Restless To Mescal

Ryan Heller
Like a dark cloud at rest, a child cocooned. Like the silent stir of restless incubation, the gentle beat of a heart awakens. It’s like a dormant truth, a sinuous fact of an unassuming body. The need for more, a yearning so pure it’s understood without understanding. Feels like a twitch of the skin, a shadow within, not yet ready but no longer quiet.

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Like I need to break free.
Like there’s a world inside me.
But there are street signs and road maps, clothing tags and questions. There’s this layer of leather bound to muscle, muscle to bone. This layer I want to peel back, rip off with sandpaper. Trapped within a vessel, within the clothes on my back, within the confines of a label, the grid of a roadway, rules and predetermined structure. It’s like I want to sink my fingers in, shove my hand inside, massage and muddle till everything breaks apart.
Like I can breathe again.
Like inspiration breeds again.
Stifled. Caged. Swaddled. The captive and the captor, the hawk imprisoned. To spread his wings, to spread those wings and fly –
When it’s been so long.
When the winds have changed.
I know there is more.
Joe stands opposite me in the kitchen, eyes large, excitable black holes. Swirling with mischief, lit by a surge of turntable constellations. Radiohead’s “How To Disappear Completely” on the stereo. Tonight is a wash of random blah, the result of two discontent twenty-something’s with nothing to do and a pocket of mushrooms.
His skin translucent, the flesh of an albino gecko surrounded within a milky glow. A friend for ten years, Joe knows me well, has heard this same melancholy droll before. And before. And before. Never on mushrooms though, no this certainly is a first. But it all pretty much sounds the same. It all pretty much looks the same.
It looks like this: Me across from him. Him staring at me curiously.
One of the most intelligent people I’ve known, painfully brilliant with an heir of pomp superiority. If not submerged within works of philosophy or classical music, Joe is down to explore whatever mind-altering substance is put in front of him. Always hunting for the next thing, the next person to intrigue him like a cat with a hang toy. Something he can bat, examine, sink his teeth into until no longer of use. A puzzle solved.
I met Joe ten years earlier through a mutual friend. Both in rival private Catholic schools, he was a sophomore to my freshman. It was 1999 when Amber introduced us during a talent show at school. We sat toward the front row side by side bathed under blue light. Me with mounting nerves while Joe was seemingly carefree, wearing dark grey corduroys and a black t-shirt. He was funny, handsome, smart. His quick-wit and elitist attitude offered a contagious feeling of mutual superiority. We later walked the campus lost in a bubble of budding teenage adoration. Within weeks Joe was my first boyfriend, within months he was my first heartbreak.
And by heartbreak, I mean I may have gone a little crazy. And by a little crazy, I mean borderline volatile stalker meets cry me a river meets vengeful, angst fueled, Sarah McLachlan filled sixteen-year-old gay boy swinging boldly, blindly in the name of love.
But that was then.
Joe and I remained friends during high school and closer friends in college. He watched me fumble through relationships, one drug induced mess after another; while I watched him travel, play with fire but avoid trouble, graduate law school, pass his bar exam and become a lawyer.
Which ultimately leads us here.
Me finally just graduating college after an eight-year, three-school stint; twenty-six and once again living with my parents. Joe stays over while they’re away on vacation. Minus the heartbreak and occasional blow-job, it’s like our teenage years all over again.
Conversation circles.
High on mushrooms.
A large square of raw canvas is spread across the floor with a dozen or so pastels scattered. I’d been drawing while Joe watched my hand feverishly scribble red and blue circular patterns over and over. Yellow lines fluidly weave through as if drawing themselves, loosely outlining a nose, mouth, eyes. The action automatic, free of thought or intention, just movement guided by impulse and feeling. Guided by music. Sound. Emotion.
Joe picks up his iPod, tells me he has a song to play. Which takes us to now, me standing across from him in the kitchen. Radiohead’s “How To Disappear Completely” envelops the house, saturates every corner, every wood grain and cotton fiber.
This song.
As a tear wells in my eye.
As a tear rolls down my cheek.
Because I think it is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard.
Because I think I’m unbelievably depressed.
Because I’m high on mushrooms.
Or quite possibly all the above.
“I don’t know what to do,” I say to Joe. “I can’t feel like this anymore.”
He asks what I mean.
And for a moment I’m speechless. It’s like catching a firefly in a jar, I see the emotion or whatever I’m feeling but can’t catch it. Can’t figure it out. I just know it’s always there flying around, weighing on my chest heavier by the minute.
If this were a movie there would be a close up of my face right now. Of red, distant eyes and slightly parted lips. The song would rise and pull you deeper into the moment. Because it’s that important. The song is that important to this moment. My head shakes slowly, almost undetectably from side to side as if to say, I don’t know what I mean.
Silently, painfully thinking, it doesn’t matter anymore.
Thom Yorke wails in the form of a figure eight, weaving circles in and out of himself.
Like a hand in my chest.
Like a blanket round my body.
“I don’t know what I want,” I say. “Anymore. I don’t know what I want anymore. Maybe I never did.”
Words trail to silence. Face still, another well of water builds, glazes the surface of my eyes. I look toward Joe, his face covered in a pulsing beam of white light that extends to the glass sliding doors behind him. Glittering, iridescent specks of dust sparkle like rain in the moonlight. Arms cold, tingling with life. Feet dip into the floor as music builds to a crescendo, feel the floor swallow my ankles. Close my eyes and become engulfed in blackness, sinking rapidly into the ground; through wood floors, cement foundation, rich earth soil, deeper into the crust of our planet, further toward the core. Sinking to the mantle, my body ablaze.
Till I open my eyes.
Till I see Joe smiling, staring at me with a look of curiosity on his face. He laughs and asks where I went. I tell him I went underground. He smiles.
“So you don’t know what you want,” he states very matter-of-fact. “Then forget that part right now. What do you like?”
These types of questions always stump me, mushrooms or not. It took years just to figure out the music I like, to be okay with my own interests and not what I thought other people deemed acceptable. For so long I based my likes and dislikes around other people in order to fit in, to the point where I began to lose myself.
But I respond.
I tell him, music and art.
“Okay so what are you doing with your art?”
“Nothing anymore. I had that one show in Miami. I mean I just graduated with my BFA and did a ton of artwork for school –“
“But what about for you? What are you doing now for you and your art?”
“Well I don’t really have the studio space since I’m back at my parents house, so it’s hard to –“
“Doesn’t matter,” he cuts me off. “Is there an exhibition or artist you really want to see? It can be anywhere in the world. Something you can’t miss.”
“I’d have to look. I like Francis Bacon and Richard Prince, I don’t know if there’s an exhibit anywhere. I doubt there’s one around here.”
Joe revs up. “How about a band or musician?”
I ask what he means.
“Is there a musician you’d travel to see? Not someone you can check out locally. I’m talking about getting on a plane and making an effort. Have you ever travelled to experience something you love?”
And I’m silent.
Because the truth is I never have. It begins to sink deeper that there’s nothing I care enough about to risk leaving my comfort zone. To hop on a plane because I had to experience it.
So I tell him no.
“Is there anything you would leave South Florida for?”
“What gets you excited?”
I hate these fucking questions.
“Nothing,” I push back. “Nothing gets me excited. I don’t know, Joe. I feel so empty inside, like someone took an ice cream scoop and gutted me to the core. I mean I paint, I just graduated with a BFA in graphic design, I want to be a famous artist but –“
“But what?” He asks.
“But honestly, if I’m being completely honest, I don’t think I really care about any of it. Like it’s all bullshit to me. I went to school for art, say I want to be this great artist or whatever, but it feels like a lie. Like I see other people who really care about it, it’s what they talk about, what they study and think about all the time. It’s what they do in their free time. They live and breathe this thing that they’re passionate about and I –“
“What are you passionate about?”
I shove a hand against my face and rub my eyes. Run fingers through my hair. Shake my head.
And there it is. I have no passion, no drive, nothing I’d actually make an effort to explore. To immerse myself in. Nothing shakes me, challenges me. Nothing plagues my brain with new ideas and creative obsession.
No sense of purpose.
I invest a fraction of myself but never give all of me to anything. Instead I chose to disappear in chemical escape – because it’s easier to feel nothing than to feel nothing. Easier to be numb than to be aware. But for only so long can anyone sustain life buried underground, eventually roots weave through soil and buds sprout toward sun. It is in our makeup to grow, to want more, to long for something greater because we inherently know our burning potential. And you can turn a blind eye, take another drink, switch on another movie, cry another tear – but at some point, at some point the nagging voice that whispers to take a risk for once in your fucking life – that nagging voice becomes a shrill call for action. Something inside you breaks and you can’t possibly bear to live the same way anymore.
Joe asks what I’m passionate about and I am at a loss for words.
It’s not the mushrooms, not the music. It’s not my age or a lack of understanding. It may not be any one thing or may be one very obvious thing. The truth is I don’t know. Up to this point I’ve coasted in my comfort zone, lived to get by, to please others and find acceptance in all the wrong places. Fear of change, of taking risk, the hesitation to believe in anything let alone myself. A young man searching so desperately for purpose, for meaning in a life he let slip by.
Is there anything I care enough about to make an effort for?
By now a classical piece has started to play, Bach or some composer Joe deemed perfect for the moment. He seems distracted as his pointer fingers dance, conducting the arrangement with precision. One might think Joe actually is distracted but I’ve come to learn the brilliant mind always juggles a multitude of cards, never fixated solely on one thing. He can conduct Bach while playing my shrink and reading Goethe all at the same time. Locked on me, he paces shortly with those dancing hands. I await insight to fix the hole inside me. Watch him walk back and forth. Watch a trail of sparkling light swim along windows and furniture, up walls and countertops like neon pulsing through a glass cylinder.
Back and forth.
But I realize, I realize as his lips move and glitter rains from the ceiling. As a friend of many years offers another speech about following my dream or embracing my potential, I realize as three-dimensional space bends around me that no one will have the answer. His lips move in slow motion, words drown out by the rise of music and my burrowing introspection. He speaks but I hear nothing because I know whatever is being said, whatever wisdom Joe bestows upon me is fruitless. I’ve been here before, this same conversation – with Joe, with my mother, any other friend I thought had a solution. The fix. When the agonizing truth is –
There is no answer.
Only I have the key, a key I’ve scoured every dark corner to find; only now beginning to understand it’s been buried inside me the whole time. On an endless scavenger hunt of sex, relationships, drugs, abandoned projects, people – all resulting in the same outcome. The same stale feeling. The same conversation.
What am I passionate about? What do I care about? But most importantly, and this is the big one, most importantly –
Who am I?
Joe let’s out one of his high-pitched cackles, the sound of a mad scientist or ailing great-grandmother. He’s probably telling a story about some philosopher or historical figure I could care less about, maybe tying everything neatly together in some Freudian package. This is who I’ve come to for answers – an old friend turned attorney high on mushrooms. Because he must know something I don’t, because he must be capable of things I’m not, because he has an ‘adult job’ and graduated law school. Because he’s not me.
At what point do I turn inward and trust myself?
At what point do I stop searching for something outside me to fix what’s inside me?
Years earlier as a freshman in college I became fixated on creating the perfect environment to stage my life. My bedroom had to be reflective of who I wanted to be, the person I felt would make me more interesting, exciting, acceptable – whatever. If I created this exterior bubble of Francis Bacon and H.R. Geiger posters, had enough dismembered creepy doll parts scattered around, the right lighting and music at all times, the black mesh net draped round my bed. If I had enough lava lamps –
And that’s when the great lava lamp addiction of 2002 began.
The artfully crafted bedroom was no longer enough, didn’t fill me with a sense of identity. But lava lamps would. You’d be surprised how many types of lava lamps exist. There’s your everyday, run-of-the-mill one that looks like something from a science lab; you know, a fetus floating in formaldehyde. A little piglet preserved for eternity. There’s ones with neon wax floating in colored liquid that glow the most brilliant, hypnotizing hues – I had a few of those. Miniature lava lamps, oversized lava lamps, even ones with varied bases that look more futuristic. Needless to say if ever there were a lava lamp historical society, I’d be their first call.
Joe fumbles with his iPod to change the song. Another classical piece that sounds just like the last. I remember when we dated I quickly grew to love classical music, read works of philosophy, sociology – anything to become more like him. The insecure person is so unbelievably gifted at being anything other than themselves, flexing and molding to whomever or whatever they need. To feel better, to feel included, to feel accepted.
The lava lamp collection grew until it reached an unexpected expected expiration. I’m always surprised when these bouts of passion and purpose come to their end, when suddenly a lava lamp or boyfriend or drug no longer fills the hole inside. When it’s me left wondering what I’m here for, what do I care about, who am I?
Who am I?
Joe wanders the house. Our talk has ended because there’ll never be resolve, at least not one I’m ready to accept. I wish the night would end, the high come down and my eyes focus on something other than what’s not really there.
I drift toward the canvas, still sprawled across the floor. An energetic mess of movement and color, the makings of a face stare back at me. It looked so much better twenty minutes ago. Maybe I’ll never be the next great artist. Maybe art isn’t my thing. The romance of that moment, of the perfect song and creative outpour is gone. That canvas will forever remain rolled in my parent’s garage until thrown away.
Like a dark cloud at rest, a child cocooned. Like the silent stir of restless incubation, the gentle beat of a heart awakens. It’s like a dormant truth, a sinuous fact of an unassuming body. The need for more, a yearning so pure it’s understood without understanding. Feels like a twitch of the skin, a shadow within, not yet ready but no longer quiet.
Like I need to break free.
Like there’s a world inside me.
But there are street signs and road maps, clothing tags and questions. There’s this layer of leather bound to muscle, muscle to bone. This layer I want to peel back, rip off with sandpaper. Trapped within a vessel, within the clothes on my back, within the confines of a label, the grid of a roadway, rules and predetermined structure. It’s like I want to sink my fingers in, shove my hand inside, massage and muddle till everything breaks apart.
Like I can breathe again.
Like inspiration breeds again.
Stifled. Caged. Swaddled. The captive and the captor, the hawk imprisoned. To spread his wings, to spread those wings and fly –
When it’s been so long.
When the winds have changed.
I know there is more.
And there it is again. The need to rediscover, uncover purpose and plague myself with wonder. What else is there? It’s been seven years since Joe and I had our conversation, seven years and I still remember those questions like a moment breathing down my neck.
What am I passionate about? What would I step out my comfort zone for – take a risk because it’s everything I believe in?
Who am I?
Seven years and everything has changed but so much remains the same. I’m over five years sober, married and two children on the way, blessing upon blessing with so much gratitude. We travel, own property, have a life I never could have imagined seven years ago. Seven years ago while living at my parent’s house eating mushrooms with Joe, feeling nothing would change.
But I find myself at a similar crossroad, haunted by those same questions.
Still a furrowed-brow kid wondering what else is there.
The nagging itch of unsettled, restless motivation to do something, something that stretches heart space and expands the spirit. Like I’m walking my path, living with purpose.
Many years were spent searching for myself. I didn’t know at the time, at the time I was a little boy singing songs and playing make believe. At the time I was a teenager filled with angst and self-doubt, swimming in dark waters to see how far I could go. At the time I was a young man aimlessly bouncing like a pinball through life, picking up pieces of a shattered self. At the time I began to finally let go just a little, a tiny bit, which is when the first clearing of a new trail was revealed. At the time I was a child once again, learning to walk on my own. At the time I held a steady stride, quickening my pace along cinnamon colored earth. And at that time I did not knew I’d already begun an uphill journey toward light. The trail may narrow, may become hard to see or covered in brush, but I trust it remains constant. When in those times the path seems to disappear I need only look ahead, focus on the signs, listen to birds chirp in the distance who guide with their beckoning call. Because sometimes it gets scary, sometimes I turn back and realize just how far I’ve come. In unknown territory, unfamiliar terrain, completely removed from everything I know. In those times I need to change perspective. Need to realize again just how far I’ve come and see how incredibly amazing it is. To look at the trail behind, recognize the miles of land I’ve walked, the ground beneath my feet, the path ahead and know I’m exactly where I need to be. At this time, this exact time, I recognize the distance one can travel completely unaware of their trail. And at this time I once again recognize a deeper yearning for more. To move from hill to mountain and begin the climb. Grip rock firmly with both hands and pull my body up. Use every bit of strength to make the steep upward trek toward a new unknown.
When the gnawing sensation of restless wonder is felt, we have to know it’s natural. It’s natural to want more, to desire a greater sense of purpose and feel frustrated when nothing seems to move. The thirst for more heightens with our ability to explore new heights. As we grow so does our need to advance. Sitting behind a desk for hours per day thinking no way is this my purpose, even a job once loved because it was exactly what you wanted. But it’s been a few years and the routine is stale, the people are familiar, the work no longer challenging. I always forget how narrow my perspective can be, placing all my worth in one or two compartments. Defined by relationships or lava lamps, careers or hobbies. But when these things no longer fill me with purpose, which inevitably they will not, I am again at a place of seeking. Questioning. To seek is beautiful, a gift of our human nature. That innate ability to crawl then walk, run then fly. But seeking can be debilitating when it becomes searching. Searching for the next thing that offers purpose rather than opening ourselves to the trail. Seeking is necessary curiosity while searching is restless desperation. Seeking paired with adventure breeds the greatest opportunity to reach mountaintops. Adventure is action, the climb that stops seeking from becoming searching. Only then can we live in the light of our purpose and follow the trail ahead. When hindsight is gifted and you look back to find how perfectly constructed it’s all been; look back and think, I’ve come so far.
It’s not about giving up to start anew, not about finding the next great thing to ignite passion and align with purpose. It’s about staying within the energy of the present moment and continuing on the path, remaining teachable and open to receive guidance along the way. It’s about patiently allowing the story to unfold not as I think it should or wish it would, but as it will.
Wonder is good.
Seeking is instrumental.
And action is key.
We have to constantly reexamine and explore what we want because what we want changes as we grow. Like rereading a book from childhood, there are layers of meaning only inherited at different stages in life because our ability to understand and relate deepens. Once we stop defining purpose by individual things and simply keep moving, the climb becomes easier and path becomes clearer. We must learn when to shut the mind up and allow our heart to lead, which is probably much more than I realize. My mind is a constant churning beast that loves to talk over intuition. A raging egomaniac with an inferiority complex. But I’m working on it!
The itch for more, the search for inspiration, the sudden need to find purpose and passion in life has left me feeling trapped once again. Questioning what I want, who I am, why I’m here. A drained well has left me parched, thirsting for more. Searching. Trapped in a tailspin of the next thing and the next thing. Bored with work, with routine, writing no longer a challenge. The stirring of new ideas, that cocooned child ready to awaken, the suffocating desire to shed skin and abandon all constraints of imposed structure – to break free. A reckless urge to peel back everything I know, to jump off the mountain rather than hike because maybe, just maybe, there’s something better down below. Something more.
But it’s lava lamp shit.
Instead of searching, I need to trust the trail and know I’ll be climbing soon enough. And, who knows, I may already be. Only time allows for the ability of hindsight when I can look back, look back at this exact moment – writing these words – thinking, there it is. Those answers, the ‘more’ I’d been searching for was in motion the whole time. I was living it the whole time.
I am living it.
I am living it.
I am.

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