"My dad gave me this rock. It's obsidian." A hunk of hard, black glass-like rock was being held up before us. Sherry was showing it around with a confidence she usually didn't have. It was elegant. It gleamed with curved wave-like surfaces, had a fine, sharp edge on one side. It looked potent.
"Oh," breathed the class, "show it over here." All our eyes followed it around.
"Indians would make a little cut on their finger, and they would mix their blood and become blood brothers. That means friends forever. You can't break the bond. It's sacred. My dad said so," she intoned.
We were in a group, circled around Sherry, eyeing the obsidian, considering friendship bonds. We thought about the idea of being a blood brother. I wasn't very sure about making my blood flow or who I'd want to be bonded to for all that time. But, I didn't want to be a chicken either.
I wondered how she knew about blood brothers, and I looked at her. She had blue eyes, wore a yellow dress and had white shoes on with little white socks.
"Are you a Cherokee or something?" I asked, "because if you're not a Cherokee, you're not an Indian."
"My dad is, but I'm not." I accepted that as proof enough, but I was uncertain about her standing there with the glittering black rock.
A boy stepped in closer to her. "Lemme see that obsidian."
She handed it to him, keeping her eyes on him. He held it, put it close to his thumb and made a small cut, just like that. A red drop of blood came out like a scarlet bead on his skin. No one moved. Since one person was cut, another had to be cut or there could be no blood brother for the one.
The boy handed the black rock to another boy with an underhanded gesture of his arm, like an easy pitch. The other boy caught it, frowned, looked for a second at the rock and then looked at his own thumb with raised brows and pursed lips. He jabbed quickly and his own blood droplet formed. The two boys held up their thumbs and pressed them together. Everyone had become very quiet. The boys looked at each other while the thumbs pushed one against the other, and then they released. It was done. They smiled and one slung his arm over the shoulder of the other.
Sherry said, "You're brothers forever now. Say it."
The boys said, "Blood brothers."
"Let's see!" We demanded to see their thumbs, saw the mixed blood smears and looked at the obsidian rock. It was so dark. There was a murmur around the circle. We looked at Sherry. I saw her holding the rock, the black hardness of it and the soft frills and ribbon on her dress, looked at her wide blue eyes and saw freckles below them. Now she's different, I thought. The boys now believed they were best friends, that her rock had given them the new rank as blood brothers, and all of us accepted that the bond was good forever.
"Anyone else want to be blood brothers?" We all leaned in, holding our breath and in the anticipation of being bonded to someone - who? - we were held together, bonded already by mystery and promises of friendship symbolized by a gleaming sharp rock, pain and blood.
The bell rang. The two new brothers strolled back to the class door to line up, and time regained its ordinary pace. One or two other pairs formed more secretly in the girls' bathroom or behind the playground equipment later that day. I heard about them, but I was more interested in the power of the strange rock Sherry had brought to us. Did it give the boys a sacred bond? What did sacred mean? Ritual and belief had made themselves known to me in real terms for the very first time.
Causes Christine Bottaro Supports
The Nature Conservancy, California State Parks, The United Way