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Some are weeping, some are stroking each other’s faces, one is reciting the nursery rhyme “Humpty Dumpty” in a voice stunned by grief. When you look at the tree above your head, the branches all burst into ghostly flowers, a continuous bloom.

There are candles and Buddha statues and a watercooler with crystals in it. In the living room, a woman claims that Jesus visited her in the middle of the night and told her to pull up her kitchen floor, under which she discovered blood stains. It’s like the tree is auditioning for a part called TREE.

The two biggest toes on my left foot stayed numb, as if I’d dipped them in the grave. I lay there immobilized, trying to hold on to the fact that I was doing this for a reason—that I was supposed to go spelunking in the void and therapeutically return, purged of my fear of death. in an article by Michael Pollan, I was immediately intrigued.

Why was I, a father of two young children, tripping in a house with a bunch of strangers? At its root is something that happened to me the summer before. But last July, climbing the stairs on an otherwise uneventful day of writing, my head exploded.

I was 44 at the time: no longer in the prime of youth, but certainly someone who anticipated a good thirty or forty more years of life on earth. I had heard about “thunderclap headaches,” and it was exactly that: a thunderclap of pain that began in my head and flashed down my neck, as though my spine were a lightning rod, before melting away. The neck thing worried me—I’d never felt that before—but I wasn’t horrendously concerned.

I threw up for days, sometimes in front of my children.

I had my penis shish-kebabbed by a catheter, which hurts exactly as much as it sounds.

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