August 5, 2000
The university summer term was over and 23 year-old Rosie Flores felt herself dreading going home. There was no longer any way the young graduate student could put off telling her beloved friends and family her news. She had decided to marry Jon after she finished graduate school the following year. However, in spite of her happiness, she faced a major obstacle. Her family would never accept her marrying Jon. Every time she thought of returning home to announce her decision, Rosie felt sick to her stomach.
This was her last day on campus. A fitful sleep had left her groggy. All that remained for her to do today was to turn in her undergraduate student’s grades, pack up her books and clothes, and drive home to Santa Rosita. When she sat up on the edge of her bed, her usual stream of worries flooded her mind. She sighed to herself, maybe a run along the riverbed would wash them away. Rosie sleepily pulled on her jogging suit, and slowly shuffled out of her dorm into a sea of sunlight so bright that it jolted her awake. The light was especially intense because the rain and winds of the previous night had scoured the desert air as clean as crystal. Rosie shivered for a moment in the cool air, took a deep breath, stretched her arms upward, and yawned out loud. Normally, she went through her warm up mindlessly, but not today.
She tried to distract herself by fixing her gaze on a broad shaft of sunlight slowly flashing its way across the university parking lot. She counted the sunbursts bouncing from one car windshield to another. One, two, three. Three was a good number, a sign perhaps? Help from anywhere would be welcome.
Warm up over, Rosie stretched up to her full five-foot-five and shook her head vigorously to shake out whatever cobwebs remained from last evening. Too much tequila, she chided herself, but don’t beat yourself up about it! End of classes, right? She took in a slow, deep breath, wriggled her shoulders slightly to help settle her full breasts into the running bra, stretched both arms back and then launched herself into a slow jog. “Head not too bad, no aches and pain, knee feels better,” she mumbled out loud, and switched to autopilot. Her body knew what it had to do: start slowly, find the groove, and try to keep a steady10K pace, six point two miles an hour.
Her worries quickly re-appeared, minor topics first. How did I make out on the graduate political science exam . . . missed the second question…if only I had studied more . . . should have stuck with my first answer. Prof. Waterston, she never liked me, says I am too lenient with my students. One more year and she’s outta my life. Ay! Gotta service the car or I’ll never make it home. My parents are always on my case about the car. Jon too. Well, I did let the registration run out, got two parking tickets. Maybe they have a point.
“Quit it!” she scolded her consciousness and shook her head as if she could fling away her fears. Especially her biggest one, lurking in the wings of her mind, patiently waiting to make its appearance.
When Rosie reached the main road, she picked up her pace and began to tighten the bright red headband her brother Ike had made for her. Too loose, and it could fall down over her eyes at the wrong time. Satisfied that it would stay in position, she reached back and gathered up fistfuls of her long jet-black hair, twisted them into a tight ponytail and snapped the end with a band. Now she could feel the bracing sting of cool air on her neck.
By now, she had reached the stand of pinon trees that marked the entrance to an ancient trail running along the bank of the Rio Grande River. Only known to a few, this path snakes it’s way north-south along the river and through scrubby masses of chamisa, sage, and aged cacti Indians know it as ‘the way of the ancestors.’ They claim there are portals along the road where the boundaries of time and space dissolves allowing spirits of the departed, now dwelling in other dimensions of the universe, to enter and take shape here.
Legend has it that people with the ‘gift of open awareness’ may travel the road unharmed, but only if they are first taught how to understand and manage the spirits and energies. This gift runs in families. Rosie, like her grandmother, Abuelita, and her Auntie Paz, had the gift. Rosie’s mother, Sarah, didn’t have the gift, but knew all about it. Everyone knew that without understanding, the gift could be frightening. That’s why when Rosie was seven, and began to complain about being frightened by things she couldn’t understand, Sarah had to ask her mother to come to Rosie’s aid.
“Do not be afraid,” Abuelita hugged Rosie lovingly, “when you see or hear things you cannot understand. That's because you have the special gift, like Paz and me. Accept what you experience, observe it, and know you are strongly loved and protected. Especially by our Rosita. She will not let you be harmed. Enjoy what is beautiful, but always tell us if you ever get scared.”
By the time Rosie was ten, she communicated often with the spirit of Rosita, embodied within the ornate wooden statue of mysterious origin nestled in a nicho at the back of the Santa Rosita church. Otherwise, because of her feisty temperament and rebellious nature, she could be skeptical about giving other spirits and mysteries their due respect. Abuelita worried about this and discussed her concerns with Raymond, Rosie’s childhood friend. He agreed. “You are right that Rosie needs to be more respectful and not anger the spirits. I am worried what will happen when she is at the university and I am not around to watch over her.”
Raymond, who was raised on the pueblo and graduated from the University of New Mexico six years earlier, promised Abuelita he would talk to her. He knew Rosie liked to run in isolated places, and since the best place for that in Albuquerque was the riverbed trail, he took Rosie aside at her send-off party and tried to warn her about the exceptional powers inhabiting the trail.
“Don’t run on the riverbed alone,” he cautioned her. From her skeptical expression, he immediately knew she would ignore his advice. “First time, go there with someone who knows the place well. Alone, it might be dangerous. If you like I can come down some weekend and show you the ropes.”
Her defiant words were predictable to him: “Never mind, you don’t have to come. Don’t you think I can take care of myself?”
Raymond grinned. “Not all of the time. Well, I promised Abuelita I would say what I said. You know my phone number.”
Rosie awakened early on her first morning at the university and made straight for the riverbed. I'll show Raymond, she thought. The first five minutes on the trail were uneventful, so her initial anxiety lessened. Ha! She laughed out loud, and began rehearsing how she would tell Raymond how wrong he had been. I'm not a kid anymore and don't treat me like that, she was thinking. Suddenly, she felt queasy. Her mind filled with frightening thoughts and images: she saw burning buildings, women and children running, old people being slaughtered by men on horses. She heard their screaming. Her skin began to tingle and her stomach turned over—body signs that the spirits were moving. Although she knew she was still moving ahead, the landscape seemed to stand still.
“Ay!” she cried, giving voice to a wrenching feeling of sorrow rising within her. So intense, she feared her chest would burst. Through her tears, she saw blurred shapes of people, some grotesque and strangely dressed, whirling around her. She remembered how Abuelita had instructed her to question spirits that frightened her. Summoning her courage, she shouted at them, “Who, what, are you?” But these spirits didn’t answer. By now, she was too paralyzed by fear to continue running so she dropped to her knees. She squeezed her eyes shut, and visualized Rosita gazing down at her from her nicho. “Rosita, help me,” Rosie screamed, “Rosita, I’m scared.” No response. “Please, do something.”
She slowly opened her eyes and spied a bearded male presence materializing at her side. She saw him reach out and lightly touch her shoulder, but felt no pressure. When she turned to face this apparition, it vanished in a flash. Remarkably, it took her fears with it. She had no memory of what followed except waking in her own bed several hours later.
When she came back to her senses, she phoned Raymond to tell him what happened. He just laughed.
“What did I tell you?”
Rosie was not about to lose face and countered that it hadn’t really been so bad. Raymond scolded her: “Next time you listen. The place is loaded with spirits: my ancients for one. And many of your people as well. Lots of them who came here hundreds of years ago and started to kill us, so we had to kill them. Unfortunately, some only get ornery when they are disturbed; others are just plain bad all the time. They will get you for no reason. You stirred them up! I bet you didn’t pay respect before you barged in there, did you?” He laughed again, “But I bet someone saved you, right?”
“Well there was a man . . .”
“Probably one of your ancestors . . . .”
Rosie remembered the apparition. “He had a very long beard.”
Raymond paused for a moment, some things can be spoken about, and others not. “We don’t need to say anything more.” He continued in a gentler, more reverent, tone. “Actually it is not a bad place, if you follow the rules.”
“Rules?” Rosie shook her head and rolled her eyes disdainfully.
“Yeah,” Raymond nodded, “Rules, everybody knows how much you like to follow rules.” He laughed. “Alright, you don’t like rules. How about principles? For example, never, ever get caught there in the dark. The bad spirits like the dark. And before you set foot on the trail, you must ask permission to enter. Once you are in, you need to ask for protection. You will feel it if you have it. If things do not feel good to you, get out of there. When you leave, be sure to give thanks. You can always try again. Above all, do not ever shout or call anyone by name. You need to watch your mouth. Even if you stub your toe or twist an ankle; no cursing allowed!”
“Right,” Rosie snorted. “Having fun, I hope.”
Raymond smiled, “You just got a good lesson in respect, didn't you? You needed that.”
Rosie grumbled, and dismissed him, “Okay, Professor.” Never one to hold a grudge, she found she couldn’t be irritated with Ray for more than a moment. He didn’t react to her moods the way her that some of her hot-tempered friends and relatives did. Raymond's way was to react in a calm way. Who could fight with someone who doesn’t fight back? This left Rosie to look at herself and face up to her impulsive behavior. She was appreciative that Ray gave her the emotional space to vent to her heart's content. As she told her boyfriend Jon, “Ray would make a great psychiatrist. When I freak out he doesn’t react, just lets me stew in my own juices.”
Abuelita had informed her that her ‘gift’ would not be easy to live with.
“Do not discuss your gift with those who do not have it, or understand it,” she warned. “If you talk about it to anyone else they will think you are loco.”
Rosie however, true to form, needed to learn for herself. To begin with, she asked herself, “If I can feel and understand such things, why can’t everybody else? In our town of Santa Rosita, isn’t everybody the same? Don’t we say that no one is exceptional? Isn’t anyone who thinks they are better than anyone else just a loser?”
To test this idea, she had asked a group of her schoolmates if they ever heard Rosita speak to them when they were at church. They just laughed at her. A teacher found out what she was asking and warned her, “Rosie, such things are not talked about, and you are a bad girl for asking questions.”
Not one to surrender easily, Rosie tried again during her high school senior year. She had only to mention the subject and her boyfriend of the moment labeled her “Miss Woo-Woo.”
Lesson learned, she went underground on the subject of spirits until her first year at university. Surely, she thought, my roommate, Donna, will understand, she is a psychology major, after all. She is a sophisticated girl from Las Cruces, isn’t she?
The time seemed right one evening when Rosie and Donna were alone in their dorm room and Donna was about to open her third bottle of beer.
Rosie asked her, “Donna, what do you think about Jung’s ideas about the collective unconscious that we discussed in psychology class?”
“Hey, girl,” Donna laughed, “I’m kicking back tonight. Save that talk for the classroom.”
Rosie went on, unfazed, “Jung says, I think, that human awareness contains all that has ever come before.”
“Sounds good to me.” Donna was dismissing her.
Rosie said, “Donna, sometimes I feel I can plug into this layer of awareness and to see and feel things not readily apparent to other people.” The more determined she sounded; the more Donna’s eyes grew uncomfortably wide.
“Well, good for you,” Donna said. “Shall we call for pizza?”
“Yeah!” Rosie laughed and popped the cap off a beer. “Enough of that.”
Donna slapped Rosie’s back. “Hey, girl. You had me worried for a while.”