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By Elin Waldenström

One chilly autumn day a couple of years ago, I met a young man in the Saint Petersburg Metro, let us call him M. M was an academic and part-time musician from a family of intellectuals. When we met, he was on his way to the hospital to visit an old friend with a broken leg. Whilst engaging in small talk on the loud metro wagon, M suddenly opened himself up like a book, and read me a chapter of his life.

This chapter took place in Moscow, when M was a university student aged around 21. After the breakup of his band, where the singer tried to steal all of M’s ideas, M also experienced a painful breakup with his girlfriend. Suddenly, he found himself quite depressed. He stopped attending all of his university lectures. Most of his time was spent lying on the couch in his Moscow room reading Irvine Welsh. Through the influence of some friends, he started to experiment with different drugs. Mushrooms, LSD, Ecstasy – pretty much everything except heroin.

I followed M all the way to the hospital that day in order to hear more. He recalled one particular experience. Although he had tried other hard drugs before, this was his first time trying the psychedelic drug mescaline. As usual, he prepared the common safety measures and had a friend at his side as he swallowed the pill. But nothing happened. An hour went by, and nothing happened. Another two, three hours – still nothing. At this point M gave up and started his journey home. But when he came out onto the street and headed down the escalator to the metro trains, strange things started to happen. His heartbeat began to quicken and he felt as though he was under surveillance, followed by someone or something. He started running down the escalator. At home in his room he lay for several hours in bed, seeing terrifying figures ‘melting’ down the walls and creeping towards him from the corners of the room. That was the first and last time he took mescaline.

Back in Saint Petersburg this September, I remembered M and his story. I recall thinking: How has his drug use developed since that experimental time in his early twenties? What is his attitude to drugs now?

I tried to arrange to meet him again. After three failed attempts, we finally met up at Neva and took a long walk. The sun was shining and small clouds moved fast across the sky; the wind was increasing and our fingers were freezing.

M is now at the end of his twenties and trying to fulfil the dream of becoming a full-time musician whilst supporting a family. He still takes drugs sometimes, but only on rare occasions.
– Those experimental times were a very important part of my life.
Talking about this, M became very excited.
– It is so amazingly cool! M said. I was depressed and did not believe in anything. But whilst tripping on mushrooms, I suddenly understood the meaning of everything and the answer to all the difficult questions in the world! After the trip was over, I did not remember the answers anymore. But that did not matter! Because the knowledge that these answers really do exist inside of me gave me peace. And I love being stoned.
– Thank you very much M, but I cannot use this for my story. I need discouraging and terrible examples, not encouraging!
M understood my dilemma, and recommended me to talk to his friend instead. And we continued our walk along Neva. M was in a good mood and continued to talk cheerfully about pot and ecstasy. We had been walking for two hours and it had become dark. The wind was increasing and our fingers were freezing.

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