Shrooms and the Self

At the time of my metamorphosis, I was enrolled in the festival of guttural noises, insect imagery, and existential angst that billed itself as German 46. Not unrelatedly, my life had been in the process of a gradual yet marked descent into Kafkaesqueness for quite some time: on Wednesday evenings, I encountered hoards of flamboyantly dressed girls on Frat Row; one day, my socks disappeared en masse, presumably through a wormhole in the Mid Mass laundry machine; and, lost in the hopeless bureaucracy of the Registrar’s office, I had abandoned all hope of successfully recovering my transcript, the fruit of a long and eminently unemployable history of self-indulgent liberal arts courses.

Yes, I was profoundly aware of the inanity of Dartmouth existence. But it wasn’t until my metamorphosis was complete that I stopped probing my surroundings for explanations they could not provide. There was no reason for the flair pics in the library. In the tradition of Josef K, I learned to accept they were. At Dartmouth, there is no why. There are empty promises regarding future lunch dates. There are a million Facebook albums documenting Derby. There are way too many a cappella groups for no good reason. There are no explanations. There are no apologies. There is no culture of intellectualism akin to what the admissions brochures promised. There is no god. These are a few of the truths to which cockroaches are privy.

But just a few.

Moments before I turned into Gregor Samsa, I noticed that the trees had developed feelers. I had presentiments of disaster. Then, I was a cockroach. I had to reach my dorm before anybody noticed. Awkwardly, I scuttled away, keeping to the occasional patch of shadow.

When I reached my room, I tried to take a shower—only to discover that the droplets were translucent beetles, that there were beetles everywhere, they made their torturous way towards my fingertips, the bathroom was the feverish yellow of dirty fingernails, I seemed distant from my hands, unrelated to my hands, every desire that I formulated was afloat in a sea of general panic, I was alien in my body, I came apart from myself, I was Gregor Samsa but so was everything else, it was ALL GREGOR SAMSA and there was nothing keeping me from it and it from me and we from we and us from our, meanwhile the beetles that were really just a bizarre embodied extension of me progressing slowly down my forearms, and whaaat the fuckkkkkk, dude, what if my blue is like….not your blue?

And like, where the fuck was I? What the fuck was I doing? Who the fuck were the people in fairy costumes who offer shots to the beleaguered paper writers of the 1902 room? Who the fuck am I? My blue is not their blue.

On the floor of a shower brimming with water beetles, I watched the non-essential parts of my identity twirl down the drain in an elegant whirlpool.

The shrooms had revealed to me the fundamental fragility of my supposed ‘self’: they had reduced me to my Washingtonian, Miss Spider’s Tea Party loving core—to the books I had loved faithfully for many years, to the songs that had outlived the relationships that initially conferred importance upon them, to the poems I had marked with a peculiar doggy-ear system developed over many years of bookish loneliness (bottom corner bent to indicate like, top corner bent to indicate extreme like, both corners bent to indicate earth-shattering and transcendent poetic brilliance). I was Simon and Garfunkel, oft-repeated lines from Casblanca, years of fumbling for the alarm clock in the stiff-fingered cold of too fucking early, a long-held secret knowledge of the (unsmoked) package of cigarettes I kept in my home underwear drawer as a sign of adolescent rebellion. This is the familiar landscape of myself.

The poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote (in one of those passages that I have so totally assimilated into my own thoughts that it seems of my own making) that memories turn “to blood within us, to glance and gesture, nameless and no longer to be distinguished from ourselves.” This bathroom was not my blood. These beetles were not my blood.

Two years and one term into my Dartmouth career, I was still a stranger here. I had loved my favorite books longer than I had known the people I called my best friends.

And now I was a cockroach. The whole room was a cockroach, my floral comforter was a cockroach, the beads of water from the shower were cockroaches. The parts of me that had survived this external change were few and very far between.