Headfirst into Crosswinds

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 – For Nakagawa

So, what’s next?

I could feel the question bubbling up since we last met; that silversmith who flickered into my life for a moment, forging flowers from fire. It was an opening to a wound I didn’t want to feel just yet. Months after our interviews, I turned that conversation over like a river stone. What bubbles would break open if I looked?

There was the anime artist who brushed a mixture of rainbow worlds between her small, tattooed hands. I’d seen her stretching her canvasses along the halls of galleries, leading talks, heading senior exhibits. Then there was the silversmith, clasping metallic blossoms into place, watching it oxidize under the spark of a carver’s flame.

Then, there was me, where suddenly all my ellipses trailed off, my commas frowned as wayward smiles. My semicolons teared up in fields of pages, asking for periods instead—a pause or a break,

caesuric seizures that seized my words.

So what’s next? his same mantra echoed in the cracks that fractured my final semester. I could picture the row of perfect, white teeth that asked. I’d like to read what your last few months are like too—you still have your motorcycle, right?

I tried to imagine what I wanted to say, something like of course! I ride my motorcycle in Santa Fe, just completed several portfolios, got into a new program, too!

In reality, my motorcycle sat in another garage of another house, idling dutifully under Alejandro’s care. I was too afraid to vanish alone into the mountain trails of Santa Fe, stranded if the bike’s battery faltered. I’d just received my second rejection letter ever—this time devoid of compassionate notes, encouragement, or a this is great work, just not for us that had softened the blow of my first. I’d lost steam in the face of my thesis classes, unsure, tossing out applications like lifelines.

A bike, huh? I’d love to read about it someday! floated up from our conversation about tackling the turquoise trail on my Himalayan. I’d arrived to campus that first time wind-tattered, make-up smeared by an hour’s worth of sweat. My wrist ached from nursing the clutch around curves, hazard-level winds pushing me to the edge. Jeeps, Tacomas, and Toyotas sped past me, side-eyeing me for cruising the limit.

Yet still, on that trail, I started to understand as I unraveled each mile of highway ribbon. I could throttle, choke, and lean as much as I could into crosswinds, and it still wouldn’t change the road or my place in it. If I felt wind forcing me back down, sliding sideways into exit lanes, I would lean just as hard, easing the throttle, and bow. Still, I’d made it through every single time.

That’s how I would respond, now, if I had a chance meeting with that silversmith again: Moving on from IAIA and riding feel similar—if you feel those forces pressing in, tighten your fists, square your shoulders. Keep leaning headfirst into those crosswinds.

Brianna G. Reed is a student at the Institute of American Indian Arts.

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