There was no affair, no vicious words. We had sex regularly, we held hands when we walked the dog. We liked being alone in a car together, or sharing a plate of pasta. Despite that, something between us was shriveling. I was increasingly angry with his silences, the way he ignored the yawning void between us. His coping method was always to play dead, and mine was to fight like hell. It was our pattern. The one fight each couple has, over and over, until death do us part. I would burn myself out, exhausted by my efforts to engage him emotionally. He would wait patiently, fall asleep, hope for a different sort of wife in the morning. After seventeen years, his quiet when things got hard enraged me. I was lonely. He did not seem to know what I needed. I could not seem to tell him.
We tried therapy. We started going out on more regular dates. Each time we spent intentional time together, inevitably we brought out our big bag of “what is not going well,” and out came all the ways we were failing each other. Mostly me, telling him, while he nodded. There was the way he felt not good enough and the way I felt abandoned. The way he felt unrecognized for his efforts, and the way I felt unsupported by his efforts. Then the dinner check would come. We would sullenly leave the restaurant, Rick’s hand fluttering with uncertainty at my backside.
I flew to California to visit my brother Gardner, to get away. I arrived exhausted, grieving. It was on this visit I first tried psilocybin. We were on a beach in Malibu. In the car, before climbing out with our beach towels, Gardner handed me a chunk of chocolate the size of a ping pong ball wrapped in hot pink paper. “Do you trust me?” he asked, after telling me it was laced with mushrooms.
I did. So I swallowed the chalky candy, then sat in front of the glittering Pacific. Soon, the rolling waves of the ocean became the pulse inside my own wrist. The ocean was me, and I, the ocean. If I got up and walked into the water, I would dissolve completely, never to become solid again. This was not a scary thought, but the most magnificent knowing.
The beauty was so profound, I burst into tears of awe. I witnessed the perfection of the sand, my own toes, the flock of pelicans swooping into the sea, all of it one thing. Towards sunset, Gard and I slithered up a narrow cut into the sandstone cliff that flanked our beach. It felt like a birth canal, the way we had to press our hands to the pink walls, turn our shoulders to the side to fit up and out, to the top of the cliff.
We sat together, brother and sister. As the sun began to drop into the ocean, everything, absolutely everything, felt as it should be. Well-being swelled and crashed over me in rhythm with the sea. I thought about Rick.
“This is medicine,” I said.
“Yes,” Gardner replied, smiling softly.
When I returned to Connecticut, I knew exactly what I must do. I planned a surprise overnight trip. I packed up our favorite comfy clothes, our toothbrushes, candles. I packed a bright green apple, two dimpled clementines, three kinds of cheeses, four kinds of crackers, and five kinds of cured meats. I bought lime seltzer and a four pack of craft IPA. I packed up our mittens and heavy quilts. Last, a chunk of chocolate the size of a ping pong ball wrapped in hot pink paper.
I arranged for our girls to sleep at a friend’s house, packed the car, filled our gas tank and typed the address into Google maps of the tiny lake cottage I rented. When Rick got home, I told him to put on his favorite jeans. I gave him a can of beer in an insulated mug, and told him to get in the passenger seat.
Rick laughed with nervous energy while I drove in the October fog. I had never done anything like this before. We arrived at the cottage an hour before dark and unloaded the car in a burst of moody rain, then stood in our socks in the tiny kitchen, the bottoms of our jeans wet. There was an uneasy thickening in the air.
I pulled the chocolate out of my coat pocket and gave it to Rick. “It’s laced with psilocybin. Mushrooms. Magic,” I said.
“Really?” he asked, and froze.
I saw the shock in his eyes, a glimmer I quickly labeled as mistrust, or worse, judgement. I felt a flash of anger. Then, Rick turtled into himself. Bloop. There goes Rick, sucking all his soft, tender parts into his shell. Usually, I poke and prod and smack at the hard shell he vanishes in, begging him to come out with sharp, angry whacks. This time, I forced myself still.
This was the night we were meant to feel music in our bones. To laugh until we snort or pee, until tears run from our eyes like musty water from an unused tap, streaming brown, then yellow, then clear with relief.
It was worth the wait. In the absence of my anger, he cautiously re-emerged.
“Half?” he asked, meeting my eyes.
“Half,” I nodded.
We shared a glass of water, rinsing the mushroom chocolate from our teeth. I worked quickly to create a cozy space on the screened in porch overlooking the lake. Rick is the one who holds my cold feet in his hands, rubs my neck while I drive, arrives unbidden, with a bottle of cold water, just as I begin to feel thirsty. He warms the syrup in a small pitcher before we eat pancakes on Sunday mornings. That night, I was aiming for a full role reversal. I wrapped Rick up in a fat quilt, and gave him the best spot on the couch on the porch. I cranked up Bill Withers’s “Use Me,” his favorite, while I made our charcuterie feast. We ate while the slate grey lake absorbed us, a soft mist curling like living tendrils around the pine trees lining the beachfront.
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Rick was confused, at first, about my attentive focus. I anticipated his needs for a napkin, extra socks, a seltzer on ice. It took time for him to fully settle into my intention for the night. Eyes closed, he let me slide my fingers into his hair, when suddenly he remembered our parched marriage.
He said, “You’ve been so sad.”
I pressed my palm right into his chest through the heavy blankets.
“Not tonight,” I said.
“The porch became the only place in the world that existed. Our Narnia, our Wonderland”
It was magic, the way those words became solid in the cold air. He clutched my cold hand and I felt his desire, not for sex, for the rightness of us. I remembered melting into the glittering ocean, alone, and now melting here, into Rick. We cocooned ourselves into the damp couch and felt ourselves buzzing with well-being. The porch became the only place in the world that existed. Our Narnia, our Wonderland.
“If our life was made into a movie, what are the scenes we would put in it?” I asked.
Suddenly, we were weaving ourselves together, telling our stories.
The night I took him to Les Mis on Broadway on our second date. How he cried when Fantine died, and I knew then I wanted a man who cried.
The afternoon we tried to make pulled taffy, standing on either side of our kitchen pulling the overcooked candy until it turned into hard, shiny spears. A total fail, and delicious memory we laugh over every time we pass a small shop selling taffy in big colorful buckets.
The morning we introduced our youngest child to her big sisters, how she curled her fists around their offered fingers. How just hours before, Rick held my face in his hands, eyes locked with mine to steady my terror as I brought her into the world.
Crawling steadily towards the dawn, we laid out our stories. We didn’t skip the hard parts. But those hard parts didn’t feel hard at all. They were just the story of us, and every part was ours. We were not healing something broken, we were remembering each other. And when our fugue state drained into the morning light, we drove back home.
The mushrooms did not fix our connection, it simply pointed to a known truth we had not felt for some time. There were no singing birds and rainbows to signify our relationship healing, only the memory of being enveloped in the most magnificent knowing. All that came before, and all that we would face, was as it should be. Every year since, we carry that knowing with us. Not free from pain or disconnection, but from the idea that we are broken.