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  • Writer's pictureCourtney Heard

Atheist Life Hacks: How To Fight A War In Vietnam

I used to do a lot of magic mushrooms. I know, you’re probably thinking, this explains a lot. You’d most likely be right. I’m sure the amount of mushrooms I did rewired something in my wetware.

A mushroom trip is not easy to explain. Best I can describe it, they make everything utterly and exquisitely delightful and you’re pretty sure stuff is there that really isn’t there. The universe feels like it’s talking to you, trying to communicate some profound message, perhaps the answer to every question we’ve ever had. Dare to stare at a clear night sky at the height of your trip, and you might see aliens, Ganesh or the gates of Heaven. Green walls come alive as a writhing mass of snakes, lights leave tracers in your vision and sensations like cold or soft become nothing short of exhilarating.

I did have the one bad trip, and wouldn’t you know it, it was triggered by my reading of the Bible. I don’t know why I thought it was a good idea, but as soon as I felt the high coming on, I picked up my best friend’s Bible she had lying around her room, and began to read. I could barely get through a page before I was overcome with despair and a feeling of hopelessness that lasted for hours. Someone ought to put a trigger warning on that shit.

Hallucinogenic trip

That was it though; that was the grand total of all the bad experiences I had on mushrooms, which is significant, considering how obscenely often I did them.

The best trip though, the best trip I ever had found me fighting the Viet Cong from a bunker, deep in the jungles of Viet-freakin’-nam.

It all started when I was sitting around the third floor open layout room in my parent’s house, which served as my brother’s room. It was sort of like a loft apartment, with a sitting area, a small office nook and another section where he slept. We hung out up there often. I was joined by half a dozen restless guys and we were lazily watching Star Trek TNG. As if sent from the Heavens to save the evening, one of these fellas stood up and said, “Fuck this. I’ll be back with some shrooms.”

A half an hour later, and he was back with enough mushrooms to get us all fucked up. We chewed through them, cringing at the taste, and waited. Time passed and you could see it slowly kick in, as people around me began to act more and more strangely. I felt the warm glow of sheer delight begin to creep up on me, my face stretched from ear to ear in a grin that couldn’t be wiped from my face. I turned up some music and switched off the TV.

Some of the guys I was with were experiencing a more mellow high like I was, and some were out of their minds with uncontrollable energy. At the time, my parents lived near a small fishing village, along a boardwalk, and one by one, the louder guys trickled out there to lose their grip on reality in public. Before I knew it, I was alone with only one friend, Ethan. We sat and talked about the things we were seeing and delightedly smiled at each other. I swayed to the music and he swore it was full of hidden messages. Eddie Vedder was the voice of Loki and Layne Staley was an intergalactic space traveller. Our eyes widened, sure we were unlocking the secrets to the Universe when Jimi Hendrix’s All Along The Watchtower began to play. An overhead fan blew the fronds of a potted palm against Ethan’s face, and he suddenly bolted up and exclaimed,

“We’ve got to build a bunker.”

I didn’t need any extra convincing. As the blades of the fan began to sound like a chopper above us, I leapt to grab the comforter off my brother’s bed. Ethan fished a tie out of my brother’s closet and tied it like a headband. I rolled the comforter up and used it to block off a small area in the corner of the room, under a second potted palm. I popped a ski helmet on my head, slipped a pen in my mouth like a smoke and crouched behind the comforter, while Ethan, with his quick thinking, put All Along The Watchtower song on repeat.

“We’re gonna need a gun!” I yelled from the bunker. Ethan grabbed my brother’s guitar, slung it around his neck by the strap and leaped into the bunker, lowering himself behind the wall.

The choppers were getting louder now, and Jimi wailed, there must be some kinda way outta here… Ethan popped his head over the bunker and aimed his gun at the other palm, now waving frantically in the wind.

“Pop! Pop! Pop!” Ethan’s gunshots were deafening. He turned to me and yelled over the sound of the helicopter, “They’re gaining ground! Do you have any grenades, soldier?”

Wasting no time, I saluted Ethan, grabbed a football, pulled the pin and lobbed it across the room.

“Hit the deck!” I yelled and we both plugged our ears and took cover. We waited and in a few short moments, we heard the explosion. Dirt and ash rained down on us and we squinted through the smoke as we dusted ourselves off.

“We’re cornered! We’re gonna need to find a way out of here!” Ethan strained to be heard over the sound of the war going on around us.

“Follow me!” I decided to take charge. I got on all fours and crawled to the coffee table. I swore I heard someone and gave Ethan the signal to wait. I lifted the lid to the laundry basket, pulled the pin on another grenade (a baseball this time), threw it in the basket and yelled. "fire in the hole!" When I was fairly certain the coast was clear again, I motioned for him to follow me once more. We crawled under the other potted palm, toward the stairs and slowly made our way down without rising to our feet. Cautiously we descended two floors, the sound of helicopters and Jimi Hendrix becoming more and more distant. Finally, on the ground floor of my parents’ house, we took to our feet and tore out the front door. We ran as far as we could and before we knew it, we were on the boardwalk over the Fraser River.

“That was a close call!” I adjusted my ski helmet.

“Yeah. It was. We’ll be decorated for that one, that’s for sure.” Ethan held the guitar close to his side.

We walked, in socks, along the boardwalk without any specific purpose or destination in mind. Every once in awhile we checked over our shoulders to be sure the VC had not followed us. Approaching a bench, we took a seat and looked up at the night sky. We could hear the hollering of our friends somewhere in the distance, having an entirely different trip than we were.

“We’re still in Vancouver, right?” Ethan looked at me with concern in his eyes.

“Yeah. I mean… I think we are. I think we’re safe.” I stared up as the sky writhed and appeared to be breathing.

Jimi Hendrix

“Do you see that?” I took a puff of my pen and exhaled.

“See what?”

“The sky. It’s breathing.” I pointed up.

“Yeah. The life-breath of the Universe.” He pulled off his wet socks and hung them over the bench to dry.

“We were in ‘nam, man.” His eyes were glassy when they met mine.

I nodded and sighed, looking back up at the living sky. “We were, but we gotta put it behind us. Just look at what’s in front of us.”

Silence enveloped the two of us as we strained our necks to take in the whole sky. We sat like that for what felt like an hour until Ethan piped up,

“War sucks.”

“Yeah, buddy. It does. It really does.”

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