Setting: The riverfront in Hartford, CT.
Chemical Lens: 25I-NBOMe, a “research chemical” with effects resembling LSD

Photo by Royce Bair

Photo by Royce Bair

Jason and I settle down on a green patch of grass in Riverfront Plaza. The fireworks are spent and the crowds have gone home. We are alone except for the cleanup crew, who rustle around collecting garbage and putting away equipment. They give us some strange looks as we remain there into the wee hours of the morning, but mostly they leave us alone.

Floodlights illuminate the city park. I feel like we are lying in the middle of a football field, complete with stadium lighting. We have found grassy solitude right here on the riverfront – our own urban meadow, boxed in by concrete. It’s small, but on psychedelics your interpretation is everything. From the smallest patch of grass I can take in the whole of human civilization, the planet, the whole damn universe.

I look around. The world bristles with electric energy. Everything looks pixelated, glowing red and blue with whispers of green. Streaks of violet flicker in the shadows. If this were a television, it would need to be recalibrated. But it is my mind whose dials have been twisted, the sound distorted, the reception clear but tuned to an alien station. Things look dreamlike, even cartoonish. The level of detail is almost overwhelming.

Sparkling pixels of pure color turn in place all around me, dividing and subdividing endlessly. The grass, appearing magenta and vivid green at the same time, shines under the floodlights like a carpet of tinsel.

The purple sky is punctuated by small pink clouds that transform into plump ghosts with clownish red noses. The cloud-ghosts move together in one kaleidoscopic unit, a series of imperfect mirror images arranged in a circle, twisting with the precision of synchronized swimmers. Then they vanish.

The moon hangs over the condo building on the other side of the river, silent and watchful. It boasts a halo of colors, as though its pool of liquid light has been dragged outward by a paintbrush, smearing the whiteness into a spectrum of warm hues.

Although it rises with surprising swiftness, the moon remains our constant companion for the whole evening – a spotlight to illuminate the action on the night stage. I have always loved looking at the moon but there’s something special about it tonight, beaming in the purple sky with quiet majesty.

What happens next is beautiful and mysterious, a thing that surprises us both.

Jason grapples with a star.

A tear appears in his eye as he describes the experience afterwards. The experience defies language, but he tries anyways, attempting to wrap this unwieldy, intangible package into a box of words that will survive delivery to my ears. Accepting and mentally unwrapping it, I understand enough to be touched deeply.

Have you ever been drawn in by a single star in the sky?

Have you ever been drawn in by a single star in the sky?

As a cloud raced across the sky, Jason became fixated on one star that twinkled temptingly overhead. In his mind, this evolved into a cosmic struggle; he found he could draw the star closer and closer to him by sheer power of will. The star, dominated by inertia, struggled to resist. But Jason’s desire transcended physics. The star, this magnificent engine of energy out in space, drew reluctantly towards earth, closer and closer with each passing moment. Like a wild horse, this stellar beast could be broken and tamed, but the effort would require Jason’s complete attention. As long as his focus on the star was not interrupted, it would be his.

Then a passing cloud swallowed the star, obscuring its piercing light behind a veil of fog. The spell was broken. The star, liberated, returned to its place among the constellations, gracing the night sky as it has for ages. Jason, defeated, fell back to earth.

This is when he turns to me. His face is wistful. Touched. Frustrated, but so alive, his features rippling with magenta highlights and green shadows.

“I almost had it,” he says. “I almost had that star!”

He explains the struggle as best he can, but his eyes tell me the real story. I will never forget those eyes, wet with emotion and reflecting the floodlights as he looks at me. I can see right into him, into the heart of the man who almost caught a star.