Illustration by Michael Ikeda-Chandler
On the way back to Allen’s house we went through the roadblock. I was driving, had my license and insurance ready, playing a good girl in a short skirt. Allen, smelling like a beer keg, with a cowboy hat on his eyes, was comfortable on the passenger seat.
“Did you drink today?”
“No, she was not drinking, I was. That’s why she is driving! And my license is suspended for DUI till the end of August, that’s another reason she is driving!”
(bending over me and making the source of strong smell of alcohol so obvious)
I was just hoping that cop didn’t see my red eyes. Apparently, he was looking at my shiny tanned legs instead and let us go.
“Let’s go eat!”
Little Chinese buffet was empty. Just us and an older guy, looking like retired military. We were giggling, making a mess, loud, annoying. The guy didn’t look at us, stoically eating his dinner. His face seemed angry. Suddenly, Allen spilled a whole glass of iced water across the table and it all went on me. I jumped up, shaking it off my bare legs and flashing some underwear. The retired military guy happily laughed…
It was dark when I was driving to the house. Most of all I was afraid that Allen would fall asleep—I didn’t know where to go. So every five minutes I was asking, “Am I going right?”
He was waking up, looking around and asking back, “Where we at?”
“I have no idea.”
That way we eventually got home, safe.
Next day was a sweat lodge day. In the afternoon the preparation started. Joe and Sunshine are Allen’s Native American friends. Joe is a tall, good looking, strong man with long bluish black hair and dark skin. Sunshine is a quarter Indian, tiny graceful woman with almond shaped green eyes and a warm smile. We were having a sweat lodge with them.
Allen and Joe were bringing the wood and building a fire. All was done in a slow steady pace, with deep thoughts, addressing the Sun and the Creator. Small round tent with a flap, altar, fire spot. Sixteen rounded rocks on the bottom, big fire. Rocks became red in a couple of hours. The sun was going down. We were ready to crawl in.
I have to paint that picture, it is still in my memory. It was almost dark inside. First red glowing rock was coming on a pitch fork. Rocks go in a hole in the middle of the tent, the rest of the floor is covered with carpet pieces to sit on. When there were several rocks in, Joe and Sunshine sprinkled some cedar, sage, and bear root on them. Fragrant smoke filled the tent. After eight rocks were in, Allen, who was bringing them one by one on a pitchfork, crawled in and closed the flap. Joe splashed the water on the rocks, it was getting hot and hotter. Drumming and singing began. We were praying for the loved ones. Two beautiful low men’s voices were rising in the intense and chanting motive. Two or three songs were sung, and the first round was over.
We stepped outside for a short break.
Then it was a second round. Eight more rocks, flap closed, it was getting hotter and hotter. More drumming, more singing. I couldn’t pray any more, was just lying there, forehead in the cooling dirt and thinking one thought:
I would not ask to let me out, I better die here in this heat and dark. I want to go through all that and see it.
Finally the flap was up again.
We climbed out of the tent. This moment was worth it in the light of a full moon, under the rising trees, in a light of dying glowing red fire two big men and I were hugging, all sweaty, smelling of smoke, and thanking each other for going through that together.
At the house we were eating the Russian borsch-vegetable soup with beets I cooked in the morning. Strange world, strange connections and boundaries, mixes of cultures and traditions. I was very proud of myself and grateful for taking me in.
Next day we were heading home. I was driving a big white truck, loaded with four by fours. Landscape was beautiful- big hills, rocks, waterfalls. I was listening to patient instructions of a big man with a soft beautiful smile. I am not a good driver at all, and I was happy to have some driving lessons from somebody I trust and who did not fuss and yell at me, even if I missed the turn or wanted to make a stop by the Natural Bridge instead of a gas station.
This article was originally published in The Local Voice #89 (September 17, 2009).