Jesse likes mushrooms, and not just the magic kind. I can’t remember how we met in college, but that seems as good a place to start as any. It had to have been my sophomore year, because Jesse is the class below mine. I remember coffee. Chaos and drugs and friends and butts from endless cigarettes. He is strange, and kind, and looks a little lost most of the time.
At our conservative Catholic university, a man with outbursts and a nose-ring who always smells inexplicably of dishrags is regarded with trepidation at best. But we formed a sort of band of ragamuffin wastrels, a small group of us, in our massive dorm by my junior year. We would talk on the porch, Jesse and I, over cigarettes and black coffee.
I think if the folks had seen Jesse’s apartment by my senior year, he would have had more luck making friends. Maybe it was his girlfriend’s apartment. I don’t remember. But he fills it with books and drawings of mushrooms, studied and loved assiduously. He fills it with a pregnant cat he rescues and the subsequent kittens. They are so little. They hide in my shoes when I take them off. He fills it with plants and fungi and a compost heap.
He is always trying to grow something.
Three years after college, I learn about the Great Mushroom War in the fictional universe of Adventure Time. It’s a cartoon show for children. The land of Ooo has a dark history. Years ago, mankind blew itself up in the Great Mushroom War, and ostensibly all but one of the humans died. After the war, magic reemerged.
In the show, none of the main characters were there for that, so it’s not as dark as it sounds. More like it’s part of the folklore by that point. Except for Marceline, the Vampire Queen. We find out in her very own mini-series what she is and what her life is like.
Maybe it’s because I was depressed over a relationship that never was, or maybe I’m not very mature, but that cartoon story moved me. Born half-demon, half-human, she is bitten as a child and made an immortal. Her friend, Princess Bubblegum, is working on a cure. It doesn’t work. Marceline, who has seen so much destruction, has to grapple with that. It’s a cartoon show, so this is addressed in a sideways, flat sort of way, in between antics and jokes and battles between vampires.
At the end, she remembers a song her mother used to sing to her as a child eons ago, called “Everything Stays” and sings it herself with her electric guitar. It’s about losing something and then finding it again, out there in the garden, right where you left it, but faded and different, somehow.
I think what makes that song beautiful, besides the context, is that what was lost is never defined. Was it a toy? A shirt? How did the speaker find it? How long was it there? All that matters is that it is dear.
I think that garden must have spores, too.
You message me two days ago and write that your parents were Nazis. I reply “???”. You answer that you were born outside Germany and moved to Fredericksburg, Texas. Y’know, the town that’s all German. I say, Okay, but that doesn’t prove anything. You say your parents say racist, homophobic things all the time. I tell you that’s not great, but I don’t think that means any Nazi affiliation.
You tell me that your dick stopped working, and you think it’s the vitamins your parents keep giving you. You mother forced you to eat a lot of soy. They want you to be infertile. They’re Nazis and into eugenics. You know this because they hid your autism diagnosis from you. I tell you that I remember and finding that secret about yourself must have been devastating.
You tell me that on a plane ride once, your mother gave you vitamin B because she wanted you to masturbate on the plane, in front of everyone, and humiliate yourself. She may have even wanted you to be arrested. And now your dick doesn’t work anymore.
I tell you that you need to go to the hospital and go now. You ask why and tell me to fuck myself if I think you’re crazy. You say I can’t make you, because we’re states apart. I say, that’s true, but at the hospital, they can do fertility tests, and then you can know for sure.
You ask about Planned Parenthood. You say you want to build a clone that can kill the Nazis. I say, yes, but that’s Step Four. Step One is go make an appointment with a doctor. Step Two, get tested. Step Three, know for sure what’s up with your dick. Step Four, build a clone to kill Nazis. You agree this is a reasonable course of action. You call Planned Parenthood. They won’t let you in because they think you’re a spy because your dad only supported Natural Family Planning. I tell you that’s okay. You’re in New York City. There’s hospitals and urgent cares everywhere. Just go and say “Hello. I am a patient.”
You tell me there’s one around the block you can walk to. I say go there, you don’t need insurance. Go there now.
I haven’t heard anything since. I don’t know if you went. I have to believe you did. Jesse, I don’t know what they’re doing to you at that hospital, and you may never speak to me again. Jesse, even though that’s not your real name, I hope there’s at least a courtyard, and even if there aren’t any trees, please look closely at the ground and the shit and cracks in the concrete. Perhaps some weed and mushrooms are there.
art: michelle willows