Fetish | Jean Kim


I’m not one to be superstitious, but I keep the fetish on my person at all times. I wonder if it’s some weird mistranslation, to call these little nuggets something bordering on the perverse, something obsessive and secretive. But that’s what the Native American store calls them, so who am I to judge?

Mine is a small turquoise carving, no more than an inch across, an adorable bear with a minute fish in its mouth, made of a speck of iridescent mica. Another arrowhead of the same speck is tied to his back with a string. There were myriads of equally cute works of art, in onyx, obsidian, amber, quartz. Deer and wolves and buffalo and various creatures of the plains.


I came to Santa Fe to escape briefly my urbanite routine, the brisk walks across mottled pavement and growing indifference to subways screeching. And I wasn’t disappointed. The midsummer air was crisp and tinged with piñon freshness; the land’s sparseness cleansed the mind of clutter. Caramel-colored adobe buildings crouched next to sundrenched earth; miniature sprouts of sage green bush dotted the low mountains, and were burnished by the sunlight into golden bursts.

The ground had fallen away from underneath me when I lost my job, and my boyfriend soon after. I had been on the fast track in New York, driven towards manmade heights that I thought answered the hollow call of hunger inside me. More projects, more publications, more parties. We were both racing for no reason; and the pact ended when I fell down. He vanished into the Emerald City, and I found myself in a pile of sawdust.

I wailed for days, my insides tender like sore gums, my brain haunted by fleeting memories of him, the way he slept or laughed or begged, and then the wretched awful fading away.

So here, I climbed onto a rocky hilltop, underneath mid-day southwestern sun. I was at the edge of Bandelier, clamoring across an ancient trail, carved over eons into white-grey limestone. I reached the edge of the ruins of an amphitheater, flattened rocks in a circle with expansive vistas all around. I saw stormclouds gather on one side and gleaming blue light on the other.

I sighed, alone in this place where people once communed, once sought solace and guidance with both each other and the sky. I found nothing for myself in the solipsistic fantasies of a personal God or in the meditative humming of monasteries. But here, in the dust of humans come and gone, and this bare land, I felt like the Native Americans might have had the right idea, long ago. But now, despite the peaceful earthiness of their current clay pueblos, those spirits also felt barren, defeated. Only the mountains remained resolute.

As I prepare to retreat to the comforts of my wi-fi connection and high-thread-count bedsheets, I hold the polished trinket in my fingertips. The way a few sharp angles are just enough to define the shape, the bear in blue-green. The store clerk told me the bear represents introspection and strength, the spiritual journey through life. He is something of a solitary figure, searching and thinking. But he is supposed to stay with me now at all times; we can keep each other company.

So later, I sit at the airport, looking out at the wide windows, with the distant arid mountains far away. The planes come and go at will into this flat basin. I feel the pull of the rat race calling, the din rising at the edges. But I know what I want now, and I will find it. It is all in the looking.

Jean Kim is a psychiatrist working in the DC Metro area, and received a B.A. in English at Yale University. She is currently enrolled in the Nonfiction M.A. Program at Johns Hopkins University, and has also studied at the Writers’ Institute at the Graduate Center of CUNY. She published some poetry during medical school, and is eager to stretch her writing legs again.

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