A mid-level drug trafficker and self-proclaimed low-life with a big vocabulary comes to terms with his actions and his mental health.
Andrew Brobyn’s relationship was in shambles before he took the terrible acid that sent him on an almost decade-long journey seeking redemption. His immediate plans following university were to liquidate his illicit assets, sell his client list, pack up shop, and retire to his parents’ home in Toronto while he figured out what to do with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and a quarter million in cash. As his drug use and bipolar disorder spiral, his situation gets stranger and stranger, taking him from his university campus to strip clubs, psych wards, and the slammer.
Equal parts hilarious and terrifying, Babble On is a psycho-philosophical memoir that tracks Brobyn as he navigates the consequences of his eccentric choices and struggles with profound ambivalence toward his own health and well-being.
A RARE MACHINES BOOK
About the author
Andrew Brobyn is a poet and memoirist. His experiences involving mental health and addiction issues are a major focus of his writing. He lives in Toronto.
Excerpt: Babble On: A Drug Memoir (by (author) Andrew Brobyn)
Wait a tick.
Why can I taste the acid?
And why does it have a grainy texture?
I loosen what feels like a mote of sand from one of the tabs and bite down. It bursts. My mouth is awash in a flavour I’d describe as grapefruit seeds of chemical regret, and I feel an instant coolness in my extremities. That’s not good. This isn’t good. I’ve heard stories, and done a lot of acid in my day, and seen a lot of fucked-up shit and bad trips, and the saying is “If it’s bitter, it’s a spitter.” Also to be a burstable grain, that crystal must’ve been at least a milligram … and some compounds are effective at doses in the microgram range. Most of that would’ve just absorbed into my mouth tissue immediately.
I follow the wisdom of countless mindless hippies before me and purge the tabs. I scrape my tongue for good measure. I can still taste the unique residue of impending psychosis, though, and start doing mental math in a futile race against my metabolism.
What sorts of compounds could one feasibly fit a full trip’s worth of onto blotter paper? Which ones would taste like a crushed Tylenol daiquiri? How many micrograms, across five tabs, may have dissolved through my mucous membranes in the moments it’s taken me to realize I’ve just dosed myself with a pretty hefty amount of a substance that I, and possibly even the manufacturer of said drug, have never tried before. Fuck.
There are too many options. In a split second, I curse every blessing I’ve ever made of all the renegade biochemists who’ve fuelled my lifelong quest to experience novel states of mental being. Fuck Hofmann. Fuck Shulgin. Fuck Nichols. This could be anything; all sorts of horrible medieval visions of Hell have been synthesized already, and more are being discovered in clandestine labs across the globe every day: DOB, 5-MeO-aMT, Bromo-DragonFLY, some sort of Aleph compound, 25I-NBOMe, 3-Quinuclidinyl benzilate … the list is limitless (metaphorically, though verging on literally). My heartbeat picks up a semi-step and the contours sharpen around objects I hadn’t even noticed I’m sharing this room with. The mind can be a prison, prism, and/or a palace; it’s all about perception. I remind myself of the lessons of loony Tim Leary’s take on The Tibetan Book of the Dead, and the (comparatively) more dependable Terence McKenna’s Food of the Gods: set and setting are everything; your thoughts and physical presence must both reside in a safe space for the duration of the trip, unless you want to come out of it all animal — a devolved, semi-reptilian monstrosity wearing your epidermis: a silicone suit on an animated, proto-mammalian mannequin. I focus my attentions to mindfulness tactics and search my body for sensation …
Yeah, something’s off all right. Usually my psychedelic-state synesthesia isn’t this all-encompassing. Did I just chew off a piece of the fucking Loc-Nar?
Is this the drug, or the predrug placebo? Either way, the paranoia’s persistent, but considering that I, very stupidly, took five tabs from the untested sheet all at once, I’ll go ahead and assume this is just the normal, ambient level of anxiety that I should naturally be feeling. I’m already about ten minutes down, anyway, so at least I know I’m not allergic to this — otherwise my heart wouldn’t be palpitating quite so much as just permanently on pause. The real deal, once my mind makes it there, will be considerably more omnipersistent than a simple passing perception that I’m being watched, or that my watching is being sensed, or that the walls are breathing.
Should I go to the hospital? Call 911? No. I can’t. I can feel the heat just thinking about it. No, this one’s on me.
Maybe it was more like fifteen minutes, actually. Twenty? Time is all around me — the wall, my right wrist, the DVD player, my pocket — but it’s all too far away to be any more than a blur, an oasis mirage in an ocean, a fading, disconcertingly coloured sunset.
Hmm. Maybe I should sit down. Better yet — lie down. That’s the ticket. Also maybe this wasn’t the best movie choice. Apocalypse Now and LSD (ideally, properly synthesized LSD-25 — not that 1-propionyl-LSD or some other analogue bullshit): great combination. Apocalypse Now (Redux, I might add) and questionable amounts of an unknown research chemical: possibly less great. It might even be fair to classify this as definitely less great.
It’s OK to have such a simple mantra in scenarios like this. It’s OK. I’ve been in hairier situations before — I mean, obviously not like doing a gap-year tour in Vietnam, an M-16 graduation present courtesy of Uncle Sam, being experimented on with Agent Orange and a Jacob’s Ladder, BZ-style, stimu-deliriant — but drug-wise.
The thing about psychedelics (which I’m assuming I just cavalierly took some radical new sort of) is that they reveal that reality is subjective — even at the best of times — and it’s kind of like a conversation taking place in many different languages at once. But this subjectivity is open to interpretation, and the drug is kind of like an interpreter: you get a good drug, you have a good conversation; you hit a bad tab, that conversation becomes a cacophony of sense overlaid with sense and stirred up until it’s all nonsense.
I should probably turn off the movie now, but I really like this song, “The End.” What a brilliant way to start a movie.
What I really need now is a pad of paper, dim lighting, and a pack of crayons. The more colours, the better. Also I should probably put my knife down, somewhere out of immediate reach.
Another thing I forgot about flicks a light on in the kitchen. My ex is standing in the doorway, metaphorically as always, but also actually, and clearly waiting for me to notice.
“It’s four in the morning.”
That’s a statement. I know she expects a response, but I’ve become somewhat less than the perfect suitor since our relationship started crumbling over the winter. We still live together, out of necessity, but that’s changing in the next few days. I’m getting out of Dodge. I’m taking Java, my doggie — the true love of my life, and the only creature remotely capable of keeping me together — back home. Part border collie, part retriever, she acts like a coyote — playful, inquisitive, creative, sensitive, trusting … with trust in me. She’s my girl. I get Java; she’s been mine since grade six, and she’s mine now. My ex can keep the rest of our menagerie of pets: two cats, two ferrets, a rat, a snake, a few lizards … a shitload of crickets. I’m cutting my losses.
My graduation ceremony was in January, and it was a shit-show. I didn’t want to go. I knew what the end of my school career meant: no more easy ride, no more getting paid to show up at parties, no more learning what I wanted to and acing exams with the aid of the same grey-market nootropics I supply the professors and grad students with. My immediate plans are to liquidate my illicit assets, sell my client list, pack up shop, and retire to my parental home in the big city while I plan out what to do with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and about a quarter million in cash. It’s not the end of the world, but no more psychedelic escapades at four in the morning for the conceivable future. I choose to leave her remark hanging there, choking on its obviousness.
“Can you, like, I don’t know, turn it down? Or, like, go to sleep? Or whatever it is that you want to do, as long as it doesn’t bother me? I have a job, remember? I have to, like, go to school in the morning.”
She’s still waiting for me to say something. Or maybe she isn’t — just letting her words permeate what she probably (rightly) assumes to be my drug-addled mind. I don’t have anything to say. Not that I don’t, generally. I have a Dead Sea’s worth of salty things I’d like to share with her, but circumstance, brain chemistry, and a multiplicity of deep-seated personality flaws are preventing me from verbalizing my complicated feelings toward her.
I don’t have long to get rid of her before this becomes an all-out fiasco. Whatever it is that’s coursing through my system is warping and contorting Colonel Kurtz’s warbled “snail on a straight razor” tape-recorder monologue. I feel a keen sense of identity in kinship with the gastropod and its mystic spiral shell.
“So you’re not even talking to me?”
This is steadily getting worse. I really didn’t want a fight. Especially not while I’m ostensibly engaged in research for PiHKAL: The Next Frontier. I feel a primeval Promethean energy stirring in my stomach, singeing butterfly cocoons shut. I need to defuse the situation, somehow assuage her skull-fucked sense of trust in me. I haven’t been good at that lately, but I have to try — otherwise I’m in for six, to forty-eight, to an infinite expanse of hours full of excruciatingly introspective self-admonishment for every ill deed I’ve ever conceived — maybe a spot of formication. They call them bad trips for a reason.
—I love you. I love you so much. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.
Now she’s speechless. Just like I should’ve remained. I sound like Stephen Hawking’s animatronic voice saying something discomforting to his dog before its euthanasia. An increment of time passes that is somehow both relievingly short, and unconsolingly long. A lemniscate of escape, before:
“No, you don’t. You don’t even love yourself. You don’t even know what you’re apologizing for anymore. I’m tired and going to bed. Good night.”
She follows through on her threat and heads up to bed, leaving the light on in the kitchen. She knows I like being in the dark when I feel like shit.
Oh, right. I forgot that I’m full on tripping, or — I hope this is the extent of the trip. Putting the ex situation out of mind for a second, I take a moment to assess my psychological state …
Shit. Through the litany of pills and powders and syrups and smokes of all different sorts that I’ve consumed over the course of the last few days (my retirement party), I can’t even distinguish just which discrepancies from reality are new to me. For all intents and purposes, everything is fucked.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
A sunrise spilling shadows from the TV-room windowsill sets a precedent for a sense of time that’s elapsed while I’ve been — totally blanked out. Well, I suppose no recollection at all is likely better than whatever my subconscious self just experienced or endured.
Somehow I make the connection that dawn correlates to six or seven in the morning.
“You need to go. You need to get out.” She’s back and on the warpath, ready to attack in self-defence, if it comes to that.
My time’s up. If only this could be fixed by words.
In the Course of a Song
we’d listen to Chopin
spring waltz, nocturnes; nothing obscure
running through dreams, memories, plans
time and possibility
repeat ad infinitum
reducio ad absurdum
clucking, cooing, gobbledegooking
swelling up and pouring out
we filled an ocean with loss
we couldn’t stop
we were so young
so perfect and right
for each other
it was poetry we never got
the chance to write;
why write when you can
live, there’s nothing more
pure, or chaste
for what we waste
In language as toxically lush as the psychedelic oblivion his characters illuminate, Brobyn takes us through the up-five-nights, down and dirty joys of the un-chic drug-seeking life, the highs and lows most of us will never be demented enough to imagine. Prose with an orgasmic pulse, and real blood in its hardcore veins.
Susan Musgrave, author of Exculpatory Lilies
An elaborate, astute exploration of a lifestyle that has its hold on more people than most dare to admit.
Khashayar Mohammadi, poet
Brobyn is the Henry Miller for our times — cavorting in excess, roiling in misdeeds, and all the while never swerving his keen eye from what is happening and how it aligns with his view of the world. Through the haze of highs and shady business dealings of the local Canadian drug trade Babble On reminds us that the construct of memory is as fallible as our own morals.
Julie Cameron Gray, author of Lady Crawford
Andrew Brobyn goes to all the dark places so we don't have to. A fabulous read — as entertaining as it is important.
Andrew Kaufman, author of The Ticking Heart