"Are you ready, Mom?"
"Yes, sure, but I still don't understand what these will do…"
"Don't worry, just relax. They're going to help you feel better. Whatever happens, don't freak out. And say whatever you want, don't hold back."
It's a late fall afternoon in Mississauga, Ontario. I'm visiting my mom for a few days before she flies to Pakistan for a visit. It's her second trip there in less than two years, which is unlike her. Ever since my father's death a year earlier, she's seemed a little disoriented. My brother and sister have also noticed a change in her—she constantly talks about how there's no reason for her to live anymore because she's a widow. She tells us we don't need her any longer, that no one needs her, and it would have been better if she had died instead of our father.
She's depressed, but she won't admit it, and it's started taking a toll on our small but tight-knit family. I understand what she's going through. I went through something similar as well after my father's death. It's not common in Pakistani families to talk about one's pain and vulnerabilities. We're taught that weakness is unattractive, that you should never truly open up to other people because they'll always use that information to put you down and ultimately hurt you, family included. I was taught this too, and the only reason I broke free from this toxic mentality was through experimenting with psychedelics. Now, I want to help my mom do the same.
I hold my hand out and give her three dried Psilocybe cubensis mushrooms—magic mushrooms—roughly three grams total. Talking her into it was surprisingly easy, she didn't even realize they were illegal. I would be her sober spirit guide.
"They taste nasty, Mom. Chew them and wash them down with the bottle of water we brought."
She takes a bite and instantly recoils.
"Oh man, these are gross!"
She eats the rest with more ease than I had anticipated.
"Okay, now what?"
"Now, nothing. Let's go for a walk. Don't think about it too much."
It's a beautiful sunny day. There's a park near her house that we walk towards. My brother is home, and I don't want my mom tripping while he's around; he can be a bit judgmental about people taking "intoxicants," including alcohol. We walk around the park for about 45 minutes, after which we head to a Starbucks in a nearby plaza. I want to make sure we're somewhere indoors and comfortable before the shrooms hit her.
We walk by a bed of pansies as we approach the Starbucks. My mom stops and stares at them in silence for a few seconds.
"These flowers are so beautiful," she says softly.
As we approach the entrance to Starbucks, she looks up at the sky, eyes wide and mouth open.
"Oh wow, the sky looks so blue! Is it always this blue?"
We walk in, and she instantly breaks out in a fit of giggles.
"Hina, that man, his shoes! They're so red!"
She's referring to one of the Starbucks patrons wearing red Nikes. The shoes are actually pretty striking!
"Yeah, they are!"
She grabs my arm, and I quickly examine her. Her pupils are dilated, and she has a huge smile on her face. She's slightly jittery, and her breathing has heightened.
"Do you wanna get something to drink, Mom?"
"I just… I think I need to sit down. Can you get us something? Anything sweet is fine!"
I grab us two lattes, and we go sit out on the patio; I want her to enjoy the colours. The only ones outside, we grab a table by the corner, overlooking another bed of flowers. My mom is scanning her surroundings, as though seeing everything for the first time. We sit in silence for a few minutes.
"Do you miss your dad?" she finally asks.
Before I can respond, she goes on.
"I didn't know my father, you know. He died when I was only 16. Even when he was alive, he was always working. And my mom, she was never there for me. With seven kids and a house full of servants, no one had time for me. I definitely have a mommy void in my life," she says.
"That's why I married your father when I was 21, I didn't actually love him; I didn't even know what love was. I felt no one wanted me around. My mother and brothers all saw me as a burden. They couldn't wait for me to get married and leave. You know my sister Asma was married off when she was only 17?"
And this is when my mother, age 48, for the first time in her life opens up to me about her childhood and the trauma she suffered growing up in her family in Pakistan—sexism, shame, neglect, and sexual abuse at the hands of her brothers. I listen in silence as she chronicles the first few years of her marriage to my father—infidelity, verbal and physical abuse, blackmail and several separations. Most of it I know; some of it I don't.
She occasionally stops to look at the flowers, then continues on. I ask questions to keep the conversation going, but I'm mostly just listening. After about an hour of talking, she takes a break.
She comes out of it for a while and asks, "Why did you give me these? You want to see me cry?"
"Do you feel like crying? It's OK if you do."
She looks away.
"I don't feel like crying anymore. I've cried enough in my life."
We talk some more. She explains how she could never leave my father because, without him, we wouldn't have had the lifestyle that his money could provide. Her family wasn't willing to support her; her mother thought it would bring shame upon the family if her daughter got divorced with two young children and that no one would marry my mother afterwards. So without any financial resources, a job, or help from her own family, my mother decided the only option was to rough it out with my dad. A 25-year, mostly sexless marriage, she was just in it to give her kids the resources she knew she couldn't provide them on her own.
"Mom, I have to ask—why are you going to Pakistan again? Dad's dead, you don't need to pretend to be the good wife anymore. And do you really want to see your family? After everything you've told me? Why?"
She genuinely seems taken aback by my questions. She doesn't respond instantly, and instead crosses her arms across her chest and stares at me blankly.
"I… I don't know why I'm going," she finally admits, "I'm so lost right now, I have no idea what I should do with my life."
We talk for a few more hours, eventually migrating to a Wild Wings for dinner. Mom's pretty much sober by now, but in a better mood than she had been before taking the shrooms. She's smiling and telling stories about her first few years being a young mother and figuring it all out on her own. She recognizes how she built her entire identity on being a mother and providing my siblings and I all the resources she could for us to succeed. That's partly why she's so lost now—we're all grown up and living our own lives, and she's left to figure things out on her own once again.
"Mom, you're not alone. I hope you know that? You've been given a second chance at life, and we just want you to live the kind of life you've always wanted. You can date, fall in love, get married, travel the world—whatever you want, we'll support you!" I reassure her.
"Oh man, I do not wanna get married again! I am done with that part of my life!" she replies with a disgusted look on her face.
As we're leaving, my mom asks, "So you've done this before, haven't you? What happened when you took these?"
I hesitate to respond. There are a lot of things I haven't told her about the ways my childhood messed me up in the head, and how I've been dealing with all that through microdosing. Seeing my parents fight and watching my father hit my mother traumatized me and damaged my relationship with men, and it's taken years for me to come to terms with my past. I want to share these things with her, but not now. Not when she's in a good mood.
I know that mood will be fleeting, but I want her to stay there, like she was on that bench only a couple hours ago, sitting back, her eyes closed.
"Oh my god," she says. "Has the sky always been this blue?"
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