I had my first mystical experience when I was seven. I was at my grandfather’s. We were on the sofa together watching cartoons, when all of a sudden the screen went black. In the cartoon’s place appeared a photo of outer space — a disc-shaped swirl of soft blue light, massive and crater-like, rung by tiny stars and clouds of gas. A great white heat as bright as the sun shone out of its core.
It was the kind of thing I’d seen in schoolbooks, not on Cartoon Network.
My grandfather continued to laugh at the TV, like the cartoon was still going. I was confused. I did not, however, find my experience particularly strange or unnerving, since I was just seven. To my budding mind it was just a picture of space, on TV, like anything else on TV.
I was frustrated I couldn’t see the cartoon, though. I asked my grandfather when the cartoon would come back on. I asked him why there was just a picture of space there. He looked at me funny, furrowing his brows, taken aback. It was then I realized: He doesn’t see the picture — I’m the only one who sees it.
He went back to watching TV, like I’d never said anything. Or like it was something he wanted to forget.
Over the years the memory faded, but the image of space stayed with me. Then, when I was 14, a strange thing happened, which summoned the memory once again.
I was at a party at my friend Luna’s house. Late into the night things got a little wild. One boy — an older teen, a friend of Luna’s friend, whom she didn’t even invite (this is how all these stories go) — kept hedging on me repeatedly. Every time I cowered, he advanced. Every time I retreated, he leaned in, like I was moving away for him to fill up the space between us. I grew uncomfortable. I was stoned, yes, but I wasn’t about to do something stupid with a boy I didn’t know.
Then he started to grope me under the table. I ran for it. I stole upstairs to Luna’s bedroom. I turned out the light and lay on her bed. I stared at the ceiling and concentrated hard, taking deep breaths. Then I rolled over — to find a familiar image on her TV. It was the same image of space I’d seen seven years ago, distant and bright, like a far-off galaxy.
Eventually Luna came upstairs and found me. When she flicked on the light, the image was gone. She asked me what was wrong, but I’d almost forgotten. So consumed was I by what I’d just seen, so bathed in its afterglow, it was like the party never happened. Like the last hour had all been a bad dream, the near-trauma blacked out of existence.
In the coming days I searched the Web obsessively. I looked for pictures of space that resembled what I’d seen. Then I found it: the Andromeda Galaxy, a spiral galaxy more than 2.5 million light years from earth — the farthest thing you could see with the naked eye. But my search didn’t end there; I looked into its history. I pulled books from the library on it and learned everything I could. A Persian astronomer found it in the year 964. Immanuel Kant thought the smear of light at its center was an ‘island universe.’ Many scientists believed it would one day collide with our own galaxy, some five billion years hence.
I searched, because I wanted to know: why had I seen it? Why did it appear when it did? What was the connection between seeing it on TV as a little girl, and seeing it at a party years later stoned out of my mind? Did it have some connection with the drugs?
I continued to explore psychedelics over the years — acid, shrooms, mescaline — but the image didn’t come back. I decided to give up. I supposed that, like any vision or out-of-body experience, it retreated if you consciously sought it, evaded your grasp if you tried to force it.
It wasn’t until I was 21 that the image resurfaced. I was at my Grandfather’s funeral. I knelt near his casket to offer my prayers. But suddenly I couldn’t focus — I could only stare long and hard at his sunken, slack-jawed face, his hooded eyelids, his knotty, cold dead hands, which had once held mine and…
I rushed into the bathroom. I ran so fast I must’ve startled a few people. I got inside and I turned off the light. I sat on the toilet. I was breathing heavy. My throat closed up. Then I saw it — on the mirror, over the sink, a picture of the Andromeda Galaxy, a swirling, nebulous ring of fractured light, a wheel in the sky, silent and huge. Its warm rays drew me into their presence, a blanket against the terrible, black-hole glow of infinity, the inverted glare of dark matter and dead space. The farthest thing you could see with the naked eye, in the mirror right in front of me. In that moment it really did seem to mirror me. It bared a part of my soul to me, some unconscious longing.
I reached out and touched the mirror. I closed my eyes. I concentrated hard, till I could feel the galaxy’s healing rays. A diffusion of light coursed through my weak, tingling body, an immersion of space into self, of higher worlds into this one.
I had remembered, fourteen years ago, watching Cartoon Network when a cold hand slid up my thigh. Now I knew why I could see the farthest things.
Parker Desautell lives in a small town and likes to write fiction. In his spare time he listens to far too much dub techno. He has also been published in The Wrong Quarterly.