14 Ruins
Castle Ruins

When I arrived in Exeter after fleeing Zermatt, I went to my new living quarters in a row house on Old Tiverton Road. On the floor beneath the mail slot was a letter for me, a chain letter promising I would receive something wonderful by post if I mailed copies to ten people within ten days. If I failed, I would be cursed. Ten days had already passed. Just a silly superstition, I told myself.

There was no hot water at the house so I rode my motorcycle to the University to use their showers. In the University Commons I passed a glass-enclosed bulletin board and noticed an unusual message: Debby from Ann Arbor—collect your parcel at the bursar’s office. I found the bursar who handed me a small package wrapped in brown paper tied with string. There was no return address, no last name, just the postmark from Ann Arbor.

I opened the package in the shower room and found a piece of cardboard with four colorful “tabs” glued to it. The note said, “Thanks for The White Goddess. Have a good trip, Lucy.” I knew what it was: LSD. And I knew who sent it: a neighbor from the co-op in Ann Arbor who, when she learned I was going to England, asked me to send her a copy of Robert Graves’ book that wasn’t available in the United States. This was her thank you.

A few weeks later two British friends stopped by Old Tiverton Road, concerned they hadn’t seen me on campus. They were right in supposing I was lost in depression. They invited me to drive south with them to visit the Berry Pomeroy Castle ruins near the coast. I decided to make it a real trip and swallowed one of the tabs. The LSD started working as we reached the ruins, and in my altered state I scrambled on top of a narrow wall, climbing higher and higher along the perimeter. Suddenly my friends called out and begged me to climb down to see something. I hesitated but conceded. From the ground I saw I had been about to step on a portion of the wall held together only with ivy.

We left the castle and drove to the coast to watch the sun set. The LSD was wearing off and any high I’d felt was gone. “Don’t those clouds look like mountains?” one of my friends said. But all I could do was shake my head. I was trapped in despair. The acid transformed my mind into a high-speed computer: I searched and searched for the meaning of life and found nothing. From then on I practically stopped talking. I had trouble completing conversations or reading a full page in a book. I went into the library and stared at the tens of thousands of titles wondering what in the world anyone could possibly say that had meaning.

Blessing or Curse?