It was over a Sausage McMuffin with egg that the manifestation of what I believed to be a brilliant idea birthed itself in my brain. “Let’s eat mushrooms and go to the Van Gogh Museum,” I said and then took a sip of my coke.
“Okay, let’s do it,” Jacquie said, sitting across from me in a plastic swiveling chair. She was five years younger than me and while she could outdrink me any day, she had little experience with drugs. It was the first I had spent time with her in a month. Our original plans were to backpack Ireland for the summer with a short trip to Scotland and a few days in Amsterdam. Early in our trip I met a guy and shacked up with him in Derry while she hung out in Doolin, a lovely village on the West coast.
“I’ll be right back,” I said, slightly hungover from the day before and the bottle of vodka that we drank on the plane from Ireland to Amsterdam. I stood up, leaving my half eaten sandwich. “Stay right here.”
Jacquie and I made the best travel partners. I loved who she was even though it took her two hours to get ready and put makeup on her already pretty face. I helped carry Killer, the name I gave to her backpack that weighed over sixty pounds, her makeup weighing at least ten. She even had three sets of pajamas. She put up with my wildness in a way that no friend ever has. She knew I sought some half-sleazy Don Quixote adventure and she encouraged me in my quest, even if that meant we spent time away from each other.
I tried to walk instead of skip as I searched for a shop that sold mushrooms. The thrill of drugs coupled with thoughts of my recent time with Sean. I was certain he was the one for me. He ran an unmarked hostel not far from the Bogside where Bloody Sunday took place. While he spent days changing beds and cleaning, I walked around the walled city, sat on benches near the River Foyle and read books or wrote, eager for the end of day when he and I could be alone. Our room had two sets of blue steel bunk beds. Each night he would put two mattresses together on the floor like a raft. As we made love the blue cotton curtains crackled like sails in the Northern wind. I’d catch glimpses of the fiery sunset above a city hungover by civil war.
I was in Amsterdam, but I felt as if my whole being were in Ireland. Though I was only leaving Sean for three nights, my goodbye kiss to him was dramatic and while I do not remember what poetic garbage I said to him, I do remember clearly what he said to me. “Jen, whatever you do, don’t be like all the stupid Americans who go to Amsterdam and eat mushrooms just because they are legal. It’s a dodgy city. You’ll have a bad trip.”
“I’m way too old for that,” I said. He and I had just celebrated my July birthday a week before. I was 27, way too sophisticated and cultured for what I considered teenage or early college year drugs.
The head shop I found was tiny. Displayed by the entrance was a poster board that had six different types of mushrooms, starting from mildest on the bottom and gradually getting stronger to the most potent on top. I bought Jacquie the most mild since she had never even taken acid. My intention was to purchase the second most mild ones for myself, but my eyes focused on the mushrooms on the top of the sign. They were called “Philosopher’s Stones.” They were more pricy, but they called to me. I could almost hear them chanting my name. I mean, I was a philosopher. I had even majored in philosophy for the first two years of college until I realized I was going to need a job.
My next memory is sitting back at McDonalds and shoving my “Philosopher’s Stones” in what was left of my Sauusage McMuffin. It was a vile taste, the words cow shit and rotten, slimy vegetables come to mind. It took Jacquie and me at least fifteen minutes to get them down and another hour to get to our destination.
At least a hundred people were lined up outside of the museum, waiting for the doors to open. Jacquie and I took our places. Another dream on my mental bucket list would be experienced. I was minutes away from being the closest to Vincent that I had ever been. I couldn’t wait to see his impulsive, perfect colors stretched across canvas. What could be better than a warm summer morning at the Van Gogh Museum? I was smiling, waiting for the doors to open, lost in thoughts of my love in Ireland and my Vincent moments away.
It was as if someone snapped their fingers and all daydreaming vanished. Simultaneously, the mushrooms kicked in and it started to rain. Like soldiers, everyone in line opened their umbrellas at the same time. Small umbrellas. Fat umbrellas. Blue umbrellas. Red umbrellas. Tall umbrellas. The rain ricocheted off a purple umbrella and pelted my cheek. Drops from the sky navigated toward me like cerulean computerized bullets. We had to find cover, but fear rendered us frozen.
The people started chanting in foreign rhymes, their dry clothes an array of paisley and stripes. A woman held tight to a set of twin babies with blonde hair helmeted to their heads. They too mumbled nonsense. Umbrella-less, Jacquie and I were trapped in some Dr. Suess nightmare. We could not speak. Like wet cats amid a pack of pit bulls, we grabbed each other’s hand, did a quick chin nod signifying it was time to run. We didn’t look back. We made it to the street, jumped in a cab, and somehow communicated the name of our hotel to the driver.
Amsterdam is an architecturally breathtaking city full of color, canals, and culture. I missed all of that on the cab ride from the museum to our hotel because Jacquie and I were crouched down in the car, police sirens murdering our ears. The only time I had heard similar sounds was a documentary I had watched on World War II. The few glimpses I did catch of buildings I was sure to be Anne Frank’s hideout.
Philosopher’s Stones my ass! I had eaten Nazi Time Machine mushrooms.
I don’t remember how we paid the cab driver, because speech failed us. Somehow, sweating and trying to do our best we-are-not-Americans-or-Jewish walk, we made it to our tiny, fourth floor hotel room. I sunk into the queen mattress and Jacquie turned on the television. If I could have spoken, I would’ve told her what a good idea that was, that maybe the TV could take us to a better place. Jacquie flipped through stations to find something in English and while I imagine most of the shows were in Dutch, all I heard was hard German.
I managed to swat my hand to signal Jacquie to turn it off, but something else had taken over her. She stood in front of the television as if she were hypnotized and repeated every word that she heard. Once in a while she would turn her head and look at me as if she were giving me some foreign order. I had to muster up language. Sweat slid down my forehead and stood at attention on the tip of my nose. “Stop it, please!” She kept going. The tiny hotel room grew even tinier. “Jacquie, please.” I covered my ears. Jacquie could not stop.
I ran to the bathroom, slammed and locked the door. First, I vomited. Then I made the mistake of looking in the mirror, every sin I had ever committed plastered to my disgusting face. I spent the next hour crouched under the sink, crying about Anne Frank, crying about everything I had ever learned about The Holocaust, and crying about all the wrong things I had ever done. The pills I had stolen from grandpa. The time my friend Tamara was passed out a party and I chose the ugliest guy possible and told him that she liked him and was waiting in the bed for him. Cheating on Kevin with the neighbor boy simply because he had accused me of doing so. Breaking my best friend Kelly’s heart by seeing the guy she loved behind her back. The pills I had stolen from my grandmother. Not seeing Jeff Buckley in concert when I was 17.
The time I had spent in the bathroom seemed evidence enough to me that the world was an ugly place and I was just one more ugly person in it. When I walked back into the room, Jacquie motioned for me to come to the window. I placed my face against the glass. “I’m never going to be okay,” I said.
“Jen, this was a really bad idea.” A mustard seed of hope planted itself in my heart. She was speaking English.
“I hate Amsterdam,” I said, with conviction. She nodded in agreement. We stared out the window for several hours, watched men walk by the prostitute across the street in a red lit window. Sometimes they would back up and take a closer look and then scurry on to their lives. The more I looked outside, the more my insides became familiar.