Coming Back, Gracefully

7 08 2018

Recovery going well. It has been a surprisingly hot summer in Portland. I accepted a union job offer from a local grocery store. Cleaning toilets and taking out the trash. It’s a smelly job, but somebody’s gotta do it and I am damn glad to have the work while earning a decent wage.

Walking the streets has been challenging but it has made me stronger. One must stay ever vigilant in certain sections of the city (Old Town/Chinatown) where those who have fallen on hard times lurk and dwell. I was not prepared for such a stark reality. Skid row here is ugly. Real ugly. These conditions I had not seen since the summer of 2009 in New York. People had lost their minds and were living like dirty gutter rats.

Old Town’s Stag

I’ve seen that here. On more than one occasion.

At my new job it is required to interact with the public. A daily evaluation of the local market. Even in brief conversations, messages can be exchanged. Understanding the neighborhood is important. Knowing hot and cold trends keeps you in the game.

Physically, the job can be exhausting. There is a lot of time on your feet. I average seven miles a day. There is also a lot of lifting to be done. There is even a demolition component involving “bottle machines.” The bottles and cans provide a source of revenue for people living on the margins. A tiny profit for people living on the streets or neighborhood folks trying to pay down bills.

I walk to and from work most days and nights. It is a safe neighborhood with a hospital nearby, plenty of construction projects, shopping and street car lines. Portland, I’m learning, is a major rail city. David and I enjoy riding in the street car. We’ve taken it to the riverfront, library and over to the eastside. Our studio apartment is coming along, albeit slowly. The biggest fix was getting rid of the leaking air mattress.

The Jeep is gone as well. God bless that vehicle. It did its job and more from Calgary to Miami. But, when in recovery mode — rebuilding lives — one needs less worries not more. Vehicles in the city are a luxury. There are risks to street parking no matter where one calls home.

I’m still reporting on queer issues for south Florida and, locally, have picked up a restaurant beat for a Portland neighborhood newspaper. We have joined an Episcopal Cathedral and begun volunteering at community events. Friends are planning visits…. I’m happy again. That’s the most important thing. 

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Thorough Clean-sing

11 08 2017

Osceola slept here.

Cristina asked that we all give up an addiction. She said we should grab a twig and toss it into the fire to symbolize the release of this addiction.

Moving around was quite challenging. The medicine was taking effect. I grabbed a branch and tossed it in. Carlos followed and did the same. Geraldo grabbed a whole stack and tossed it on the fire. The smoke funnelled up through the trees and Cristina began to sing again.

Some of the words I could make out. “Barricuda” “Santa Maria” and “Doma” I remember. I probably should not reveal too much as this was an exclusive gathering. Geraldo was pleased. He told Cristina he wished he had brought more of his family with him. There were times when I could not help but stare at him in silence. It was a display of respect.

Listening to the night and nature was fascinating. Cristina, with tears in her eyes, remarked how great it was to be moonbathing.

My bones began to crack like the flames shooting from our campfire as we each took turns drinking the Ayahuasca. Standing up and grabbing the branch to toss in was not easy. The terrain was rough. Although this area was populated by large neatly maintained farms, we were in “the woods.” During the ceremony some of the horses came near. In the dark I could only hear their musking noises — a sort of sneezing sound.

I sang some too.

Mostly humming to what reminded me of the Seminole war chant. My father took us to many Florida State University football games when we were young. Carlos seemed to know the chant too. If you know the legend of Chief Osceloa it helps. The brave native has become a recognizable symbol for the Tallahassee headquartered school.

I also had a tearful moment singing the biblical hymn, “When You Believe,” from The Prince of Egypt. The tears were more of a joyful confession than one of true sadness or sorrow. We were to let it all out, Geraldo had said. Release the past into the air.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, Cristiana asked that we all embrace each other. She hugged me tight and gave me a kiss on the cheek. Carlos was warm as well.

“Come here,” he said as he pulled me in for a hug.

Cristiana then directed Geraldo and I to hug each other and we did and it was like the kind brothers give after making up from a fight. Quick, back slaps and all.

As the full moon continued to rise I found myself tranqulized by its beauty and that of the southern sky. I would have preferred to sleep outside by the fire but the bugs were too much. The next day Geraldo and I drove back to Miami. We were happy and inspired and listened to music and laughed all the way home.

The past was gone. A new day had dawned. It was good to be alive.

“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.” — Ernest Hemingway.

 

 

 





Ocala Can You Hear Me?

10 07 2017

OcalaFarm

In search of healing we were introduced to Ayahuasca by a Brazilian shaman. Geraldo arranged it. We drove north into horse country to find it.

I was surprised to get the last minute invitation. It came via a text late Friday night after I had deactivated my Facebook and realized I had no clue where my next paycheck would come from. Before I could wallow in self pity Geraldo rode to the rescue.

His best friend from South America was here.

Cristina was her name. She was powerful and wise. A mother of two children. Girlfriend to Carlos. Healer of many.

Before Geraldo and I found Cristina’s campground we drove through the rolling hillside farm country. Some of the farms were quite immaculate with freshly cut lawns and thoroughbred horses grazing the fields. The oak trees in this part of the country were large with thick clumps of moss hanging from their branches. They were an oasis for cattle herds from the sun’s mighty rays.

Geraldo had been in Ecuador. He was a heavy man now. He said our trek into the North Florida farmlands would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. He described it as an circle of healing — spiritual not sexual. That was good enough for me.

David gave his blessing and we left Pompano Beach in a brand new volkeswagen jetta. Early July and the heat in full effect. We made good time on the turnpike pushing into Ocala around the four-hour mark.

“You’re going to drink with us, John?” she asked as we approached the campfire.

“Yes,” I said.

Geraldo warned it could get ugly. Vomiting, diarreha of the worst. He advised I fast the night before and refrain from drugs and eating meat. This was a cleasening, he said…to decide who I wanted to be and to release the demons of the past.

Cristina helped with that. She wore a yellow feather in her hair. At the ceremony she dressed in a beautifully beaded long red dress. Carlos was ever at her side. He was standoffish at first but when we spoke was assured the cleansing from this Amazon vine was what we all needed.

Carlos, Geraldo and I gathered wood for the fire. For the ceremony, I laid on my wolf blanket from Yellowstone. The one Anne gave me. Four candles were placed around the fire pit. After lighting the fire, Cristinia offered the Ayahuasca. It was bitter and hard to swallow. I took one sip and gave the cup back. She encouraged me to finish the cup and I did.

Once the drink had been passed around the circle, Cristina began to sing her native songs with accompaniment on the drums and guitar by Carlos. Her chants were passionate and in dialects I had never heard before. She moved around the fire, always stablizing herself in a yoga-like pose before another cry into the night. The Ayahuasca began to take its effect and soon my ears felt unclogged from years of swimming in cholrine dosed pools.

My senses began to peak. I could hear other sounds from the wild near and far. I could hear my heart beating again. It was a full moon rising….

TO BE CONTINUED