair and wore leather pants and seemed to really like me. We talked in her store a lot on my frequent visits. Once we got in full gossip mode, we couldn’t shut up. When parting, it was always with the promise that we would eventually get together for a real hangout.
One day, she casually mentioned, “Sometimes I take a little bit of mushroom before work. I’ve been doing it every few days for a while. It makes the tourists a lot easier to handle.”
She said this putting no more weight upon it than she did anything else. It completely freaked me out. In one beat, her homey little witchy shop became a drug den. The candles suddenly looked dirty, the stained glass mediocre and sad. The figurines made of car-metal scraps and the woven shawls were now all detritus of a wayward hippie life. I made up a lie about forgetting an appointment and left. I never went back there again.
(Ironically, I now run a store in the same coal town, selling psilocybin-mushroom T-shirts, LSD pendants, and psychedelic pencils with the names of entheogenic plants on them.)
Psilocybin mushrooms returned to my life for good through the body of a dying cottonwood tree. It was during a very difficult time in my life, before a horrific breakup. Sophia came over to cut the branches that were dangling over the house. She was something to behold up there, with her piercings, her strong, square body. Sophia didn’t even use a ladder. She hoisted herself up with ropes and cut the branches down with a small chainsaw.
“I know this is a really random question, but do you have any magic mushrooms?” I asked. It’s the nature of the body to move toward healing, and this request came from a primal, yet-to-be-visited place in me, the way one might ask, Do you know of a genius Jungian psychotherapist with a slightly sadistic streak? Or a remote woodland sanctuary where I could pretend I died, just for a little while?
“Actually, yes, I do,” she said. In fact, she had some at home.
Our transaction played itself out in a way that is now familiar — not a lot of talk, the atmosphere thick with acknowledgement of what is occurring. I was about to meet an entity, a being, utterly foreign, with whom I would enter into a partnership that would change the course of my life.