We left La Casa behind and traveled a barely discernible trail along the river. The trail was so rough it would have made conversation difficult, if not impossible, but we were in no great rush and Daniel was driving only ten or fifteen miles an hour. We had started chatting in general about our visit when Justin said, “Daniel, I get the idea today is not just a picnic for Indians and their partners.”
Daniel was quiet for a few minutes since the trail took a turn for the worse and he was focused on driving. When it had improved a bit, he said, "Justin, you are right. Today is about you, specially about your other side, your Lakota side. Of course, I understand that you and Marc are more than boyfriends and if that’s the case, if you are going to be together for life then, of course, it’s about Marc as well."
"Well, we are eighteen year olds who have just graduated high school, which is true of our friends here with us. With the exception of Wolf, we have been couples all or most of our senior year -- well, Michael’s partner, who isn’t here yet, is a junior. Anyway, now that we are out of high school and moving on, we have talked about high school romances and how they seldom survive. Couples split as they head in different directions after graduation. Specifically, we have talked about whether or not we'll remain couples. We're pretty sure those who are going their separate ways in September -- Bobbie and Adam, John and Susan -- won't. As a matter of fact, I won’t be surprised if this week is pretty much the end of their being couples. Michael and Sandy will both still be in Elizabethton and in school together at least first semester, so they are kind of a special case. Marc and I will remain in Elizabethton and living together, so the consensus is that we might have a better chance than the others."
I was wondering where all this was coming from. Justin and I had talked about being a couple, getting married, being together forever, now he seemed to be saying maybe so, maybe no. What the hell was going on?
"Well, I guess our friends don't know us as well as they think. I know you can never know the future, but I see nothing short of death that will keep Marc and me from being together. In short, anything that affects me and my life, affects both our lives and our life together.” Having said that, he pulled me to himself for a most reassuring kiss.
"Great," Daniel said. "Same with me and my white-man doctor."
That pretty much ended the conversation as, even at five miles an hour, the road was extremely rough and conversation was out of the question as all we could do was hang on until Daniel finally parked the Jeep beside the 'road.' As we got out of the Jeep, Daniel said, "As you surmised, Justin, this is more than a picnic for a couple of Indians and their partners. Today is about you, Justin Chayton Smith, and specifically about Chayton and your father's side of the family. You and I, as you know, are half-breeds.” Things were getting interesting and puzzling to say the least. “But," Daniel said with a grin, “before we get to all that, we have about a mile walk." Daniel grabbed the duffel and a couple of folded blankets from the Jeep as he said, "Alex, if you'll bring the picnic basket and Justin and Marc the cooler," then turned and led us into the woods. Our walk ended at a clearing overshadowed by a huge old live oak and overlooking the river.
Once we reached the clearing, we spread the blankets under the oak and sat the picnic basket and cooler beside them. As we were doing so, Justin asked Daniel, "Since you know about Lakota stuff, do you know what my Lakota name means? Mom told me she thought it might mean hawk.”
"Close," Daniel said, “it means falcon. Was Smith your father’s last name?”
“No, that was my mom’s name. She never told my father’s last name and I never asked. Never occurred to me to ask. I don’t know whether she knew it or not.” Daniel nodded, then asked, “Would you two see if you can locate some dead wood for a small fire? We’re going to need one.” Justin and and I nodded agreement and Daniel picked up the duffel and headed toward a small fire pit just beyond the outer branches of the oak. As hot as it was, I wondered why we needed a fire, but we went to look for wood.
We had walked only a short distance before we each had picked up an armload of dead wood which we took back to the fire pit, where Daniel had started a small fire. As we approached, I noticed -- how could I help it? -- Daniel was dressed like an Indian, wearing a breechclout I think it's called. As we lay the wood beside the fire pit, Daniel looked up and smiled thanks, and selected a few pieces of the wood, carefully placing them on the fire.
As he did, Alex called to us from under the oak. Before we reached him, I saw he, too, was dressed like an Indian. As we approached, he got a small smile on his face and said, "I hope you don't think we are perving on you or trying to seduce you, but you do need to get out of your shirts at least. Daniel is going to smudge us.” I’m sure we both looked puzzled. Alex smiled and said, “Smudging is, well, I suppose the best way to explain it is just to say it is a purifying ritual. Daniel and I, as you can see, are wearing breechclouts." Both of the breachclouts, I noticed, were beautifully decorated with bead work. He then picked up what looked like pieces of almost white buckskin. "These are breechclouts from us for you. You may wear them today or not as you choose. They are unbeaded, but you can decorate them later if you wish. Beading is not hard to learn, just time consuming."
We each took an offered breechclout and as we did Justin asked, "How do you put on one of these?"
"It's quite simple. I can tell you how and you can head for the bushes and put it on or if you’re not too modest, I can show you.”
"We're not modest," Justin laughed.
"Then the easiest way to do this is for you to first get undressed." We did, leaving us standing bareassed in the south Florida wilderness. "Now, take the band folded in the breechclout and tie it about your waist where it feels comfortable. You'll likely find that's kinda low on your hips. Don't tie it too tight." When we had done that, Alex said, "OK, take a look at how mine works and then try to put yours on." He held up the front and back aprons of his breechclout so we could see. The long rectangle of buckskin had been passed between his thighs then the ends passed up and over the band about his waist, covering his cock, balls and ass and forming the front and back aprons. Simple. Justin and I got ours on, and after some adjusting of cock, balls and clout, we were dressed like Alex and Daniel minus the beautiful bead work on their front aprons.
When everything had been adjusted, Justin asked, "Who decorated yours?"
"Daniel and I did each other's,” Alex answered. “Maybe you and Marc would like to do that. I’m sure you can find a beading class somewhere in Elizabethton or someone who can teach you. As I said, it’s not difficult to learn."
While we were getting dressed, Daniel had been at the fire. I suddenly noticed a fragrant smoke drifting about us and then saw Daniel sprinkling something over the fire. I knew that was the reason we were told we didn't need bug stuff.
Alex smiled at us and said, "Justin, your father marked you well. You are a handsome young American Indian man. You, Marc, on the other hand, would have a hard time passing."
"He’s just a beautiful white boy I captured for myself."
I laughed and said, "Don't know about the beautiful, but capture me you did," as I kissed him on the cheek.
"Take it from me," Alex grinned, "you are one handsome white captive."
“Hate to admit my ignorance here, but what’s correct -- Indian, American Indian, Native American, what?” I asked.
“Well, like everything else I guess, different people use different names and respond accordingly. Daniel and I tend to use Indian or American Indian as the generic. When we know a person’s nation, we use that. So rather than calling you half Indian, Justin, we’d likely say half Lakota. Use what you and the people to whom you are speaking are comfortable using.” Alex then moved between us and said, "I believe Daniel is ready now. Just follow what I do."
As he spoke, I saw Daniel take a couple of embers from the fire and place them in a shallow bowl. As soon as he did, smoke rose from it. Chanting something under his breath, he walked to where we were standing, took what looked like a large bird's wing and began to wave the smoke over us. As he did, Alex took his cupped hand and pulled the smoke over and around his body. Justin and I did likewise. Daniel moved all around us, fanning the smoke over our entire bodies. After a few minutes, Daniel sat the bowl beside the blankets and said, "Join me and we will talk about Chayton." I thought it very strange that Daniel was going to talk about Justin since the two had only met a couple days ago, but today was getting pretty strange and it was still before noon!
When we were all seated, Daniel asked, “Chayton, tell me about how you came into being?” Not the usual "tell me about yourself." That and Justin being addressed as Chayton certainly put a different perspective on things. "What do you know about your father?"
“Practically nothing. Only what Mom told me. I guess my mom knew very little about him. He was part of a rodeo-carnival outfit, an Indian, a Lakota he told her -- well, Mom sometimes said Lakota and sometimes Sioux. She said he was a handsome men. Looking for a way out of the hell called her family, she thought he offered that. She spent a week with him and he -- well, she had a part to play too, didn’t she? -- got her pregnant. Of course, at the end of the week, the show, and he, were on to the next town. He never knew she was pregnant or, I’m sure, that I existed.”
“The Lakota are one of the three major subdivisions of the Sioux nation so Sioux and Lakota are not contradictory. What do you feel toward him?” Daniel asked.
“What do I feel toward him? Nothing I guess. I mean I never knew him. He may be rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief so far as I know. He may be alive or dead. I know he must have existed since I’m here and, I guess, look like I might be half Indian.
“As I said earlier,” Alex said, “your father marked you well.”
“He did indeed,” Daniel said, “and looking at you, there can be little doubt your mother was correct when she said he was a handsome man. But, again, what do you feel toward him?”
“If you're asking if I hate him for abandoning me, for never being part of my life, I don’t. Since he didn’t know about me, I’d be a fool if I did. For abandoning my mom? I’m not sure about that. I mean, he couldn’t have known she was pregnant, so I can’t blame him on that count. I guess that any feeling I have toward him comes from his taking advantage of a sixteen-year-old, vulnerable girl. To him, no doubt, she was just a convenient piece of ass while he was around. For that I do feel disgust toward him, the same disgust I feel for any guy who fucks around and especially who takes advantage of a vulnerable person. I’d feel the same way toward a woman who takes advantage of a vulnerable guy, and that does happen.” I noticed Alex nodding at that. “I guess that pretty much sums it up. Why?”
“Just wondering. Alex told me all he knew about your mother’s death and what he knew of your history -- which sounds as though what he told me is about all you know. I’m very interested in the fact that your father claimed he was Lakota, making you half Lakota,” he smiled a crooked smile and added, “a half-breed like me. Means both whites and Indians can look down on you and some will. Me? I think of myself as two-spirited and two-blooded and that makes me damn special.”
“Hey, Justin doesn’t need anything to make him damn special. He is damn special just being Justin!” I said with a bit more fire than I intended, but no more than I felt.
“Same goes for you, Running Wolf!” Alex smiled.
“OK, we understand,” Justin said. “Down, boy.” He patted me on the head and gave me a quick kiss.
"I stand corrected," Daniel laughed, a very hearty laugh.
Before he could continue, Justin asked, "Two-blooded I can understand, but two-spirited?"
Daniel responded, "Well, there’s a whole modern thing about two-spirited men and women, reverse gender roles and such which, frankly, have consumed a lot of academic journal pages and New Age discussion and writing. Much of it is, to my thinking, nonsense and/or of no consequence, but what I mean by two-spirited is pretty simple and direct. Gay men are honored among many tribes as being two-spirited. It's more complex in reality than in conversation, but a simple explanation is that we have the gifts of both male and female spirits. The problem with that is in the modern, white man's world that immediately suggests gays are neither men nor women, but some kinda of mixed-up creature and that is NOT what it means at all. Native Americans, American Indians, whatever, see spirits as male and female and we have gifts from both. Maybe another way to look at it is to see two-spirited people as embracing, holding in themselves, complementary spirits or powers. Hope that helps."
"Maybe," Justin smiled. "It sure does help to know that at least some see us as valuable and not as a threat to marriage, family, and the American way of life."
Daniel said, laughing, “Chayton, good point, but back to the question of your father. I have no idea whether or not your father is alive, or if there is any possibility of locating him or even if you are interested in trying. If you wish, I’ll help you try. But that is not my major interest in you. I’m not sure how I know, but I do know you need to learn about your other half, your Lakota half. I’m also sure it has something to do with your being two-spirited, being gay. If you are willing I will walk with you on the path to seek understanding and knowledge of who you are.”
“As to locating my father, I'll have to give that some thought. I guess it's strange, but I must admit its never been a concern. I just haven't been the least bit interested. I guess if there was a quick and easy way to let him know I existed, that would be OK, but I'm not interested in investing a lot of time and energy in searching for him, cold-hearted as that may sound."
I was getting ready to defend Justin from his self-proclaimed cold-heartedness, but Daniel beat me to the draw. "Chayton, I think your lack of interest is a witness to the life you have and have had, not cold-heartedness. Obviously your mom didn't fill you with hatred for your father or you'd be interested in finding him and ‘making him pay.’ Also, she did not romanticize him so you’d feel everything would be alright if you could find him. No, I think it is the warm-heartedness of your mom and the people who love you that explains why finding your father is not a real concern. But what about learning about the Lakota culture?"
“What would I have to do? What’s involved? I have a pretty full plate and it’s going to become more so shortly. I’ll have practically a full-time job managing a store now and I plan on taking a full load when I start college. Shortly after we get back, unless we change our minds, Marc and I are planning on starting summer school. With summer school, we can be second semester sophomores next fall.”
“Is this week all the time you'll have off this summer?"
“I’m not sure. I’d have to ask Mr. Sanford. I guess I could arrange more time off if I allowed my co-manager an equal amount of time off by working longer hours and not taking a full day off during the week. I think I could manage a couple of weeks, maybe even three, between summer school and fall semester.”
“Give it some thought, Chayton. Meanwhile, I want you to read a couple of books which I will give you, Eagle Man's 'Mother Earth Spirituality' and Lame Deer's 'Gift of Power.' We'll talk more about those after my wedding and honeymoon. Maybe about the first of July. Also be thinking about a trip, alone, to the Black Hills. There's a medicine man there you need to meet."
"What about Marc? Can't he go with me?"
"Later, maybe, if he's interested and you think he should but, first, I think you need to go alone."
"I'll have to give that some thought, some real thought,” Justin said. "Meanwhile, this two-blooded, two-spirited, half-breed is hungry," he said, breaking the spell.
"Think the two full-breeds would agree with us two half-breeds on that point," Daniel laughed. The four of us walked to the river and three watched for alligators as each of us, in turn, washed in the river. As we walked back, Justin said, “It took some getting used to, but I think I like wearing a breechclout.” I agreed.
The kitchen staff had done well, as expected. The cooler held real lemonade and ice tea along with an assortment of cheeses, sliced meat, tomatoes and lettuce for sandwiches. Plates, glasses and flatware, along with condiments for the sandwiches, potato chips, raw vegetables with dip, and oatmeal raisin cookies were in the picnic basket. After we had a tablecloth spread in the center of the blankets, Justin and I laid out four places while Daniel and Alex got the food ready and laid it out. Daniel thanked the Great Spirit for providing for his children and we fell to. I was amazed that we were as hungry as we were since we had actually done very little except talk all morning. I guess we were just young men who eat a lot.
When we had finished lunch, we packed everything away and sprawled on the blankets. I piled our clothes against the cooler and leaned against it and Justin put his head in my lap. Alex was leaning against the tree trunk, Daniel’s head in his lap. I smiled when I noticed that Alex, as I, had taken the band from his lover's hair, undone the braid and was running his fingers through the silky, shining black cloud around his head, a testimony to our lovers’ Lakota heritage.
As we relaxed, Daniel asked me about my family and I talked about Clarisa, saying she had really been my mom for most of my life, then about Mom and about how proud I was of her for getting out of the bottle but, I must confess, I was pretty scathing when talking of my father.
“You’re pretty rough on the old man,” Daniel said with a raised eyebrow.
“The old man hasn’t been too easy on me or Justin. In fact, he accuses that ‘faggot Indian’ of turning me against him and making me gay.”
“And you can be sure he’ll make that a part of his campaign now that he faces a real challenge,” Justin said. “According to Clarisa and Mr. Sanford, he’s already using the fact that some of us danced with our same-gender lovers at the prom and my turning Marc gay to rally the preachers to his cause.”
“Michael told us more about that since we have been here," I added.
"Daniel, it’s ugly and will be uglier before it’s over if I know the district,” Alex said, “but there is also support for his opponent in the fall general election. Jacob Turner is rumored to be gay and I’m sure that will be broadcast as well. Nevertheless, he’s making a good showing at this point.”
“Is he gay?” Daniel asked.
“Are you? I mean if a stranger walked up on the street and asked you, how would you answer?”
“Get your point,” Daniel said.
Things were quiet for a moment then Justin said, “Well, we all know a great deal about each other's family except yours, Daniel. How about your family? Your dad?” I got the distinct impression that was not a question Daniel wanted asked. “We know about how he reacted when he saw you and Alex kiss when you were our age and we know how poorly you responded,” ever-tactful Justin said. “We also know how you two finally got together. But we don’t know about your family before or after the kiss.”
Daniel hung his head, looking very uncomfortable for several minutes. None of us spoke, but all three of us were looking at him. He finally looked up and with a slight smile said, “Fair enough. You know my dad’s reaction when we outed ourselves with a kiss. I guess Alex told you my response and how I became the leading homophobe in school. Trying as hard as I could to defend that, I became an arrogant, self-centered, self-important asshole, but deep inside I knew what I had done was weak, sick and, frankly, self-destructive. I grew to hate myself and most everyone else I associated with. I finally became so sick of who I was, I started working on overcoming it when Alex reappeared in my life. I knew I was still in love with Alex and that I’d never be whole until I did something about me and my spirit. That’s when I started reconnecting with my Lakota heritage.
“When my dad found out about that, he really went ballistic. See, I never realized it, but the woman I thought was my mom wasn’t. My biological mom -- like your dad, Chayton -- was never a part of my life, at least that I could remember. I guess both she and dad had a real problem with alcohol even in high school and when she found herself pregnant, Dad had sense enough to know alcohol and pregnant women are a bad combination. Lots of American Indian kids never have a chance because their mothers mixed the two. I learned, when I was being booted out, that Dad had chosen a rather drastic method to protect me from fetal alcohol syndrome; he took my mother into the Black Hills to a cabin a member of her family had, and virtually held her prisoner until I was born. Regardless of what he might have done later, I'll be eternally grateful for his having taken care of my mother and me those months before I was born.
"After I was born, he and mother took me and went back to Denver. He was working two jobs and finishing up college when he came home one day and found me sitting in my play pen crying. I was in a dirty diaper, clutching a long-empty bottle. My mother had disappeared. A neighbor kept me for a week or so while dad tried to hold on to his jobs and finish school, it was obvious there was no way he could manage both, so he called his parents and my grandmom offered to keep me until he finished school since he only had half a semester to go.
"When he finished, he found a very good job and decent child care so he decided he could keep me. Sometime the next year he met and married the woman I always thought was my mother, and she was, just not my biological mother.
“We lived where a sizable percentage of the population were Indians. Both my parents were pretty free with derogatory language when talking about them. When Dad caught Alex and me kissing one of the comments he made was 'That queer shit is something Indians put up with. They even think those cocksuckers are special, better than good honest people.' He said a number of times Alex had to be part Indian! In your father's words, Marc, he railed about that faggot Indian turning his son gay," Daniel smiled, but the smile faded quickly. "I went along with that shit.
"Because of that, Dad was very supportive after high school both so far as money was concerned and in his high opinion of me. That and my success in school and later as an architect made me, if possible, an even more arrogant asshole, then two things happened which threw my world into chaos -- and made me a human being, maybe even a decent human being. First, I met Alex again. When I saw him at a party in California, I almost, as the saying goes, creamed my jeans. He was beautiful, he was the man I had loved in high school and the moment I saw him, I knew that I had never stopped loving him, but I panicked again, thinking about what Dad would say. This time, however, I got over it. Seems Alex had never stopped loving me and it didn't take long for us to reach the point we might have reached years before had I not been an ass.
“Second, much against Alex's advise, we went to see my dad and, to make a long story short, had a repeat of his earlier reaction, except this time, he called me a 'cocksucking half-breed’ and poured out the whole story of my birth.
“During his tirade, the woman I had always thought was my mother had Alex in the kitchen calling him all sorts of names and cursing him because he had turned her son gay. 'You knew he had a weak side for that. You knew he’s half Indian. He's a half-breed faggott!' she screamed again and again. Alex was confused because, in spite of my Lakota features, neither of my parents looked vaguely Indian. Anyway, Alex just took it until she slapped him in the face. When she did that, he grabbed her wrist, gently sat her in a chair, walked into the living room, grabbed me by the arm and pulled me toward the door. We didn't escape before we both got a literal kick in the ass. So that's my dad.
"My biological mother? Dad had married her, so I was able to trace her through public records. She had stayed in Denver and had been picked up many times for public drunkenness. She, as many in the Native American community, got into paint sniffing and eventually was found dead in an alley. I was about six when she died and never knew she was my mother until Dad told me. I found my Indian grandparents and that's why I think it would serve you well to get to know that half of yourself. I believe that is extremely important whether or not you decide to try to locate your father." We were all silent for a time. I knew that Justin had a lot to think about and I guess I did as well. It's not surprising, I suppose, that after all the emotion involved in talking about our families, much of which was not pleasant, we grew silent and gradually drifted off to sleep.
I am not one who remembers his dreams and I had very few nightmares, even as a child. I was, therefore, very surprised when I had a dream which was very real and very frightening. I was walking in the swamp. It was very dark and I was frightened. Suddenly I saw the swamp shack, the one Jess had painted. It no longer looked like it was set in a mystical garden, rather it looked sinister, dark and evil, as did its surroundings. I tried to turn and run away, but I was being forced toward the shack and finally, pulled inside it. I was bound and being abused physically then sexually. As I was penetrated again and again, I begged for mercy and finally found it when everything went black. I awoke in a place that was all light where I was at peace, feeling nurtured, a place I never wanted to leave, fearing return to the shack. But Justin appeared wearing a breechclout and carrying a smudge bowl. As he waved the smoke over me, I felt he was pulling me toward him and I didn't want to go. It hurt too much. I struggled to stay where I was. Again and again Justin called to me. I fought going to him and pleaded for him to come to me, but he shook his head. Both of us had tears running down our cheeks.
Fortunately, Daniel knew something was bothering me and woke me by chanting something softly in my ear. When I was awake, I told him about the dream. We talked about it for a while and about what it might mean, but neither Daniel nor I could understand what it meant. Finally I said, “I guess it’s just a nightmare, nothing more.” Daniel disagreed saying it was a vision and a very important warning for Justin and me, but of what he didn’t know.
Before returning to the house, Daniel smudged us again, we removed our breechclouts and redressed in shorts and tees. Somehow or other, after the day we had spent talking, I knew neither Justin nor I were the same as when we had arrived expecting nothing more than a picnic and a pleasant chat about Justin's ancestry.