As soon as we were inside, Luke picked up a stout stick I hadn't noticed before and struck the side of the lodge. When he did, Tim closed the flap and we were left in complete darkness, a darkness like I had never known except for the time we spent in the cave during Jonathan's rescue. Silence... the silence was eerie.
After we had been sitting in silence for a while, Luke struck the side of the lodge again. When he did, Tim opened the flap and Granddad brought in four glowing, red-hot rocks, one at a time. When he brought in the first rock, he paused in front of Luke who said, "Hau kola--Hello, friend" as he tapped the rock lightly with his stick.
I could feel the heat from the stone as Granddad placed it in the stone pit. He quickly made three more trips to bring in rocks. When he had placed the last rock in the stone pit, he brought a bucket of water and a gourd dipper and sat them beside Matt. When he left, Tim once again closed the flap. This time we were not in complete darkness as the red-hot stones cast a glow throughout the lodge.
As I stared at the glowing stones, Luke again reminded us that if anyone became frightened or fearful during the sweat, to try to summon courage to stay, but if they could not, simply to say, "I need to leave," and the ceremony would be stopped, the lodge opened.
"The first endurance is the black endurance, the endurance of the west," Luke continued. "The west is the home of spirit beings. Some day, if we have lived a good life, we will join our ancestors and the other spirits in the west. Now we call upon them for aid."
Matt said, "Water is the life blood of our planet. Drops of water with a long history from many places are met in the water we bring to this sacred place. May we be made whole as our sweat joins with the water from the earth."
When he finished, he poured a dipper of water over the red-hot rocks, raising clouds of steam. After a short pause, Matt poured three more dippers of water over the stones. As the steam rose, Luke started blowing an eagle wing whistle as Matt sounded a small hand drum.
I stared at the stones and as I did, they seemed alive as shadows moved and whirled over their surface. As I watched the stones, the sound of the drum and whistle seemed to recede into the distance until I was barely conscious of them. I was called back when Luke began chanting a prayer in English.
"Wakan Tanka, Great Spirit, Grandfather, hear us--we who are gathered here in this sacred place upon Mother Earth's bosom. We call upon the four powers We call upon the four directions We call upon the four Spirits.
We call upon Father Sky who watches over us. We call upon Mother Earth who nurtures us. We call upon White Buffalo Calf Woman to guide us. We call upon our ancestors to help us.
Wakan Tanka, Great Spirit, Grandfather, hear us. We beseech you, for all our relatives--our two-legged relatives, our four-legged relatives, for our winged relatives, our finned relatives. Ho. Hetch etu aloh."
When he had finished, the whistle and drum were sounded again and after a short time, Matt said, "Let us introduce ourselves to the Spirits. Grandfather, Wakan Tanka, Spirits of West, I am Silver Wolf and I cry to you for Jonathan and for my brothers and sister here in this sacred place. Give us a good sweat. Send my spirit guide to aid me. Ho. Hetch etu aloh."
As soon as Matt finished, Wes said, "I am Wadaduga, Dragonfly, your Tsalagi son. I cry for my brother Jonathan and for my brothers and sister on Mother Earth's bosom. Ho. Hetch etu aloh."
One after another, the introductions were made around the circle until it was Luke's time. "Spirits, it is Fire Thunderbird. I join my plea to those of my brothers and sister for all and especially for our well-loved brother Jonathan. Ho. Hetch etu aloh."
The drum and whistle were sounded for a few minutes, then there was silence.
This business of the sweat lodge and all the talk about spirits seemed spooky to me. It was like I was witnessing something out of a movie. It didn't seem real. I had agreed to go along with it and participate as fully as I could because of Jonathan. Poor kid, he had told me his story and asked me to be a part of the sweat. He had had a very rough time of it and if a sweat was going to benefit him, I was ready and willing to do what I could to make it happen.
It wasn't that I thought it was foolishness--well, maybe a little bit--but just that I had never been very much into spiritual things.
Anyway, last weekend I had helped build the sweat lodge and had decided that whether or not the sweat accomplished anything, it was great to be with the group of friends I was getting to know pretty well.
I had always heard that the best way to cement friendship is to work together. When I got home following the afternoon building the sweat lodge, I told Mom and Dad that certainly it seemed to be true. "In a way, I feel I have known that bunch for a long, long time. I mean I really liked them all and have enjoyed spending time with them, but now I feel like we are old friends. Yeah, like we have known each other for ages."
Then, when we arrived at the lodge Sunday afternoon, it seemed as if we had been there just a short time before, not a week ago. I enjoyed being with everyone again and found I was getting into the mood for a sweat as Matt and Luke talked about it, even if I still wasn't sure what it was.
Something else made it all feel right. It was obvious Matt and Luke were very much in love. Their playfulness reminded me of some good times with Derrick, my late lover. I found myself remembering those good times. Something else surprised me about that. I thought I had pretty much gotten over Derrick's death, as much as I suspected I ever would, but being with Matt and Luke, I felt the wound afresh. I tried not to let my pain be known. After all, this sweat was for Jonathan's benefit.
Then I was really surprised at my reaction to greeting the sun. Had anyone told me about it, I think I would have dismissed it as a bit of spiritual nonsense, but it wasn't. I stood in the chilly morning air, arms uplifted, greeting a new day and being thankful for it but also, as the sun rose above the mountain tops, I felt a sharp dagger of longing for my lost lover pierce my heart. Mixed feelings? Mixed emotions? You bet!
Before the first endurance began, we were all sitting in the darkness--and I do mean darkness. I felt the presence of my new--no, no longer new--my good friends with me. I don't mean I just felt them present in the lodge with me, but PRESENT with me. I had a feeling of waiting, of anticipating, of expecting something--what it was I hadn't the foggiest idea, but they were a part of it. I was sure of that.
Mr. McElrath brought in four glowing, red-hot stones one at a time and the first endurance began. Luke did a long prayer--a chant--and then we all introduced ourselves to the spirits. I must admit I did feel a bit foolish talking to spirits as though they were real. When we had finished the introductions, we were told to ask for spirits to assist us but, since we didn't do it out loud, I didn't mentally say anything. As I said, I certainly didn't believe in any such thing as spirits.
Since I didn't, you can imagine my surprise when, while Matt and Luke sounded a whistle and drum, I heard a voice behind me, "So you don't believe in spirits, huh? Turn around, dumbass, I'm here!" A laugh, Derrick's laugh, Derrick's voice!!
When I turned around, I saw that the side of the sweat lodge was open and Derrick was standing just outside. "Come on! We don't have all day," he laughed again.
I got up, stepped out of the sweat lodge and into our bamboo-sheltered place on the river--and it seemed a perfectly natural thing to do. I grabbed Derrick in my arms, but he wasn't really there. I mean he was, but he was not solid. "What did you expect, Tom? I'm a spirit and I'm here to get your head straight."
We sat in the warm spring sun and talked. Mostly, I guess I listened. Derrick told me exactly what had happened. It was as I had suspected, knew: his stepfather had shoved him against the railing and he had fallen.
I felt the anger and hatred I had felt for the man returning, and was ready to speak when, as he had done often before, Derrick placed his finger against my lips and said, "Don't speak in anger, Tom." He told me he had struggled with his anger. "We had a whole beautiful life ahead of us and a man who was too small for our world destroyed it. I hated him for that, I hated him for causing you pain and sorrow, but then I realized he was still controlling me. He had a grip on me through my anger and, gradually, I have let it go."
I am still here, tied here, because you have not let me go; well, and because I have not been ready to go. But now, Tom, you have started a new life. You have new friends, a new school. Life moves on for you. You must turn loose. You must, Tom, for both our sakes. You have a long, full life to live before you join the spirit world, but only if you let the past be the past. Remember our love, but know that it is in the past and will never return."
We talked a long while, then Derrick said, "I saw you when you came into the hospital room to tell me goodbye. I was standing right behind you, but neither of us was ready for me to make myself known to you. Now it's time for both of us to move on. Remember me, Tom, but let me go. There will be another love for you. Love him without bounds as he will you, and as you deserve." With those words, he kissed me--it was like the barest brush of a spring breeze--on the forehead and was gone.
As Derrick vanished, I heard Luke tap the side of the sweat lodge and Tim opened the flap. The cool, refreshing air rushed in, and was most welcome!!
While Tim held the flap open, Matt said, "How easy it is to forget what is important. We breath without thinking, yet it is the air we breath that keeps us alive. Therefore, as we breath the cool and refreshing air now, remember to be thankful for each breath of our life. One day we will all draw our last breath. It is no more and no less important than our first or any between, but it is the breath that divides this world from the world of the spirits."
I thought to myself, as I felt the cool air, "And sometimes the two worlds come together and give new life, life as refreshing as the air I so welcome now."
Luke tapped the lodge and Granddad brought in two rocks, each glowing red, and placed them in the pit with those which were no longer glowing--but definitely still hot! When Granddad left, Tim closed the flap.
"We begin the white endurance, the second endurance, the endurance of the north. Be reminded of the great white giant, the face of winter, which puts Mother Earth to sleep--white, the color of strength, of cleanliness and honesty," Luke said. "Each of us in our own way, along our own path, needs courage and each of us has shown courage. Think of those in the lodge with you and the times their courage has been called up. Think of the times you have had to have courage. While Mother Earth endures the frigid breath of winter, she is gathering strength for the new life to come, so endure."
Matt started pouring water over the rocks and great billows of steam arose, much more than before. As the sweat lodge began to fill with steam, Matt still poured water over the hot rocks.
Luke said, "Endurance, cleanliness, strength, purity, these are the marks of the second endurance. These keep us knowing, being and doing right. These keep our life, our purpose, focused on the right path. These enable us to live among our friends--two-legged and four-legged--in harmony."
"May our word be truth, May our actions be for the good, May our relationships be honest."
"As we give up some of our waters," Matt said, "in this endurance, may the mingling of our waters with the waters of the earth make us pure." Matt then passed out sprigs of sage, "Sage helps drive away bad spirits. Chew on it or not, as you wish."
I didn't know what I was getting into when I agreed to join Jonathan in a sweat lodge. I mean I didn't know what it was all about and Jonathan wasn't a lot of help! I didn't know what part--if any--I would be playing or what it had to do with me. That sort of not knowing.
When the sweat started, I thought it was pretty cool--guess that's not the right word for a sweat lodge!! Anyway, I thought it was good to be included in some kind of adventure and the sweat certainly looked like it would be one.
The first endurance was kinda spooky, but fun. The chanting, drum and whistle were cool. I had never seen red-hot rocks before and when they were brought in, I just stared at them--I mean the way you stare at clouds, you know, seeing things in the shape of the clouds, only in the sweat lodge it was kinda like figures moving all over the rocks.
After the drum and whistle had been played for a few minutes, water was poured over the rocks and there was steam all over the place. When the flap was opened and the cool air let in, I was really glad. I was ready for some cool air.
Then, before I knew it, the second endurance--that's what Matt and Luke called it--began. They are medicine men and are a gay couple. I thought it was strange that there'd be gay medicine men. Then, about the time the second endurance started, I realized Hank and I were the only two straight men in the lodge and outside, only Mr. McElrath was straight!
We had been told we'd be given sage which was supposed to help us drive away bad spirits. Matt said we could chew on it or not. It was up to us. I started chewing on the sage because, while I wouldn't have called them bad spirits, there were things I hoped I could drive away. As I chewed, things changed! BANG! Just like that, they really changed!
Matt and Luke talked about honesty and being strong and clean--inside clean, I mean. They talked about keeping our actions honest, our words true and our relationships honest. I guess I was kinda not paying attention when it hit--like a brick upside the head.
I don't know what IT was, but suddenly the whole past year was playing out in front of me. The best way to describe it is to say that as I stared at the hot rocks, it was like I could see in them a movie--no, a play with real people.
It started in Sammy's room back when I was living with my mom in Raleigh. The two of us were sitting facing each other, him between my legs and we were jerking each other off. We started doing that before we could really cum, and did that pretty often. From the beginning, we told each other we were not gay, but it didn't matter to me. I loved playing with Sammy and having him play with Lil' Cody. That day after we shot, I leaned over and pulled his face to mine and kissed him on the lips.
I don't know what I expected him to do. That's not true. I do know. I expected him to kiss me back. Instead, he leaned away from me and yelled, "You cock-sucking faggot, get away from me," as he hit me in the face. That wasn't enough I guess because he spit on me as he stood up and shouted some more. I was so shocked I didn't move.
Sammy had shouted so loud his mother burst into the room and saw me sitting there. Sammy was pulling his pants up when she arrived. When he saw his mother, he shouted, "Mama, Cody is a cock-sucking faggot. He tried to suck my cock." Now I had done no such thing. I mean I had thought about it, but that was all. Sammy's mother told me to get out of their house and never come back. She actually shoved me out the front door pantsless and tossed my boxers and pants after me.
I grabbed my clothes, yanked them on and ran home, hot tears running down my face. "Sammy SPIT on me," I kept saying over and over to myself.
When I got home, Sammy's mother had called Ma and told her all sorts of things, most of which were not true. She had me painted as someone who had tried to rip the clothes off her darling, pure-as-snow son and have sex with him. I kinda wanted to laugh because Sammy has showed me how to jerk off and was forever coming up with new ways to do it. He was the one that stole lotion from his mom for us to use. That kind of thing.
Now Ma was generally mad about something, anything, all the time, but when she could blame me for something--guilty or not--I was the scapegoat. I guess it started when she blamed me for my father leaving. I don't remember him at all because he left when I was about two.
I was born with a whole bunch of problems and spent most of my first two years in and out of the hospital, being taken from this specialist to that one. My old man just wanted me gone and Ma back taking care of him. Well, I took up most of Ma's time and strength and most of the household money. Besides, I guess I cried a lot. Well, I'm sure I did. Anyway, my old man finally had enough and left. Ma said one night when she couldn't get me quiet and asleep, he said, "God damn it, I've had it, it's me or that squalling brat."
She told me that over and over ever since I could remember, and it didn't help any when she started adding, "I think I made the wrong choice."
The highest praise Ma could give me was, "Thank God, it looks like you may turn out normal after all." See, Ma told me that's what my old man said all the time. "Why'd you have to have THAT instead of a normal kid?" She never told me why I was not "normal" and when I came to western North Carolina, I asked my auntie and she said I had problems when I was born and it had taken time to get them straightened out. A heart defect was the last to be repaired and the scar I had across my chest says it wasn't minor. "But now you're perfectly normal." I could have told her I was determined to stay normal, but I didn't.
Anyway, after ranting and raving for an hour or more, Ma finally said, "I thought you were finally normal and you turn out to be a pervert, a god damn fairy. Guess they didn't repair that defect."
Well, Ma got louder and uglier at home, making my life there miserable, and while that was bad enough, school was worse. I had always done well in school and had friends there and the teachers liked me. School was a refuge from home. It had been, but when I went to school the day after Sammy and I had been caught, he had spread tales, lies, telling all who would listen--and most did!--I had tried to suck his cock and get him to butt fuck me. I don't have to tell you what that meant!
School became pure hell. For the first time since kindergarten, home, bad as it was, was better than school. I developed all sorts of excuses for not going to school and some of them became pretty real. I couldn't eat without throwing up. I couldn't get to homeroom before I threw up. Lunch? Forget it. When I did go to school, I crawled into a shell. Didn't matter, I didn't have any friends left anyway. At least no-one beat the shit out of me. After a bunch of assholes last year beat unconscious a kid who they called a faggot, it was made very clear that "you throw you go," and that wasn't home! The police came and hauled you away in cuffs.
When I was home, I locked myself in my room, refusing to come out for hours at a time.
Yet, all the time I thought I was working hard at being normal. I would NOT be gay. I would NOT be a faggot. I would NOT be a pervert.
Finally, when the school sent a truant officer around and he threatened Ma with jail unless I stayed in school, she had had enough. She called my uncle and when he said he'd take me, she told me, "He's a hillbilly with a house full of kids, so one more won't matter. I told him you were having problems here and needed to get away. I didn't tell him you are a cock-sucking faggot and you better not let him find out!" I didn't bother telling her I had never sucked a cock. What did she care? She was getting rid of me.
So the day after school let out for Christmas holidays, I was on a bus from Raleigh headed for Clarksville in the Carolina mountains. Hillbilly country. Land of the Rednecks. Hicksville.
My cousin Ken met me at Clarksville and I ended up in Coldsprings--kinda, it was all country to me. I would be living with my Uncle and Auntie Nash who only had three other kids. When I arrived, they fussed over me like I was the greatest thing since sliced bread, welcoming me like a gift from heaven. I couldn't believe how lucky I was. Ken took me shopping for Christmas presents--Uncle Nash had given me twenty dollars to spend! At mom's we never did anything about Christmas after I started school. Anyway, it might be hillbilly country, but I thought I had died and gone to heaven.
Then, wouldn't you know it, Christmas Eve when Ken and I went to the church to help decorate, I met a beautiful guy, Jonathan. He had been kicked out by his family and almost died. Then he had been taken in by a family who thought he was great. We became good friends and one day I asked if he had ever jerked off with another guy and before I knew it, we were doing it. Then, Ma called.
She wanted to know if I was keeping my secret and warned me that if anyone found out I was a faggot, I was on my own. She painted a pretty rotten picture of what that would look like, so much so that I started putting the brakes on Jonathan's and my relationship.
But it was a constant battle. Add to that the fact that Jonathan was gay and all his friends knew it. One day we were jerking off each other and he kissed me. We kissed sometimes when we were playing with each other. I liked it, but kept telling him I wasn't queer. Then he kissed me and tried to stick his tongue into my mouth and I shoved him away. He was pretty upset and confused. Small wonder.
Anyway, you get the picture. Now here I was involved in a sweat in which honesty and courage were being talked about, and I was a lying coward. Who was I fooling?
Then it occurred to me that Hank and Mr. McElrath were the only two straight men involved in this whole undertaking and none of the others had anything to be ashamed of. Now I know this is going to sound very weird and strange but, so help me, this is what happened. When that thought struck, the top of the sweat lodge suddenly opened up and a wonderful cooling rain poured down on me.
Then, I was outside myself. At least that's the only way I know to describe it. I saw myself sitting in the lodge as the rain poured over me. It poured over my body, washing darkness from me. A blackness ran off my body and soaked into the ground. Then, suddenly, I was standing on the ledge overlooking the valley, welcoming the sun. It didn't seem strange at all that I was both standing there as I had done earlier AND looking at myself standing there--tall, strong, brave. I was, of course, wearing only the breech cloth and I did like what I saw because I saw me as I really could be, as someone who loved Jonathan with his whole heart and who Jonathan could love. I looked at myself and shouted, "Yes!!! Yes, a new, honest Cody welcomes a new day!"
I guess I didn't really shout because suddenly I was back in the lodge and no-one I could see in the glow of the rocks was looking at me. I still had the sage in my mouth and I guess very little time had passed because I had barely chewed it. But there certainly had been some bad spirits driven away!
I wanted to stand and shout, "Jonathan, Cody loves you!" but I didn't.
The steam was not as great as it had been, but that soon changed when Matt poured a dipper of water over the stones. As the steam arose, he and Luke took bird's wing fans and waved the steam about us as Luke chanted over and over, "Give us strength and courage to be honest and pure."
Another dipper of water was poured over the stones and we all sat in silence. In silence, but inside I was shouting over and over again, "I am honest and courageous and I love Jonathan Henderson! I do, I do, I do!"
After all the prayers and so on, we were all silent for a while. Finally Luke rapped on the side of the lodge and Tim opened the flap. As soon as it was opened, the cool air rushed in and I was glad. Luke asked, "How are y'all doing?" Everyone answered pretty enthusiastically and I'm sure everyone was surprised when I shouted, "Cody's just great!"
As soon as Tim opened the flap, Luke asked how we were doing and Cody shouted at the top of his lungs, "Cody's just great!" I wondered what was going on with him. "A new Cody mystery," I thought.
Matt handed Granddad the bucket and he brought it back filled with fresh water. Matt poured a dipper of water over his head, as he said something in Lakota then in English, "Water for my relatives." He refilled the dipper and passed it to Wes as he said, "Refresh yourself if you like." The dipper was passed around the circle and as each one emptied it over his or her head, it was passed, always clockwise, back to Matt who refilled it. I could not believe how good the cool water felt as I poured a dipper over my head.
By the time Luke had poured water over his head, the water bucket was empty. Granddad refilled it then he brought several red-hot stones and added them to the stones in the pit which were no longer hot--well, I bet they were pretty warm but not really hot, hot.
The flap was again closed.
"Look into the stones and see what they are saying to you," Luke said when the flap was closed.