I’m afraid. Not full-blown panic, but my anxiety is still on a low simmer. Stay in the moment, I repeat silently, like a mantra. You’ll be there soon.
Excited, nervous anticipation begins to kick in.
“Now, just relax and breathe through your nose,” the man instructs me in a kind and reassuring manner. He looks like an unlikely guide, but we’ve been here before. The party always starts this way.
He places a small mask over my nostrils. “Crank it all the way up,” I say, settling back in the chair, confident I can handle this. In my mouth goes the suction tubing, putting out a steady stream of white noise that will serve as the aural backdrop for the event about to unfold.
I try to stay calm while he turns on the gas and putters around with his equipment. “I won’t start until you begin to feel the effects,” he says, proceeding to make small talk in the meantime. I focus on taking long, slow, deep breaths — in through my nose, exhaling through my mouth. Desperate to get on with the show, I’m hoping the vapor will build up in the mask, making the next inhalation even more potent. I’m afraid if I breathe out into the device, I’ll displace the precious substance coming in, diluting my next hit. At least that’s what I tell myself. I’m mildly anxious as I wait for the drug to take effect.
“How’re we doing?” he asks. “Feeling anything yet?”
“Maybe a little,” I lie. The DJ has already dropped the needle, starting the set off with a drone of noise. Somewhere off in the distance, a pulsing bassline is slowly coming into focus.
“OK, we’re going to get started.”
I nod in affirmation.
By now, my head is swimming in what sounds like the crescendo of a thousand rockets preparing to take off. The rush is beginning to overwhelm me, but instead of being frightening, its intensity is somehow warm and comforting.
I’m on my way.
“Open wide.” His voice is gentle, and I comply. Now a synthesizer is pumping out a two-note bassline against the drone of white noise, and the party in my head is starting to ramp up good and proper. I go to step on the dancefloor, but I realize I’m already on it, now part of the crowd, my body moving to the beat. The light show kicks in as I become lost in the moment, at one with the sweaty mass.
I’m aware of some kind of tool in my mouth, probing and chipping away, but I don’t care. Every time the man moves his hand close to the suction tube, it acts like a smooth low-pass filter on the drone of noise, damping the sound, rolling off the highs, changing the texture of the music.
“You OK?” He sounds far away. I nod as if everything’s normal, wondering if he has any idea where I am. Now I’m beginning to feel ecstatic; the ebb and flow of randomly filtered noise seem to be building to ever-greater levels of intensity. At some point, distracted by my trance, I didn’t notice the drums kick in, but now the groove is relentless. I melt into an ocean of sensual humanity, a writhing mass of bodies moving as one complex organism with a thousand hands waving in the air, swaying with the beat.
I’m vaguely aware of water spraying somewhere in my head and the suction clearing it away, but it’s somehow woven into the experience I don’t want to stop. The noises of metal instruments in my mouth are now part of the hypnotic music, syncopated with the pounding kick drum and filtered noise. The light show is pulsing with the groove, a million multi-colored slivers raining down through the smoky mist onto the crowd, lasers slicing through the room like weapons of pleasure.
The party’s in full swing.
I’m lost yet somehow still there, in two places at once. Never losing awareness of my mask, I maintain slow, deep breaths, my body melting into the chair. I’m no longer sure which reality is more real, but it doesn’t matter. It’s like the intensity of a building orgasm that never seems to come, an aching pleasure leading to a release you never want to arrive. There’s only the moment — the music enveloping you like a drug, the lights immersing you in an alternate reality, the sensation of being part of a collective throng that’s somehow become a single organism, all yearning for the same thing — nirvana.
Now aware I’m existing in multiple realities and having absolutely no problem with that, I hear a voice say, “OK, now you’re just on oxygen. We’re done.” In an instant, I’m back in the real world, sitting in the dentist’s chair.
“Your teeth look fine,” he says, taking off his gloves and turning to wash his hands.
Still a little woozy, I open my eyes and smile.
David Thomas Peacock is a musician who became an ER nurse who survived cancer and somehow became a writer. Sometimes you don’t discover what you were meant to do until your third act.