That was over ten years ago. But - life gets in the way, ya know...
I'd had, just when I was starting my first year at grad school in Montreal, a dream about that friend's first wife, the Anglo mother of his first two children, whom I'd also known. It was sort of a nightmare, the dream: I can't recall the details but it was bad enough to impel me to try to find her (pre-internet, not the piece of cake such efforts are today) and my ill-of-ease feeling persisted when I could not locate her.
Turned out I was right about that: when the news of his death reached her, she swooped down from her perch, hauled not only his body back east, she took away with her every material possession of his that she could grab, denied even the existence of his two 1/2-Navajo sons, the kids he'd had with my gal-pal. The wife-in-name made it painfully clear that respect for the life he'd tried to make for himself on the Rez wasn't of much concern. At least not to her.
I found all that quite astonishing when I learned about it, wished I'd been able to persuade him when last I'd seen him, on my way back east by bus from a reunion-type meeting at Arcosanti, that my suggestion that he check himself into the nearest VA hospital (he was a 'Nam vet) was not negotiable. I was already enough of a social worker to have been sure it was essential to make the suggestion but it wasn't in me, at the time, to ride herd on him until he actually did what I felt he needed to do.
Didn't say: "Do that or die!" and I suppose it wasn't in me at the time to have said that, or I would have. Not likely I was able, back then, to put my feelings in such stark terms, although anyone with Al Anon experience would agree it is a simple truth that any alcoholic had better 'get' ASAP if s/he has any wish at all to curtail the endless human suffering that alcoholism intensifies and exacerbates.
But I hadn't/didn't and what was left was my dear gal-pal on the Rez, grieving, grieving grieving.
As is said in a play, The Busines of Fancy Dancing, by Spokane Indian writer Sherman Alexie, "Being Indian in touch with life, mourning is not far from my thoughts or feelings. It is a dam of turbulent water held back by daily strength, daily rituals. I mourn for the loss of all my people's feelings, the great majority of our ancestral lands and rights, the many sharp hardships of colonialism, disease, poverty, alcoholism, diabetes, post-colonialism and racism we have struggled with as individuals and as a people. It [is] not difficult to mourn."
So yes, I came back to the Rez when/because I was invited. The temptation could not be resisted. I am trained as a sandplay therapist; sand is sacred to the Navajo. How could I turn away from the opportunity to bring sandplay to at-risk youth and their families, their friends, their community?
Answer: I could not. So yes, I came. The NY Commission for the Blind (I'm legally blind due to an accident so I no longer drive) had supplied me with computer equipment for my new job; the day after I got back from the international sandplay conference (in Europe, if you please), a friend helped me pack, shlepped into the city with me so I could board a train to Albuquerqe where I'd stay overnight w/ a friend, get a bus to Gallup where my gal-pal would meet me and drive me over to Fort Defiance, where the job was to be.
Where the job was to be. Right. Within a few scant weeks after the job began, the School District terminated its contract w/ the company that had hired me. Why?
In truth, I don't know. But in their 29 page document, they took a few potshots at me personally, which did not amuse me even a little bit. It doesn't take long to care about kids and just in that short time I was with them, I started getting to know the kids I was working with: I sure as heck didn't want to be told I couldn't do that no' mo' - no way. Nope, I did not.
So here things stand. What now, belagaana?