An Essay by Gabriel Tronson
I didn’t see her, and now, when I look at my dog before leaving for work, I think of my grandmother quarantined in the hospital. My grandfather got moved away, headed to Hopkins for physical therapy after some recovery. Her only company was strangers. I imagine, because of her deteriorating gray matter, she might’ve forgotten about the pandemic and wondered why no family members were visiting during her days on Earth.
She’d hold the same bewildered expression as my husky when I get ready for work: why am I being abandoned?
I didn’t see her, and now I think about the wicked trip one of my friends had on shrooms. He’d told me the story of how he took a handful of shrooms because he was bored on a Thursday afternoon and proceeded to have the worst four hours of his life. He described it as real suffering, something your average person in the middle class would never experience. Every time he closed his eyes, he saw evil. All of his emotions felt like they were vacuum sealed and stowed away, replaced with terror as he realized the psychedelics were trying to tell him something, some forbidden knowledge lurking behind the curtain of reality. My friend sat for hours trying not to think of this horrible knowledge because he was sure if he let the psychedelics tell it to him, he’d go insane.
I wonder about the veracity of this experience, if there is some brutal truth behind the surface of our existence, hidden out of necessity by ego. These thoughts keep me up at night while I stare at the ceiling and listen to a distant train’s bellow roll through the trees outside.
I didn’t see her, and now, whenever I’m at a store, and I see someone not wearing a mask, a volcanic emotion bubbles inside me. I feel I’m going to squirm from the inside out like another person is living inside me, capable of unthinkable intentions. The anti-maskers have such defiance in their eyes as they browse like they’re daring someone to try and force them to show compassion for their fellow human. I guess putting a piece of cloth across their face is too much of a bother. In my eyes, these people are unsalvageable, self-centered, malignant creatures a step away from humanity because intelligent creatures void of empathy are an enigma to me. If given a choice between doing something to hurt others or doing something to helps others, why not help others? Why not use your miraculous self-awareness to spread love instead of hate? The majority of humanity takes its free will for granted.
This newfound rage doesn’t seem like my own. It’s too much for a human mind to accommodate.
If there is a God, who’s to say they’re perfect? What if, in their realm of existence, they’re a middle-class God who’s putting in just enough hours to keep our totality running. Maybe this rage belongs to the universe, and it’s angry self-aware creatures in such an awe-inspiring, three-dimensional reality can be so self-centered.
I hadn’t seen her for months before I got a text from my father that said the doctors didn’t sound too hopeful about her condition, and I got to thinking hope is just a worm stuck to a sharp hook. Hope is the happiness dangling just out of reach, promising everything will work out as we chase the bait into the trap. We all need something to hope for. Otherwise, there’s no point in pushing onwards through the grinder.
I can’t help but ask, what is there to hope for? An end to the devious monotony of the 40-hour workweek after a blur of middle-age that stops being painful only to turn dull, which is somehow worse, then to retire into a life of bodily pains. Loved ones get plucked from the Earth in front of you like you’re strapped into some device inspired by Clockwork Orange. You get abandoned in a retirement home and rarely visited by your family because they’re too busy or too tired or too bewildered to see you, but you know it’s an excuse. They could’ve made time to see you if they wanted to.
Maybe this is the gruesome secret: hope is our greatest tormenter.
I didn’t see her, and now I get waves of encompassing despair, which make me acutely aware of my skin, sexuality, and gender and how these surround me in a puffy cloud of privilege. I wonder how someone like me, who has it easy, can feel such despondency. I think about my friend who had a bad shroom trip and described it as real suffering. I think about how I’ve never suffered, just had inconveniences. My thoughts go to minorities and everything they have to face. I’ve never had to experience racism, poverty, or police brutality. It makes me feel ashamed. It makes me feel weak. It makes me want to be better.
I didn’t see her, and now I’ve done more prep than usual for my next acid trip because I fear she might speak to me. I’ve never had an immediate family member die. I don’t know the underlying repercussions rippling through me.
In my prep, I’ve explored many stories of other people’s acid trips, mostly through Reddit, and came across one user who said they stared into a mirror for an hour during the peak of the trip before coming to the conclusion they were face to face with their god. With this came a strong sense of Deja Vu and the positivity they were dead, and the brain’s only way to cope with death was to relive the same life on repeat for the rest of eternity.
Maybe it’s the horrible secret: eternal recurrence is our reality. I’ve been dead for millions of years, reliving the same life in an endless cycle because the brain can’t comprehend non-existence and can only replay the only thing it knows: its life. That would mean you, reading this, are also dead. Sorry you had to hear it this way.
I didn’t see her, and then it was too late; I couldn’t see her because of a virus prying us apart. People still refuse masks. One of my coworkers told me it was bullshit, and everybody dies. Another of my coworkers said we’re weeding out the weak. My friend, with his lousy shroom trip, has vowed never to retake psychedelics. He said they brought him too close to the truth. My hope is a pain I carry with me, and my privilege is a weakness. I used my grandmother’s death as an excuse to smoke weed despite trying to quit for the eleventh time, but she is more than an excuse, and it’s time I become more than a white man with a comfortable life ignoring the turbulence around me. It’s time I accept I’m weak.
I loved her, and I didn’t get to see her when it mattered. The pain this presents reassures me I am alive; this life is not on repeat.
The pain helps motivate me to celebrate my grandmother’s journey instead of focusing on her absence. Its possible death is beautiful on the other side, dissolution of ego and a return to universal consciousness. Though, I often wonder where my grandmother is now and what she’s experiencing, if it’s nothing but darkness akin to that before she was born, or if she still has some level of consciousness without the boundaries of being a physical being in a three-dimensional reality.
Or maybe the horrible secret is there’s no reality. We make a reality in our heads, which means that we are face-to-face with our god when we look into the mirror.
Edit post-acid trip: my grandmother did not speak to me, though I did have a dream of her the night before. We were in the kitchen of the senior living apartment where she’d spent the last year of her life, and she was looking at me with her face folded into an expression of worry as I smoked a cigarette. I’ve never smoked a cigarette before in my life, yet somehow my sleeping mind produced the sensation. I remember tasting the melancholy that rolled off her.
The acid trip was intense. There are a few distinct moments that stick out in my memory like pins.
First: there was a point during the peak when I looked into the mirror and watched my right eye melt and slide down my face. It shocked me away from the mirror for the rest of the trip and much of the next day.
Second: my husky was frightened of me while I was tripping as if she knew. My friend, who had the shitty shroom trip, once told me his cats oddly looked at him during psychedelic trips—just an interesting notion.
Third: I may have figured out the horrible secret. I had an epiphany while I was in the shower watching the ceiling crystalize. We, as a species, are nothing. Even if we destroy Earth with our parasitic consumption, the universe is vaster than we can comprehend and will continue onwards without us for eternity. We’ll never know why we’re here unless death holds some form of an answer. In this case, my grandmother might already know the secrets of existence. It amazes me to think she’s already experienced one of the most terrifying parts of being alive: the ending.
Gabriel Tronson lives in Minnesota with his girlfriend where he has a warehouse job and spends most of his monotonous working hours thinking up stories. He received an AFA in creative writing from Anoka-Ramsey College and published work in the Havik Literary Anthology and Stoneboat Fiction.