I wrote this piece for a beautiful friend of mine who recently chose to end her life. I met her in Golden Bay on my first journey to New Zealand, and it was friendship at first sight. Cheyenne had a troubled background, and growing up she suffered severe trauma and abuse. Despite these hard odds, she was an inspiration and a joy to be around and I am honored to have known her. This is my tribute to a brief but powerful friendship that etched a strong impression in my being…
I could tell straight away that she was on a journey of sorts. Outside the nightclub, the fireplace in the cosy yard had caught her full attention. All around us carefree people were laughing and drinking, but as she sat on the ground and stared down the flames, her face was grave, with a strange hint of awe. I was a stranger in town and took my beer in a corner, observing the scene in silence. Suddenly she caught my eyes and fixed me with the most intense stare – piercingly hard and straight through me – yet it wasn’t aggressive but somehow almost pleading. Unusual. I could only return her gaze in hypnotic surprise. She was in a cosmic state of mind and seemed to be navigating a particularly rough patch of universe just then. A solitary psychonaut making her way home through a soulful storm.
Eventually I sat by the fire next to her, but there wasn’t much of a conversation between us, just an easy, quiet understanding as we tended the fire. She asked me where a foreigner like myself was staying in this dull country town, and I told her about the building site where I had spotted a discreet place to take cover for the night. Her face lit up in approving recognition; she knew exactly what spot I was talking about. She told me she had never used it, since she already had a home. She looked proud of that, and offered me a place to stay for the night. I didn’t know it then, but even though she was a decade younger, she had at least a lifetime on me when it came to survival skills. I took her offer and my life is richer for it.
I stayed in the Bay around 3 months that first time, and I made a bunch of new friends. Cheyenne stood out amongst them all. She had her own category, like a beautiful and exotic migrating bird that you can’t look up in the book. What irony then, that she was truly the local. At the same time, she definitely came from a different world. The darkness and strife, that she had already lived in her young and intense life, were casually referred to in our conversations, but I knew I could never fully comprehend the pain that had been inflicted on her, even if she told me her story in detail. Somehow the Bay and its happy people seemed too innocent for Chey with her instinctive eye for conflict, always scanning her surroundings, unaccustomed with the absence of ill intent. As a man, and cursing my violating brothers around the world, I often felt honoured to have earned her trust.
One time, while I was hitch-hiking into town, she suddenly came speeding over a hill on a mountain-bike, drenched in sweat and cursing her form, but so proud of herself. By chance, we were exactly at her favourite spot on that stretch; a cliff-head by the sea near Pohara, where you can climb onto a ledge and take in the full view of the Bay. Despite her self-proclaimed lack of agility, she led the way like a puma and I scrambled after her. We had a smoke and spoke freely about what it feels like to be a human in this world. We never small-talked, and our conversations invariably turned spiritual. She had the wisdom of a warrior and the makings of a shaman inside her. She was a natural born poet.
She was healing herself, and – ever in my own healing process – I shared my own experiences of depression and substance abuse. They could never compare, of course. On so many levels we were opposite; from each end of the world, one brown and one white; one woman and one man; one younger and one older; one from a happy family and one from a broken home. I was often aware of my privileges, but Chey never seemed to care, except that she was always curious about my travels. She wanted to see Europe more than anything, and I recognized the look she got, when she dreamed of going abroad, as the look of a compulsive traveler. Takes one to know one.
There are other ways to travel than purely physical and we both knew that. She had tried every available substance to alter her mind, and I wasn’t far behind. Still, the gap was wide; I have never known the tight clutch of opiate addiction. We did share a love of entheogens, though, and she had clearly benefited greatly from journeying through her inner world, poring over questions unavailable to the daily self, as one does when ingesting psychedelics with intention. The world of ancient spiritual practice, and the millenia-old use of healing plants reverberated with her own experiences. She was well on her way to find peace, I thought.
I only met Cheyenne 8 times, and I remember every encounter clearly. Her mood could swing at any given time, but mostly she was level, and in any case she would nearly always welcome a laugh. Being around Chey was never boring. One time in sleepy Takaka, she was dressed like a proper punk going off to a drunken riot. She spewed on the pavement and sold me a bag of weed in a crusty back alley – all just for fun, she said. Another time we met, she was wearing a most colorful hippie getup and we drove to the top of the Hill where she wanted to show me the mummified cow, and go for a stroll in the bush.
Another time we hung out in the cosy bus where she lived, and she showed me an art-piece she had made. It was a collage of news-scraps and pictures detailing a terrible story of abuse that she had been subject to. It was a very powerful piece, to say the least, and a very honest and clever way for her to purge and share her story without alienating herself. There is no doubt in my mind, that she was both more intelligent and more able to think with her heart than most people will ever be.
Back on my own road again I was rarely in touch with Chey, but about a year later I came back to New Zealand for a few weeks. She had moved to Nelson where I was going to pass through at end of my trip. I had a late start that day and poor luck with getting a ride, so it wasn’t until I stranded in Nelson just after dusk, that I got a hold of her on the phone. She was working all night, but she promptly arranged for me to stay in her room that she was renting from two ”weird, old and uneducated crackheads”.
She had only been there for a week, but she was dead-on with her description of her flatmates. Their living room was literally a grungy crack-den, but Cheyenne’s room was a different world to that. There were stacks of books on spirituality, filosophy and great works of literature. Incense sticks and pretty rocks adorned an improvised altar under a Bob Marley poster and her amazing wardrobe made a feast of colour on the shelves. Once again my saving angel had come to my rescue, and I felt such gratitude as I fell asleep in this little oasis.
She didn’t wake me when she came back in the early morning. When I did wake up, we only talked for half an hour before I had to catch my bus to the ferry. That was the last time I saw Cheyenne. It was a beautiful half hour. She told me that she was saving up to go North, and that she was in love. She was straight as can be, despite her circumstances, and once again we spoke of following our dreams and navigating life and focusing on love. I am so thankful now, that our parting words were; ”I love you!”.
Cheyenne did go North shortly after that, and she reconnected with her whanau and worked on her her artisan skills. She learned more of her native tongue and, as far as I know, she worked out any outstanding matters with the authorites. She took her life back, slowly but surely. I drifted on in my restless fashion and by way of a broken heart, I ended up back home in Copenhagen, Denmark.
When, recently, I suddenly found out that Chey was in Wales of all places, my heart took a leap of joy for so many reasons. She had made the long and exciting journey to Europe, motivated by love, and she was happier than had I ever heard her; clean, relaxed, in love and enjoying her daily life. She had outsmarted the grim immigration system and found her own way back to her love, and I knew that she had found a happy, peaceful place inside herself. We talked excitedly about visiting each other, and I have learnt a painful lesson now, that I didn’t just buy that flight.
Not long after, and for reasons only known to herself, my beautiful sister in spirit, sweet Cheyenne, flew off on her final journey in this realm. She left behind an indelible impression in me, of a soul so strong and kind and loving, in a world so broken and evil. She proved to me that true friendship has no limit and that love conquers everything. She had as brave a spirit as I will ever meet, and it lingers on in the way I live now, as I am certain countless other very fortunate people carry her inspiration and power in their hearts.
You can say that life overcame Cheyenne in the end, or you can say that she overcame the final fear that we all have. Ultimately, death is only for the living, but life is also for the dead and Chey is still among us. She has joined our ancestors, who brought us into this world and who are all around us and inside us. She is no where and every where. She is in my heart. I see her in the clouds sometimes. She is making faces and traveling the sky at her own will. She was, and is, a Free Spirit.
Safe journey sister,
Love you forever!