COLONEL SANDERS: What was it like the first time it happened?
C.G. KOCH: Oh, of course it was a fiasco the first time, nightmarish, yeah. Didn’t know what to make of it, felt like the world was falling away from me. See every time it starts as a creeping sensation, an almost uncanny feeling that I don’t know who I am, like I’m unable to think of one character trait to which I can confidently say, “Yes, I am that.” Suddenly I become hyperaware of this feeling. It’s inescapable and irksome to me, and that first time, Sanders, it was so depersonalizing, like how I’d imagine it would be to have Alzheimer’s or some other condition, to wake up in the morning without any knowledge of who you are or where you come from. I can usually recall basic details like my name and where I live, but the rest is just emptiness. It gradually overtakes me until I feel like a husk in the wind, no idea what to do or what the purpose would be of doing anything at all.
So I usually end up sitting down at this point. And then what comes next is a sudden dawning realization that my surroundings are somehow hideous, or unreal. Ugly props manufactured by brisk, efficient men with no eye for aesthetics, no sense of dignity. Mass-produced, soulless facsimiles. This experience naturally transfigures itself into a growing certainty that… my world’s a plastic dollhouse, like every unassuming mug or armchair or fucking streetlamp is a stupid little toy. The feeling grows and I can’t shake it; everything seems farther and farther off. Like I’m in a play but had forgotten it was all a setup and suddenly notice that my car is a flat piece of plywood. Every time it happens like this. No matter how many times I go through it, or tell myself that it’s just part of the process, it’s always about the same. Always horrifying.
COLONEL SANDERS: How long does that last?
C.G. KOCH: I’d say no more than 10 or 15 minutes. It can seem like a few hours, though. It builds and builds until the humming sets in.
COLONEL SANDERS: The humming?
C.G. KOCH: Yeah, the next thing that happens is I start to hear this distant humming in my head, this single, endless note, unrecognizable. Vaguely reminds me of air being sucked through something but also like if you smashed down every key on a grand piano at the same time. Impossible to really explain it, doesn’t sound like it’s of this world. Doesn’t sound like it’s coming from anywhere at all either, not in me or outside me. I’ve come to believe it’s the sound of the place opening up, the place that I go when I leave myself.
COLONEL SANDERS: Right, errhm, go on…
C.G. KOCH: Well the humming grows. Maybe it gets a little louder, but it never really seems to. It’s hard to explain—it just seems to become more real, more… palpable, until it’s like I could bite down on it. Until I can’t focus on anything else because this strange noise seems more intriguing and significant than any book or song or film or world or truth. I completely forget about the unreality of my surroundings and start to go into something like a trance. The sound is all there is. It runs all around me and through me and takes on more dimensions, more layers, until it’s all the sounds in the world stirred up into one. I usually see like a whirling pattern at this point, like the surface of a thick stew as you stir it, transposed over whatever’s before me. The sound sort of slowly teases itself apart to reveal itself. I listen close and I can hear such specific sounds: ocean waves crashing on a beach in South Africa, or Bob Dylan singing the first song he wrote, or my brother screaming when he burnt himself on the stove when we were kids. I can hear the sound of the Nagasaki shockwave, or Socrates talking to Plato, or cries and weeping from the Cambodian Killing Fields. I recognize each sound so specifically, the knowledge is a part of the sound. All of these things come to me as I listen, and I am never unsure of the identity of any of the parts, but the nature of the whole eludes me. And those distinct parts that I hear—they never actually separate from the whole. They just dance out for a moment, skip across the surface like stones, the total still somehow unchanged, then they fall back into the chord—one eternal, endlessly captivating note. And I’m not frightened or upset by any of it. Not at all. It’s the most perfect thing—not pretty, don’t get me wrong—just this pure, complex, enigmatic suchness that somehow imparts an absence of all fear or doubt as to the order and rightness of things. I could listen to it forever.
But after I lose myself in this noise for some indeterminate amount of time a blackness begins to cloud the fringes of my vision. It pushes inward like a fog, my field of vision slowly waning as it slithers toward the center. Darkening world, overwhelming humming, but I’m calm. I’m always calm at this point. And just as the blackness blankets the last pinprick of light, and everything is dark, the humming stops, and I’m not me anymore. For a disorienting and almost imperceptible few milliseconds I feel like I’m nothing at all—the wind gusting through a vast, empty cave.
Then I open my eyes. Or they open their eyes or our eyes. This is where it becomes linguistically problematic to describe. Because I’m now inside someone else. I’m in them and I am them. I retain a sort of rudimentary sense of myself as a faint, ghostly entity. Otherwise I am experiencing the world through their mind—their sensory input, their memories, thoughts, personality, sense of identity, everything. Well, everything that they’re aware of, I should say. I know them to the extent that they know themselves, and I live their life with them for a short period of time.
COLONEL SANDERS: Who was the first person you… occupied in this way?
C.G. KOCH: Uh, an architect in Dubai.
COLONEL SANDERS: Tell me a little about that instance.
C.G. KOCH: Naturally I felt this sort of primordial terror the first time. Whatever bit of self that was still with me recoiled fiercely at how un-processable it was. Every instinct argued that this was not a place I should be, and there was this overwhelming fear that I’d lost my body and mind—my complete self—forever. So the whole thing was kind of muddled that first time. But anyway, he was in his studio, working on some sketches. I remember marveling at the clarity of his inner world and how visually minded he was. Very different from my pragmatic-analytical brain. And I remember that he loved his family tremendously, more than himself—his wife, children, his parents. They were what sustained him. Pretty common, really. He had gone through difficult periods, right. Serious mental duress. Intense doubt over his abilities as an architect and a father. Guilt, depression over things he’d done or things he thought maybe he ought to have done. Anxieties about what wasn’t certain. Now that I’m saying this—his pain wasn’t all that unique either. Maybe that sounds insensitive. Sure, it was awful and my heart broke for him in some way, feeling it that close, which is what happens every time, but every person I’ve seen on the inside has it—the depression, the pain, a lot of self-inflicted woes.
COLONEL SANDERS: And how many people have you seen in this way?
C.G. KOCH: 27. Started scribbling a few notes after number three when I realized this probably wasn’t going to stop.
COLONEL SANDERS: Who are some of the others that you’ve… visited?
C.G. KOCH: Uh, I can think of this mother—she was reading a story to her kids. And there was an old grandfather who was on the toilet. Had two old grandpas on the throne actually. There was a young girl, at least she was in her dreams, who was asleep. Had three different 20-somethings who were on Facebook or Twitter or whatever Internet thing. A middle-aged woman having sex with another middle-aged woman. But, yeah, I don’t have time to go into detail about all of these people. You were going to ask me about a particular instance?
COLONEL SANDERS: Right, I was. I guess I was intrigued. But, um, yes, the people are most interested to hear about the one that changed you, the one that caused you to pursue… the lifestyle that so many people deemed… unbelievable… especially given your position.
C.G. KOCH: Yeah, that’s what I thought. Well, where to start?
It was a Sunday night. I was watching a film, nothing special at all. Then I began to feel it, another one coming—someone to see. As I explained, the build-up is unmistakable—the paranoid feelings, the humming, the blackening in my vision. This was maybe the 6th or 7th time. So I tried, to whatever extent possible, to prepare myself for the other side, the unthinkable. The darkness crept in, all was black, and then, I was laying in sand. The sand was cold and coarse, moist on my, or his, bare back, something I would’ve previously thought dirty, you know, to be avoided. But remember I’m experiencing everything as this new person—a young man, as it turns out—is experiencing it. And he was entirely comfortable. He or we knew friends were there, and sure enough, there were three other young guys right there next to him, or us. They were college-aged probably, homely in appearance. A bit unkempt, dreamy, dressed somewhat eclectically. Hippie-dippies. That’s what I might have called them in the past.
Anyway I joined this group, within the kid of course, and I knew intuitively, from his understanding, that we had all taken LSD, but that was nothing to dwell on, just something that had already been assimilated, something that was nonverbally acknowledged as “cool.” It felt… immersive, benevolent, right, I guess. Especially because there in front of us was the night sky, and the stars seemed somehow conversational. They were wiggling, reaching out to each other with long delicate arms and touching each other, interconnecting in this soothing way, and it was all sort of swirly and wavy. Doesn’t make much sense but that’s what it looked like. I’m not really one to be sentimental, but if something can be said to be “sublime,” those stars were fucking sublime—grand and inscrutable and imposing and right there. There was an apparent flawlessness to them… in the same way as when you start to fall for a girl and suddenly all of her “imperfections” dissipate because you’ve found some kind of incorruptible radiance within her, glimpsed a deep her-ness that resolves all attributes into a single, necessary completeness. Pointing out “flaws” in that sky would have been like telling a raccoon how to be a raccoon. That’s how it was—self-evidently whole and complete in and of itself. I’d looked at the stars plenty before that, sure—I enjoyed looking at the night sky sometimes—but not like this. I’d never seen it like this.
Anyway I should’ve mentioned that right away I realized I had, by the will of some cryptic cosmic agenda, barged into an intense moment of this kid’s life. He was staring at those stars so fixedly, like they were the End. Like the purpose of his life was to look at those stars. And what he was seeing—it was like the stars were extending a hand, beckoning to him. They were somehow filling him up inside, transmitting sensation to him. It was like with his unwavering, concentrated gaze he had created an open channel between the stars and his inner-stuff, his core, whatever. He felt connected to them, inseparable from them. He felt like he was expanding. We were expanding. In his mind’s eye he had this sort of spontaneous vision of a substance within him streaming from his body, almost like smoke or a specter, something vaporous swelling and flowing out of his arms and torso. And when he envisioned this, the feeling of expanding was amplified and accompanied by a wave of euphoria, or a kind of tingling, I guess, mild electricity coursing through his body so that his breath caught in his chest. And that tingling—combined with the stars and his visions—shit, it felt like he or we were dissolving, melting away into the ether, like we could just split into a million pieces, blast off in every direction.
After a few seconds or minutes of this—this timeless feeling—he started crying a little bit, and I was crying inside of him by extension. Gentle tears. Just a layer of gloss. They weren’t tears of joy or sadness. They were like a bubbling over, like there was so much happening inside of him that it had to escape somehow, and so it forced its way out in the form of an essential dew. It was somehow “right”—his response to that sublime expansion—organic as a pouch-nestled joey or post-storm rainbow. As those tears streamed softly from his eyes, he felt—like that sky—whole. Whole and connected to everything in a way that I’d never felt connected to anything, and there was a sense of almost, uh, rapture. But he also felt like nothing at all, like emptiness, and that was frightening but also freeing for him. It was a tangle of sensations—a lot for a kid to grapple with, Christ. And me, or the little bit of “me” that was pseudo-existing inside him—paralyzed, thoughtless, balking.
So a couple minutes pass in this same way—the feeling continues, kind of ebbs and flows—and then he starts talking. Or we start talking. See these labels keep messing me up because in these “visits,” as you called them, it’s never a matter of he or she or I or them or even we. It’s just like we’re one thing, truly. One thing.
And anyway our mouth starts moving and says, “It’s like a dancing jellyfish mystery.” That was accurate, if a bit cheesy. The way jellyfish just drift and pulse, so otherworldly, you know? The stars were like that. It was accurate and yet it was so, just, squalid in comparison to what he’d felt. Those words were pretty, but they hadn’t grazed it, they weren’t in the same time zone, if you understand. Words are magical in a way, sure, I allow that, and if you’re a great poet or storyteller or something you can really charge them. But words are like photographs of places. Going to the actual place is, of course, incomparably different and fuller, more substantive, you know. What I mean to say is that words are powerful and splendid things, but a life spent in a small room with books alone would be tragically incomplete. The kid and I could see that then—that words would always have a measure of hollowness, that even the best and most precious combinations would be incrementally removed from the potent sea of experience. He still enjoyed articulation, though. He enjoyed trying to arrange the words—playing with them, like LEGOs or something—in a pleasant and impactful way, so maybe he was a sort of poet.
But um, where was I, okay, so he said the jellyfish line, right, and the other guys kind of chuckled, murmured in agreement. Couple minutes later, the kid talks again. He says, “It’s God’s pupil containing the firing synapses of the cosmic orgasm.” Better, right? I felt something there… something bordering on profound… even if it didn’t make much rational sense. It was still distant from his experience, but it was closer. An effective metaphor. His friends said so too. “Nav’s really blowing our minds tonight,” or something like that. To them it was just a kind of entertainment, maybe even a bunch of stoned babble, but from the inside, I knew it was more, Sanders. With small words, the kid was trying to express the fathomless, the eternal, the deepest thing, the great embedded fuck-all, something near and far. Something he wasn’t just seeing. Something he had felt intimately, something that had brought him to tears, something that made him feel both vast and non-existent. He was touching on it, but the words would never get him there, not in a thousand years of organizing and re-organizing them. No amount of language could communicate those few minutes of awe, fear, ecstasy.
And dammit he was young, Sanders. 22 years old. But that kid… you know… could taste the world, every fiber. He was so open to it. I swear nothing’s ever made me feel more… tangibly real… or three-dimensional, than feeling what that kid was feeling. Like we were big, like we could put a dent in things, or like we already were, just by virtue of living and breathing. Christ that kid was something. I wish I could find him—just to know he’s actually of this time, this dimension.
After he said that second “cosmic orgasm” line I began to explore further, if you understand—I went deeper into him, beyond the present and the stars, down to the core, the fractures. Young as he was, he’d had his heart mangled by a girl less than a year before, and he was always thinking too much. Obsessing over the wrong things, like a lot of folks do, but just really neurotically, for how young he was. Always analyzing, scrutinizing himself. Building word mazes, rabbit holes in which to re-hash old anxieties. Couldn’t shut his mind off. There was a weight on him, Sanders, but there he was, laying in a riverbed with some friends, dropping LSD, watching the sky, feeling everything. It was so sad in a way but also so… good. It was good.
I saw into that kid, and I can’t explain it, but I had a feeling then like I’d never quite seen life face to face, and maybe that I’d never really wanted to, like I’d been afraid. But this kid knew something I didn’t, even if he didn’t “know.” This kid was living it. He was on fire with it. Existence might burn him up, so be it. He was going to sing in the flames. I saw this and was overcome by it, Sanders. On the inside of that kid, I started weeping. Bawling like an infant. My weeping seemed to make us more poignantly and intensely the same—everything in that kid was closer to me than I’d ever been to myself. It was almost too actually there to endure, if that makes sense. Here was a person who had a whole world inside him, and it might seem silly, but I’d never grasped that other people could be like that, you know… so intricate, with such depth of joy and suffering, more depth than I myself possessed. In that moment, the kid mattered more to me than I mattered to myself, and I’d never felt that way before. I loved him. That’s the only way I can explain it. I’d felt the kid’s life for all of ten minutes, and I felt an unparalleled, ecstatic love for him that I haven’t known before or since.
It was so much to process, world-obliterating, almost unbearably so. I felt I was going to be utterly dismantled by the force of those feelings. I felt I was reaching some sort of climax, like maybe I was going to dissolve or finally forget everything forever. I felt the last wisps of self shriveling and falling away. But then I was gone.
Unlike with the beginnings, the ends of these visits always come without warning. It’s just poof, and you’re back where you were.
So one second I’m one with this kid and loving him so hard I’m dematerializing, and the next there I am again, sitting on my couch watching Netflix. Like nothing had happened, as always. But something had happened, Sanders—I wasn’t me anymore. I couldn’t be.
Now, please, you’ve got your interview. Publish it, broadcast it, do what you like, but leave me be. I’m sorry, but I just can’t stand to stare at that fucking perpetual quasi-human grin of yours anymore.
COLONEL SANDERS: It’s just how my face looks.
C.G. KOCH: Yeah, I know, but it’s inappropriate. You should probably do something about it before you do more interviews.
COLONEL SANDERS: Okay, I’ll try.
This story originally appeared in Culture Counter Magazine.