I’ve taken LSD three times in my life, which in retrospect was at least two times too many.

Part 1: College

My first LSD experience took place while I was at university. Everybody at the student co-op who was taking it for the first time had a buddy, and mine was a friendly guy I’ll call Nathan. The buddy system existed to ensure we had someone to fall back on in case of trouble, and to avoid bothering the more experienced people.

But that night, well into our trips, one of our group decided to go swimming. This was a disruption of the event-free evening of deep thought and orange juice that Nathan and I had enjoyed so far. We anxiously reacted with what we thought was appropriate concern for someone going swimming on acid: we panicked and begged them not to. The person in question, for whom this was not the first or even the hundredth trip, refused to play along and just started taking off their clothes while walking out to the pool. Nathan and I hurried along behind and waited for the worst to happen.

In the backyard, I looked across the length of the lighted pool at the back fence, and to my horror I saw a dark figure clambering over it. No, not a figure. A raccoon. A preposterously huge raccoon, bigger than a large dog. And another one was coming right behind it.

The raccoons dropped down into the yard and walked with great confidence onto the glowing surface of the swimming pool. It was heading right for us.

Without turning my head I tugged at Nathan’s sleeve and said, “Do you, uh, do you see what I see?”

Nathan replied, “Well, do you see giant raccoons walking on water?”

I sighed with relief. “Yes.” I was glad. Either I somehow wasn’t hallucinating, or I was but I had also developed the ability to broadcast my thoughts. For me that night, either case would have been evidence enough that I was reassuringly sane.

Right before our swimmer pal was ready to dive in, it became clear that our pool had a thick but translucent retractable cover I’d never seen before. And the raccoons turned out to be normal size for the Berkeley foothills. The pair of them eventually gave up and scampered back over the fence. I never forgot them.

I stayed up all night talking Nathan’s ear off while listening to early R.E.M. albums until the sun came up. Then we took a pleasant early-morning walk up into the hills, where we regarded the glory of the sunrise city spread out below us, cold but unbothered by any raccoons or other creatures of the night. Slowly we began feeling cravings, not for enlightenment, but for something much simpler: breakfast and coffee.

Part 2: Dropout

After I dropped out of college, I moved in for a few months with two friends I knew from my home town. One of them was a consummate LSD experimenter and had taken a pure liquid form of the drug every weekend for about a year running. Some time had passed since the last experiment, but the remaining vial of liquid LSD was safely stored in the freezer, in a ten-x solution with vodka, so that the LSD wouldn’t crystallize.

We decided to drop one weekend. We laid in a large supply of snacks and drinks: tasty ones for the trip and replenishing ones for the aftermath. We also rented a stack of movies and planned to have a nice cozy indoor trip. To play it safe, we dropped at 11 on Saturday morning to ensure we’d have come down by sunset. We’d be able to sleep that night, and we’d have Sunday to recuperate. Some of us had to work on Monday, after all.

But an hour after we let the sugar cubes dissolve on our tongues, and well into a viewing of a Simpsons episode I’ll never see the same again, it became clear that we had taken too much. The supposed solution of LSD and vodka turned out to have been only a mixture. My savvvy friend had neglected to shake the vial up before dosing us, so we’d taken ten times more than we wanted.

I have to leave most of the details of that blurry, unforgettable 18-hour bad trip to your imagination, but, had you asked me the next afternoon, over the chili I scarfed up out of a bread bowl on Fisherman’s Wharf, I would have passionately informed you, with fire in my eyes, that the lucky copy of Yellow Submarine we’d had on the shelf was the lodestone that guided us through the storm of the century, out from the mud and rain and into safe harbor at last.

Part 3: Operator

Now that some years have passed since my third time taking LSD, I would say I’ve learned the following two lessons: Yellow Submarine is way overrated, and dropping early in the day is definitely not.

It was a few years after my unfortunate second trip, and I found myself employed and in a happy relationship. When my girlfriend suggested that we drop acid on the weekend, I confidently said yes.

I had gotten up early Friday morning for my long shift as a telephone operator. After work my girlfriend picked me up for dinner and then took me to her place for the trip. And I felt ready. I’d insisted on having a copy of Yellow Submarine ready, and my indulgent girlfriend obliged. At 9pm we made our surroundings comfortable and did the deed.

There’s not much I can say about what came after, because I don’t really remember much. I can say this: Yellow Submarine didn’t help one bit.

I came back to myself the following morning, standing halfway up the stairs, looking down at my girlfriend as she sobbed inconsolably. I’d been behaving erratically since just after we dropped, and she’d had to deal with me through the whole dark night while on LSD. Up on the landing, I remembered concluding that in fact I was dead, nothing around me was real, and in order for me to pass on to the next world, I only needed to find the proper way out – through the ceiling of one of the upstairs rooms. In my conception of reality, my girlfriend was just an expression of my own anima, and everything she said (like “Please stop!” and “I’m so worried about you!”) I simply interpreted as the last twitches of my now-irrelevant survival instinct.

But now, as I looked down on her and saw her crying as if all hope were lost, a glimmer of an idea occurred to me: I could play along. I could pretend she was a separate being for a little while, in the hope that it would calm her down and I could get on with my plan.

So I came downstairs and put my arms around her, started telling her that everything was okay. My brain was still whirling, and I didn’t believe a word I was saying, but I found I was also having feelings: feelings of sympathy, of love, of regret. I continued to play along, and my girlfriend finally stopped crying.

Later, after some grounding exercises like showering and eating breakfast, we both felt more normal. It was actually a beautiful summer Saturday, and we went out to sit by the creek and talk through what had happened. I still had a sneaking suspicion – but I didn’t tell her.

At work on Monday, I had a lot of trouble relating to the customers with their petty concerns about collect calls and long-distance charges. I’d had a deeply transformative experience.

In the years that followed I had several other opportunities to do LSD, which I always politely declined. Thrice was enough. I’ll be honest with you: even today, I’m still not entirely sure that I should consider anyone around me to be real. But every day I wake up, rub my eyes, and make the decision to play along.