By Leza Cantoral
Most dreams fade, but sometimes you have a dream that leaves an indelible impression upon the ridges of your mind, like footprints on wet sand. This is the story of one of those dreams, but in order to tell you the story of the dream I need to tell you the story of my first acid trip.
I was on vacation in Oaxaca with my boyfriend at the time. He was a tall, blonde, blue-eyed-Floridian who was a legit descendant of Billy the Kid. No joke. I looked up pictures and he looked just like him except better-looking and more smiley.
I grew up in Mexico, in the city of Puebla, but when I was 12, my family moved to Chicago. I never realized the magic I was leaving behind until I left it. When I lived in Mexico all I saw was the poverty, the filth, the corruption. I saw all the things that were wrong and I was actually excited to leave. When my first Chicago winter came I plunged into a deep depression. I missed my friends, I missed the atmosphere. I missed the whole attitude that Mexican people have when it comes to family, friends, and life itself. There is such a sense of living in the moment, of showing the people you love that you love them, of soaking up and squeezing every moment of joy out of your life and your loved ones.
The second time I visited I was about 20 years old. My best friend from childhood found this beautiful spot in Oaxaca. It was on an arm off of land that basically felt like an island. On one side was the ocean and on the other was a beautiful lake. It was a paradise. It was the ideal escape from reality. The only time I saw cops was when they were escorting the beer trucks. People were smoking weed in full view. It was a small, modest area, but stunningly beautiful. We had fresh caught fish every day and stayed in wooden cabins with sandy floors. There was electricity but no plumbing. I took to pissing outside because the toilet was just a toilet fixture with a deep hole full of lime inside. The shower was a cement room with a drain and open ceiling that had a basin that was full of well-water. It was the most amazing bathing experience I have ever had. The air was hot and humid and the well-water was icy and refreshing. There was a little bucket and you just scooped up the water and dumped it on yourself. Water never felt so much like water. Agua pura. Agua de la vida. It was like the fountain of youth. All water after that has felt like illusion water.
So it was in this tropical paradise that I decided to take my first acid trip. My boyfriend had done a lot of acid himself, so I felt like he would be able to handle me on my first time. He would tell me how he would roll while clubbing all night in Miami, and trip with his friends at Disney World.
We took the acid in our cabin. I was swinging in the hammock, waiting for it to kick in. It took about 20 minutes. Suddenly swinging on the hammock was the funnest thing ever and I was laughing my head off. A moment later I caught myself in this deep enjoyment and knew that the adventure had begun. I felt like a child again. Innocente. Feliz.
We grabbed our cigarettes, a big towel, and a giant bottle of water. I stuck a joint in my pack of Marlboro Reds.
We headed out to the shore after the sun had set. The moon was full and bright. On acid it looked huge. The sky was full of giant, fluffy clouds in all shapes and sizes. The ocean waves were crashing high and loud. The whole scene came together in a very mystical way for me. In the ocean I saw strange Lovecraftian sea creatures lurking and cavorting in the frothing waves. I imagined their giant tentacles beneath the surface of the water and I saw their heads and bodies bobbing out of the foaming waves.
In the clouds I saw the faces of angels and demons, beatific, grotesque, looking down on me like I was one of them. They told me I was a goddess and that this was my world. My mind easily accepted this reality. It was easy to imagine with no one else in sight and nothing but ocean and moon to reflect my fantasies back at me. I was in a church that was bigger than any of the cathedrals of the world.
The churches in Mexico are Spanish churches. They are decorated with elaborate engravings and sculptures of saints and angels in the ceiling and the walls. The ceilings are carved out of plaster and inlaid with gold. These churches always seem like other worlds where emotions are heightened. Jesus is on the cross and his torment is palpable. The blood in his wounds glistens like it’s freshly flowing. Religion is a living thing in Mexico and the churches are the physical reminders of the muted and buried spirituality of the Aztecs and Mayans, whose temples slumber in ruins beneath these Spanish churches.
Mexican Catholicism is paganism in disguise. The melodrama of polytheism is distorted within the Catholic ideology. All the formidable gods and goddesses of ancient times are repackaged as Jesus, the Virgen de Guadalupe, and the endless pantheon of saints.
As I looked up at the heavens full of living angels and demons, I realized that I was in the real church. I saw how all other churches were simply recreations of this church. The church of existence is vast, endless, and unfathomably magnificent.
Of course, every paradise must end and so the drugs began to wear off after about six hours. Dawn was approaching and I was not ready for my fantasy to end, so I smoked the joint I had stashed in my cigarette pack. Me volvi loca. I lost my mind.
Suddenly the whole world went dark. Everything vanished. The fantasy evaporated along with my entire sense of self. I could not see the things around me and I cowered hopelessly in the sand. I thought I was lost in another dimension because I could not feel my body or see with my eyes. All my five senses had been hijacked. I plunged headlong into an onslaught of audiovisual hallucinations for a solid hour. During this time my boyfriend was talking to me, telling me I was just on drugs. I must have been talking gibberish but I don’t remember. I kept looking at his lips moving and the sounds coming out of his mouth made no sense. I would grasp it for a second and then it was all nonsense again.
I remembered A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, and I concluded something similar was happening to me. I was lost in another dimension and I hoped desperately that he could somehow rescue me. I did not know which world to return to even if I could. Should I return to the world where I was a goddess or the world before that one that I dimly remembered like a long-forgotten dream?
My hallucinations were pop culture-based. I saw snippets of commercials, music videos, T.V. shows, movies, news broadcasts, all coming and going and overlapping in rapid succession. I heard sounds that did not match the visuals, though they were also bits of songs, commercials, and other audio-media. It was like my brain was a scrambled antennae receptor. I was nowhere and no one. I did not know my name, gender, location, or memories. It was terrifying. It was a total loss of self. Estaba completamente perdida. I was terrified.
My boyfriend walked me back to our cabin and he told me to light some candles. The instant I lit the lighter I came back to reality again. The reality of the fire in my hand and my hand making that fire brought my brain back into my body.
During the years following this acid trip I began having heavily symbolic and vivid lucid dreams that branded themselves upon my psyche forever.
In one dream I flew up into outer space and right up to the moon. The planets were big balls the sizes of large buildings and I heard the music of the spheres, understanding that this was music made by the movement of the planets themselves, and that this was the music of existence in motion. The dream ended with me sitting upon the Milky Way like it was just a puddle of glittering and swirling stars. I touched the water and it was electric upon my fingertips.
In another dream I was chasing a white unicorn in the Hollywood hills, only to find it decapitated in an art show that was also a crime scene and a carnival, complete with cotton candy and hot dog vendors, carnival barkers, and sideshow freaks.
But neither of those dreams matched the power of the dream in which I encountered the Cosmic Bruja.
She appeared out of the shadows. She wore long sky blue robes. She was an old woman but she was full of mischief and life. Her eyes twinkled with mirth and a deep, ageless wisdom. She looked like a more crone-like version of the Fairy Godmother from Disney’s Cinderella. She came towards me and looked me dead in the eye. I did not feel like she was a dream-conjured character. When I looked into her eyes, an intelligent consciousness looked back at me. I did not know her but somehow she knew me.
Like a scene from a Carlos Castaneda book, she asked me if I wanted to learn to fly. I wanted to learn this lesson and so I said yes. She told me to hold my arms out to my sides so that she could hook hers under my shoulders from behind. I lifted my arms, she hooked me with hers and we were off.
We flew high and far and I saw beautiful vistas unrolling beneath me. I could see them in great detail as we skimmed over them. We flew over mountains, valleys, and fantastical cities, through daylight and the night within a matter of seconds. My heart filled with wonder as I became more and more lucid of the fact I was flying and seeing such new and vivid wonders.
Excitement turned to panic. Panic distorted my vision and I thought the Bruja was evil and this was all some horrible trick. I did not trust her and I was terrified that I was in her arms. She read my thoughts and laughed out loud at me. My panic was hitting fever pitch and it was shifting my visions into horrors. The cities became dark and ominous and full of danger. I was falling down that familiar pit of terror.
“Focus, look at what’s in front of you,” she said to me. I made the effort to see through the fear. The whole world was blurring and disappearing the same way that it had when I lost myself on that acid trip. I anticipated the coming chaos with ever-increasing terror. She kept saying, “you already know, you already know, ya sabes, ya sabes.”
I looked and I tried to focus on my vision. Blackness and chaos dissolved and the world finally came back into focus to my great relief and amazement. I realized that she had not laughed maliciously at me. She had laughed to show me how foolish I was being. She laughed to show me that there was nothing to be scared of. I believe that Bruja came to me to teach me how to cope with my crazy brain.
“Take a deep breath. Focus. Open your eyes. You already know.”
It has taken me years to unravel this strange astral event. This was a flying lesson unlike any taught at Hogwarts. She was teaching me how to navigate my own psyche. In remembering the acid trip and remembering the dream I notice the parallels. First, I had the amazing trip, the wonder and the magic and everything that excites me. Then my panic and mistrust plunged me into a pit of loss of self and despair.
I have had flying dreams like this one before, in that I will become lucid and excited and then begin to panic because I become hyperaware to such a degree that I am disoriented and cannot sustain my flight. This has been happening to me since childhood. I can never sustain my flight.
Sustaining the high was the goal of smoking that joint, and smoking that joint took me into a vividly rendered nightmare of everything I fear in falling out of that high. Falling becomes a metaphor for every kind of loss of control. Falling means madness, falling means loss of my self and my mind. Falling means losing focus.
Sometimes I don’t know who I am. I never felt like I belonged in Mexico because my mother was American and we spoke English at home. My parents read me American and British literature and we spoke of Western culture. I might have lived in Mexico but I never knew Mexico. I never knew that part of myself. In my heart I was American. I identified with American rock stars and writers. American culture was woven into my perceptual framework.
But when we moved to the suburbs of Chicago I felt completely alienated to a degree I never had before. I had not realized how much of Mexico was in my soul. Even if I did not entirely understand the culture, it was the water that I swam in, it was the air I breathed. I was a part of Puebla the way the bougainvillea bushes were a part of Puebla, because they were born there.
My idea of my self and who I am does not always match up. I let things that people have said to me poison my thoughts. I let the way some people have treated me deform my image of my self. I am not Mexican. I am not American.
I am a child of the universe.
Dreams like this one have shown me that I need to see past the surface of things and that perception is subjective.
I am learning to fly. The voices of self-doubt are only as strong as I let them be. I can laugh at them and laugh at myself, because I might be done with the funhouse mirror but the funhouse mirror is not done with me.
Gracias, Cosmic Bruja, you are always welcome in my dreams. In the meantime, la Luna illuminates the dark side of my mind while you are off teaching other girls how to fly.
Leza Cantoral is the author of Planet Mermaid and editor of Walk Hand in Hand Into Extinction: Stories Inspired by True Detective. She writes a feminist column about noir film for Luna Luna Magazine called Shades of Noir and writes about pop culture for Clash Media.
You can find her short stories at lezacantoralblog.wordpress.com