What Grief May Come…

It’s been three months (plus some change) since my last post. I won’t even bother apologizing.

In retrospect I should’ve committed to making posts every three months. I’d have been more successful with this commitment to log my grief, which is like wearing your heart on your sleeve. This venture is much more emotional work than I had thought it would be. Some nights I pull my post up and just stare at the screen, by then baby is sleeping next to me, feeling her warm little body on my side, her breathing under my hand, and I just…draw a blank for what to share. Grief is so…unpredictable.

Life has been happening, as it so often does. The baby is almost nine months old. The boy turned 14! The oldest child moved to Wisconsin and has returned home. This Southern summer heat has crept in and made things slow down, tremendously. I have been struggling on the highs and lows of this grief rollercoaster. It is kind of reassuring when you can reframe the way you look at grief and think of it more as a cyclical event. There’s no great expectations that it’ll be over and you’ll magically be fixed, or grow into the new grief that has become you.

I now have new clear examples of how holding on to unresolved emotional trauma and grief can trigger a domino effect of upheaval in other parts of your life, in your mind, body, spirit, and social life. One clear example is with my current health situation. As many readers know, I have cancer. I have been struggling with uterine cancer, now it has spread, or we believe it has spread and I have a mammogram scheduled for the lump that had been in my breast during pregnancy. I also have a colonoscopy coming up this week. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that processing the grief from my mother’s death triggered my C-PTSD, anxiety, and every health issue simmering under the surface of ‘I’m okay’ is going to come boiling over. I have now been diagnosed with hypertension II and have been put on a new medication. This is a family gift and was triggered during pregnancy, I’m sure it also has some association with the Makena Injections they gave me. They claimed my adverse reaction was rare, but then denied all of my symptoms. It’s so very frustrating to be silenced and go unheard with medical care. This is something I have experienced my entire life. My mother handed me the knowledge about the consequences of holding on to unresolved emotions for too long, she taught me how those ghosts can haunt you into an early grave. Then she herself departed. It was summer of 2000, we were in California. There’s a beautiful spot that overlooks the Golden Gate Bridge and as the wind whipped through our hair she asked me if I was still angry. I had just learned of my pregnancy. Today, I am still angry. It’s roots have become so deep I don’t fully understand how to cut it out of me. The deeper I dig into this grief, the more I release, and the more vulnerable I feel. And maybe that’s just part of this process, to become vulnerable and there’s still a sense of fear, but also calmness and humility.

I’ve also been having wickedly vivid nightmares. Several months ago, in May I was in Northern Virginia, just miles down the road from the hospital where my mom died. I was staying at the house where her ashes are still living, tucked away on a shelf. I went to bed late and woke up in my dream. I dreamt of a preemptive attempt to soothe and calm the baby. Still groggy and eyes full of sleep, I quietly slipped out of bed to make a bottle. I came from the bedroom (the last bedroom my mom ever slept in, outside of the hospital), around the corner to the open living room/dining room layout, and there, through the darkness, back stiff, head cocked to the side, my mom. But not my mom. She was a shadowy wisp, ghostly and ghastly. Empty eye sockets, staring me down. I stopped dead, mid-step. Then I woke up. In bed. Baby was stirring, I checked my phone for the time and it was just after four in the morning. I quietly slipped out of bed to make a bottle, turning every light on as I went, scared my nightmare was going to grab me from behind. I drove back home to Southeastern Virginia haunted by memories of my mom. Sometimes, as a joke I would call her mother, and she was answer, “yesssssss, daaaaaarling” and then Coraline came out and I was like…mom, that’s what I picture is the other you. She disagreed and said the other her was much worse than I could ever dream up. I’ve been haunted by that nightmare since. I’ve discussed with my youngest brother, my Aunties, my partner, and my oldest daughter. It’s funny how we torture ourselves with grief. It’s also funny how spirit world responds to questions we’re too scared to ever ask.

I have been deeply and profoundly moved by this death. Just as I have been deeply and profoundly moved by this life. I have been working on shifting my language from saying that my mom died to saying that my mom chose to pass on. I have been formally trained, in the academic sense, to say “died”. As using any other language might teach someone, especially a child, that death is not final, that their loved one may return. The language could also offend someone from another culture, or someone who has strict religious beliefs and so I have decided the someone in this case is me. And I don’t believe that we simply die and are forever gone. As if this tortuous journey we never asked for would let us off the hook that easily. Pffft, yeah right. I believe we haunt the spaces between us and those we love. I believe we exist as the energy between people and places. We linger in the material things that owned us in this world . I believe we are redistributed, and we reach out beyond dusk and dawn, we become memories, smiles, tears, weeping, singing under the stars in the form of breeze rustling leaves on trees. And that is life. And that is death. And that is the magic my mom left with me. That’s something she passed on. And in that, part of that, contains the instructions on how to let go. I believe.

It’s been several weeks since I’ve had Neurofeedback, which I will be writing about again, soon (for treatment of anxiety and C-PTSD). I’m hoping I can coordinate something this coming week. It’s been so helpful for my mind, body, and spirit. I have a couple more weeks of doctor’s appointments and then I’ll hopefully have some down time to heal and recuperate. This post is longer than I had wanted it to be, but it feels good to get it all out. I have downloaded the WordPress app to my mobile devices so I can post more frequently on grief and loss and what’s helping or hurting. As I previously shared, please feel free to interact via comments.

Never forget…

image: my hand pulling down a poster that reads, “Someone is (or will be) lucky to have you.”

Good Grief, I’m Exhausted

Forgive me Father, for I have sinned…it’s been another promise that I’ve not kept. I’m also not Catholic. Not even diet Catholic.

In my previous post I had committed to sharing a post a week as I journey through processing grief. Which I have not done. It’s been approximately 3 months since I’ve posted any update on my journey through processing this grief. In retrospect I wasn’t ready to process the loss of my Mom. I’ve just needed to sit in my anger and melancholia, ping-ponging back and forth in an internal storm that has been raging it’s way through my head and heart.

At this moment I’m in Northern Virginia, not more than 5 miles from the hospital that my Mom died at, at my Auntie’s house. My Mom’s ashes are here, they’ve been here since she was cremated, they’ve sat here at my Auntie’s house for almost 5 months. Many of my Mom’s belongings are here, the rest are in a storage unit not more than 2 miles from my house in Southeastern Virginia. I’ve become the administrator of my Mom’s estate. I’ve been fumbling through the steps needed to open her estate and how to handle her affairs.

Today I hastily sorted through her suitcases full of clothes and separated what I needed to keep, to donate to a shelter, and to send to my brothers, or her grandchildren and friends. Today I paused and shoved one of her favorite shirts into my face, breathing her in and wrapping myself in a memory of her hug, I could almost feel her hair falling over me as she pulled me in and squeezed me tightly. I’d slowly stopped dreaming about her. I’ve avoided pictures of her, memories of her, I’ve pushed the sound of her laugh and her voice to the back corridors of my mind. I’ve ignored the nagging sensation that something is missing, the sternum crushing pain that comes when I wake in the middle of the night momentarily forgetting she’s “gone” and I can’t call her. I can’t send her silly Facebook messenger videos of the baby laughing or playing with her toes. I can’t vent my frustrations of being in a relationship with a man I love to argue with, I can’t listen to her advice on how this is an opportunity to experience it all in this one lifetime, I can’t make plans to spend her birthday with her. These are tough truths to swallow. I feel her nowhere and every where all at once. It’s confusing. It’s maddening.

Needless to say this has been the longest winter of my life. During this time I’ve asked for “signs”. I’ve waiting, patiently. I’ve prayed. I’ve talked to her spirit. I’ve read her journals. I’ve pretended she’s sitting next to me, and maybe she has been. I’ve plotted and planned and decided that I need to set some long-term goals for this grief journey. I need this to be a good grief. I need to accept the reality of this loss. One of my long-term goals is to work through the pain that comes when I face the reality of this loss. Second, and not in this particular order, I need to find ways to continue the healing journey my Mom and I were on (when she passed). I’ll have to find ways I can continue to grow and heal in our mother-daughter relationship, without her being here. Another essential and difficult goal/task is to be able to place my emotions related to my Mom, our relationship, and her untimely death in the “right” place and not misplace those emotions in or on someone else. I’ve slowly been working on the reality of this loss, and what that means to my daily life. An example of this is how I am unable to call my Mom and simply have the mother-daughter daily check-ins we normally had. I have replaced those voids with writing to her; sometimes I write her letters, other times I glue a picture into my journal and tell her about the moment/picture, or I’ll write her poetry. Another example of adjusting to my life with the loss of my Mom is making a greater effort at recognizing my brother’s birthdays and life event celebrations, not to replace the mother role, but to step up and be more encouraging, motivating, and/or ask them what they might need (as our mom would’ve). As I set these goals and work on these tasks I begin to process through some of my pain and grief, a little at a time, growing through the hurt and trying to make sense of my world and life without my Mom. It’s been a good grief in these past few months, and although I’m exhausted, I’m noticing progress in my journey.

To A Good Mourning

“How are you doing?” -Almost everyone I have never met, with a look of pity on their face.

This is the number one question I’ve been asked since my Mom passed last month. I have become aware that I shake my head while saying ‘fine’, or whatever lie rolls off my tongue, to complete strangers who’ve injected themselves into my life at a pivotal point.

I do believe that in many ways I am fine. I’ve learned to shoulder, shift, and carry the grief I was born with; it’s a huge part of this intergenerational trauma that’s always haunted my emotional, physical, mental, social, and spiritual being. I’ll occasionally break the awkward interactions with honesty and let the intruder know that I’m experiencing memory loss, massive amounts of clumsiness, that my usual aloof and numb state is becoming a concern associated with my PTSD and disassociation, but it’s really okay because I’m seeing a therapist for that. They’ll be taken aback, stammer out a quick reply, sharing that they hope I’m “seeing someone” for that, when they could explore their own grief and be confident in saying that these things are normal. And as much as I hate to slap normalcy on anything, these reactions are very “normal” or “typical”. And normal doesn’t mean easy, quick, painless, but it does mean that someone else might have similar experience with the same things I’m feeling. It means that I’m not completely alone. It means I might find comfort in knowing that someone else has been where I’m at, or is there with me, in their own private hell, right now. My grief won’t be a spittin’ image to anyone else’s, but my grief might have some things in common with someone else’s. I can pretty much pick my poison when it comes to defining grief; there are dictionary definitions, hospice center definitions, text book definitions, accurate quotes, millions of descriptors that breathe life into dealings with Grief, similar to the way we bring Death to life. Grief becomes a living, breathing entity who stalks you and shows up, always uninvited and always outstaying it’s welcome.

I keep reminding myself that struggling with my grief does not mean that I’m not handling things well, it doesn’t mean that I’m failing this grand grief and loss test. It does means that I need to slow down and be easy on myself. It means there’s something more there that I need to explore, and perhaps my reactions to grief are being ignored and my body is trying to find ways to let me know that on a subconscious level I need to process my grief.

After many sleepless nights I have decided that I want to keep an ongoing public journal of just how I am doing (with my grief). I was thinking about this last night as I fed my 2 month old daughter, how this will keep me accountable to myself, to my healing, my mom would welcome this, it might connect me with others who are experiencing/have experienced something similar, it might help someone else, and it will keep boundaries on people’s access to me as I grieve. I’m not sure how often I will post updates, at least weekly, if I’m having a harder time, or I’m busy there might be a surge in posts, or decline. I will keep this pattern up for a year, the first year of my Mom’s passing. I will include things that have been helpful to me, possible links to resources I learn about, anything I can share that might help someone else, and most importantly I will share my struggles and hardships on this journey. I will welcome comments, replies, interactions, tips, and sharing.

As I come to a closing point on this first post I will share that it’s important to remember that Grief is most commonly associated with death and dying, but can and should be applied to many different types of life loss. Said losses can include relationships ending, job loss/employment, illnesses, and other life changes. Other’s grief shouldn’t be trivialized. Grief may trigger other mental health diagnoses or preexisting conditions you’re dealing with, and should be included in medical and psychological reports and evaluations. Common reactions to grief can be emotional expressions, physical & mental/cognitive symptoms, social effects, and can have an impact on your spiritual beliefs and perspective. Grief is commonly broken down to “stages” and there are notable authors, experts, and researchers on Grief and Loss, so it’s good to become an expert on your grief, even if you use their framework, theories, research.

It will be important to note that I have C-PTSD, I have a 2 month old baby (so I’m in my postpartum healing period) as well as 2 older children, I have cancer, and high blood pressure that hasn’t resolved itself from preeclampsia that lead to the late-term premature delivery of my daughter. I have a background in mental health work and advocacy, I’m a Mortician/Funeral Director by trade, with a death positivity perspective. Also important to note I’m an enrolled and active citizen of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation. I’m currently living in Virginia, having moved here two years ago to be with my mother, as well as decided to return to school (again) while here. This means that I’m physically away from my entire support system, aside from my immediate family and a couple of friends. My mother and I lived together for a year before we both moved, and we lived in neighboring towns. She was also in the midst of moving across the country when she was suddenly hospitalized after being taken to an emergency room. She had been doing very well in her recovery and we even had some time with her while she was awake and were making plans for her discharge and rehabilitation. My brothers and I chose to respect and honor her life, wishes, and physical being by taking her off of life support after we learned she would not recover from the damage that occurred during the cerebral vasospasms that are common after cerebral aneurysms. I believe that these things influence my grief processing. I’m also working with the hospice grief counselor, and have been treating my C-PTSD through neurofeedback treatments, and will be seeking a new therapist due to recent insurance and employment changes.

I hope that if you choose to follow my journey of healing and grief processing that you share and grow with me. Cheers, to a good mourning.

See You Soon

time has dropped its hands in my lap, there is only a before and after you.

memories weave themselves throughout my moments, no rest, even for the weary.

when i close my eyes, you’re there. behind my lids, like a movie,

the VHS film, delicate and crinkled winds itself around my fingertips.

i place my heart in the VCR and press rewind, i must’ve watched us a million times;

queen of corn palaces and balls of twine, road warrior, still battling mile markers,

scar across your furrowed brow, talking in poetry…the last of a dying breed,

true romantics can’t even speak our tongue

reading maps, the folding kind. my legs tick tock, tick tock

my arms are restless, i reach for you in the dark, only more night comes

i examine stars like they’re freckles on skin, searching constellations

for signs of you. strung out on hope, movies, and memories-

for a moment i feel you, so i don’t give up on wondering

                                                            what happens to us when we die.

i’ve a newfound faith in a cactus’ ability to teach us lessons in how to keep love alive

and you stretch out in front of me, like the vast expanse of desert floor,

like mountain meadow with a meandering stream,

like the fruited plains, switch grass rolling like ocean waves

there isn’t a place i can run to escape memories of you, memories like movie-

from sea to shining sea, left coast to right now

i press my tongue to the roof of my mouth

swallowing hard, turning in bed, twisting in sheets,

recalling the sound of you snoring, recalling the sound of your happiness

scared i might forget what that means, worried your ghost won’t remember

                                                                                                the good in me.

-i press pause.

we are frozen in a single embrace

your hair gently falls across my face

my arms crush you, as i squeeze

“okay, mom. see you soon”

The End.

Room 704

Room 704 is bursting in a million different directions, scattering down the hall, slipping through cracks on the floor, under doors, forcing its way through closed windows stretching out into azure sky In my mind this room has become a collection, of mason jars with lids haphazardly screwed on, piles of cardboard boxes, and suitcases full of teeth, heartstrings, shoelaces, crumpled pieces of paper, half-written letters in lost languages There are jars full of hope, a box crammed to the tiptop, overflowing with heartache. I shiver from a loneliness I cannot shake, in a world away from you. A suitcase filled with spring leaves, tender green catches my eye, then a jar of seashells, a suitcase full of red clay earth, boxes are stacked to the ceiling, full of cameras, dragon’s scales, stamps and stones and crystals gleaming… Screens light up the gloom of Room 704; one full of pastel cloud filled skies and a sliver of a moon, another with flowers blooming and my head is booming with all of I’ve been holding in Boxes under the bed, full of smiles, screams, rage, handfuls of moments well-lived, secrets whispered over table tops stained with water rings, turquoise memories, single strands of silver hair, boarding passes, avocado seeds, expired credit cards, never declined invitations Mason jars lined the window ledge, jars full of laughter, Wyoming roots, tree branches with naked limbs, projects unfinished jittery movements, felt hearts, mountain tops and winding rivers, eagle feathers and river flutes, I listen to the beep, buzz, hum of machines inhaling to exhale for a tremendous collection of love, stretched thin on a hospital bed. And Room 704 is so full of collections of life that this much proof of living cannot be contained in four walls, for too long The heart and soul of Room 704 shifts, slips, and brushes past me, Rushing into all it could never be when it was being contained In Jars. In boxes. In suitcases. In body.

A Journey

A sliver of a moon hangs
lopsided, like the Cheshire Cat’s smile,
nestled in the deepest dark.

Stars sprinkled around us, like
Forget-Me-Nots in heaven’s meadows,
we remove the clock from the wall
and sit in silence.

One stubs their toe,
the other wipes their eyes
I prick my finger at the exact moment
you become a collection of memories,
all of everything between mile markers
on universal highways, a journey
of your own making.

We want signs, we beg for them,
signs that’ve been there all along-
even a word that might embrace us in this silence.
We sink into the quiet, watching You light up
the vast expanse of foreverness,
witnessing the beginning
of a million stories being told.

We’ve never been your children
more than we are right now.
We take the road you haven’t gone down.
You take the road we’ve not yet traveled.
Sky is ablaze. Earth bends.
Only time breaks, shattering
into a thousand unspoken confessions
of love, of loss,
of a lifetime of movement
stretching out in front of us, for always.

One sighs, the other cries out.
I hold my hand to my chest and feel
You embracing us.
As you have all along.

The Archetype

So I won First Place in The Skyway Writer’s Competition in Illinois with this short story, it’s Fiction…

The Archetype 

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.

My Story

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.