“Just say no.” If only I had taken the warning more seriously, I’d be in college now. That’s what people say looking back, if only I had known, if I could go back, if only… I loved him like a brother, I utterly trusted him, I knew him better than anyone … at least that’s what I thought.
I met Carl the summer between fourth and fifth grade. My family moved into the house next to where he had always lived. Our mothers were becoming acquainted over the fence when he invited me to jump on his trampoline. I was a year older than him, but he still topped me by two inches. He liked chocolate cake, I preferred carrot cake, I read novels, he fancied comic books. We both favoured comedies when we went to the movies and we loved climbing trees, but he climbed faster and higher than me.
When September rolled around, we were inseparable. We compared scars on our scraped knees, we chased frogs in the creek that flowed past our houses, on rainy days we built forts with run-down sheets and clothespins. To his friends he introduced me as his little sister even though I was older.
Every summer I spent two weeks with Carl and his family at their cabin in the mountains. At the bottom of the stone stairs was a large lake in which we fished for bass and caught bullfrogs. In the winter, when we visited Grandma in Florida, Carl would accompany us for a few days then fly back home, tanned and smelling of coconut oil. His dad showed us how to play backgammon, and my mom used to play Clue with us because two people can’t play.
It was on his shoulders that I rested my head to mourn my first heartbreak. “The bastard left me three days after he tore my hymen!” I confessed, laughing falsely through my tears. Carl denied it but I’m sure he took a swing at the guy and gave him the black eye. When Carl had an essay to write for his English class, I would always spruce it up the night before. I introduced him to my friends as my little brother even if at 17 he was a foot taller than me.
A week before I left for college, my parents threw me a “Good luck” party to which the girls from my softball team, Carl and the boys from his football team were invited. My dad cooked burgers on the BBQ, his dad was the DJ. Dad loved barbecuing, marinating meats and then watching them while chatting with guests, a beer in one hand and a spatula in the other.
Our friends were divided into more or less three groups; some were in the pool playing Marco Polo, others playing volleyball, but most of them were just sitting on the terrace discussing their studies, the first season’s football game and the various outings over the weekend.
Bopping heads and flailing arms, that’s what I saw from the tree house at the top of the big oak. I had taken refuge there because while I enjoyed the company of people, I also needed my space after socializing so much. The hatch lifted and Carl’s smiling face popped up.
“What are you doing here?”
“I needed to recharge my batteries.”
“Will you make room for me in your bubble?”
“You know very well that you’re always welcomed in my bubble.”
Since I’ve known him, Carl had never laughed at my quirks and I loved him all the more for it. I knew our friends thought that I was weird, but he respected my need to stay away sometimes. He sat next to me and we watched the party unfold in our backyards. After a while, he bumped my shoulder playfully.
“Jeff asked me to give you his surprise if I found you.”
He reached into the front pocket of his jeans and pulled out a sachet containing two capsules. I frown. Not that we’re angels or anything but Carl and I avoided drugs out of respect for our respective sport, so I didn’t quite understand what he was offering me. He must have read the confusion on my face because he immediately explained himself.
“It’s not what you think, well, maybe it is, but I’m asking you to trust me. It’s not some junk street drug. It’s not gonna damage your goddess body.”
He winks conspiratorially at me.
“OK, what is it then?”
“It’s … um… Jeff calls it Spirit Liberator. I tried it once with him. It was the most amazing experience I have ever had. It gives the impression … no, no … you … it’s tough to explain … you have to live it to understand. It’s … soothing but at the same time … exhilarating. You travel at high speed through a tunnel of lights and then after … you let yourself get carried where your mind takes you. You have some kind of out-of-body experience and you visit other dimensional worlds and… I … saw my brother.”
Breathless, he went silent. Carl rarely talks about his late brother. Too painful a subject to share, even with me. I respected his silence as I tried to take in what he just told me. Do I really want to travel in a tunnel of light? Get out of my body? It scared me a little. It seemed a lot like dying … this experience. His voice shook off my stupor.
“It gives you the ability to radically transform your outlook on everything. It brings a profound change, a different perception of yourself, and a new understanding of reality…”
“Wow! I didn’t know you were so … esoteric. I don’t really want to elevate myself or change my self-perception… I like my perception and I feel good in my body.”
“It barely lasts an hour. And I swear you’ll feel wonderful afterwards. Come on, trust me.”
I looked him straight in the eye. I picked one of the pills and brought it quietly to my mouth. I hesitated then downed it with a sip of beer. At worst, I convinced myself, we’ll be “back” in an hour. I passed him the bottle, and he too swallowed the capsule. I laid down next to him, he held my hand and we awaited the effects .
I wanted to tell him that his surprise wasn’t working at all, but my mouth refused to open and my hand wouldn’t squeeze his. I tried to get up, yet my body was shaking like a leaf. I was terrified, then I felt an intense feeling of letting go, as if I was taking off like in a plane, but in slow motion.
I saw the dancing wings of a bee showing me the way. I thought how weird it was for a bee to be flying at night but then I realised I was bathing in a soft, warm, enveloping light and all was well. I was flying above the trees, the school, and the lake breathing in pumpkin spice flavored air.
At that precise moment, I had no fear, no worries. I was one with nature, the human race, and the universe. My heart was beating to the rhythm of humanity’s heartbeat. For the first time I felt such joy, pure and total. All my doubts dispelled, my insecurities abated, I was there, exactly where I needed to be, whole and free.
Suddenly I was pulled back, I spun around and found myself staring back at me. I knew right away something was wrong.
“Carl, what are you doing here? YOU’RE IN MY BODY”
He kept quiet.
“I don’t know what happened. Our threads got tangled up and I found myself in your body… I think”
When he got up and left with my body, my heart sank. I tried to reason with him, I got mad, I cried, I begged him, nothing worked. He deemed my body shell comfortable, “It’s very soft and cozy in you”. I complained to my mom, she didn’t believe me. When I insisted, she told his mother about it and I was threatened with interning if I kept messing around. So Carl started college in my place and I’m in twelfth grade again. Yep.
Well, I should concentrate on the game otherwise the huge linebacker, charging toward me like a bull, will kill me.