The Honda Healing



Neighborhood: Bronx

The Honda Healing
Photo by John Lloyd

It was midnight and Jay and I were walking out of Brook Park in the South Bronx. We had been in the Puerto Rican version of a sweat lodge. Years ago I had attended a Lakota Indian version of the same purification ritual in upstate New York. But this experience was far more spiritual and uplifting. I wasn’t sure but thought almost everyone was related to the shaman, from the dreadlocked couple expecting their first child, to the older women who tended the gigantic pot of rice and beans on the food table. And I was thrilled to be invited. It was like a sweaty mystical family reunion.

“What subway are you taking home?” Emma asked me. There was a slight lilt in her voice that I took to be Caribbean. I had noticed Emma earlier as I was crawling out of the sweat lodge. She was sitting near the exit gently rocking back and forth in meditation, her face serene. Light caramel colored skin, hair pulled back in a ponytail, she had a small frame, and delicate features. I guessed her to be in her 50s. Emma sat next to me too in the dirt near the fire as the shaman said some closing prayers for the ritual. That time Emma sat cross-legged, Indian style, with her eyes open watching the fire. Her right hand shook, as if holding a violin in vibrato, or a penis in excitement.

Turns out that Emma and I lived near one another in Brooklyn, so Jay offered her a ride. We walked over to his 4-wheel drive Honda and got in. Jay in the driver seat, me in the passenger, and Emma behind me. Jay and I were just getting to know each other, so I wasn’t sure if romance was on his agenda. If it was, I put the brakes on that direction by blurting out earlier in the night that I thought he was my dad in a past life. So I thought Emma was a good buffer for any further embarrassing interaction between Jay and me. She’d be an asset to the conversation.

Emma and I agreed the quickest route from the South Bronx would be the BQE to Brooklyn. Jay had a vague idea of how to get to the highway. I had none.

As Jay started the car and turned on Brook Street, he paused at the first traffic light. Emma screamed out to a man on the street, “Hey papi, do you know how to get to the BQE from here?” Her tone was assertive but not aggressive. She obviously had no inhibitions asking questions. I awkwardly smiled as he looked into the car. Who knew what she attracted? Jay looked in the other direction. I wondered if he thought about locking the windows in the backseat so she couldn’t roll them down.

We saw signs for the Bruckner Boulevard, Willis Avenue, the Third Avenue Bridge and New England. Several illegal u-turns later, Jay said rather bluntly, “It would have been quicker if you two had taken the subway.” He didn’t sound angry, just frustrated.

But Emma was undeterred. “Go straight down this road and you’ll run right into the highway,” a third man on the street responded to her catcalls. I noticed we were back on the road we had started on.

Sure enough, there it was. We got on the BQE headed West and Jay sped a bit to make up for lost time. He didn’t say anything but I saw his grip tighten on the wheel.

Having Emma in the car was like turning on an early-morning AM radio program. Her chatter was constant, rapid-fire, and somewhat nonsensical. We couldn’t turn down her dial, we had no choice but to listen. She was a teacher, did a recent teacher team-building exercise. They were stranded on a desert island and could only keep a few items from a list. One teacher insisted the group keep a gun rather than a rope or water. “The rest of us agreed. We decided we could shoot him if he caused too much trouble, like Lord of the Flies,” she giggled. And Jay and I laughed at her.

We talked too about the sweat lodge.

“I noticed you. You shake. Vibrate,” I said and mimicked her hand gesture.

She had been sitting into the backseat, but then moved into the middle of the seat, closer to Jay and I.

“Oh yes, I was invited to another spiritual gathering where my friend Matthew was going to see the Black Madonna.”

Jay was quiet during this part of Emma’s story. Did he know about the Black Madonna? We hadn’t yet shared all our self-help escapades, so perhaps he knew more than me. I made a mental note to look it up when I got home.

“At some point at the ceremony, I fainted, and then got up to dance,” Emma continued.

Did she dance like Madonna the pop-star in the“like a virgin” or “crazy for you” videos?

“It was tribal, my dance. And since then I’ve had the shakes,” she said as if to answer my unasked thought.

Rather than sound ignorant, I asked some journalistic questions.

“Does it hurt? Are you always shaking? Doesn’t it scare you? Doesn’t it scare the kids at the school?” I smiled as I asked and tried not to catch Jay’s eye to keep from laughing. I didn’t want to offend Emma with my giggles, but I still wasn’t sold on her gift. Emma smiled too. I guessed a lot of people didn’t believe her at first.

“It doesn’t hurt. I get a burning sensation in my palms and know the shaking will begin. It means that someone nearby needs to be healed. It usually occurs in a spiritual place, like the sweat lodge or a Hindu temple. So no, it doesn’t happen at school. I’ve always been empathic,” she told Jay and me matter-of-factly.

“We were talking about that earlier,” Jay looked at me.

“Yes, we were discussing how we could feel someone else’s pain. Like you’re in a great mood, then all of a sudden a sadness fills you up for no reason. As if you’re taking in someone else’s energy,” I said to make the connection with Jay and Emma.

“You need to get some black tourmaline from Chinatown. That will help you,” she suggested as she lifted her slim wrist and shook her multiple bracelets, “The gem will help protect your energy.”

Jay shook his head in assent as if he’d been told that before. I learned new things by the minute.

Emma told us that, at first, she wasn’t quite sure what to do with her new gift. “So I went to see the thirteen grandmothers. And the Brazilian one, she told me I was lucky. I was a healer.” Again, I wasn’t sure about her reference. She spoke as if Jay and I were well-versed in the self-help, shaman realm. Were the Black Madonna and the Thirteen Grandmothers new-age icons? I hid my ignorance.

As if on cue, Emma’s wrist started to move. Was this a magic trick?

“This isn’t a sacred space, this is a car,” I said as I pursed my lips in a frown.

“I just need spiritual energy. There’s some in the car,” she stated and moved closer so her body was between Jay and me, “Who needs to be healed?”

I looked at her and said, “I just had a healing with a Filipina healer, so I’m all good.” And the truth was, I did have a healing session with a Filipina babaylan about two weeks prior. She fluffed my aura, read my chakras, did an astrological chart, and cleared up an issue in a past life. So I was confident it wasn’t me.

Jay, on the other hand, somberly said, “I’m having a problem with my heart chakra.” Poor guy. I hadn’t known he was going through a rough patch. We had just finished up at the sweat lodge and he seemed to be in a good mood. Did I misread the situation?

So the strategy was Emma would touch my shoulder and I would touch Jay’s. Her healing energy would flow through me because he was driving and she didn’t want to overwhelm him by touching him directly. I wasn’t sure I could say no to this arrangement. And I certainly didn’t want Emma to touch Jay if it could cause an accident, so I agreed. His facial expressions didn’t change, so I wasn’t sure if he was skeptical or not. But he didn’t move away when I touched his shoulder. I think we both wanted to see what would happen.

I braced myself. I thought it would feel like heat or a surge of adrenaline or maybe an orgasm. But I didn’t feel anything. As soon as she started, she stopped. She removed her hand from my shoulder. Her shaking stopped.

“Are you okay?” I asked Jay. He nodded but seemed more focused on the road than before. I’m not sure if he was mad or weirded out by the attempted healing. And I’m not so sure about Emma’s gift at this point.

Jay took the Kent Avenue exit off the BQE and I tried to change the topic by making small talk about the neighborhood. We all smelled of earth, smoke, sage, lemongrass and sweat from being inside the sweat lodge. Our collective funk reminded me that earlier in the day my cousin had given me a perfume set for my birthday. Perhaps a spritz would clear the air? I rarely wear perfume so I tried to give the set to Emma who insisted Jay give it to his mother. “Its almost mother’s day,” she said. Earlier she had told us that she had two children ages 29 and 31, a little bit younger than Jay and me. I wondered if we reminded her of them.

Within blocks of Emma’s apartment, she asked us to keep in touch. She scribbled down her name, address, email and phone number. She told us she was on Facebook. And that sometimes she felt the emotions of her friends through the computer. But she simultaneously played Mafia Wars as they instant chatted. She’s on level 2 and adept at killing. I thought her sweet and maybe insane. Sure, I’d be her Facebook friend. Why not? I think Jay wanted to be in touch with her too.

We stopped at a traffic light before taking a right onto Emma’s block. Her shaking began again.

“Oh yes, someone definitely needs some healing,” she announced. Jay double-parked in front of Emma’s apartment building. He turned off the gas. The car was silent. If he didn’t believe her before, his current actions told me otherwise.

Emma powerfully rubbed his arms, his chest, his back and over his heart. She was slight but her touch was firm against Jay’s muscular frame. I watched, silent, unsure what to do. He was very still and very quiet. I could tell her massage was affecting him.

“Release your anger. You don’t need it. Let it go. Breathe,” she advised. I noticed too her demeanor had changed. She was focused and serious.

Jay inhaled and let out a huge exhalation. And with that Emma’s tremors ended. We all hugged and she went inside. But she came back out one last time to make sure we knew the way home. In that moment, Emma reminded me of my mother.

“Oh my god, what just happened?” I asked Jay as he drove the few blocks to my apartment. We laughed as we rehashed the events with Emma. Lost in the Bronx, yelling at bystanders, the story about the Black Madonna and the thirteen grandmothers. I peed on myself just a little bit from laughing so hard.

But then in all seriousness, I asked Jay, “Was it true. Did you need a healing?”

“Yeah. I got fired from my job,” he responded. He didn’t look at me and was measured in his response. I wasn’t sure if he wanted to tell me more. If he wanted to keep his story private.

“I just lost it. Lost my cool. Took an action at work that I regret,” Jay shared but I didn’t press him. Whatever it was, it was bad. The happy expression he had five minutes before was replaced by a sad, distant look.

“Then my girlfriend broke up with me. All of it was too much. You know what I mean?” he looked at me this time. His voice cracked as he said it. Was he going to cry? His life sucked at that point, I got that.

Jay confessed too that he was skeptical of Emma at first. That you could throw “anger” and “forgiveness” in any direction and someone would relate to it. But why would she go through all that trouble? I had to agree. To me, she was just shy of crazy. But something about her interaction with Jay brought him peace. For that, I was glad.

The drive from Emma’s neighborhood to mine took five minutes. I hugged Jay goodbye, opened the car door, and ran into my apartment building. Whatever just happened, I was happy it was over.

Amelia Blanquera is a freelance writer and lawyer. She is a community contributor to the NY Times Local blog and writes regularly for spirituality/creativity site, which will release its first book this fall.

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