Yesterday I was back at my parents’ house in Rotterdam. I decided to go on a walk outside in the freezing temperatures. The sun had set, but light pollution in Rotterdam is so severe that you can still see everything in the middle of the night. I wandered north, revisiting old places from my youth.
There is one special place in particular I visited. It’s an old mansion built around a century ago, with a big garden that is hardly managed. It’s the first time in years I have visited it. It’s also home to the largest oak tree in the region.
It’s special to me, because the biggest events in my life took place there. Years ago I took a good friend there. I had known her for years, but it was there that it became undeniable for me that I was head over heels in love with her, as we climbed up into the mansion together. When I had first met her, she unnerved me, as if my subconscious already knew what she would mean to me.
As these sort of things tend to go, eventually we broke up, after a tragedy I will not go into. I felt immediately suicidal. I understand how the human brain works, so for the second time in my life, I decided I was going to take psychedelics. This was the only solution I saw at the time, because the pain was unbearable.
I knew I had to take the mushrooms in a beautiful place. I went back to the mansion, sat down on the bench where we once sat together and I began to consume my mushrooms. I saw a feminine entity who seemed to represent my own Anima. She was very kind and so I took the rest of my mushrooms that I had left.
After I ate all of them, someone walked by (you can never be truly alone in the Netherlands) and I was startled. This sent me into ego death. It felt as if I broke through something, now I was multiple people simultaneously. I was an Indian in the rainforest, I was myself, I was all sorts of people having this experience of ego death simultaneously.
I could see what I would call an “astral door”, it opened up and I went through it. Then I began to leave my body. My consciousness began to expand and I felt as if it shot past planets in our solar system, before it began to encompass the stars as well. I could feel I began to leave the constraints of time too. I was everything at once, for a period that might have been seconds or billions of years.
After this, life felt surprisingly bearable for a few months again. Friends would say that something seemed to have changed about me, in a positive manner. For a few weeks I genuinely thought I would just continue leading my life, go to some clubs, see if I might meet some girl I liked there and just move on with life with some minor scars in my soul.
That didn’t happen. The girls I met just left me feeling more empty and all the places I used to frequent had now become tied up with her. I did manage to find a job however. I stopped being a NEET and I moved to Baarn, to live near my job. The novelty of it all wore off after a few months and I realized I still missed her.
I began to take more psychedelics. I would take high doses of mescaline and become so scared that I locked myself up in my bathroom. I would mix mushrooms with cactus, wander through the forest and feel like I had gone to heaven. I would drop acid and believe I had discovered the meaning of life. I would smoke changa that left me convinced that I had died.
I would go to the forest of Baarn at dusk and smoke Salvia, watching as a portal ripped open in the corner of my eyes, where a jester in front of a carnival would mock me before his jester friends. I would run through the forest of Baarn in the dark towards my bicycle, looking in horror as the ground I stepped on looked like a jester’s mocking face.
I would wander through the forest of Baarn, high on mescaline, believing I had become possessed by the devil himself. I would set up parties with my friends, lovely boys and girls from around the world. We would drink cactus juice, or we would lock ourselves in a bedroom and smoke Salvia in the dark, as my friend dressed up like a jester to mock me and control the light.
Eventually, I learned how to use the skills nature has granted me and I became financially independent. But I still miss her. I haven’t really seriously looked for a girlfriend since then, as every girl I met since then just made me feel as if it’s going to be impossible to really feel what I felt back then.
Lately, she is showing up in my dreams. In my dreams I see myself as an old man with a grey beard, wandering around confused in the city where she used to study. Local young students walk up to me and think I am a crazy homeless person, but when I tell them what has happened they hug me, because they understand.
A human life lasts around ninety years, you can’t realistically expect to spend the best years of your youth with someone and for your mind to figure out how to turn it into a footnote in your life once the two of you break up. If your brain can do that, then everything becomes meaningless. To say that all of this hurt me would not do justice to what I experienced, but I don’t regret it. Just as the world exists for a reason, all of this happened for a reason.
What did I love about her? Words can’t really do justice to it. She felt as alienated from society as I did. When we were together, it was like we were two aliens observing another species. I felt like I could drop my guard around her, as if I could truly be myself and speak what was truly on my mind and she would merely love me even more. I didn’t have to try to appear like a normal socially competent person in front of her. Her mind was like a window into indescribable beauty. In a sense, losing her felt like suddenly going blind.
Romance is for young people. As we grow older we become pragmatic, rational and even cynical in love. That’s the nature of life. As the world is increasingly designed in accordance to the rules of reason and as young people gradually become outnumbered by old people, there will be less room left for passions. I do plan on actively looking for a new girlfriend in the coming months, because I need to move on with my life and will regret it if I don’t, but I don’t really expect I’m going to feel again what I felt as a young man.
I’m explaining this, because I recently stumbled upon a story in a book I’m reading, that manages to capture what I felt. The story is written by Lafcadio Hearn, a 19th century European who moved to Japan, married a wife there and began documenting Japanese ghost stories in English. I took the liberty of copying the story here below.
The Eternal Haunter by Lafcadio Hearn
This year the Tōkyō color-prints – Nishiki-é – seem to me of unusual interest. They reproduce, or almost reproduce, the color-charm of the early broadsides; and they show a marked improvement in line-drawing. Certainly one could not wish for anything prettier than the best prints of the present season.
My latest purchase has been a set of weird studies – spectres of all kinds known to the Far East, including many varieties not yet discovered in the West. Some are extremely unpleasant; but a few are really charming. Here, for example, is a delicious thing by ‘Chikanobu’, just published, and for sale at the remarkable price of three sen!
Can you guess what it represents? … Yes, a girl, but what kind of a girl? Study it a little … Very lovely, is she not, with that shy sweetness in her downcast gaze – that light and dainty grace, as of a resting butterfly? … No, she is not some Psyche of the most Eastern East, in the sense that you mean – but she is a soul. Observe that the cherry-flowers falling from the branch above, are passing through her form. See also the folds of her robe, below, melting into blue faint mist. How delicate and vapory the whole thing is! It gives you the feeling of spring; and all those fairy colors are the colors of a Japanese spring-morning … No, she is not the personification of any season. Rather she is a dream – such a dream as might haunt the slumbers of Far-Eastern youth; but the artist did not intend her to represent a dream … You cannot guess? Well, she is a tree-spirit – the Spirit of the Cherry-tree. Only in the twilight of morning or of evening she appears, gliding about her tree; and whoever sees her must love her. But, if approached, she vanishes back into the trunk, like a vapor absorbed. There is a legend of one tree-spirit who loved a man, and even gave him a son; but such conduct was quite at variance with the shy habits of her race …
You ask what is the use of drawing the Impossible? Your asking proves that you do not feel the charm of this vision of youth – this dream of spring. I hold that the Impossible bears a much closer relation to fact than does most of what we call the real and the commonplace. The Impossible may not be naked truth; but I think that it is usually truth – masked and veiled, perhaps, but eternal. Now to me this Japanese dream is true – true, at least, as human love is. Considered even as a ghost it is true. Whoever pretends not to believe in ghosts of any sort, lies to his own heart. Every man is haunted by ghosts. And this color-print reminds me of a ghost whom we all know – though most of us (poets excepted) are unwilling to confess the acquaintance.
Perhaps – for it happens to some of us – you may have seen this haunter, in dreams of the night, even during childhood. Then, of course, you could not know the beautiful shape bending above your rest: possibly you thought her to be an angel, or the soul of a dead sister. But in waking life we first become aware of her presence about the time when boyhood begins to ripen into youth.
This first of her apparitions is a shock of ecstasy, a breathless delight; but the wonder and the pleasure are quickly followed by a sense of sadness inexpressible – totally unlike any sadness ever felt before – though in her gaze there is only caress, and on her lips the most exquisite of smiles. And you cannot imagine the reason of that feeling until you have learned who she is – which is not an easy thing to learn.
Only a moment she remains; but during that luminous moment all the tides of your being set and surge to her with a longing for which there is not any word. And then – suddenly! – she is not; and you find that the sun has gloomed, the colors of the world turned grey. Thereafter enchantment remains between you and all that you loved before – persons or things or places. None of them will ever seem again so near and dear as in other days.
Often she will return. Once that you have seen her she will never cease to visit you. And this haunting – ineffably sweet, inexplicably sad – may fill you with rash desire to wander over the world in search of somebody like her. But however long and far you wander, never will you find that somebody.
Later you may learn to fear her visits because of the pain they bring – the strange pain that you cannot understand. But the breadth of zones and seas cannot divide you from her; walls of iron cannot exclude her. Soundless and subtle as a shudder of ether is the motion of her.
Ancient her beauty as the heart of man – yet ever waxing fairer, forever remaining young. Mortals wither in Time as leaves in the frost of autumn; but Time only brightens the glow and the bloom of her endless youth. All men have loved her; all must continue to love her. But none shall touch with his lips even the hem of her garment.
All men adore her; yet all she deceives, and many are the ways of her deception. Most often she lures her lover into the presence of some earthly maid, and blends herself incomprehensibly with the body of that maid, and works such sudden glamour that the human gaze becomes divine – that the human limbs shine through their raiment. But presently the luminous haunter detaches herself from the mortal, and leaves her dupe to wonder at the mockery of sense.
No man can describe her, though nearly all men have some time tried to do so. Pictured she cannot be – since her beauty itself is a ceaseless becoming, multiple to infinitude, and tremulous with perpetual quickening, as with flowing of light. There is a story, indeed, that thousands of years ago some marvellous sculptor was able to fix in stone a single remembrance of her. But this doing became for many the cause of sorrow supreme; and the Gods decreed, out of compassion, that to no other mortal should ever be given power to work the like wonder. In these years we can worship only; we cannot portray.
But who is she? – what is she? … Ah! that is what I wanted you to ask. Well, she has never had a name; but I shall call her a tree-spirit. The Japanese say that you can exorcise a tree-spirit – if you are cruel enough to do it – simply by cutting down her tree. But you cannot exorcise the Spirit of whom I speak – nor ever cut down her tree.
For her tree is the measureless, timeless, billion-branching Tree of Life – even the World-Tree, Yggdrasil, whose roots are in Night and Death, whose head is above the Gods. Seek to woo her – she is Echo. Seek to clasp her – she is Shadow. But her smile will haunt you into the hour of dissolution and beyond – through numberless lives to come.
And never will you return her smile – never, because of that which it awakens within you – the pain that you cannot understand. And never, never shall you win to her – because she is the phantom light of long-expired suns – because she was shaped by the beating of infinite millions of hearts that are dust – because her witchery was made in the endless ebb and flow of the visions and hopes of youth, through countless forgotten cycles of your own incalculable past.