09 acid tripLSD, June 30, 2007.
I woke up early on the morning of my introduction to acid with no idea what was to come. In fact, my plans for the day involved a wholly different first time I had been planning for months: seeing Morrissey, former frontman of the Smiths and current superhero of my heart and life, in concert. My then-boyfriend, Craig (not his real name), and I were about to hop on the bus to New York City at around seven in the morning to queue for 12 hours so I could get a good spot for the show. Just before we left, Craig glanced at his email, which brought us the crushing communiqué that the show had been canceled because Moz’s voice box was malfunctioning. I, of course, immediately took to bed, wailing inconsolably.

After a few hours of trying to coax me out of my Morrissey-less hysteria, Craig suggested we make the day special in another way. We drove to our drug-dealer buddy’s parents’ house, the entire basement of which the dealer naturally occupied, sharing it with some hulking reptiles, a PlayStation, and a freezer full of LSD. We decided to drop for the first time right then and there.

After a few hours of trying to coax me back into some lesser state of all-encompassing Morrisseyless hysteria, Craig suggested we make the day special in another way. We drove to our drug dealer buddy’s parents’ house, where he occupied, naturally, the entire basement, sharing it only with some hulking reptiles, a PlayStation, and a freezer full of acid. It was raining, so we decided to drop right then and there for our first time. I had done mushrooms a few times before, but only after thorough consideration and planning, with someone sober hanging out with me in case I needed to be calmed down, and plenty of room to explore the outside world and ~the wonders of nature~ safely while I tripped. Not in a stinky, windowless basement with an iguana cage in the corner after what seemed like the most colossal disappointment of at least all time, and certainly never as impulsively as on this particular night. When the drugs whooshed through my system, I wanted badly to go outside, but not by myself in the rain. The guys, conversely, wanted to play Guitar Hero and not listen to me talk about the Smiths. I sat on the hard carpet in front of the TV, fully freaking out about the vast disconnect between the musical experience I thought I’d be having that night in comparison with the two plastic mini-guitars hovering just above my eye level and hacking up a Primus song. I went to the bathroom, gazed at myself in the mirror through a galaxy of rather permanent-looking toothpaste speckles, and said aloud and with ENORMOUS dread, “This is you. You are Amy Rose and this is what your whole life has been building up to: this shitty acid trip. You are willfully by yourself in a bathroom in order to escape being forced to listen to Guitar Hero.” Let this moment be a lesson to us all: Do NOT give a devastated Morrissey acolyte two tabs of acid after she’s spent the day with her tear-puffed face in a pillow. It’s gonna end with some fatalistic bathroom monologues about inescapable loneliness, which she feels she deserves because of Bad Choices, plus also she will refuse to come out for mad hours, if my case is any indication.

When I did allow myself to leave the confines of the kind of bathroom whose cleanliness was dictated by an acid dealer who wore the same pair of probably-once-they-were-white cargo shorts roughly every day year-round, it was only because Craig promised me we were leaving. I probably wouldn’t have left my tub of despair had I realized that he meant in a CAR (see above motor vehicle-based fear, which was badly exacerbated by the drugs) with some friends of his whom I didn’t like, and whom he also had forgotten to tell we were tripping. This oversight only became clear to everyone once I had repeatedly asked to get out in the pouring rain sixish times in the five-minute ride home and then started screaming after the dudes kept (rightfully) being like, “Uh, no, what is going on here, why are you so fucking petrified?” We finally got home and ended the day in the same place it had begun so hopefully, except now I felt terrible instead of hopeful and happy, and that was kind of exactly what I did not need at that particular juncture of being 16 and VERY miserable. If you’re gonna do acid, don’t do it impulsively and after a heart-decimating disappointment, because you may end up terrified in a dry bath or shrieking “PULL OVER RIGHT NOW OR I’M GOING TO DIE” at some guys you barely know over something as small-potatoes as a popular musical video game. Man, I was so shaken by all of this. THANKS A LOT, MORRISSEY, YA BIG JERK (oh my god just kidding i love you i would love you even if you made me play guitar hero on drugs with you for a week straight)

Don’t do acid, kids, but if you’re gonna do acid, don’t do it on a whim after a heart-decimating disappointment, or you may end up terrified in a dry bath and/or shrieking “PULL OVER RIGHT NOW OR I’M GOING TO DIIIIIE” at some guys you barely know. It’s not that fun of a time, trust.

10 outside at nightWalking outside at night, 2007–2008.
When I was in my last year of high school, my tactical strategy for fumbling my way home from parties was heavily influenced by my constant companion and best friend. She was terrified of every passing car, her logic being that any person who had the gall to be out after dark in our small town was definitely also capable of kidnapping or raping us or worse. In order to avoid what she pictured as a constant barrage of attacks, she made us dive into whatever hedges were available, regardless of potential injury or thorns, whenever she so much as sensed an approaching headlight. The first few times she made me scramble into the sanctuary of neighborhood bushes, which always got severely damaged as a result of two intoxicated teenage bodies stumbling around in them, I rolled my eyes and told her she was being ridiculous, but as it turns out, paranoia can be very contagious if you’re stoney bologna (as we so often were). Her skittishness made an impression on me, and soon enough, I was the one slamming our bodies into the long-suffering shrubbery of our route home, even though nothing sinister ever even came close to happening to us, or at least, it didn’t then.

A year or so later I moved to New York, a place with very little in the way of bushes to hide in, but plenty more in the way of actual predators, than my suburb ever had. Although Manhattan is a far safer city than most movies would have you believe, I did experience many late-night interactions that I didn’t exactly want to be having while walking home from a party, like street harassment and so on—being hissed at by a stranger who could potentially really hurt you has a way of wearing down your nerves. My new college friends and I traveled in groups a lot that first year, which is always a smart idea for a young person in ANY city after dark. But one night, having six friends around me totally didn’t prevent some dude from grabbing my throat and slamming me against a brick wall outside of a subway station at dusk, quietly telling me, with rage in his voice, that he was going to “fucking kill me.” My friends screamed and froze, which is what I had imagined that I would do in my daymares about this very type of situation. Instead, what I did do was drive a lit cigarette into his neck as hard as I could and then, when he ran, chase him down the subway steps until he hopped the turnstile and disappeared.

The instant I couldn’t see him anymore, I began to feel again. I started crying immediately, mostly because I was flooded with sadness about having had to hurt someone, which speaks to the ridiculous degree to which young women are conditioned to think that even defending your life is something you need to feel guilty about.

As I sat in my dorm room that night, trying to sort out everything I felt, the real shock of it all wasn’t that the attack happened in the first place: I knew that women and girls are physically harmed by men all the time, hence the fear’s existence in the first place. The truly impactful part of the experience was that I immediately knew what to do to protect myself, even though my reluctance to hurt another living thing is such that I’ll start sobbing if a person tells me he wants to murder me and I have to do something physical to them to prevent that. The actual ~worst-case scenario~ had totally just gone down, but I had handled it very capably instead of going limp, as I’d imagined I would. Although I started carrying pepper spray after this to sate my parents, I was never truly afraid of walking around at night again, even alone. Since then, I haven’t ruined a single hedge, a fact, which, devoid of context, might mean nothing to someone else, but to me, is something of which I am very proud.

11 not enought time with parentsNot spending enough time with my parents, 2009–present.
When I went to college, I anticipated a few years of never having to hang out with my parents, save for holidays. Our relationship was all frayed and fucked up from addictions (theirs) and an insistent lack of empathy about the places of pain those come from and how hard it must have been for them (mine). I refused to temper my judgment of their family histories, what incredibly young parents they were, how much work they had both done to get sober and try to make things right—anything, really, but my own canyon of hurt about the whole mess.

My self-imposed estrangement plan lasted for approximately six months before I started being accosted by fears to the tune of WHAT IF I NEVER SEE THEM AGAIN? The distance between us had created an inverse vortex of the most intense love I could remember feeling for them since childhood. I was so thrown by this fresh need for closeness that I actually began CALLING them. By CHOICE. Imagine!

Where I once feared death only in the context of a global apocalypse, I realized at 18 that my parents were getting older, and I panicked. Today, I love them more than ever. I want to cram as much of their lives into mine as I can. I sometimes get so freaked out and guilty about projecting this way onto them, though— it makes me feel totally queasy and weird when I catch myself aggressively pushing the idea that all of our time be quality time on them, even though all I actually want to do is listen to my mom talk about her thesis and what the dog did that day instead of having an existential crisis. It’s really fun! See you after I go text my dad four times in a row real quick!

14 centipidesHouse centipedes, always and forever.
Have you seen them? If not, don’t go Google a picture unless you hate not wedging a pair of leggings under the crack of your bedroom door before you go to sleep at night because you accidentally remembered what one looked like and suddenly need to create a perma-seal between yourself and them with whatever happens to be closest to you at the time, even if that’s a pair of Lycra-based leg coverers that you somehow think might stave off hell-bugs. (They won’t.) What awful things these centipedes are. No, I don’t care a whit that they’re harmless to humans, don’t you even start with me right now.

13 this essayThat I didn’t do a good job with this essay, August, 2013.
In writing this bite-size encyclopedia (en-FRIGHTs-lopedia?…OK, I don’t think that pun’s gonna happen), I worry that I have been too cavalier, or not cavalier enough, that I have not accurately described how it feels to truly be afraid or how intertwined that feeling is with anxiety and insecurity. Most of all, I worry that my writing, here and elsewhere, isn’t doing the main job I want it to do, which is to make you (and lots of others, too, but also you specifically) feel like I could be a good friend to you, or that someone else is like you. I’m hoping that I’m wrong.

In writing you this, I’m actively trying to get over not only that fear, but also the same one that expelled me from sleepovers, hounded me as I tried to copycat Capote, and every time I felt otherwise terrified of being a person in a world where external horrors like chalk and balloons are infinitesimal in comparison to the horrors my own brain so often tries to impose on itself. While parts of some fears never truly go away (or at least haven’t for me just yet), part of climbing up through my years of fears is also a gradual ascent past the biting insecurity that I’m less in control of my decisions and other mental goings-on than the things that bother me so much are. I love my parents. I’ll probably learn to drive someday. The world isn’t going to end in my lifetime.

Being afraid of all manner of weird shit is just part of life, and you can’t dictate what that’s going to mean for you specifically—like, would I really have chosen that bizarre foot thing for myself? But you can examine what your feelings are all about and understand that even if the situation you’re bone-achingly afraid of actually does happen, like when I got attacked, it might be horrible, but then it’ll be over and you’ll have one more thing on the list of things you never expected you could have handled as deftly as you did. So stare your shit down. Observe the complexities of your nightmares. While, like me, you might never fully let go of some of your own fears, you might find that being more conscious of them will make you want to dive into the bushes a little less. ♦

Illustrations by Emma D.