The final installment of a five-part story. Read part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4.
The author in his backyard, alongside his head shots from his teenage years.
Sometimes my friends tell me I should get high and go on TV. They say it might blow my mind—to reach a twisted reality as I act out a fake me on a made-up television set, looking through altered eyes into a camera that projects me through little boxes into living rooms all over Nashville.
“It’d be a crazy trip, man.”
“Too crazy,” I say. “I don’t think I could handle it.”
I’m content to get high quietly, mostly alone. Lots of my friends are in it for the party, to take their acid and lose their clothes, run around like rednecks, doing cartwheels and staring at tracers.
But I try to take it seriously. I read a little Timothy Leary, feel like I’m some psychedelic pioneer working through important, meaningful, universal things in my own spinning mind. I feel, in fact, like I’m finally reaching the real me, walking through the wardrobe and discovering the acid-drenched Narnia that was there all along. Some nights I feel like I might be the king of the whole damn place.
It’s just that the paranoia grows, too. Everywhere I go, every gas station or shopping mall or skate park, people start whispering, “Hey, that’s the Kids Club dude.” I’m never sure if they’ll want to fist fight or ask for my autograph.
I project a vivacious, wholesome, ridiculous me to a few hundred thousand viewers every day. And as soon as the cameras click off, I use my earnings to buy a hundred, a thousand chemical portals, highs and trips and all kinds of pills to creep further and further into myself—to the only place where I can close my eyes and feel peace.
MY PARENTS go to church and believe. Mom likes to watch gardening shows and Dad, after painting houses all day, likes to come home and watch the news. My brother just got out of juvenile detention. Something about stealing liquor from the locked cabinet of a friend’s dad. He quit television after he shaved half of his head and started drawing skulls and crossbones on his skin with a Sharpie.
I stuck with it. I’m on eight times a day, even a half-hour show on Saturday mornings called Kids Stuff Connection. When I’m not on television I’m finding ways to get to the next Grateful Dead show. I’ve been to twenty-five so far. Once, after a show in Atlanta, I was driving an old Volkswagen bus, kaleidoscope-eyed and reeling. I shot through a red light, almost running over a girl before screeching to a halt. She looked through the dirty windshield in a kind of euphoria and said, “Oh my God! It’s Josh from TV.” I waved a frantic apology before drifting off into the humid night.
I’m failing high school. I hardly ever go, and when I do, I never bring my gym clothes or art projects. I’m failing gym and art.
Professional wrestling has gotten weirder and weirder. Hillbilly Jim is more of a tertiary character, and the guys who are center stage are maniacs. I don’t believe in any of it anymore.
I believe mostly in these LSD-fueled explorations and the me who comes alive the second those altered synapses fire. It’s like stepping into the ring, and the ring is full of spotlight and warmth. It’s like fans screaming nothing but love and affection. It’s like trouncing an opponent and doing a victory dance.
Then one day I go to school and meet a kid I’ve never met before. He has long, braided hair and he is wearing dark sunglasses. We’re sucking down cigarettes in a little nook in the courtyard, scanning for teachers. He’s heard I’m in the market for acid.
“Depends,” I say.
“This stuff is intense,” he says. “Straight from California.”
I’ve never had California acid before. I nod, ask him how much, buy two tabs.
“My name’s Josh, by the way.”
He chuckles. “I know.”
I put the tiny pieces of paper on my tongue just before my last class so I’ll start to feel it by the time I’m leaving for home. It doesn’t take long, though, and there is a growing buzz halfway through English. I’m staring at the scribbles of white chalk on the board, blinking furiously.
“Josh, you okay?” asks my teacher, whom everyone calls Coach.
“Sorry, Coach, just spacing out a little.”
I’m smiling uncontrollably.
“Try and focus, Josh. You need to get this right.”
“Sure thing, Coach.”
I ride home with friends. They are on their way to play paintball in the woods. They ask me if I want to come. I feel like I’ve lost my gravitational pull, like I’m pressing harder and harder against the roof of the car, like if the roof wasn’t there I’d rocket off into the atmosphere.
“I’ll just hang out in the woods and watch.”
I’m grinding my teeth, rubbing my thumbs hard against the fulcrum of my pointer fingers. My friends gather up their paintball gear, and we all walk off into the trees.
“Can you hear me!” I scream as they disappear into the woods.
“Shut the fuck up,” says a friend.
“I’m right here!”
“We can see you.”
But I can’t see them skulking around in their camouflage, finding perfect brushy spots from which to snipe each other.
I go deeper into the woods. I stare at everything and everything pours in through my eyes. The world is inflating in me; I’m blowing up like a balloon. This is always how it feels—it all rushes inside, and I expand with it but never pop.
“I’m alone,” I say to myself.
I hear the thwap thwap of paintballs flying by and exploding against nearby trees. There is the crunching of leaves as my friends reposition themselves, take aim.
“I’m so high,” I say.
Thwap thwap thwap!
It’s true: The LSD is taking me to a place I’ve never been before. I can feel it growing in me, the portal getting wider than it’s ever been. I’m way through the wardrobe, smack in the middle of the forest, which suddenly morphs into a wrestling ring with the lights pouring down, and they’re hot as hell—thwap thwap thwap—I am so high that, for the first time, I’m afraid I might actually pop.
I look into the sky. White clouds with blue in between. Look harder into the sky. Something is changing. Something with my perception. Look harder into the sky and squint, try to get my vision to clear up again, but the clouds suddenly lose their dimensionality and go flat. Look at the trees and they are a glossy blur, the print of a postcard. Turn around 360 degrees, scanning everything, see a camouflaged friend darting from one unreal tree to another. Blink and rub my eyes. But the disconnect is deeper than my eyes. It is behind all that, down in my brain or synapses or neurons. I don’t know how any of it actually works; it’s been so simple up until now—take the tab, wait for the ride, go to sleep eventually, and wake up back to normal.
“Oh my God,” I say.
Everything around me looks as if I am watching it through a television screen, watching myself through a grainy television screen. Then I close my eyes, and the screen clicks off and—this is real—I am trapped inside.
Chuck Norris went from ninja to rabid Republican and started selling cheap exercise equipment made in China.
Hillbilly Jim trimmed his beard, cleaned up a little, and now hosts a satellite radio show called Hillbilly Jim’s Moonshine Matinee. My brother said he heard it once and remembered everything.
The Earthquake is dead, eaten up by cancer. His real name was John Tenta. Not long after that match with Hillbilly, he changed his name to the Avalanche, then the Shark, and, finally, Golga, a large man behind a mask. He left behind a wife and three kids.
I’m just me. Alive. Stopped cutting my hair. Stopped brushing it. Never finished high school, but that doesn’t bother me too much. I felt like I had better things to do. No more drugs, because the damage from that day in the woods never reversed. It was physiological, permanent. I didn’t wake up okay the next morning, never found my equilibrium. It’s been years now. It’s like I walked into the woods and never walked out again.
But I never got fired from TV. I quit, when I was eighteen, after five years on the air. There wasn’t much fanfare. I simply slipped out of the public eye as two new kids slipped in. A boy and a girl, both young, both smiling and wholesome with perfect, spit-shined faces.
I shook their hands, once. Smiled. Walked as tall as I could out of the studio and into the bright Nashville sun.
Josh MacIvor-Andersen lives in an old house in Wilmington, North Carolina, with his wife, a cat named Baby Kitty, and a second-trimester child named, for now, Baby Human, forthcoming in May.
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