4:30pm. In line at the Garnier Fructis Styling Station.
I was not prepared for our “campsite” to be limited to the space inside exactly one parking spot. I was not prepared for our giant tent, borrowed from our parents after years of neglect, to be completely inside-out, making assembly a bit more difficult than anticipated. I was not prepared for Porta-Potties. But I had braced myself for four days without a shower and I felt no urge to waste any more time waiting to have my hair washed and braided. I had other plans.
Elise had decided that she was not going to do it. Did she really want her first time to be in the company of 90,000 strangers? Besides, wouldn’t it be dangerous for four girls, alone, to be simultaneously incapacitated at a giant music festival where they know not a soul in the world? No, she would be happy to just watch. I could not let that happen. I told her that we would all protect each other, that she would regret not taking this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, that this place was made for just such a thing. I assure her that there is nothing fun about watching. Besides, what’s the worst that could happen?
No, we would all be tripping on acid that evening. Of this I was sure.
5:00pm. Inside one of the smaller stages featuring one of the smaller acts.
Jess hands us each two tabs and we place them gingerly on our tongues. Elise ponders only taking one now and saving the other for later; I advise her against it. Then we wait.
Approximately 5:45-10:00pm. In another world.
The following takes place in a whir of lights and sounds, in which only the words “Sublime,” “water,” and “hammock” are discernable. Time ceases to exist. Earthly concepts lose their meaning.
As we are walking away from the stage, I become aware that I am no longer capable of the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other. I must dance. I must sway. I must hop and spin and frolic. The music and the drugs have turned our path into Jell-o through which the pounding rhythm can be felt. This is the first time one of us mentions water—Sara braves the singular free water line while the rest of us lie in the grass marveling her courage. After what seems like hours (although twenty minutes is probably not an exaggeration, and that is simply too long to wait at the risk of overheating and dehydration), Sara comes back with one full bottle. From this point on, we will sloppily put handfuls of money into cashiers’ hands, asking for as much water as the stack will buy. I learn how great it feels to pour the cold water on my head and start to teach the others until Jess reminds me that we’re paying for it. The value of currency is gone.
Sara is also the first one to enter the Porta-Potty enclosure. How could I have not considered going to the bathroom? When she first says she has to pee, I reply, “You just think you have to, but you really don’t.” She insists she does, so we agree to hold hands on the way there and go one at a time so nobody gets left behind. When I step inside the labyrinth, I forget the “taking turns” system instilled in us elementary school; I forget that green means open and red means occupied; I forget how to lift the latch. Thankfully, I was wearing a skirt (an amazing tie-dyed birthday present from Sara, which has now been dubbed my tripping skirt) that could tie around my fanny pack, but I was still pretty sure I was pissing all over myself. Everything looked like it was dripping. I wasn’t—but I could have shat myself and not been surprised or embarrassed. Later Elise pukes, then I do. It’s just water, but it occurs to me why the ground has been progressively muddier each day with no rain to blame. We were all stewing in a vat of three-day-old dirt, beer, and every bodily fluid from every orifice possible.
Our roles have reversed. Elise, the worrier, bears a genuine ear-to-ear smile, takes her shirt off without a care, and wonders aloud why she ever drinks when this is possible. The only potential sign of distress is her periodic habit of standing up and looking at her watch, proclaiming that we must all go somewhere (usually, the hammock area). I, on the other hand, have taken over her anxiety, suddenly realizing all that could go wrong. Are we drinking enough water? If we pass out in a more secluded area, the medics might not find us until it’s too late. What if we all die today and I was the reason Elise took it, thereby sealing all of our dooms? I remain constantly aware of our proximity to the healing tent and even suggest it to Elise once. I knew I was mentally capable of steering away from a bad trip, but these concerns had nothing to do with the acid—our fragile, organic bodies could be in real danger. Tomorrow, I will feel a newfound gratitude for the volunteers and employees who keep everyone safe while they’re frolicking on this adult playground.
Our day consists of sprawling on the lawn in a clump, silently contemplating how we fit into the universe, until one of us breaks out of our reverie and says one of the three magic words, causing all of us to either (a) make a move toward the hammocks, (b) gather up cash for more water, or (c) ask someone near us whether Sublime was playing yet. I’m sure we wandered around in circles, but we did eventually find them by, you know, following the huge crowd blazing a trail to the main stage. I am sitting with my head between my thighs, breathing deeply, trying to calm myself down, when we hear the announcement that we are being evacuated due to extreme weather conditions.
10:00pm-6:00am. The trip goes on… and on… and on.
Honestly, I am relieved.
Later, I will complain about only seeing Sublime perform a couple songs and missing Kid Cudi altogether, but I doubt I would have enjoyed it anyway. At this moment, I can finally relax—we are surely being led to a secure location with paramedics available, if need be. But, as it turns out, we are all going back to our camps to weather the storm in our tents. I feel great. Even though we didn’t nail the stakes in properly so the floor is flooded and the walls are whipping around like we’re caught in the Wizard of Oz twister, I am surrounded by my best friends: Elise, my older sister and absolute role model; Sara, my “other half” for the last eleven years; and Jess, the girl who was supposed to be my roommate at NYU, the only person who can talk about Harry Potter as long as I can, the coolest, worldliest, most compassionate person I know, an inspiration who is currently living and working in Tanzania, helping local women start their own businesses. The boy I’ve been hooking up with just texted me, “Life is good and you’re one of the reasons.” I just graduated from college and applied for my dream job—my world is infinite. I have the best people in my life and everything is going to work out like it always has. I don’t know that I will be hung up on this boy longer than we were ever together, that I will be moving back in with my parents while Elise and Sara acquire their own cute little houses, that I will lose all motivation and be unemployed for almost half a year before begrudgingly getting back into food service. Right now, I am overwhelmed with love and contentment.
Everyone is getting wet, so we retreat to the car to wait out the downpour and the high. When the former stops, Sara and I go a couple spaces down where there are people gathered, but they are on an entirely different vibe, drinking liquor out of the bottle and asking to be spanked with wet T-shirts. We don’t stay long.
6:00am-6:00pm. The aftermath.
After spending all night watching drops of rain chasing each other, making paisley patterns on the windows, we give up the possibility of sleep. We pack up (after seriously considering just leaving the tent, Jess and I manage to shove it into its bag) and take the long trek to the festival. We arrive before the gates are open and have to wait in the baking sun for entry. Elise is quiet. Sara complains. Jess and I try to lighten the mood. The rest of the day unfolds in this way, Elise and Sara searching for shade to lay down in, Jess and I looking for sustenance to make them feel better: I think real fruit smoothies and hummus is what we find.
Elise is convinced that she will never be happy again and I am terrified I’ve broken her. When she returns home, she is facing a terrible boyfriend moving out and a lack of direction. A year later, she is in a happy relationship and halfway done with a teaching degree. She is a caring and gentle soul who will connect with her students in a way that no one else can. Or, she won’t, and she’ll travel the country taking pictures that make people stop and think, that truly say a thousand words. Or, she’ll do both and so much more. But she can’t see that now—only sadness.
Sara keeps reminding us how hot it is and I get irrationally annoyed. I want to scream, “We get it! Saying it every five seconds isn’t going to make it any less so! Jesus, why did you even come? You hate camping and you barely saw any of the acts! What exactly did you expect?” But I don’t and I’m glad. Getting angry is never worth it. In a year, she will be in her own place, dancing, drawing, painting, reading, and finally working on herself. She will have a new positive outlook and an irrefutable reason to attend festivals in the future: to sell her art. We will show me that people can change and that maybe I can, too. I will be so proud of her.
We reconvene for Snoop, with the final blunt. (We had rolled all of our weed and divided it up so we each got to pick a performance to smoke during). I chose Paul McCartney, but Snoop had been a consensus. It was cooler as the sun went down, and everyone’s spirits were lifted, if only marginally. I fell asleep in the hammock patch while The Killers played and then Elise drove us to Jess’ beach house like the superhero that she is. We showered for the first time in basically a week and blissfully passed out on the clean sheets.
We officially survived, forever the four goddesses of Firefly.