It's 2 am and I am hugging the porcelain thrown and expelling my innards. I've been drinking ancient ceremonial tea all night and probably that had drugs in it.
There are plenty of things we could have done in Downtown Asheville. Fancy fudge, craft breweries, coffee in a giant double decker bus, to name a few notable suggestions from Pinterest. But like all legendary nights that start with your friends and the words, "you won't," this one ended with getting high, purging and even a crime.
We walked into the auspicious tea joint to a scene I'd expect in California. People lazily draped over couches covered in multi-colored patches of fabric. Basically, they were wearing tattered rags and shirts with political statements like, "Don't take away my weed."
We order our cup of kava, which is served cold and with a slice of pineapple. I learn that kava has an entire culture and etiquette around it. When consumed in its native home of Fiji, you are given the option of a “low tide” or “high tide” serving. We took the latter. Immediately my tongue and lips tingle with numbness and I begin to giggle. The happy has arrived.
"I get it, man," I find myself saying in response to a fellow patron's shirt. "Why are we so hung up on pot? Someone should tell that guy about kava though."
If you Google kava, numerous results with warnings and side effects will ensue. Kava is a root that causes a euphoric and relaxed feeling. What my stoner friends would refer to as a nice high. Google will also inform you it’s an acquired taste. You should not believe Google.
The last of the grainy brown liquid goes down rough. I take the pineapple kindly provided as a garnish and squeeze every last drop of juice out.
One of the owners of the shop, our kava guide for the evening, joins us. He's friendly and well spoken as he opens us up to the history of this root. Intelligent and alert as he may be, I cannot say the same for his faculties. He has the body language of a stroke victim.
“What do I have to drink to get like that?” my fiance whispers to the bartender.
It takes roughly 20 glasses of kratum to become Mick Jagger. Fear not having a glass, you’ll be fine. Kratum is served warm and tastes like herbal tea. You won’t need a pineapple or a hail Mary to tolerate it.
As the boys switched over to kratum, a polite man donning dreadlocks begins to tell us about it. The gentlemen, a former opium addict, offers his perspective. Kratum relaxes you the same way kava does, but with an added layer of focus and creative inspiration. A more purposeful high, if you will.
As we consider these differences, a woman runs in desperately looking around the shop until she lays her eyes on my fiance. “Can I get a cigarette?” she says anxiously. Although he had just finished rolling a fresh one, I see him consider the karma points before handing it to her. She smiles, looks down and runs out.
If it weren't for the loss of feeling of my face, I'd ask him why he gave that crazy lady his cigarette.
Moments later, Jack Sparrow informs us she's committed a crime with her boyfriend and was arrested shortly after. That was her last cigarette for a while.
"Man, you're going to heaven." I tell my fiance who smiles knowingly.
The last leg of the night is spent at a bar, a considerably different high. I've regained the feeling back to my face but the introspection has not gone away. Look at all these people. We're all the same. We go out longing for a sense of community, to the find the people who dress like us and pick our same poison, but it's all the same.
Here, there is no tattered clothing or ultra-left statements. This is a different crowd with things like, "Beer Me" or "Body for Rent" printed across the patrons' shirts. Here, there are no self-admitted addicts because alcohol is legal. Groups of friends throw their hands victoriously in the air announcing they just finished chugging their twelfth beer.
Same experiences with different labels. I lean in to share my existentially accurate discoveries but something has gone awry. My stomach begins to feel like it's curling or doing backflips inside my body. All that comes out is, "We have to go now."
We say goodbye to our friends and I keep a brave face to prove I can hang until the door shuts. Then, I run into the bathroom where I expel my innards violently until tears literally stream down my face. I can hear the faint knock of my fiance at the door, but I tell him it's too late for me. He must save himself.
Though my sense of belonging and purpose was with the hippies at the kava house, I guess my body belongs to the fraternal gatherings at breweries. With the legality of kava under question, I wonder who gets to decide what vice is "better" for us than another. First, kratum was legal as it's a root that grows naturally, then it was deemed for a brief time illegal and the internet went crazy stocking up on the natural tea, until that decision was overturned. It's confusing to keep up with what's bad for us, all the while opioids are basically a legal way to treat depression.