MOUNTAINVIEW THERAPY CENTER
Hyperbaric Unit #3
July 16, Monday
Charlie was familiar with cold. Whether Colorado or Montana, winters imposed months of sub-freezing weather. This cold, however, was different. Not as bitter, but penetrating. His ears popped, as if descending from Novavose.
The sensations beckoned forth a vision from the encroaching fog.
Eagles Peak, the first night of his failed ceremonial fast. A month shy of eighteen, just out of high school, and heading for college in a matter of weeks.
It was mid-August, but mountain nights were cold, frost common and snow possible at elevations above the treeline, where connection with the grandfather spirits came more easily.
The soft folds of his grandfather's buffalo robe and amasani's blanket got him through the night, but by afternoon the next day the sun was scorching hot. Angry rays seared the surrounding rocks and talus, resulting in a piercing glare. For some reason, flies were profuse, their buzzing irritating.
His stomach growled, protesting its emptiness, and the paint on his body itched. Afflictions overwhelming, he glowered across the desolation to the pines below.
Sensing Eaglefeathers's stare, he fixed his eyes in the direction of their cabin, wishing he were there taking a nap. He squirmed beneath the scrutiny, scratching his arms and chest.
"Grandson, when you are uncomfortable you must pray harder. Maheo will help you."
The pleading in his grandfather's eyes was no match for his rebellious teenage soul.
"I am sorry, Grandfather. I am hungry and thirsty. My head and stomach hurt. I don't want to do this. I want to go home."
"You must try, grandson. It is important. You told me you were ready to be a man. Finishing all four days will make you stronger. It will help you the rest of your life. If you are thirsty, I have something that can help you."
The old man's knees creaked as he got up from the ground to fetch his medicine bundle in the shade of a nearby boulder. He removed a root that was shaped like a human hand, cut off a piece, then peeled it with his knife.
"Here. Try this, grandson."
"What is it?"
"It is called Big Medicine. It will help your dry mouth and see you through."
Charlie frowned as he took it, sniffed it, then put it in his mouth. Much to his surprise, saliva returned.
But thirst was but a tiny fraction of his discomfort.
He lacked the resolve required to complete such a difficult task, much less the maturity to understand how such a sacrifice could help him in any possible way. Would it bring back his dead father, whom he missed horribly? Reduce his fears about what awaited at college? Explain why life was so unfair, not only to him, but all his people?
This was Eaglefeathers's idea, not his. Four days and nights sitting on the side of a mountain enduring extremes of heat and cold while his body screamed for nourishment was the last thing he wanted to do. When he said he was ready to be a man, he had no idea what he was getting into.
How could enduring this misery possibly make him a man?
He spit the Big Medicine into his hand and tossed it on the rocky ground.
"I want to go home, grandfather. I am sorry, but I do not want to do this."
"You are sure that you do not want to continue?"
"I am sure. What's the point of sitting here four days with no food or water? I am tired and hungry. I want to go home."
Eaglefeathers studied him a long moment.
"I am disappointed, grandson. The suffering you cannot bear now is nothing compared to what will come later. This will make you stronger. Maheo will bless you with patience and confidence in what you can bear and achieve."
"How can my suffering now make any difference later? It doesn't matter in the real world, grandfather. It is different now than when you were young."
The old man's voice was firm. "Life's challenges do not change. I promise you they do not get easier. You will need Maheo even more as you grow older. Connecting with him now will give you faith that he is always near when you need him."
"I will connect with Maheo when I need him. Right now all I need is food."
His grandfather's eyes glazed with disappointment.
"I named you for a mighty Cheyenne chief and warrior. One of the greatest chiefs who ever lived. Without his bravery and vision, we would not have returned to our homeland. I can see I made a grave mistake. You are not a warrior. That makes me sad. Only warriors survive in this world."
"My father was a warrior and he didn't survive."
Eaglefeathers's voice acquired an edge. "Agent Orange in Vietnam gave Little Bear cancer, which killed him. He lived an honorable life. Without proving yourself a man, no honorable mésėhée will have you. A respectable Northern Cheyenne wife is important. She assures your success and happiness. Instead you will marry a kȯhóméháe, a coyote woman, you cannot trust. She will trample your heart and turn on you like a rabid dog."
"Like my mother did to my father?"
Eaglefeathers held his gaze. "Yes."
"I'm sure I can do better."
His grandfather's perusal was that given a foolish dog at its fourth odiferous encounter with a skunk. He patted Charlie on the back, got up, picked up his buffalo robe and medicine bundle, then plodded down Eagles Peak without looking back.
Charlie knew instantly he'd made a tremendous mistake, but didn't have the courage to admit it. He gathered up his blanket, and trudged toward home, deliberately staying several yards behind.
Step by heavy step, his grandfather's words at the sweat the day before came back loud and clear.
"You have reached the age to become a man. Northern Cheyenne men your age earn their first medicine bundle, a vonȧhé'xá'e, fasting for a purpose at the sacred mountain. Do you see yourself as a man, grandson?"
He caved with self-recrimination. He claimed he was, but only in years, not in spirit. Even his white brother, Bryan, refused to sympathize or validate his rationale for quitting, accusing him of having a recto-cranial inversion. He never quite knew exactly what that was, but it didn't sound good.
Neither he nor Eaglefeathers spoke of it again until four years later when the old man lay dying in his arms and advised him once more to return to Maheo.
The memory faded, wounded spirit aching with regret.
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