Erin died on a Wednesday. She had a midweek death, but wasn’t discovered until the following Monday. I’d rather die on a Saturday, a weekend death seems to be more exciting than a midweek death. I’d want people to know about my death right away. I’m sure given the opportunity to do it all over again that Erin would have chosen a weekend death too. But that’s another story. I’m going to tell you half of a story, it’s a mostly true story, roughly seventy percent truth. I imagine a good writer being like a chemist, with words, structure, composition, studying reaction and matter (of fact). I’m not a good writer, but I hope to tell you a good story. This isn’t just my story, but I was involved and I wish to tell you my version, my side of things. Please keep in mind there are several sides to every story and in most cases the truth is rarely the side that gets told. There are certain events that Erin and I lived through, which are going to be retold by someone who was “inspired” by the tragedy that killed both of us. I know that makes little sense, but the girls we once were died, and how we were robbed of those lives should be our stories to tell. The woman who was so inspired did not gain consent to tell our stories, when I spoke up for myself, for Erin who is no longer with us, I was silenced.
Erin was the most beautiful ugly girl I’d ever met. Her hands were so soft, her skin so pink it was pale translucent, dotted with sun speckled freckles and imperfections. She had small features that were framed with messy blonde hair and a large crooked nose casting shadow over thin red lips. She was soft feminine with a husky voice, and such a rich laugh that she made me blush. Erin’s eyes were blue gold, like cake of indigo, she was a girl in a woman’s body. We had that in common; child birthing hips and heavy breasts, long legs and warm hands. Erin was the type of girl the world cared about. If someone like Erin were taken, people would look for her. If someone like Erin were raped, the police would care. If someone like Erin was hurt, the world would seek justice. Erin knew that, just like she knew that if the same things happened to someone like me the world wouldn’t blink. Erin stood up for me, she stood up to injustice and gave us both voice. Erin taught me how to breathe again. She taught me how to walk. If I were blind I’d have trusted Erin to show me the world. Erin was the focused fight I needed, she encouraged me to find my voice, even if it meant screaming. Erin introduced me to Relax-And-Smoke-This, she helped me see how healing long drives on winding back mountain roads could be, encouraged me to touch again by holding hands as we jumped across river boulders. Erin became my waking moments, between part-time job, outpatient therapy, and dodging bodies in school corridors and stairwells. Erin was the hurricane after the eye of the storm passed, she was the heaviness that I’d carry long after I let go of the assault, she was the wound that still hasn’t healed in my scar garden. Erin had been the voice of reason, the reason our offender served any time at all.
Erin died long before she killed off her body. I know because I died just before she did. My death was quietly swept under the Reservation rug, under a broken fence post just beyond the boundaries of where Non-Tribal Officers were allowed to serve and protect. On the side of earth where Tribal officers weren’t allowed to police Non-Native bodies. These are policies, we don’t argue with policy until over a decade later, and even then no one cares. Erin and I would talk about our deaths while we were alone. We’d press our backs and bare skin to the warm asphalt on mountain roads while watching the Milky Way above, only the Seven Sisters and trees could hear our whispers. We’d hold hands and talk in low tones during the difficult parts, while tears ran down our cheeks and into our ears. We’d be still and silent through our panic attacks, our bodies relived the story telling easier each time. We talked through police reports, through court dates, season’s change, through new night skies, until eventually we both moved away. We never moved on, because how could you? We just reshaped ourselves around the wounds, around the heaviness, around the memories of girlhood being choked out of our bodies by strong manly hands who knew no mercy. I stopped thinking about the small mountain town where police shoved papers in file folders labeled shred while Justice wasn’t looking. My parents paid off the medical bills for hospital stays and removal of stitches, I grew into my addiction and womanly body, earth bound and lonely for a life I was robbed of.
After learning of Erin’s death I hugged my legs to my chest and wept until my eyes ached and snot ran down my lips and chin. I wasn’t surprised, and that’s why I cried so hard, for so long. I cried out of guilt. I cried out of fear that the same thing would happen to me. I would have a midweek death and not be found until the following Monday, if I was ever found at all. I wept because maybe there was something I could have done different and Erin would still be here. Before Erin there was Shannon, Becca, and other names that I’ve burned on the backs of my eyelids, names I see and remember when I’m ready to give up on everything that goes wrong, and my entire life always goes wrong. Despite everything always going wrong to the point that it’s comical I’ve kept these fallen warriors, these names and faces with me and kept going to honor them. And I wish I could say that I am still here because I am a mother and my kids need me, they’ve given my life purpose but that would be a lie. I wish I could say I’m really strong and a survivor and we keep going because [insert another lie], but I’ve stayed and tried to help as much as I can because they didn’t. Because they couldn’t. Because we are our own justice in a war machine that was designed to kill and remove us, to wipe us clean out of existence and clear our voices out of a greedy and self-serving system.
My story bled into her story and were these precious and private moments we shared in whispers and tiny voices under a midsummer night’s sky, when no one else was around except forest and fields of stars. We told our stories to practice preparing for a trial that was carried out behind closed doors. My story sat on pale, butter yellow legal paper with a black ink ball point pen after being scribbled onto a police statement that slipped away until no one could find it. My story is not my story, it’s a single moment that has reshaped my entire life. This story is retold any time someone’s eyes graze the scars on my neck and lips. This story is read by doctors who gently press the scars between my hip bones, just below my belly button. This story is heard by loved ones who try to hold me close during hugs and feel my body tense up, and I have to stutter out the words that it’s me, not them. This story is sitting with my back to the wall, eyes on exit signs, walking on well-lit streets, self-defense classes, and logging hours at the range in case I have to save myself ever again. This story is the anxiety that loving someone new and knowing that being intimate for the first time means sharing where my scars came from and maybe they won’t want someone with as much baggage as this brings. This story is memories of rape kits and judgmental nurses gathering my dirty, ripped clothes with latex covered fingers and placing them into plastic bags with commentary about dirty and useless Indians. This story “inspired” someone so much that she wanted to retell it. This story that didn’t even warrant an arrest. This story that couldn’t stand alone at trial because I’m just of those dirty and useless Indians, the same story that was whispered to stars and a girl with eyes as blue as the winter sky. This story died with Erin, this story should be resting in peace between fence posts, two decades ago where it was first told.
I know that my story can and will be stolen, that anything and everything I say will be used against me (and Erin). I understand that I may remain silent, that all of this was possible because so many of us were silenced. I understand the price those who speak up for us pay, they die so many deaths that they are never able to rest in peace. I understand the cost of being an Indigenous Woman. I know that the rights given to most people don’t apply to me, I know I will be provided with unfair opportunities and few will ever stand up for me. I understand the girl who was also raped by the same man as me will not go free, we will all be punished, we will carry out a much longer sentence than he did. I understand that the mechanics of this system will make it possible for the man who stole our lives and rewrote our stories to go free. I understand that I will not be heard unless I am screaming which will draw attention to every other Indigenous woman. I understand that seeking justice within this system will result in injustice. I understand that all of these pieces and parts will become short stories, which are parts of bigger stories being retold, and this is part of an endless cycle that just keeps going, set on repeat with no hopes of any healing.
I understand consent means nothing.
I know somewhere, in some world there are two girls trapped in women’s bodies, pressed against asphalt under a Midsummer night sky whispering secrets only the stars can hear. That’s my story. My version of events.