Our Little Gardens
They hacked our parents’ prefrontal cortex. Spiked the water with scopolamine. They filled the airwaves with ideas and watched the side-effects wear off. We wondered why they watched TV after work. The part of the brain dealing with free will, amputated and replaced with news anchors.
They watched the chaos ensue.
The young and old were more open to suggestion, their brains transitioning from the “other side.” They plied our parents with extracts from the borrachero tree, passed it off as medicine.
Suddenly the idea of lizard people didn’t sound so absurd.
My therapist says he doesn’t believe in the unconscious. I find this circumspect. Lying in bed during the day with hypnagogic visions flooding my mind. The dissolution of time makes me nauseous. Can’t eat. He believes in psychics, but not a part of the brain that is inaccessible to the conscious mind. How does that work? When everything we tune out makes everything we tune in possible.
Perhaps it was a poor choice of words, or maybe he just really doesn’t understand my position, the threat of disorderly thinking and psychosis looming in the background.
“We just don’t believe in Freud’s idea of the unconscious,” he clarifies.
“Oh, I see,” I say, still unsure of what he means.
He’s nice enough, hard to read. He writes what I say down, adjusts his suit. I wonder what he’s noting, dysfunctional patterns of thought. Skylights filter onto his leather chair. His degrees hang on the wall. He has tribal statues around the room. Distorted human shapes, hyperbolic expressions.
His indoor palm tree seems happy enough. It must be very isolating to be a plant removed from its habitat. That’s how I feel most of the time, isolated, removed, like my head is supposed to be filled with information about foraging and identifying plants, but is filled with abstract logic and useless information.
We talk about depersonalization, how I don’t feel like myself. “Myself” means I feel like I have control, but the feeling is gone, and I feel helpless. I’ve realized how little effect I have over everything, even the little sequences of my day, subject to mere whims and fancies, distractions.
My parents gradually awoke from their stupor. Suddenly they wanted to throw me a party. I paint portraits of inspiring dead people. I fill the walls with faces. Somehow the party morphs into a costume event. I make up the invitations.
I don’t feel like celebrating. I feel like hiding. I wear sunglasses and lay down in the dark. I tell everyone I’m a deceased artist, an artist that wore sunglasses. I don’t want to look anyone in the eyes. They are all strangers.
They will no longer be part of my life. They never were. Everyone is an ephemeral version of themselves.
I pour myself a cranberry and cointreau infused vodka. Oranges float behind condensation and glass. Andy Warhol sings karaoke.
My sister is a sloppy rock singer in a drinking contest with our cousin, who appears to be a tech guru. She barely talks to me. Her indifference makes me sad.
“Who inspires you?” My mother says to my aunt who isn’t dressed up. “That’s the theme of the party!”
My aunt shrugs, as if confused by the premise.
I make awkward small talk. People give me cards stuffed with money. I can feel the contrivance. It crawls under my skin.
I talk to people in the kitchen, Frida Kahlo and an Italian pop singer from the 1950s. At some point my neighbor dressed like Saint Peter gives a speech, “Live with passion and compassion, proceed with optimism, value disciplined thinking, be open to intimacy and love the mystery.” He raises a glass in my direction.
I don’t feel mentally disciplined. I feel like a mental trainwreck. Something I should probably discuss with my therapist.
I can’t handle how everything is changing. I feel unmoored. Everyone is yelling and singing. It’s getting dark and the mosquitos have come out.
My friend plays guitar and I sing along. We stand in front of the fire pit. People take turns performing.
The sun sets. The living room is full of people. There’s so much going on and the house is crowded and messy. I go into a dark room, crawl into a ball, and cry.
I don’t like talking about it. It is precipitated by losing control of thought. Suddenly, imagined technological malfunctions manifest. Errors accumulate. Former cognitive tasks become insurmountable. It’s like being unable to breathe, automatic processes ground to a halt.
You wonder why you should panic. Is panic necessary? Things that are supposed to be funny aren’t. The logic falls apart into absurdism. You try to watch a movie with no plot. The characters travel, forget their credit cards, and end up sleeping in a hotel utility closet. The improbability of the scenario scares you. Things like that don’t happen. Or do they?
The hot June air swells with humidity. The trees distend with moisture. I sit on the cracked leather sofa of my therapist’s office. I tell him that my inability to control outcomes scares me. When things start to malfunction, I worry that they will continue in a negative trajectory of brokeness. I worry that I won’t be able to understand the remedy, or fix anything.
This is my life, I don’t know how I got here, and it keeps happening like I am in a dream.
“It bothers me that they were drugged,” I say.
My therapist nods sympathetically. He has a grave look on his face. “Yes but there’s nothing we can do about it now.”
“Well your parents weren’t drugged,” I reply.
“Maybe, but people don’t always need drugs to act irrationally,” he says.
It’s true. I shift uncomfortably in my seat. There was always something strange about my upbringing, but then, any upbringing must be strange because the world is strange.
I’m reminded of that every time I watch cartoons or go outside. My friend lived in a village that treated the dead like the living. I suppose my growing up in a blood cult obsessed with the afterlife wasn’t so weird by comparison. Everything beginning and ending with Jesus.
The government’s foreign intelligence agency laced the water supply. Everyone pointed fingers at the paranoid folks complaining about having their brains hacked, but then we found out that the government was actually testing psychedelics on unwitting civilians.
People did as they were told for years with no conscious memory of what happened.
I asked my mother about my childhood. She remembered very little, if anything, but memory is odd like that. Years pass by, we do things mechanically. We see photos of events we don’t remember.
I wanted to ask my therapist about his statues, but wasn’t sure if I wanted to know the answer.
“As cognitive behavioral therapists, we believe in levels of awareness. What we focus on is what we see, so some things we fixate on and they become big,” he says putting his palm to his face as if reading a newspaper, “but then other things they are like way out here,” he continues moving his hand away from his face.
I nod. “That makes sense,” I reply. “I think I’ve been hyper-focused, you know to accomplish my goals.”
“Of course, anything like that takes extreme discipline,” he says.
“Maybe more than I realized,” I admit. “I suppose I wouldn’t feel so much pressure if I wasn’t crippled by my fear of poverty.”
I read through piles of articles. It’s no wonder my parents were paranoid and terrified for the duration of my childhood. Under the influence of scopolamine they were disconnected from reality. Although, I’m not even so sure about what reality is any more, basically any situation in which things make sense, I suppose. It’s no wonder they saw deities in department stores.
My head is foggy and an owl hoots outside beneath the moon. I drink in the smell of wind rustling through the trees.
When I was a kid my neighbor told me to memorize a book in the Bible. He said the book of John was more important than any other. So I memorized a few verses about words and how the light shines into the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.
At my desk, I drew the garden of Eden and the garden looked like a brain. There were roots and mycelium and an angel guarding the garden gate. I had no friends and wondered how to get back to the garden.
Now as I comb through articles, one website says the flowers on the borrachero tree are also known as angel’s trumpet. Makes me wonder if scopolamine is like the angel guarding the door to the garden, but the garden is the brain, or the unconscious, or something. I just want to know how people can go through their whole lives living detached from themselves.
I watch videos online. People who were drugged don’t appear to be angry that they were wrong or wronged. Ideas they espoused to be true aren’t seen as contradictory. They find threads of logic, somehow manage to make things make sense.
I relish the idea of letting go, because I’ve died so many times since I was a child, perennially turning into someone new.
I close my laptop and crawl into bed. Light shines through my window onto my sheets.
I don’t have a lot of memories of people holding my hands and looking into my eyes, but I feel like that is important. So much of life is just people talking next to you, but they never look at you. Maybe that’s always a sure sign something is wrong, or maybe only sociopaths stare at you. I think it disorients people, because I guess, it doesn’t have to be important, maybe it’s just weird.
I enjoy the garden, because even when the garden rots I know it will regenerate. Nature has a way of turning pulp and decay into flowers. I try to remind myself of that when other peoples’ life trajectories scare me. As a child, most peoples’ lives seemed relatively static. My peers were anchored by the confines of school. It’s not until everyone started getting older, that I started seeing how life decisions can drastically affect outcomes. The stakes were higher, the cone of possibility chronically shrinking and growing.
The other day I had a panic attack after seeing a childhood friend after four years. They looked completely different. After our interaction, I sat in the parking lot, concentrating on exhaust dripping from a pipe onto asphalt.
I dig up weeds and throw them into a pile. I put purslane in a separate pile to eat later.
The garden seems to be one of the only things that stays stable in my parent’s memory. Mammoth sunflowers, jerusalem artichokes, corn stalks, and squash, every year they plant vegetables, and sometimes experiment with untried crops.
As a kid, my mom would point out different wild edibles, wood sorrel, strawberries, arugula, daylilies.
The air smells rich with humus. I look towards the woods and back down at my work, pruning unnecessary growth.
I’ve decided to stop seeing my therapist. I asked him about a Czechoslovakian psychologist that pioneered holotropic breathing with his wife to reach alternative states of consciousness. I mentioned his name, said I read his books in my teen years. My therapist wasn’t pleased, expressing disdain for philosophical psychologists.
I didn’t tell him that the Czech psychologist said he couldn’t help people who had received “traditional therapy.” I’m not sure what he meant by traditional, he didn’t explain why, or if certain medications cauterize mental capabilities. I can’t explain my existence or why I can even string sentences together.
None of this seems to matter as I tend the soil, but now the garden is in trouble. Our neighbors watched a chemical company dig up the gravel pit next to their house. Trucks dump large metal drums into the hole. They covered it over. Now their cat has sores. The rocks are white.
A couple miles away a paper company wants to dump their paper sludge over a different gravel pit. This one had been abandoned and the trees and wildlife are returning.
I’m having difficulty reconciling all the poison, how the rich destroy our rivers and forests for profit.
Across the yard, my father sticks small twigs and papers into the fire, burning last year’s brush. The sun is setting. He has a glazed look, pensive, as if he’s here but not really here.
Little flames lick up his pupils. He never asks me questions, just talks about whatever is on his mind.
I want to ask him how it feels to have been drugged, but I’m afraid to. He doesn’t need to suffer anymore. My parents worked for the same business. A chemical company contracted by the military. The settlements have been going on for years.
During their employment, they were given things. The company extolled their work as a paragon of innovation. My parents were born into a strange time, a leap in human history. Modernization, technology, they were removed from the land to work industrial jobs for the first time ever. It seems we are meant to find or grow food, to understand our ecosystems, but we don’t. Our little gardens are fragmented, parceled off by property lines. Scrambled by history and dispossession. Our collective unconscious is fragmented. We think we are separate, but we are not. Imposed zip codes and constructed borders enable poisoners.
My father coughs, sips his beer.
“You know, when they outlawed religion in the Soviet Union, people channeled their need for deeper meaning into parapsychology,” he says.
“What?” I say, shocked, but not entirely surprised. My father is prone to strange outbursts of knowledge and otherworldly wisdom. I sit down by the fire.
“Yup, turns out people can get through a lot if they have a sense of deeper meaning, awful things, serious trauma,” he says.
“What’s your deeper meaning?” I blurt out, the words escaping my mouth before I have a moment to think them through.
“Well,” he says, poking the fire, “I suspect the good Lord will let me know that.” Flames rise. Ash falls like snow, burning the grass.
It’s a reasonable enough response. Neither of us know how we got here. The answer seem to depend on a revelation.
I run into my therapist at the grocery store. He’s buying fish. I’m reminded of the time I tried explaining to him what brings me comfort during panic attacks.
“Whenever I get like that, the only thing that brings me comfort is my family.” I said, “I imagine prehistory, when everyone worked together to eat. I imagine everyone catching fish, what it was like to share the time, be in the same place together. Time is splintered, divorced from nature’s rhythms. No one is on the same time scale.”
My therapist nodded approvingly. He agreed and expressed his own concerns about problems with information and disinformation. He never really addressed my issue. I was seriously worried about losing my mind.
It wasn’t some abstract reality. I knew what it was like to go for days, weeks, completely unable to problem solve or put anything into context. I couldn’t follow simple directions, I drove across a highway divider in the middle of February, items kept appearing and disappearing, people talked to me from my laptop.
How did I know that I wasn’t being drugged like my parents? How did I know that I wasn’t part of some conspiracy or science experiment?
The way time stretched and slowed terrified me.
In the seafood section, he asks me how I am doing. I say I am fine, choking down my anxiety for the sake of social pleasantry. I’m not paying him to listen to me.
“Glad to see you’re doing well,” he says, shaking my hand.
“Thanks,” I reply.
Everything smells like rotting fish, salmon and crab carcasses laid out on ice. Lobsters crawl over each other in a tank. Snapper corpses stare at us from behind glass.
Standing amid dead marine life, shaking his hand, I am reminded of why I left.
At town meeting, residents argue over paper sludge. Most of the community is absent. The sudden proposal bypassed peoples’ attention. Town representatives get kickbacks for siding favorably with business interests. A few years ago, a selectboard member helped a non-resident set up a franchise that paid their workers starvation wages and filtered revenue out of the local economy.
That’s how it is around here. Franchises and department stores suck the life out of people. They appear zombified and dazed, wondering where the prosperity went. This town, like so many, gave up on its agricultural endeavors. There isn’t much left. Most people don’t even have gardens.
An official gets up to speak. He says the paper sludge is organic matter, and the company will pave the road as a gift to the town.
I inhale and choke on my own spit.
My mother stands up. “Organic matter,” she says. “I’ve looked at the composition of this so-called “organic matter”, and I’m not impressed. Can any of you tell me what several acres of organic matter smells like on a windy day?” she asks.
I’m proud of her lucidity, which is why I suppose she was drugged for so long. Conscious people don’t let companies poison their water and pollute their neighborhoods.
“Our town doesn’t want your waste,” she says furiously, but her efforts are short-lived. The motion passes to go forward with the project. We sit there, dumbfounded.
Our failed agrarian community is like the rest of America. Less than one-percent of Americans make their living from growing food. We have no seeds, no food sovereignty, no collective initiative, no honest representatives. People drive elsewhere to work, people get drugged, they get their culture from the media instead of their neighbors. Nonsense fills our minds, garbage accumulates in our dumps. We are being poisoned.
We drive home, exasperated. A pink sky fades behind the silhouettes of trees. I think about the future, wonder if a degree will actually help me overcome poverty.
“Dad, I don’t need a revelation,” I say staring out the window.
“What’s that?” he asks, staring absently at the road.
“I think our purpose is the land,” I say, as we pass cemeteries and pasture.
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