“He said he is going to kill himself.”
I listen to my sister-in-law speak on the phone, her voice calm but urgent.
“You have to come here and try to talk to him,” she says. “I’m leaving him but I’ll stay with him till you get here. He said he wants you to come.”
I glance at the clock. Nine o’clock. I won’t get there till one or one-thirty in the morning. A long drive on a cold, rainy September night.
“Okay. I’ll try to get there as soon as I can...depends on the weather,” I answer.
“Mii’gwech, Endaso. Be careful, but please get here soon. He’s serious.”
I hang the phone up and think about my brother. This isn’t the first time he has made these kind of threats. Talking about walking the Bear Walk isn’t anything new. My people have all talked...and walked...the Bear Walk ever since they brought the Crazy Water to us. Graves filled with those who walked. Tree limbs creaking with ghosts of those who walked with ropes. Bare floors soaked with ethereal blood of those who walked with a razor blade or a gun. Sorrowful genocide in a bottle of whiskey. All wrongs amplified and deadened in a stupor of pity. Their anguish feeding a dark presence.
The presence darkly looms on the edges of the consciousness, red eyes gleaming, sharp teeth gnashing, paws held out and beckoning. The hulk dissolves into a pin point ball of bluish light zigzagging through the air, and strikes the back of the head. With entry, its power grows and guides the hand to slip a noose over the head, to grasp a razor and slash at the wrists, to squeeze the trigger of a gun held against the head or heart.
How many times had I talked the walk? How many times had I seen that blue ball of light coming toward me, only to turn away at the last moment to deny its entry.
From upstairs, I hear my children running, playing, and laughing. The floor rumbles with the reverberations of my wife’s sewing machine, the needle stitching silver jingle cones onto a purple calico medicine dress for my daughter. Can I be like the medicine dress and heal the wounds of a jaded heart?
From the top shelf, I pull down the birch bark tray and set it before me. I lift up the red and black striped blanket that covers it. I spread it out on the floor. I take out the pipe bag. A soft, white brain tan bag with long fringes on the end. A four pointed beaded star beaded on the center...each point representing the Four Directions. Glittering glass beads shaped into points of yellow, red, black, and white. Wa-bun-noong, Zha-wa-noong, Ninga-be-uh-noong, Ge-way-din-noong.
Carefully, I remove the contents. A pipe bowl hewn of red pipestone. A long stem carved from sumac. Niin Opwaagan. It is a gift given to me after finding my way to the Path of Life. A pipe I use for my own prayers, for my wife, my sons, my daughters, and for my extended family. I hold the pipe bowl close to my eye and peer deep within. The colors are still there. Soft, muted colors that swirl deep within the bowl. Opawaagan Chee-jauk. The spirits within call me.
Endaso-Giizhik, rise up and journey forth. The Thunder Beings alight the night with flashing eyes. The Four Skies echo their voices. Rise up. They will guide you as you tread the dark night. Venture fearlessly, Endaso-Giizik. Your helpers await you.
Three hours on the road and my helpers are far behind me, my rear view mirror reflecting the flash of their diminishing presence. The woodland of pine and birch line the shoulders of the dark, wet highway. Wisps of fog appear and thicken into a cloud world. I am alone, traveling through a dreamscape filled with spirit forms that swirl before me, guiding me homeward.
For a moment, a flash of reality catches my eye. In the glare of my headlights, a tattered, peeling sign informs the wayfarer that Larssen’s Sports Center features the relics of Chippewa Princess, Red Medicine Woman. A sign like so many others on this road. Stolen pasts for tourists to gaze upon.
A few miles down the road and the dream fog lifts as I pass the ruins of Larssen’s Sports Center. Wet, blackened beams rise from the debris of the building and the house beyond. I recall the story. Of the white man who went crazy one night. Torched the house and building. Walked the Bear Walk with a .38 caliber to his head as the flames roared around him. Blackened floors soaked with ethereal blood of a stealer of ancestor pasts.
I cross the bridge over the Red Medicine River. Spirit shapes swirl from the currents of the hidden river. I follow a long curve in the road and I sense a presence to my right. A magnificent buck, crowned with a huge rack of horns, emerges from the woods and steps onto the shoulder of the road. I stop my car and look at this wondrous being that seems formed from the fog that swirls around its muscled body. He looks toward me and his thoughts touch my mind.
Endaso-Giizhik. Venture onward. Your path is guided. The spirits are with you. But remember the Deer Clan people. Waa-waash-ke-shi O-do-i-daym Anishinaabeg. Remember and you shall know the secret of the darkness beneath the jaded heart.
The buck crosses the road. He reaches the other side and takes one last look at me. Slowly he walks into the woods, his body enveloped by swirling fog. I reach down and pick up my foil pouch of tobacco. I roll my window down, take a pinch of tobacco, and offer it to the Waa-waash-ke-shi. Niin Endaso-giizhik asemaa ingiimiinigo idash ningaagiizomaa waawaashkeshi: I, Endaso-Giizhik, speak for this tobacco and I appease the deer.
I drive on and think about what the deer has told me. Remember the Deer Clan people. The Waa-waash-ke-shi O-do-i-daym. Long ago, they had all walked the Bear Walk. Killing themselves by killing the soul-spirits of their children. Beating them. Abusing them in unspeakable, obscene ways. Fathers with daughters. Mothers with sons. Mothers and fathers striking their children. Fathers and mothers striking each other. Reed mats on wigwam floors soaked with the blood of the innocent.
In anger, the other clans rose up and, in the darkness of night, attacked the Waa-waash-ke-shi O-do-i-daym. The few Waa-waash-ke-shi that survived fled into the woods and became wanderers, forever banished from the warm fires of the villages.
Less than an hour away, I think about my brother. I see him sitting at his kitchen table, lines of sorrowful rage etched on his face. His wife and three children huddled on the couch casting fearful glances in his direction. What are his thoughts, this flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood? What has brought him to this point? What secrets lay neath the jaded heart?
Images of days past, our families together. Laughter filtering through a haze of sun lightened days; gasps of wonder on starry nights aglow with the lights of ancestors dancing in the northern skies. Did I miss a dismayed look on his wife’s face as she turned to the oven to cook frybread and walleye? Was I blind to the looks of his children that turned sullen as I turned away to watch the clouds dance in shimmering blue skies?
Slowly, I drive through the town of Wellby. Dark buildings glisten with fog dew. Yellow caution lights at intersections blinking in the emptiness. Everyone is dead. In the morning, they will awake slowly as their soul-spirits return from their vision journeys. The people will arise, their eyes on the tasks of the day before them. Forgotten will be the gratefulness for the new day. Ungratefulness will mark this day, like everyday behind them and everyday before them. The guilt of stolen pasts will gnaw at their hearts and bitterness shall fill their shallow souls with shame.
On the other side of Wellby, I see a sign that tells me I am fifty minutes away from the Lake Sis-kay-way Casino and Lodge located on the Lake Sis-kay-way Ojibwe Reservation. A few miles further and I take a right off the highway and turn onto the old reservation road. A road from my old life. A lost, twisting road traveled with whiskey in one hand, a joint in the other, and Willie, Waylon, or Hank Jr. wailing songs of hearts jaded by love lost. The road of my old life before I became Endaso-Giizhik.
Then my new road. Finding my way from the tangent I had wandered onto and stepping back on the Path of Life. George Red Bear Standing sitting in my living room, blanket spread before him with his Pipe, an eagle feather, and an abalone shell with a smoking ball of sage that fills the room with its sweet, musky scent. Red Bear Standing picking up his hand drum and softly singing my new name into existence in each direction. The song finished, he turns to me.
This name that I give you is old and goes back four hundred years. The first three men who had this name were Ogichidaa...warriors. Every day they protected and defended their families, their communities. This name...Endaso-Giizhik...means Everyday. It may seem like a simple name, yet it is a name that bears great responsibility. The spirits gave me this name to give to you. The spirits told me that you are the one to carry this name in this time and place on Earth. With this eagle feather that I give you, rise in the morning, hold this feather, and think about that name and think about those who have gone on before you who have carried this name. In times of trouble, think of your name, hold this feather, and the spirits will be there to help you.
I park outside my brother’s trailer house. Only the dim light of a living room lamp lights the gloom within. I grab my eagle feather from the dashboard and the pipe bag on the seat beside me. I step out and a light mist moistens my face and speckles my glasses. Tree limbs creaking.
I hesitate before knocking. I am only a common man. Yet, I am now about to cross a threshold into uncommon experiences. I want to turn around and leave. Hesitantly, I knock and my nephew opens the door. I cross the threshold.
My sister-in-law hugs me, tells me she is going to her mother’s, and then she, my nephew, and my nieces are gone. I stand in a realm of gloom. I see the dark shape of my brother at the kitchen table, head bowed, arms on the table with a beer clenched between his hands, and a crumpled, plastic bag of marijuana at his elbow. I walk to the table, pull out a chair and sit across from him. I place my pipe bag and eagle feather before me.
There is danger here. In the dark corners of the house, fear takes shape and form, and moves at the edges of my eyesight.
In times of trouble...
In times of trouble...
I pick up my eagle feather.
My brother raises his head and looks at me. “Hey, my bro. Good to see you,” he says. “I just wanted to see you one last time. I’m checkin out...movin on. Fuck this shit.”
I look at him. Red eyes framed by tangled, matted hair. Sharp teeth gnashing. I look down and see the dark shape of a revolver between his arms. The dankness of his breath reaches me and I smell the foul odor of a sullen rage fueled by beer and reefer.
Wisps of fear swirl out from the dark corners, touching me, chilling me. Cold sweat slowly beads my forehead. Gloom darkens and presses in on me. I can hardly breathe.
In times of trouble...
I remember my name. The spirits guide my hand and I reach into my pipe bag and take out a tied bundle of sage. Cleanse the air of this stench of fear, they tell me.
“I have to do something first,” I say. “I want to smoke the house down. When I am done, we can talk.”
“Fuck that goddamn shit,” he says. “Fuck your Great Spirit. Fuck God. Fuck the Creator.”
I stand up and hold a match to the end of the sage bundle. The end begins to smolder and the pungent, musky smoke wafts upward. I fan the smoke out with my eagle feather. I begin moving through the house, fanning the smoke into dark corners. My brother’s words follow me. “Goddamn fuck....goddamn fuck...goddamn fuck...”
After I am done, I return to the table. I take out my turtle shell. Taking some loose sage, I roll it into a ball, put it into the shell and light it. Thin strands of smoke rise upward. Fear no longer befouls the air around me but still lurks in the dark corners.
“You think you’re a fuckin medicine man now?” my brother says. “You think prayin is gonna do any good? Fuck that...don’t mean nuthin.”
“Why did you ask me to come here then?” I say. “Do you think I drove four hours just to come here to watch you kill yourself?”
“No. I want someone to hear me. To know why I am going to do this.” he answers.
“Tell me then. Tell me why it’s come to this. Help me to understand this.”
In times of trouble...
Every Day. Everyday the sun rises. Gold beams light darkened corners. Wisps of shadowfear burrow and hide in the deepest crevices. But it is night and I must walk through the darkness. There is danger here. Remember and you shall know the secret. Tree limbs creaking. Bare floors soaking. It is the time of the dead and when soul-spirits roam. I too should be dead but I am awake. I have to walk through this night. I must hold back the darkness until the sun rises. I must not awake at the dawn. I must be undead with the dawn.
He is talking to me. I sit and listen, staring at a stained spot on the floor. Ethereal blood. Dark shapes swirl at the edge of my vision. The sage has burned out. I relight it. Thin plumes of smoke rise up and whiten the darkness. Fear lessens but is ever present.
She’s leavin me...Movin out...I always tried to do the right thing...Get food on the table...But that ungrateful bitch dont care...Gettin down on me cause I aint got a regular job...Fuck, man...I brung money in the house...I got a good business...Always get grade A weed...Always get them to come back and buy from me regularly...Cut’em a deal and they always come back...Then, she gets mad when I quit my casino job...Best motherfuckin blackjack dealer they had...But, shit, man, I don’t wanna work for the fuckin tribe...Fuck that...I ain’t no suck ass...I’m my own man...Aint no one tellin a Denzalle what the fuck to do...We blue blood here...We come from chiefs...Them damn muttbloods on the council got no right tellin us what to do...Fuck man, I like being here...doing what I want...Long as I’m bringin money in, she got no reason to bitch...And, yeah, I started drinkin again... But, fuck, I quit for two years...Nothin wrong with havin a beer or drink once in a while... Aint like I drink every damn night...And these people who come by to get some reefer...they like having a beer or two over business.
He goes on and on. Repeating himself over and over. Never blaming himself. Always blaming her. Or blaming others. But at least he is talking. And as he talks, time passes, albeit slowly. Four-thirty a.m. Still at least another half hour before the eastern skies begin to glow. I sit quietly. Letting him talk. I keep the sage going. I gaze at a dark, bluish spot on the bare floor. Bare floors soaking. The spot seems to rise up and float toward my head. Floating before my eyes, it envelops my head in a warm darkness. Sharp teeth gnashing. I open my eyes suddenly. His fearful words reach out and grasp at my heart.
I’m gonna kill that fuckin cunt, man...If she don’t want me, then no one is gonna have her...That bitch belongs to me...I own that cunt...I’ll be fuckin goddamned if I’m gonna let that bitch live while I am six feet under...It’s pay back time and that bitch is gonna pay big time...Goddamn her...Why she have to do this?...Fuck it, it don’t mean nuthin...Fuck no, man...I’m taking that cunt for a ride tomorrow...Ask her to come with me...Just pretend that I’ve accepted things and want to talk to her one last time...Go for a drive out by the lake...Got a nice spot picked out where I’ll do it...Have my gun behind my seat...Ask her to look at something out on the lake...And when she turns her head, I’ll reach for the gun...When she turns her head back, she’ll be looking down that muthafuckin barrel...I’ll say...“You fuckin bitch, look what you done, look what your making me do”...I’ll pull that fuckin trigger and blow her brains out...Then I’ll put the gun against my head and do myself.
“What you think of that crazy shit, bro?” he says.
I look up and over at him. A shadow in the gloom. The cold of the room turns my breath into white vapors. My voice quivers from the fear that squeezes my heart: “But why? Why this? Why does it have to come to this? And your children...what will your children do?”
“Can’t you see why?” he replies. “I can’t live without her. And if I can’t live with her, then there is no sense livin. But I don’t wanna be alone dead. I can bring her with me. And the kids...they’ll be ok. They got their uncles and aunties to take care of them.”
Remember and you shall know the secret of the darkness beneath the jaded heart.
“Dammit, Clayton,” I say. “There’s more to this. I know you, man. You’ve been through broken relationships before and moved on. You’ve loved women before and moved on. But you’re not moving on now. Why?”
“Aw shit. Aw fuck, man. I messed up. I messed up big time. I lost it on her one night. Some people come by for some smoke. We were outside, havin a few beers, smokin some doobies. It started rainin. I come in...told her I wanted to bring my friends in. But she said no...kids were in bed and had school the next day. And I dont know what happened. It was like I blacked out. I hit her...beat her. I couldnt stop. Mark got up and tried to protect his ma. I hit him. I didnt know anything till the next day.”
We sit in deadened silence. I hear the clock ticking and glance at the time. Five fifteen. Dawn is close. Gloom darkens. It is near the time of when night meets day. The time when night gathers its strength to hold back the light. The time when soul-spirits return from their night journeys. There is danger here. I feel a presence growing on the edge of my vision. I look at a corner in the living room. And I see it. A blackness in the shadows where the walls meet. And I know there are yet more words to be heard.
Remember and you shall know the secret of the darkness beneath the jaded heart.
“A few nights later, I got drunk again. I passed out on the couch. I woke up in the middle of the night. Kinda half-awake. It was dark. I saw my wife sleepin on the other couch. I thought that if I was good to her...made love to her...things would be ok. I sat up, pulled my boots off, took off my jeans and shorts. I went over and lay down with her. She had her back turned. I pulled her panties down, reached around, and started rubbing her with my finger. Man, I was still half-drunk but I just know I wanted to fuck her. I could feel myself getting hard. Could feel it getting hard between her legs, from behind. So I started movin. I was slidin myself between her legs and rubbin her with my finger. She woke up and started strugglin. But I moved faster. I started to cum. Suddenly the lights went on and my wife was standing over me. I looked down to see who I was with. It was my daughter.”
He leans over the table, head between his arms, words choked off by an anguished cry, his forehead touching the black shape of the gun, his right hand grasping the handle. Night specters steal through the room. In the light of the false dawn, the shadow in the dark corner begins to move, and slides over the couch and across the floor.
I hear moaning. It is a woman moaning. A forlorn moaning that turns into a crying lament. I stand up and look around the room. Who is here? Somewhere a woman weeps and cries. I clearly hear her sobbing. She is behind something. A door. A closet.
I begin to move. Sweat stings my eyes. I stagger across the room. Her sobs grow stronger. She is here. Not behind a door or in a closet. But inside my head. Her weeping begins to turn into a scream. The floors and walls tilt and turn. I reach the hallway. Her scream turns into a screech. There is a flash and I feel the warmth of a sunbeam strike my cheek before darkness overcomes me.
I open my eyes and see my brother bending over me. He helps me up and leads me to the couch. I lay down, think, and can’t remember anything. Just a gray fog clouding my vision and a maddening moaning rising to a screech. I look at my brother and see his look of concern. I tell him I’m okay.
“Jesus. I didn’t know what the fuck to think,” he says. “You got up and just started staggerin across the room and fell down. I jumped up and ran over to you. You were just layin there, your eyes rolled back into your head. Scared the shit outta me, man.”
“You didn’t hear anything?” I ask.
“Nothing, ” I say, sitting up slowly. “Look. Let’s go for a ride. I want to go to the lake. There’s something I need to do.”
The morning is fresh with the scent of pine. Green boughs glow yellow in the light of the morning sun. We get into my car and I place my pipe bag between us on the front seat. We head out and follow the road the along the western shore of Lake Sis-kay-way. Between the trees, I see the lake glittering in the sunlight.
I turn off onto an old fishing camp road. The old road follows close to the shoreline. I find a open spot and drive right up to the shore. Looking through the windshield, the vastness of the lake opens up and, looking east, I see nearly fifty miles of water. Pine and birch circle the lake with a solid wall of green.
I open my car door, grab my pipe bag, and begin to get out. “C’mon, Clayton. Come sit with me,” I say to my brother.
“I don’t know, Endaso,” he says. “I know I said some crazy shit last night. And you just being there, listenin to me, helped me cause I was ready to do some crazy things. But I don’t know about that pipe. You don’t know how much I prayed. How much I asked for my life to be better. Prayin for my wife to understand things and let things be. I asked for a sign. Anything so I would know things would be ok. But I never saw anything. Sorry, Endaso, but I just don’t believe in that anymore. If there was anything to it, why did I have to go through what I did last night?”
“Maybe you were praying for the wrong things, Clayton,” I answer. “Come sit with me and let’s talk. You don’t want to smoke my pipe, no problem. But come sit with me.”
I close my car door and walk to the shore. I close my eyes, feeling the fresh breeze in my hair and on my face. I listen to the waves lapping on the white sandy shores, the waves speaking to me, singing to me, welcoming me home. I open my eyes and far off I see four birds circling high over the lake.
I sit down, reach into my pipe bag and take out my red and black blanket. I spread it before me. I remove the contents of my bag and place them on the blanket. Niin Opwaagan. A pipe bowl hewn from red pipestone, a pipestem carved from sumac, a turtle shell, and a long, thin eagle bone used to clean the pipe. I light the few remaining sage leaves and stems and smoke down the bowl, stem, eagle bone, and tobacco pouch. I hear the car door open and close and my brother comes over and sits in front of me. Over his shoulder, I watch the four birds approach.
I take the pipe bowl and stem and put them together. Taking pinches of tobacco, I offer a greeting and prayer to each of the Directions, Grandfather Sun, and Mother Earth, and load the pipe bowl. I set the loaded pipe before me. I watch the four bald eagles circle low and land near us. And the spirits will be there to help you. I notice my brother looking at the eagles.
“My helpers,” I say. “You said you don’t believe in anything, Clayton. But look around you. Eagles just don’t land and walk close to people like this. They came here for a reason. They know I’m here with this pipe.”
“Think about what you prayed for, my brother,” I continue. “Everything you prayed for was for you. You said you asked for a sign. Maybe you were looking too hard. Because it’s when you’re not looking when signs come to you. Like these four eagles. I didn’t ask that they come here. I wasn’t expecting them to be here. Yet, here they are.”
We sit quietly and observe the eagles as they walk around, talking to each other and looking at us. “What happened back there at the house?” he asks.
“I don’t really know, ” I answer. “There was...something there. Something that passed through me. And, I heard this woman moaning. It kept getting louder and louder and turned into a scream. That’s when I passed out.”
My brother looks at me, a frown on his worn face. “What?” I ask.
“A long time ago, there used to be a house where the trailer is now,” he begins. “Back in the 70s, I think. There was a couple livin in it. They had a kid. Don’t remember everything about it, but things weren’t good. Always fightin. She was a bad one...always bringin guys over and fuckin’em when her old man was out. One night, she killed him. Happened outside a bar. Stabbed him in the chest. She went back home. Cops showed up and surrounded the place. They were gonna break in but she was threatenin the kid, so they backed off. Later, she let the kid out and then set the house on fire. She burnt up with the house. They thought maybe she set the house on fire then killed herself since most people would run away from flames.”
The Circle. The past becomes present and the present becomes the past. What goes around comes around.
“I don’t know what to say about the things that happened...with your wife and daughter,” I say to my brother. “You can’t really undo what’s been done. What’s happened has happened. There are reasons why things happen. But we may not always understand why. What happened to me...I may never know. Same thing with you. The best thing for you to do is move on. Maybe go live in the city. Your family needs time to heal and you too need to heal. But it won’t happen while you are drinking and using. I think you want your family back. And I really think you want things to be like they were before all this craziness started.”
“But I’m afraid if I leave...then we’ll never get back together,” he says. “And, if I leave, I’ll grow away from my kids. I mean. I see that happen to a lot of guys. They cut themselves off and end up not having anything to do with their kids.”
“That happens because they want it to happen,” I tell him. “Clayton, you want things to be the way you want them to. You’re still looking for excuses and justifications. Only way you’ll grow away from your kids is if you want that to happen. And, I’m not saying that at some point your wife will forgive you and give you another chance. Because it may never happen. You’re dealing with another person who has feelings of their own. The thing to do is take care of yourself.”
I reach down and pick up my pipe. “I want you to share this pipe with me. I want you to pray...but not with what is in your head but what is in your heart.”
I light the pipe, draw deeply on the stem, and bring the smoke within me. I thank the Creator for the day and for the strength given to me in my moment of need. I give thanks for the helpers who have been sent to me. I ask blessings for the elders, our women, our children, for the Earth. I ask blessings for my sister-in-law, for my nieces and nephew, for my brother...that he may find his way and live in a good way.
I silently say my prayers with four draws of the pipe and then pass it to my brother. He takes the pipe, closes his eyes, and begins his silent prayer. Tears begin to flow down his cheeks and I know he is speaking with his heart. I watch one of the eagles rise up, circling above us. I watch as it rises higher and higher, becoming a mere speck in the blue sky. Far into the Four Skies it soars, carrying our message home to Grandfather Above.
© All Rights Reserved, Robert DesJarlait, 2017