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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

White Shoes for a Cherokee Bride

I prayed for Rainbow in Buffalo Heart’s sweat lodge. He was a healer, and she needed healing. Buffalo Heart blew his flute, and I heard the shrill of it at the base of my neck. I was sure Rainbow heard it too.

Rainbow went back to Tulsa around the time her kid cousin killed herself with a heroine overdose. It had been a dark year. Rainbow called a few times and told me the Rainbow energy was just not what it used to be. “It’s all drugs and alcohol and unemployment,” she said. ”Who wants to live?” She asked me to use the company phone to conference a free call with her friend Eva in Germany, but that had not been possible, and I was feeling bad about that.

So when I returned from the weekend with Buffalo Heart, I called Rainbow’s new number. Incredibly, she answered.

“RBG this is MWP. Hey are you coming to New York?”

“Planning on it. Planning on it. Hey can you do me a favor?”

“What is it Darling?” I like calling Rainbow Darling, more importantly she likes it. She knows I love her, and that it’s up to her to direct those feelings of mine. It’s Father, with a bit of Eros thrown in. She likes the fact I’m still attracted to her.

“I need you to go to Canal Street to buy some white shoes. They’re the open ended flip flops made out of white netting with little white flowers attached to the front. I need a size eleven.”

“Size eleven, that’s enormous!”

“I told you this is the land of giants. They’re for a wedding.”

“Are they for you?”

“Are you kidding? I don’t wear an eleven, you should know that by now. They’re for the bride. I need them here in Tulsa by Friday. Can you do it?”

“I’ll try Darling. I’ll try”

I took the N train into Manhattan and got off at Canal. The weekend had set my head on fire. It felt like white light was pouring out of my forehead and neck. I wondered if I was sick. Bits of poison ivy began to break through at my ankles and wrists. The air was hot and rank and humid. It had been raining solidly for three days. Today the sun was trying to poke through but everything was wet.

I thought about Buffalo Heart’s last email. “I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

Thinking about all this gave me a headache. Clearly there was a link between events. Why was he being so difficult?

Buffalo Heart was part Cherokee by birth. Now two days later this assignment comes to go find some shoes for a Cherokee lady I don’t even know, from Rainbow, a Cherokee lady that I know well and love like my own family. The whole thing was cryptic.

I had just met Buffalo Heart over the weekend. He was running a sweat lodge at the festival in Pennsylvania. They had the lodge set up next to a beautiful piece of the river. It was cold water, that ran in pools, and on the other side were some high rocks, and hemlocks growing out of them.

Buffalo Heart grew up in Virginia, where a lot of the Cherokee had ended up after the Trail of Tears. He had Cherokee blood in him, he said, but really he was just a wild kid, from a not-so-good part of town, stealing stuff, and taxing everyone's patience. "I was in trouble, headed for worse trouble," he said.

He met a healer, an old Hopi man, who healed in various ways, one of them was by running sweat lodges.

It was the full ritual. A sacred sequence, walking around the fire, offerings made, tobacco smoked out through the pores by the steam of hot rocks thrown into the lodge. A swim in cold water between sweats. You did it four times. Inside, where it was dark, everyone sat in a circle looking at the large glowing stones tossed in by the assistant from the outside. We sang songs. Buffalo Heart and his helper sang songs themselves.

This was what he learned from the old man, indeed he was showing me now. The same sequence. The new-agers circled, listening as he blew his flute, and asked everyone to say a blessing.

The first time he sweated, the old shaman loaded a "pipe the size of a gourd, packed it with massive amounts of his most powerful tobacco, and other herbs, and lit it with a piece of burning branch from the fire, and handed to him with the command, "Inhale! Deeply!".

This he did, and apparently his heart raced like a crazed animal. Buffalo Heart said that if was anyone else they probably would have died. Buffalo Heart was a very big kid. The old guy knew what he was doing and Buffalo Heart was healed after that first sweat. He came to his senses about his own life. He came out and spent a very brief period of time learning from the old man, until, one evening at a tribal meeting, the old fellow stood up, said "This is Buffalo Heart, he's your healer now," and then dropped dead.

I think Buffalo Heart said that was the first time he ever heard his new name. Since then he's been doing sweat lodges all over the country. He practices a kind of healing that is very gentle, but very powerful, talking, observing, listening, encouraging.

I don’t look for causes. I’d been sent to listen for shoes. The river swims the fish, as much as the fish swims the river. Of course any fish with his ears on can hear a pebble thrown in the water.  I wasn’t hearing anything.

I walked Canal Street, up and down. One dealer had something like what Rainbow had described. But they were pink. This wasn’t going to be easy. I was looking for white half shoes with flowers on them. Aren’t more lady's shoes white than any other color? She’d already bought pairs for all the bridesmaids. They had to match. I had to do this by Friday. Couldn’t they just be nice white shoes? This was nuts. I was not qualified to do this task. I’ve never bought a gal shoes in my life, and now they have to match five other pairs perfectly and be there in less than thirty-six hours.

I was out of energy. I plopped down at a Chinese noodle house and ordered dumpling noodle soup. I flipped open my Blackberry and called Rainbow.

“RBG, I’m not having huge luck here. Need to get some direction.”

“I’m sure they’re there” she said. “Try the side street down from the Post Office.”

I ate the dumplings, then munched the bok-choy. There were only two other people in the place, as it was still way before lunch.

‘Imagine those shoes’ I told myself. ‘See them and they will exist.’

They could be anything, molded plastic, uni-body construction, sewn, stapled. What about the heels? Rainbow said nothing about the heels. She’d said they were made of netting? What kind of netting? Who makes shoes of netting?

The Chinese might. I poured in the dumpling sauce, then ate the noodles and last of all drank the liquid.

Buffalo Heart told me about his past learning from the old man, while he mixed me a big smoke. He laid rows of tobacco, and other herbs on top of each other. The first pile, about two inches wide and six inches long, was tobacco, then more tobaccos, then bearberry, and after that coltsfoot,  mugwort. The result was a small pyramid of plants of different colors - this helped him get the proportions right - it was also beautiful to watch.

"How many herbs do you mix in?"

"Depends what I feel like, what time of year it is. Who else is smoking."

He tamped the mixture into the end of his pipe, and handed it to me. He lit and I smoked.

The tobacco kicked like a mule. I felt my heart going nuts. I couldn't wait to get into the lodge to sweat.

"The tobacco carries out the poison. You'll be clean."

The sun was still trying to make it through. I saw how the street was divided into zones. Technology stores took the west. Stereo and Fan dealers the north. All the shoes seemed to be on the south side. The sound of RBG’s voice emanated from the hue and cry of the street. It led me to a small Asian shop oddly in the opposite direction of where she’d indicated, whose wares, mostly pocketbooks, gray goods, perfumes and cheap sandals, festooned the street from shelves and hangers.

From a distance I saw the little white half shoes of netting with flowers on the front. The shoes immediately took the place of Rainbow’s description. Reality and description literally flip-flopped. They were perfect for a well-dressed young lady. On anyone else they’d look gaudy, but on a bride in white they’d be perfect.

“Do you have these in a woman’s eleven?” I asked.

“I do,” said the man, and placed a larger set in my hands. “Three dollars.”

What shoes are three dollars anymore? It doesn’t matter. They only had to last a few hours.

Who was the girl getting married in three dollar sandals I wondered? I was already in love.

A Cherokee woman wearing a woman’s eleven probably was tall, with dark hair. I saw her with radiant skin. I imagined high cheekbones, a happy expression. I imagined her dress, all chiffon, and lace and though not expensive, exquisitely fitted to her figure, and to those of her friends. I imagined Rainbow insisting that in the hot weather only the simplest shoes were needed. They’d gone to Tulsa and bought pairs for all the girls, except the bride, she had feet that were too large. Where could she get a size eleven?

Elated and feeling the need to get this simple pair of shoes to Tulsa in the fastest way possible I walked up Broadway looking for a Federal Express. “There’s one at Kinko’s near Astor Place,” said a nice black lady at a bank on Broadway.

I thought of other things I could do. Perhaps I should get green and red markers and write or draw something on the inside of the sandals, best wishes to the bride and groom. A poem would be better but I didn’t have time. That kind of embellishment has to be thought out

Stay with the shoes. Stay with the shoes. Make sure they get there.

“Better check the zip code” I said to the lady behind the counter. The shoes fit nicely in a FedEx Pak, which was a little more expensive than a FedEx Letter. Thirty-seven bucks to send a pair of sandals halfway across the country.

The message was in the doing, in the finding, and getting to Tulsa in time for the wedding.

“You’re right there is an error.” The lady at the counter said. “She’s given you a nine, it should be a seven.”

”Did you check it against the address?”

‘Yes’ said the teller. ‘Everything else is right. The first number should be a seven.“

“Fine,” I said. “Change it on the ticket then. Thank you”

Getting through to someone is these days is the same as buying shoes.
It’s about sevens and nines and elevens. How did Buffalo Heart know? He blew his flute and something happened.

Rainbow was worrying about how the bride would look. Caring takes energy. Cooperation. Rainbow was making this wedding happen, I could tell.

I fantasized about the bride. Perhaps she’d be the kind of woman I’d like to marry. I’m already married but I was marrying her in my mind. She was someone I didn’t know, yet I could love her too? She was my wife, my daughter, my lover, my friend. She might be gorgeous, she might be homely.

What mattered was that she found happiness. That someone loved her.

I stopped at Starbucks for a cold coffee. Rainbow would call soon. “Mark, the zip is wrong, It’s 71495.”

“I caught it Rainbow. The shoes are on their way. Who’s the bride?”

“Do you remember Sandra? Her older brother is getting married. She’s a nurse. They were at the funeral.”

I thought of Rainbow’s cousin Winter, the one who overdosed. She was just a teenage kid. Rainbow flew back to Tulsa around the same time, but never did go to the service - she was having enough of a time just hanging on.

I remember Rainbow’s depression after it happened. She said she felt like taking heroine too. I shuddered when I thought of it.

“The wedding’s tomorrow. It’s by a lake. There’s a house there with sculptures and a beautiful beach. Gotta go. Thank you, thank you!”

I sipped my iced coffee. The shoes were needed. Shoes to Tulsa.

Suddenly I was sitting alone with the girl getting married. What was her name? I’ll have to kiss the bride, and thank her.

It was a lovely wedding.

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