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Howling at the Zia Pueblo

by Anna Cunningham 12 months ago in bipolar
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AKA: What Not to Do in a Stranger's House. With Love, -Bipolar Disorder.

Close to midnight I am speeding aimlessly through the back roads of New Mexico. Florence + The Machine blasting from my speakers as I am looking for some place to pull over for the night.

Not a motel, just some mesa somewhere. I want to have “an experience”. To sleep in the winter desert on my little IKEA mattress, which is squished faithfully into the back of my white Versa. Maybe I’ll have a vision out there. Or maybe I’ll die. Either would be interesting.

There are no other cars near, and suddenly, a sign blares from the right side of the road: Now Approaching Zia Pueblo. The Zia! I pull off there, for I am Zia, the spirit of New Mexico; I have found my people and a place to stay.

The main square of the Zia Pueblo is lit a dim blue. I go deeper into the trance that has held me through all of my erratic driving. I must find one of my people and explain to them who I am and about the strange things that have been happening to me. Surely they will welcome me and understand the importance of my visions.

I knock on all doors and windows of the immediate buildings, and then decide to look for somebody, anybody, elsewhere. The reservation is small. There are little houses sprinkled a ways apart from each other further in from the road. Some have lights on. I will visit the doors of a few of them, until I find someone who will talk to me.

But, while I am looking, I might as well explore too!

Close to the square, I find a makeshift playground made of big tractor tires. I hop from one to the next gleefully and hope that they do not hide any snakes. Then I run a little just for the hell of it. The moon is quite large and it casts a hollow light over the surrounding land. I can see dark shapes moving near each of the houses, and as they notice me I realize that they are dogs by their throaty growls and barks. I begin to bark back and then to howl a little, hoping they join in.

I’ve been howling like a coyote or a wolf all up and down The Southwest. Mostly in my car with the music on full blast, but also just whenever I’ve felt like it. Howling is a fantastic release, and embarrassingly, this is not the first time I’ve howled so close to people that they could hear. To howl like a coyote is high and reedy and yipping; to howl like a wolf is low and solemn and mournful.

I’m howling like a coyote, now.

The dogs are unchained, and each moves towards me as I approach their houses. They are big, ferocious dogs. Mutt mixes with pit bull and Rottweiler in them, but I am unafraid. I feel invincible against them, and they wag their tails, despite their threats.

I just do my deepest cougar-growl as they snarl at me, and they don’t get too close. Not one of them actually attacks.

None of the dogs sing along with me as I howl at the night with my head thrown back.

After some time, people have heard the racket we’re making, and lights begin to go on in some of the houses. I make my way to the front of the closest one.

Boldly, I approach the door and knock. I hear a curt answer from within, as if I am not welcome. I knock again and wait, but no one comes to answer the door. I go around to the lighted window and knock on that. But I am ignored.

Reluctantly I decide to go to another house. I see that there is a lighted one in the other direction. I will try my luck there.

But, as I trudge that way and by my car, another inspiration takes hold. I will give up on trying to find someone at this late hour. Instead, I will take the mattress out of the back of my car, place it on the ground, and spend the night there. In the morning, someone will find me and I will tell them how I am Zia, and beneficent, and forgiving that they did not recognize me at first. I will tell them how their Kachinas have been falling from the sky into me. How they are channeling magic through me to unite the ethereal and material worlds.

I will also test my mettle by sleeping outside in snowy January.

When I whack my mattress down on the ground with a heavy thump, I am suddenly grabbed by a rhythm somewhere in my feet. They start to shuffle of their own accord, a slow-hopping pow-wow beat. The urge to make an arrangement is unavoidable -it’s what I’ve been doing all over Albuquerque for the past couple days, and it will be a hallmark of my insanity for the next several months. I want to make an offering. I begin to dance-step back to my car and pull out various odds and ends. One of them is a parrot toy with lots of bells and jangles. I use it as a rattle, shaking it around the mattress in a building frenzy.

I pull out bags of clothes and various hats and jackets. Stuffed animals, feathers and photographs. My sacred tom tom drum and more of my birds’ toys; all sorts of things. They all go to the mattress and I keep dancing and rattling.

Finally, my bed is made, but I am not satisfied.

Cracks begin to form in my trance and it falls away, leaving me standing under the blue light of the Pueblo with somewhere to be. Something suddenly seems wrong about my mattress on the ground and all of the baubles artfully arranged around it. Suddenly it all seems just like a mess to be cleaned up.

I take all that I’ve carefully assembled in big armfuls back to my car and shove it in. Then, I climb into the driver’s seat and drive away. There is nothing for the Zia to find in the morning.





A personal note about this story:

Yes, this is a true story. Subsequent to this experience, I was hospitalized and diagnosed with Bipolar Type 1 Disorder with psychotic features. This is an excerpt from my book, Anna to Zia, which chronicles those months in the hospital and what ramped up to them.

I have always wanted to donate any money made from this particular short story to benefit Pueblo Indian behavioral health.

About Five Sandoval Indian Pueblos, Inc.

Located in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, Five Sandoval Indian Pueblos, Inc. is a well established non-profit that works to enhance “the lives of its five Pueblo tribal members of Cochiti, Jemez, Sandia, Santa Ana and Zia and its surrounding tribal and non-tribal communities through the important and longstanding services (they) provide", such as employment, education, human and health services.

While also making sure that the values of tribal sovereignty, traditional culture, and community integrity are respected and preserved.

All proceeds from reads of this story will be donated directly to the behavioral health wing of this organization.

*Please note, I am not affiliated with Five Sandoval Indian Pueblos, Inc., and not endorsed by them*

Obviously, many actions I took, and thoughts I had within this story are very problematic. I offer them up here to shed light on the inner workings of an untreated manic episode, and hope that with more awareness about mental health, we can move forward into an age with better treatment options.

If you would like to know more about my personal experiences during that time of my untreated life, stay tuned to my profile, where more stories of "Zia" will pop up from time to time.


About the author

Anna Cunningham

Longtime poet residing in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains

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