From the plane I looked down and saw the marsh of Biloxi. The ocean crept in on the wetlands and created circular bog like landforms. When Jacob and I got off the plane, the air hit me like bricks; it was heavy and thick. Jacob’s mother picked us up from the airport, it was the first time I had met her. Gretta smiled at me in this crazy way, her hazel eyes looked like there was a wild beast trapped back there, and her golden red hair flew out in wisps around her face. There were lines around her lips and her body was long and her skin was tan. She was like a child yet there was a demonic, almost taboo, sense to her, she was, as I would come to find, absolutely insane. She doted over me and her accent was so thick it was like honey as it smoothed over me, she touched my hair and smiled over me and went on about how beautiful I was to Jacob like I was a magnificent prize.
We got into the convertible and began driving. As my hair whipped around my face I was taken aback at what I saw; it was somehow not what I had expected. The city was concrete and crumbling around us. We were in a ghetto. The whole place was the ghetto. We were still on the coast and Gretta decided to take us out for lunch, mostly because I had never been to Mississippi before. We stopped at this place that was half on land and half over the ocean. We sat outside and I looked over the railing to see the long poles that ran from the porch into the sea; the water was opaque green. I ordered a shrimp Po Boy under the guidance of Jacob. He seemed to smirk slightly and his magnificent blue eyes twinkled. Gretta ordered shrimp and corn chowder. The taste still stays with me; the sandwich was simple: little bay shrimp piled high, very high, on hoagie bread with some lettuce. It was served with Remoulade sauce, a sort of thousand island sauce but with the tang of dill that made my jaw hurt from my exploding saliva glands. The shrimp was buttery in my mouth, and I could not for the life of me make all the little shrimps stay on the sandwich. Jacob and his mother laughed as I doted over the tastes and they agreed: this was good food.
We left the restaurant and went for a walk on the beach; in retrospect, I think this was another way for Gretta and Jacob to appeal to my being a tourist. I wanted Jacob to walk with me, to put our feet in the sand, but he walked with his mother. I took my shoes off and looked down at my feet as I walked. My tie-dye sarong whipped around my legs in the breeze and the surf licked my toes, I heard Gretta again telling Jacob in her accent, “She’s beautiful Jacob.” I realized that I should put my shoes back on, there was broken glass and trash and old clothes on the beach. I looked up and saw jagged wooden posts sticking out of the water. Jacob came up behind me and told me that that was the remnant of the old dock. I realized that this coast had been decimated by hurricane Catrina.
Back in the car, I noticed the empty slabs of concrete where houses used to be. Gretta said that these houses were old plantation houses that were had been there since before the civil war and it was a shame to see them gone. Houses that still stood had water marks up to the second story windows, almost to the roofs of these giant Victorian homes. The trees were mangled and bare. Gretta told me that there were dead people hanging from the trees after the flood waters receded. She remarked about how hard the cleanup was, as if she was part of it, as if the whole community was responsible for cleaning up after the massive storm, for getting the rotting bodies from the trees. It made me wonder if somehow this land was cursed. There had been bodies hung from trees in this state before, but not from a storm.
The drive to Jackson was about three hours on U.S. 49 North. As we drove the city slipped away for a time and was replaced by thick forest on either side of the highway. My eyes could not penetrate the trees, they were a wall. Jacob talked about how a person could get out of the car and walk into the forest and in about two minutes be in uncharted, unmapped national forest. He remarked that the police would not follow people in there; the snakes were likely to get you.
It rained a lot in Mississippi. The water came down in sheets and thunderous sound. It was a warm fat rain that drenched everything. Afterward, the ground was soft and mushy. As we were driving one morning on no sleep down the isolated country road in between his Grandmother’s house and his friends dairy farm, Jacob spotted some mushrooms in a field and pulled over the car. Mushrooms popped up in all of the cow fields after a rain. Jacob told me stories of how he and his friends growing up would harvest giant pots full and make mushroom tea and trip for days. The mushrooms were psilocybin. We could tell because when you cut them they bled blue. I trusted Jacob, enough to eat raw mushrooms from under a cow dung pile in a field in the middle of nowhere Mississippi.
I wore my tie-dye sarong that day, as I did for most of that summer. The southern people I met all loved to call me a hippy and Jacob lovingly referred to me as Missi Hippy. Jacob convinced me to eat the mushrooms. I was feeling uneasy about tripping. We were up all night on methamphetamine at his friends dairy farm and I was feeling terrible. I felt lost, alone, and hollow. What was I doing in this place? How long would I be here? Was Jacob ever going to get us out of here? The meth made me feel like a shell, all sick and rotten inside. I just wanted to curl up into a ball and sleep but the drug wouldn’t let go of my soul and my teeth were still grinding. Nonetheless, Jacob was my love and he convinced me, through coaxing in his rough voice and hands, his powerful childlike blue eyes and his spiritual ranting that God had granted us this chance and we would be fools to refuse it. It was just like Jacob to attach drugs with God. We ate the mushrooms then and there in that field with the mist clinging to the trees around us and the dew twinkling on every nimble green thing in the field.
The Homochitto National Forest spans parts of seven Mississippi counties. The Natchez natives lived there and when the English came in and took over, the river was named by what the natives called it, Homochitto means ‘Big Red’ in the Natchez language. Jacob told me that National Geographic rated parts of the river that winds through it as the most untouched in North America. We drove out to one of Jacob’s favorite spots on the river. Once we turned off of the highway the road turned into a dirt lane with two tracks and the vegetation crept in on us. The light was green around me from the morning sun filtering through the canopy. We stopped and got out of the car. Immediately I noticed the foliage. The color was bursting green, and the water still clung to everything, creating little fractals of light on the skin of my hands.
I watched Jacob walk through a green doorway of plants and followed. The river bestowed its beauty upon me, for the water twinkled like heaven, an aquamarine, moving quietly like molten crystal underneath a fantasy-like canopy of forest. I stood quietly in awe. I realized that Jacob watched me, not the river, and realized that he had been here before, this was his special place, and he was smiling as I took it all in.
The mushrooms were starting to affect me, but they were different than the ones I had back home. They were light and fluffy inside me. I felt like a fairy. Jacob showed me that there were agates strewn on the shore of the creek-bed and when we wet them their color sprang out in stripes. Magnificent blue, green, copper, gold, yellow, and red stripes glowed in the sunlight. This place was magical. It was unlike the city, there was no taboo here now; there was no curse. I found ancient Indian beads strewn on the rocky creek bed, holding one in my hand I could see all of the little designs on it. Someone really took the time to make the little bead beautiful.
The water was clear and calm. I took my shoes off and submerged my feet. The clay underneath was soft and after investigation, I realized that this is where the aquamarine color came from. The creek bed was lined with the clay which was blue and made the water look so, but the water was just clear as can be. The clay was soft and squishy. I took my sarong and laid it on the bank, and waded in with Jacob following.
I was an explorer now. Jacob laughed at me in my white panties wading through the wilderness of the Deep South, looking at everything and smiling and playing. He showed me things, we saw a cottonmouth snake drop from a tree limb into the water, but rather than afraid I was in awe. It struck me somewhere along our journey up the river that at that moment all of my life had been leading up to this. To Jacob, who brought me three-thousand miles from home to show me his place, to the field with God’s blessed mushrooms, and to this river, this holy place. I sat down with tears in my eyes right in the middle of the creek and looked up. Jacob came behind me and sat, wrapping his body around mine. We looked up into the sun of the trees. The sun rays penetrated some spots creating with casting rays of light and glowing halos of green. Jacob put his cheek next to mine as we sat there and we both cried. “All of my life I have felt stuck in my shell,” I said quietly. “I know,” said Jacob. I loved him with my entire soul. And I loved this place that freed me.