Monday, October 20, 2008

Curandera Ranch

I knew Raven meant business when I got out of my car and could smell the sage wafting out of her open living room windows.

I let myself in and found Raven sitting cross-legged on the floor with the Tarot cards, a burning wand of sage, and two candles. Her expression was loving, but firm. The house was unusually quiet.

"Where are the twins?" I asked, sitting down in front of her.

"With my mom. I told her I was meeting a client and needed the house to myself for a few hours."

A client. The term made me uncomfortable. I know Raven reads Tarot as part of her pastoral counseling duties with the local Unitarian church, but she's often read for me as a friend, covenmate, sister. The idea that I was coming to her for counseling set my on edge.

And yet, she was right. That was exactly why I was there, and the realization filled me with dread.

"Are you ready?"

She handed me the cards, and I began shuffling carefully, eyes closed, mind focused on the things I needed to know most. What was happening to me? How could I find my way out? What did I need to do next?

The cards felt good in my hands. I felt in control of things. The sound of their shuffling and the familiarity of their weight centered me. I placed the cards face down in front of Raven.

But when I looked up at her, her expression was serious, her eyes piercing. She shook her head.

"I don't need the cards to help you, mija," she said. "I got them out for you, if you want them. But I don't need them. I can look at you and see that something bad is happening to you."

I folded my hands lamely in my lap, feeling helpless. "What's happening to me?"

Raven reached for me then, engulfing me in an embrace that I hadn't known I needed. The warmth of her body against mine opened the floodgates, and I began crying harder than I've ever cried before--huge, body-wracking, ugly sobs, the kind that leave you hiccuping and snotty and weak. Raven never moved away, just held me close to her, and when I was ready, let me go.

"I don't know much about possession," she said after a moment, gauging my reaction. When I didn't object, she continued. "But I know enough to know that what's happening to you is beyond my ability to fix. I've seen my fair share of scary shit as a high priestess, but this. . ." She shook her head. "I'm sorry, mija. I'm sorry this is happening to you.

"Listen. I have cousins in California that own a ranch in the desert. It's a kind of recovery clinic for addicts and depressives. It's sort of alternative and self-help, but I think it could be good for you."

It took me a minute to realize what she was suggesting. I chuckled, wiping snot from my nose with the back of my hand. "Raven, I'm not just depressed. I don't think talking to some counselor is going to do me a lot of good."

She laughed, a big, deep laugh, so deep I could fall into it. "Do you know what a curandera is?" she asked.

I said that I didn't.

"You think we have big magic here in our coven?" She smiled and shook her head. "What we do is nothing. They have big magic out on the ranch out west. My Aunt had it. My cousins got it. Me, well, I make due with what I have." Her smile faltered; I could see it was a sore subject for her. After a moment, she collected herself, returning to the matter at hand. "I talked to my cousin Rosaura. They have room for you. If you want to go."

I couldn't find the words at first. I couldn't catch my breath. I got lightheaded and nauseated. I stumbled to my feet and barely made it to the bathroom where I retched and threw up my meagre lunch in the toilet. I was shaking. I was hot. I was cold. I felt like I was going to die.

I slumped to the floor, resting my palms on the cool tile. Raven padded in, eyes gone hard and cold like they do when she means business. "I can help you pack," she said.

I tried to laugh. It came out a sigh. "How would I even pay for this? I'm guessing they don't accept Blue Cross Blue Shield."

Raven leaned against th door jamb, arms crossed. I was glad I couldn't see myself from her perspective. "They take other forms of payment," was all she said.

We talked a little while after (on the couch--Raven had the good graces to help me back into the livingroom.) When I left her house I felt shaken and scared. But once I got home, I started feeling strong, more confident, like maybe it wasn't completely crazy, that maybe going out to this curandera ranch in California might be the right thing for me.

I have already started packing. Tomorrow morning I am taking a leave of absence from the clinic. And tomorrow evening, with any luck, I'll be on the road to Joshua Tree, California.

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