We were looking for ecstasy, not your usual bro-at-the-EDM-festival ecstasy, but the spiritual-kind, like the anemic monks or the wide-eyed mystics. We wanted to feel an alien surge bordering on the angelic. A spiritual experience devoid of sentimental posing. We wanted to push our lives to an extremity to be washed away by a greater being. We liked Biblical stories about ethereal bodies talking to humans on earth. We wanted to find a place beyond our artificial suburbs.
I remember our experiments: not eating, not sleeping, not talking. There was even a period with no human interaction. We locked ourselves in a room for a day. We packed bologna sandwiches and plastic bags of potato chips and a liter of water. We brought books to read, a pencil, and notebook to jot down our meandering thoughts.
I made it to dinnertime before mom walked in and demanded I act normal and come downstairs for spaghetti and garlic bread. I acquiesced, but, of course, the next day at school, Jon described his "solitary confinement," as a final confrontation with his need to be liked. He told us in the cafeteria over Salisbury steak, "I no longer crave attention."
I, like most of these ventures, held my tongue in envy, and tried my best to retain the stoicism we admired and aspired to.
I should be clear. This "We" were my friends at a private, non-denominational Christian high school. A tight-knit randomly pieced together group. Jon, the virtuoso with a knack for every musical instrument and the discipline to master anything from oil painting to Zelda; Paul, a once pharmaceutical-misdiagnosed ball of ADHD to a now pensive musician obsessed with synthpop; Tim, the lacrosse-jock-turned-punk-rocker, who shifted back and forth from our group and the prep set of athletes and lip gloss girls. And me, a boy who found refuge in language and self-destructive rock stars and thought he could've been the starting quarterback if only he cared about organized sports.
One night, in the no-sleep phase, Jon and I sat in his mold-infested basement and listened to the entirety of Pink Floyd’s The Wall. I thought it was a work of genius. He shrugged it off and stared at the tiled ceiling. To him, it was another drug-induced product romanticized to overcompensate for its lack of substance. I disagreed, but I usually loved the energy and ambition of these types of work. I found them to provide the necessary emotional separation from my everyday interaction with the ubiquitous strip malls and perfect lawns and pastel colors of my neighborhood. Like every teenager, I saw a stark difference between the normal world around me and the daily thoughts swirling around, constantly telling me, "This is not you."
Maybe we tried to find ecstasy in different ways. Maybe it wasn't ecstasy at all. Paul and I smashed my acoustic guitar outside my house. It was a Christmas gift from my dad several years ago. I played it in our middle school English class. Mrs. Anderson said, "That was a very beautiful song." It was just three chords repeated with a light strum. It had to mean something to me, but, in that moment, I told Paul, "Let's smash this guitar." I imagined Pete Townsend and Kurt Cobain. Their sweaty, sleep-deprived, heroin-fucked faces after smashing every valuable item on stage.
He gripped the slender neck of the guitar and twirled it in the air and let it rip high in the sky until it hit the asphalt bottom-side up and a jangled noise shot out of its hollow hole. I slammed my boot into the backside where it cracked into pieces. Paul picked it up again by the neck and whacked it back and forth on the neighborhood street.
We had to stop for a moment because we were laughing so hard. My eyes were tearing up. I was choking on my own hysteria. We got a hold of ourselves. We carried the pieces in our arms and booked it to the park in the middle of my neighborhood. We buried the strings in the sandpit, the neck in the grassy knoll, the body near the basketball court. Kids playing two-hand-touch football were confused at our manic chuckling and the deconstructed guitar parts swinging from our cradling arms.
Jon loved to sit in his basement alone, strumming on his guitar, recording odd drum sounds, and erratic beats. He didn't share it with anyone. They were tangible expressions of his seclusion from the world. A final byproduct to be deleted later. When he'd show up at school, he resembled a stoic philosopher. Seneca in khaki pants. Marcus Aurelius in an American Eagle polo.
I grimaced at his stoicism, his mystical lean, his apparent misanthropic attitude. I thought his spirituality was founded on bunk, a ruse to feed his pride. Even the teachers recognized his discipline, his impeccable speed to crunch through math equations, and write pithy answers to pointless literary questions.
I wanted the other side. The adrenaline of living as if every day was your last. But I envied Jon's mysticism, his discipline, his artistic output, and academic zeal. But fuck it, I said. I'll find the beauty in the excess. I will make it my own. I'll find my place and I'll tell them all, "I am okay alone."
The next year a student died from auto-erotic asphyxiation. I didn't know him, but I passed him in the hallways. After the chapel announcing his death, his friends gathered in a corner of the bleachers and cried in the arms of teachers. A piece of paper was posted on the bulletin board. It reminded students to reach out if they needed help. Suicidal thoughts were normal, but not part of God's plan. For the next month, I witnessed a restrained grief on everyone's face. I probably had it too. He was with God now, they said. He was in a better place, they said. I pictured him in heaven jacking off for all eternity. My mind was fucked. I knew it. What was I thinking? It was part of the project, I told myself. The sacred in the profane. I stood in chapel and sang the worship songs to a God who loved the vilest part of the body.
One boring Saturday night, we ran out of Jon's house and into the neighborhood golf course. The night was covered in a thick fog. You couldn't see the hand before your face. We dispersed in a mad pace. I yelled out, "I'm taking my clothes off!" We disrobed and tossed golf balls in the direction of our voices, hoping to hit each other. My toes felt nice on the cool green. I loved the feeling of being naked in the night. I found Tim ahead running. He smiled back at me over his shoulder. I could faintly see his ass, his legs moving. He was laughing hard. He yelled out, "Try and catch me." I was no athlete. I'd never catch him. He knew that. I wondered if Jon and Paul could hear us, if they were chasing after me, ready to shuck a golf ball at my torso, or my head.
I heard a loud thwack followed by a long sigh. I picked up my speed and nearly tripped over Tim. He was convulsing on the ground. He had run into a neighbor's fence. His body contorting in the slick grass. His eyes a solid white. His body in an odd shape, convulsing. I placed my hand under his head and waited for him to stop. It'd been years since his last seizure. I pressed his naked body close to mine and waited for his body to calm, his eyes to right, and the recognition of me beside him to return.
The other boys would eventually find us. They'd stare at us in the mist. Our chests beating heavy, drenched in sweat.
Taylor Lewandowski is an educator and writer from Indianapolis, IN. He is currently the art critic for NUVO magazine.