So I won First Place in The Skyway Writer’s Competition in Illinois with this short story, it’s Fiction…
I paced the hardwood floor like a mouse in a maze, back and forth over the same lose floorboards, too tangled in the webs woven throughout my mind to truly appreciate the creaking of the gently aged wood under my weight. My anxious heartbeat more of a burden, annoying me with this clanking against the backside of my sternum, a constant reminder of my miserable existence. I’ve wanted to reach deep into my chest cavity and disconnect myself from life source, to squeeze until it burst like a ripened strawberry in my palm. I’ve been on edge for days, since the news of his passing came. My bones knew before I did, they whispered his last words through my stiff joints, my lower back pain, a dull throbbing ache at the base of my neck. Grandma came to comfort me, as she often did. Just before Dawn my eyelids fluttered, my limbs twitched like tree branches in autumn breeze. It’s as if these prophecies were playing out before us, we’re wide awake dreaming our way home. Our long journey, we’ve had such a long walk home.
I’ve been so tired for so long.
My drive back to the Rez was surreal, my little car quiet as a coffin, still and lonely, as the moments just before dying often are. Days prior to leaving I stayed silent, I lacked the agility to move among the living with any grace so I remained in solitude. As I drove home I turned my phone off, no radio sang me sad mourning songs. Each of my memories had an echo that sounded off of the walls I’ve been building since birth. Maybe I’d never wanted to leave my mother’s womb.
I’ve had values, over the years they trickled down my thighs, soaked tampons, pads, panties, and the sheets of men who never even knew if or why I came. They slipped through my lips, sometimes slowly exhaled in twirling smoke rings from Camel lights. They’ve slithered down my veins, capillaries, from my centerpiece, to my arms, to my fingertips pointing to all the dirty spots. They flirted with the reflection we’ve seen in passing windows as we’ve taken our walks of shame further away from home. Everyone I’ve loved has disappeared behind the walls I’ve carefully constructed out of growing pains, hunger pangs, and wounds inflicted generations before I was born.
A heavy past has lead me to this moment. This tiny abandoned church at the top of the hill overlooking the only safe place my body will ever know as an Indigenous Woman in this world. A warm Southern wind whipped through the open door, gathering my ribbon skirt that was skimming the floor. Brightly colored slivers of light dancing over faded cotton and vibrant ribbon hand stitched in place, as if they’re dancing was a prayer we’ve never been able to finish in peace . I tip-toed over the floorboards, pivoting like a broken ballerina, scooping up the bottom tiers of my skirt, sidestepping bent emotions under furrowed brow. My moccasins slide over spots where elements have smoothed stained wood, sliding past busted stained glass windows. I come to a standstill in front of shattered history framing our relationship with dominant society for hundreds of years, shards of glass the color of greasy grass and bloodlines soaking in late afternoon sunlight’s golden rays. The hazy orange gold of early autumn don’t match my darkening mood, like winter storm churning in my guts and glory. I turn away from the sun, turn to the wall opposite the graves below, turn my back to the later afternoon sun. I watch my slinky shadow making movements in some otherworldly space, like a spirit keeping me company. I wonder if he’s still here.
My shadow swayed with my hair, my regrets crept up behind me, chills racing down my spine, causing such a shiver I almost wake from my most restful sleep. I cast strange shadows, almost as if there are two of them, maybe three…maybe they’re just my insecurities. I paused to smirk at my own current state of insanity. I’ve aged well into my anger, my melancholy, my broken ribs and heavy bones, my aching heart, and skin tight impatience. My anger fit so well, so snug I wore it out, wore it until it was a sorrow, so deep and dark it consumed the Indigenous. In my twenties I decided to avoid fucking, but buried the woman in me with my grandmother. I’d then buried my traditions with my grandfather. He’d labeled me a savage beast of the latest generation’s assimilation and written me off long ago, looking past me the last our eyes met. My family has stopped leaving the porch light on and I’d stopped begging for attention from the darkened doorway of an empty house to avoid freshly cut feelings of rejection at a dinner table set for none. Whiskey wishes and cocaine parties in suburban life were family enough for me. My addictive personality kept me plenty company. I’d learned to drive away from all of my mistakes with at least a half a tank of gas and my head held high. This is how we white wash. I’m the new version of the old American Dream. Always too stubborn to come crawling home on bleeding knees.
This church’s four walls closing in on me. All four walls constantly closing in on me. Even with the doors hanging off their hinges and windows blown out. Here we are, mourning in the midst of brightly colored glass, littering the sun-stained floor. I stood in the middle of the of the tiny mission church that sat in the Reservation’s gut, and looked straight up, staring at the steeple. The bell still hung in the tower, the thick rope hanging in threads and tangles in front of my face, begging to be tugged, to be rung. I wanted to ring it. But the service at the bottom of the hill would be interrupted with my antics. Everyone would forgive me, yet again. Write it off as my war cry, a grief stricken sister finally finding her way home. Taking a break from digging my own grave to grace the original people with my presence. Selfish, just like the world I’d gone to live in. Everyone would whisper behind my back at the Hall during feast later in the evening. They’d snort and scoff as I walked by, eyes focused on my soft buttery yellow moccasins. They’d glare and suck their teeth around the gossip and here I am making this about me, again. This is how we avoid reality. Who is better at avoiding and hiding than me?
I pushed pieces of glass around the wood’s swirling rings with my toes, taking a deep breath and inhaling prairie grass and sage, overcome with memories of my own unraveling. I’ve longed for the familiar embrace of home, but still centered on pushing away anything that feels like love. Mother, sisters, auntie’s laughter, even their cries, more human touch than anything I’ve felt in years. To fall asleep with the smell of fire clinging to my clothes, hair, and sheets. To wake just before Dawn with Dad, welcoming the moment of new day with fresh black coffee in camp mug, the taste of bottled water on the back of my tongue-don’t even use the faucet water to brush your teeth. Mending fence posts under the high plains sun. I hadn’t touched protected land since the last loss. During the summer I deconstructed The Archetype. The perfect child. The one I would never live up to. I ruined him to the best of my ability. Wrecked our family from my perch then flew away. I’d drained the blood from my body and remained as pale as a sheet ghost, living among the dead. I’d never called or returned home. Spent holidays at tidy tables with friends who didn’t even know my name. Learned to curl my tongue around foreign languages, they knocked against my teeth and no one answered. Sleepless nights next to men who’d crush my bones with their desire to feast on tradition of killing the Indian in me. The perfect child died with every step I took further away from the familiar. I’d walked in every protest to protect the very system that slaughtered everyone who had every loved me, but never walked up the steps to my own home.
The bell, still begging to be rung sat still, it’s long frayed rope dangling like a hangman’s noose. I looked out over the waist high grass, out the front door of the church to the cemetery resting below. Silhouettes slowly making their way to cars parked along the dirt road in the distance. One figure stood taller than the rest, he put one hand high in the hair and made a fist, then opened his hand and signaled a wave. Dad, and his brokenhearted welcome home.
My eyes brimmed with tears, I swallowed hard, and pushed my fist in the air, opened my hand and weakly waved back. Heart battered against my breastbone, choked hard on all the excuses I might’ve used this time. Maybe I’d run out of words. Maybe there was nothing left to speak, it was time to just come home. I slowly inched my way out the door, down the steps, across the field to the graveyard below. Wooden crosses lined a few dirt mounds, tall poles with feathers flying in the breeze, horse hair galloping across the plains. Each plot housing the remains of someone I knew and loved, knew or loved. Each hole in the Earth filled to the surface with stony soil, unfit for growing food that could’ve nourished us beyond commodity cheese and mill worm infested sacks of flour. I try to push it all out of my mind, these thoughts that come creeping in every time I’m reminded of what it means to be surviving in their world. But maybe it’s time to face these things that’ve always tried to break us. In the distance thunder grumbles down to villages and irrigation ditches, over sweetgrass and empty arbor, and I knew the spirits were welcoming my brother home.
The Archetype. The perfect child. The loyal one. I walk through the labyrinth of graves, families, lined up with clan; child and mother, father next to son, daughter and grandmother…for generations we’ve been coming home, or coming undone. I smile at the memory of how this was once the only place on the Rez that no one ever came without good reason. We’ve never wandered these grounds, sometimes my brother and I would watch these plots from the church steps on the hill. Overlooking our futures. We’d just gaze out over the distance. I thought about my brother’s toothy grin before I’d left home. He’d said, “You know I’ll be first and you’ll have to live up to me. All I never was, but what Dad expected us to be.”
His smiled had faded as he dropped his head, he looked down at my tight jeans and told me I needed to put some meat on my bones before I fell through my asshole and hung myself. We’d laughed deep and hard. I’d nodded, not knowing exactly what I was agreeing to, but realizing he was right. Like he always was, the copper kettle colored philosopher, bronzed from lifetimes of being kissed by the Sun. We’d sighed in unison, he’d put his hands on my shoulders and said, “Leave. Just go. Do all of the things you’ve never wanted to do. When you come home we can talk about how shitty the world really is. They’ll forgive you, cause you look just like me, just not as pretty.”
He’d been tired, a lot longer than me.