There are two kinds of people in the United States who will sit down next to a perfect stranger on the same park bench when there are other ones in the nearby area that remain unoccupied:
1) A person that wants you, or has something that they hope you want
It is not unusual for me to take my bike and point it towards the direction of an adventure I hope to come upon.Often times I will ride westward towards the esplanade of the city. The latter part of the ride itself is lovely; over the river, next to the train tracks suspended above the water on tremendous, whiny, old, wooden beams. For the many who are yet to be familiar with Portland town, the esplanade is a long stretch of sidewalk that is on both sides of our river, the Willamette, dividing the city respectively into east and west. As you can imagine, there is a good ebb and flow of foot traffic here at every hour. There are joggers, bike riders, people strolling, destitute folks, people recovering from another long night of drinking, drugging, or just plain ol’ being homeless and snoozing there. There are people taking photos, people reading or drawing, musicians playing together…
I came down to the river the particular day in question to wrap myself up in the gentler flow of the city. Equipped with sketchpad, writing book and an array of pens of different thicknesses, I sat. I looked into the river and at the passers bye, hoping that the words would begin to collect themselves for me. Gather anytime my fantastic friends. Inspiration? I’m here.
Stage left, in come this rather large fellow. He seated himself next to me on the bench. No invitation needed for public benches, true, but when there are other vacant benches, don’t most people know to take one of those? It’s one of those unspoken social cues that we all adhere to and accept. (Similar to the unspoken rule in the men’s rest room where when using the urinal you go to the one at the very end, and each next guy to get up to use the john goes as far as possible from the other user. Right? Yes, woman know these things (woman, did you know about this?!) (We are so lucky that we get to pee together!).) So there we are: me with my pen, dutifully sussing out a brilliant topic bound to dawn any minute, with a slight distraction due to my new bench mate who was fairly odorous (boozy stank); and he, a rather lumbering fellow with a large presence that had a slightly jumbled and wayward feel, along with a subtle allure that peaked my interest an itty bitty bit. Microscopicly so.
He began talking and asking me questions that were just fluff and I felt that he was hoping to find a friend in me. I was still absorbed in my hopes of creation, also hoping he would leave, albeit humoring him despite my disdain for superficial conversation for the sake of conversing. Well whaddaya know, he pretty much talked to me until I was hooked. It’s when you least expect it, kiddies. Hints of his story splintered through the fluff of simple monologue and he had my attention. He got me, like a slow drug would: Methodical and persistant administration.
And the verbal foreplay had reached a point where I wanted to know more. Impatiently awaiting. Maybe he would get it out and then I would have some fodder. That was when he became distant and when I realized I was, in fact, an asshole. He wasn’t going to just give it up. I had taken this man for granted because he sat down next to me, and I had assumed that his routine was the same old song and dance number I had seen exacted so many times before: drunkard with loose lips, talking to who ever will listen. I didn’t feel special or “chosen” and I had taken him to be very open. I forgot, and was slapped with the reminder- there are still sacred tales behind eyes the of the broken.
Finally, it came.
His story. True as sin.
Drunk Native American.
Big, lost man.
This story unfolded in such a fashion, becoming absolutely one of the most beautiful and humbling tales that I have ever heard.
Somewhere in the Southwest a large man once lay. A sterile gown. A white bed. Eyes shut. A coma had claimed him from nights and days of exessive drinking. A coma that turned days into weeks and turned weeks into months. Doctors and attendees stood by, idly. Deep sleep of an undisturbable variety. Dreams showed no presence, playing on the lids of no eyes.
A small number of people were left in his life. Bridges had been burned and pain had struck chords, severing ties with too much weight to mend. The tiny amount of loved ones left came to visit. Trickling in slower than tortoise. They whispered and prayed. They cried. They talked to him. Different tactics elicited nothing at all.
His uncle came one day,this time bringing Sage from the desert. In the hospital room the bundle was lit, and the man in the starched gown was smudged. Did they treat him like a lost spirit? His body was brushed with the sacrement’s smoke. His face washed clean with the scent. The big man’s nose… began to twitch.
This was seen.
A break through. A big deal. But the end of the road, as nothing else dented the differnece between the standing and laying in the room again. Not even Sage. Not for weeks.
Weeks later another family member came. With them was a family heirloom. An instrument used in ceremony. A beautiful, simply ornate rattler. A rattler that guided this family in the hogan. A rattler that his ears knew. The sound of the desert. The sound of song. Perhaps the sound of home.
The big man lay completely still. When the rattler was shaken- up rose his hand, mimicking the movement. As if to shake the tools, as if it was he, making the noise.
Weeks lapsed once again, and intermittently his responses shortened the amount of days between the stretches of stillness.
It was these visits, featuring different family members, presenting an instrument, a scent, a song, that brought him to, eventually.
Finally one day he awoke, and slowly reoriented himself with the world. Reacquainted himself with his family. Embraced the ways with which he was raised. Got back on his feet. This is not to say that his base was solid, or suddenly he was resilient to his demons and the challenges that awaited. He was still a weak man who’s best friend and worst enemy were combined to be found at the bottom of the bottle, with a call that over powered the rest. But his sense of self, his sense of spirituality, his understanding of connectivity and family… all these things were bestowed upon him. Refreshed. Now, if he were to die, he knew where and how he would go, and that it would be his time, and his journey would be safe.
Thank you for reading. Aho.
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