Matthew Bearden :: A Trip Through God’s Country ::

Creative Non-Fiction

Southern Legitimacy Statement: I was born and raised in Palestine, Texas. I carry it with me. I may be a pro-choice, non-southern baptist, resident of Wisconsin, but I am still a Texan! I’ll be thankin’ of all y’all when I stroll through the woods without worry of rattlers, copperheads, scorpions, cougars, and boars.

A Trip Through God’s Country

When I was sixteen, I knew everything. It was quite the cross, and I carried it uphill both ways. What can I say? I thought know-it-all martyrs got the best view. A hilltop panorama, where you got to look down on everyone. Plus, I loved Nine Inch Nails. Trent Reznor just got me. He was the voice of all quasi-dissatisfied angry little man-boys in the late 90’s. I would sit in my room, blare Pretty Hate Machine, and read esoteric philosophy I didn’t understand. It wasn’t really about learning. I was looking for ideas I could don and jump out of the bushes to give society a good ol’ booga-wooga. 

It was around this time I became obsessed with Hunter S. Thompson. I would love to tell you it was because I realized Thompson turned himself into a rough hero in his writing to force readers to become sympathetic to a morally bankrupt addict. In hopes, he could show the absurdity of fighting for change in a corrupt society governed by toxic masculinity. But; all I heard was, you gotta try this. I experienced ego death for the first time while peaking on LSD hours after I finished reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Unfortunately, becoming an old soul so young didn’t make me less of an asshole. It would take most of my mid-twenties to make that happen. I was selfish. My impulses burned through my common sense, but I was lucky. I had someone in my life who was more than willing to smother that fire.

“You fucking want to do what!” That was my best friend, Tara. We loved each other and both of us would have jumped in front of a bullet for the other, but we weren’t in love. We just liked giving each other pleasure. Funny thing about the Holy Grail, if you find it too young, you think it’s just a cup.

“I wanna take some acid, and go to that holy roller church in Mexia your cousin went to that one time.” The second time I told her, she scooted her head to the far side of the pillow as her brow wrinkled with a scowl. I chided myself for not waiting until after sex to tell her.

“Oh my God! You’ve been inside me.” She said with a suffering sigh. The tip of her chin fell to rest between her collar bones as she took a long hard look at me. “That is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard… And my eyes are up here. You don’t get the girls right now.” The brambles of her curly black hair shook as her hand shot out and raised my chin.

“Fuck, I know. It’ll be awesome!” I said through a clenched jaw.

“Look, I don’t get to tell you what to do, bu-” She burst into uncontrolled laughter as I reached over and tickled her side. “Do NOT usurp my power with your ticklery,” she said. “This. Is. Fucking stupid.”

“Oh, for sure. That’s why I want you there.”

“Fuck no! I’m not doing that.”

“Not high. Just there. It can’t be just me and Kev. We need a sober buddy.”

“You’re doing this with Kevin?” She said with a look that made me feel flush. I knew I could only show fear and remorse. If I revealed how turned on that glare made me, there would have been no chance.

“Where else am I going to get the acid?” I asked, brows furrowed with practiced contrition.

“If we get caught, I will testify. Swear ta God.”

“It’s Pentecostal. Not a Gospel church.”

“Ha-ha smart ass. I mean it.”

“You won’t see it. Or us taking it. You won’t even know we’re on it.”

“Fine!” I took her acquiescence as a cue and scooted in to close the distance. “Oh, oh no,” she said as she licked my septum, “you’re not getting sex. You get to get up, get dressed and fuck off. I have a rule. No dumb dick.”

About two weeks later early on a Sunday morning, we all crammed into Tara’s Geo Metro. She arranged the mess so Kevin had to sit behind her. She had her seat all the way back. Kevin was a gangly six-foot seven. His long neck and beak-like nose made him look like a heron crammed into a sparrow’s nest. I don’t think Tara could have pulled off this torture if her car could have gone over fifty-five. One of the four cylinders was locked up, so the Metro shook violently at around sixty. As it was, I’m sure she pushed the brake and gas pedals with the tip of her big toe. For his part, Kevin didn’t say three words during the car ride there. He just sat there and took it like a good little Eeyore, forlorn in the backseat.

I don’t know why. She was being overly nice to him. It was me she was hostile to. Tara pulled off the interstate at a rest stop about forty miles outside of Mexia. When the Metro came to a stop, there was an audible thump as she pointed towards the public restrooms. I felt my eyes begin to roll and tensed up. Her right arm flicked out, and she gave me a snappy jab to that boomed into my chest. 

“Daaaaamn!” Kevin said from behind me.

“Jesus fuck!” I said rubbing the center of my chest. “How do you hit so hard?” 

“I know. That was harder than I wanted.” She said with a grimace, “Sorry?”

“How’s your wrist?” I asked gingerly lifting and rotating it.

“It’s a little sore,” she replied.

I gave her a quick two-fingered slap to the carpels before flying out the passenger door. I bee-lined at a breakneck but dignified pace straight to the men’s room. Kevin followed about a minute later.

“Dude, you know you have to go back in that car, right?” He asked.

“Yeah, Yeah,” I lied. I hadn’t thought that far ahead. 

“Whatever, dude. So, I’m gonna go in the stall and take mine.” He said as his long face contorted into a Cheshire grin, “Then it’s your turn.” 

He came out and handed me the foil packet. I went into the stall and opened it. There was a piece of blotter paper about two inches long and half an inch wide. 

“Holy shit! How many hits is this?”

“About ten,” he replied from over the stall wall, “we’re gonna trip balls!”

“Fuck man, I can’t afford this.”

“It’s all good,” he said, “my uncle just won’t give me a cut of the next QP. I got you. Summer trip bro!”

Silence was the only reply from my side.

“Dude, it’s all good,” he said, “it’ll just come on stronger and last longer. I got you.”

Fuck it, I thought, and crammed the strip of acid behind my lower lip.

I spent the rest of the car ride peacocking confidence to hide my fear. If Tara bruised my sternum for rolling my eyes, there was no telling what she would do to me for that slap on the wrist. No safe word would get me out of the pain that was coming. Penguin loafers was of no use on this thin ice. 

Tara saw through the façade I was cowering behind. Every move she made while driving was sudden and exaggerated. When her arm shot in front of me to open the glove box and fish out her sunglasses, I let out a loud peep and pushed my body deep into the foam cushion of her passenger seat. Kevin’s loud guffaw from the backseat was cut short by the reflection of Tara’s piercing glare in the rear-view mirror.

I knew what I had to do. Atone. I reached over and grabbed her right hand. I slowly rotated and rubbed her wrist. Tara turned away from the road long enough to give me a soft smile that lit her eyes with compassion. She reached up and began to run her fingers through the hair at the back of my neck. After lulling me into a false sense of confidence, she gave me a vicious thump to the left ear. Her movements slowed and became normal, though. The consequence had been extracted. The tension and suspense dissipated right as the acid started to kick in.

As we walked through the large oak doors of the church into the sanctuary, reality was shimmering and undulating in the corners of my eyes like a bowl of Jell-O plopped on a counter. The far edges of the pine pews began to ripple up and down to the rhythm of my breathing as we walked down the faded and worn red runner to find seats near the back. It was as if I was attaining impossible mass when I inhaled, and I sank down into the fabric of Space-time. When I exhaled, my mass, in reality, would return, and I rose back to the dimensional level of a human-weighted object. This breathed life into those pews, and the trees that were awakened to their new forms in the peripheral edges of my awareness. 

The pastor was already dabbing sweat from his red pudgy face when we sat down. He was a broad, tall man, with the type of build that would have been called keg-chested if he was thirty pounds lighter. His voice, though, was gentle and as welcoming as a needed hug. It wrapped itself around me, and pulled me towards the promised land of unconditional love. A lullaby for the mind that made the soul want to believe every word that came out of his mouth. 

“I tell you this, brothers and sisters,” he said, “you do not need me. When Jesus died upon the cross, and the cloth separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple was torn open.” His face started to distort like a reflection on wind-blown water. “The need for men like me went away.” I could see the peak of a wave as it made his eyes larger, then his nose.  Until finally, the wave broke. His mouth crashed forward until it appeared a good ten feet closer than the rest of his face. His lips spoke to me. “You don’t need a pastor to talk to God. From that day forth, we all became the same in the eyes of the Lord.”

A film of fear and anger I didn’t even know was there peeled off my psyche. I realized my perspective of life as knowledge gained from a linear progression through time was only causing me to be unhappy. I was allowing myself to sit out, unchanging, through an endless progression of experiences, and this was causing me to collect bitterness and resentment like rust. I needed to see sleep as death and be born again each morning. I needed to forgive and show love to all, because I was everyone. Identity was only an illusion caused by living the same life as the same thing through varying degrees of circumstance and situational awareness. I felt like I was a missing piece that was found and fit back into a puzzle. Everything just came together.

My serene moment of unification didn’t last long. All it took was one loud “praise Jesus” from a man that actually managed to pull off Ted Kaczynski chic to rile up the regular troupe of the church’s argot orchestra. The sanctuary erupted into manic laughter, ear-piercing shrieks, loud weeping sobs, and long moans. Some of those people came for God, but they were cumming for Jesus! It sounded like a cross between a Roman orgy and the baying dogs of war. I started to blink rapidly and turn my head from side to side. It was full sensory overload. My brain lost its ability to tune out irrelevant information. I heard everything. It was an overwhelming audio collage of kink and glory hallelujah.

I felt a frantic tap on my left shoulder and turned to see Tara. She leaned in close and said, “Kevin lost his shit and ran out. I’ve got to go after him. Stay here. I’ll be right back.”

All I could do was nod my head, and just like that, I was left alone in the chaos. I closed my eyes and tried to breath through the growing panic, but that only made things worse. The black behind my eyelids started to light up with white flashes anytime a member of the congregation made a loud noise. Then, the flashes converged into a roiling mass that started moving haphazardly from one side of the darkness to the other like a cloud of sentient smoke. When it stopped moving and started to get bigger, the acid really turned on me. 

My eyes shot open and my entire field of vision was full of vertical tracers. It was like my whole body was being violently shaken up and down. It took me a second to realize I was standing up with my arms in the air convulsing like a junkie trying to quit cold turkey. My brain had to pick from fight or flight, and it chose full conversion! I was one of the faithful now. My ego was about to fuse with my actions, when I felt a firm tug on my shirt sleeve.

“What in the fuck are you doing?” Tara said breathlessly, “We have to go, now. I had to chase that lanky fucker all over the parking lot to get him into my car. We have to get out there before he decides to make a run for it again.”

I couldn’t stop my involuntary worship. I wasn’t in control. My brain decided to hide me in plain sight, and it wasn’t about to break character.

“We have to go now!” she said in a deep growl. To this day, I don’t know if the low register of her voice was an auditory hallucination, or the impossibly low pitch a woman can hit when she sees stupidity about to overtake and trample some hapless fuck she can’t make herself stop caring about. Either way, it gave her the leverage to lift me up into a moment of blessed clarity, and we quickly exited through the back of the building. 

When we got to her car, we found Kevin clutching his knees and rocking back and forth in the back seat. Tara had to drive and play acid whisperer for the first twenty minutes of the return trip to coax Kevin out of his bad trip. She reached back with one hand, rubbed the back of his head, and cooed assurances like he was a toddler that had seen their first clown.  

Once he came back from the magical land of believing in an interventionist God, he and I spent the rest of the ride home trying to process our experiences. Which was complicated by the fact that we were both still very high on LSD. Tara, for her part, moved the seat up for Kevin once he got his shit together, but that was probably only so she could randomly vibration-torture us by pushing her little car up to sixty so the whole thing would shake.

Now is the part of the bildungsroman where I’m supposed to tell you what I learned. My voice should take on a Kinkadeian glow as I talk about how the experience lit my way and led me out of troubled waters. Like that fucking happened! My feeling that human identity was collective in nature wore off around the time I stopped being fascinated by the prismatic edges of my seat belt buckle. I would remain what old men affectionately called a fucking little asshole for a few more years. The only things I really took from the experience were ten hits of acid was too much, and Tara was a queen; she deserved a crown. Not that I ever found her one, but I think she needs to know I was willing to look.