When I was probably 14, my trumpet instructor, a hilariously theatrical and overtly masculine man named Bill who I did not take anywhere as seriously as I should have, told me a story he probably shouldn't have:
"So Jim and I are getting up on stage and getting ready to play a gig, right? And Jim plays stand-up bass, you know, those huge violin looking things you see in the back of jazz bands, and I look over at his case and he's got three bottles of beer lined up one next to another, just sitting in the case. And this surprised me. For a couple of reasons, actually. For one, despite bein' fuckin' huge, those bass cases don't have that much room in them. Two, you don't put beer bottles in bass cases. They're all felt on the inside and the condensation fucks up the lining. But Jim wouldn't have known that. And he wouldn't have known that for the third reason those bottles surprised me. Jim didn't drink beer. Jim smoked weed. And I mean Jim smoked weed. Jim smoked weed professionally and by professionally, I mean he got bass gigs so that he could get money so that he could buy weed to smoke during bass gigs. You get me? Jim's not waiting for you folks to legalize it, because that means there's going to be less weed for Jim.
So I turn to Jim and I ask what the beer is about and he says: 'You remember that show we had in Davis last friday? Well, I got really super fuckin' baked right at the end and I was still high as shit when we got finished packing up and I figured, well look it's just a short drive across the bridge to get back home and so I got in the car and I started driving over the bridge. And driving over the bridge. And fuckin' driving over that bridge. Like all of a sudden the fuckin' Yolo causeway is ninety miles long or some shit. I was driving over that bridge for like 3 fuckin' hours and by the end of it, I'm back at home in my apartment lying in bed gripping my bedsheets like it's a steering wheel because I was still driving over that goddamn bridge. So it's just beer at gigs from now on.'
Now, I'm not telling you this story because weed is bad or anything. I'm just saying don't put drinks in your trumpet case. It fucks up the lining."
Even before the accident, I thought about this story a lot. One, because it's great, frankly. I laughed at the image of Jim driving his bedsheets over that bridge for years. Two, I always wondered how an experience like that would feel, not being able to trust your newly battered senses. It's less entertaining than you might think. I can empathize why Jim switched to beer.
I had a moment like this coming home from work on Friday, in fact. The Caltrain between San Francisco and Redwood city only takes about 45 minutes, but at some point my eyes rose from reading a friend's novel on my Kindle, lost focus and some critical element of my brain clicked off. Hours and hours spun by between the carefully scheduled stops and honestly, for one of the first times, I didn't panic. Despite an immense weight pinning me to the seat, my heart kept a steady pace. My ocular shutterspeed dropped, street lamps drew long contrails against my vision and cars etched rails of light in the way that we all think they might if they were accelerating off into the future.
And the same feeling occurred to me as when this all started. What if I'm still there? What if I'm back on that couch, reciting the names I didn't want to leave behind? What if I'm still in my tiny apartment in Berkeley, my fever spiking and my memory not able to push back more than five minutes? What if I'm still on that train, having reached the end of the line, the conductors staring at my unfocused eyes, wondering who they have to call to have me shipped off to some hospital or asylum? And for the first time, I just couldn't be bothered to care? What if I am? Trapped in my own mind while my body rots, what difference does it make? Has this experience made me any less a prisoner of flesh? Am I not more free, now given a mental playground where everything is working out as well as it has been these last four years? What if it all catches up to me and I wake up twenty, thirty, forty years on, my real parents long dead and pushed into bankruptcy trying to keep their idiot son alive? Would that have been any less plausible otherwise?
I overcame the condition with just enough time to get off at my stop, the adrenaline of hearing the name of it called out over the PA enough to jump start my eternal clock, but I know part of me is still on that train, still in that apartment, tears rolling down my cheeks and soaking into that couch. And those parts of me will be there forever. But they would have been anyway. And that's quickly starting to become okay.
Besides, I'm not telling you this story because weed is bad or anything. I'm just saying listen to the theatrical people around you because the stories they tell will make for great inspiration later.