Wednesday, May 16, 2012

My Father's Grave (Ch. 26)

After I found out my father had died Larry had somehow convinced my mother that the right thing to do was to give me an opportunity to say goodbye and visit his grave.  He paid for me to fly home to the reservation.  I left my mother in his care.  I was excited about the airplane ride, and extremely curious about the reservation.   I hadn't been there since I was about six years old and remembered very little about it, but I had heard so many stories from my Dad and Uncle Steve.  My mother hugged me goodbye and I left her sobbing near the gate.  As I boarded the plane I pretended I was running away and never coming back.  I smiled to myself, but then an image of my mother, scared, alone and crying ran through my mind.

When the door closed I felt panic rise up from my stomach and I wanted to run back out to her and hug her.  I wanted to scream, "I'm coming back!  Don't worry I'm not leaving you!  I'll never leave you! I'm coming back!"  I just couldn't imagine leaving her.  Larry couldn't take care of her... He didn't know she needed help getting out of bed everyday.  He didn't know she needed someone to remind her the "shadow people" weren't real.  I had to sleep with a kitchen knife under my pillow in case the man that raped her came back.  Would he know to do this?... No, She needed me.  I sat in my chair and stared out my little window.   I pressed my fists into my eye sockets till I saw a kaleidoscope of colors.  I cleared my mind.  I decided that maybe pretending I was someone else, maybe someone going on a vacation, was a better idea.

I took the pain from my father's loss and I put it deep inside myself, next to the nothing place and the place I kept to hide my ugly memories.  Then I went through the pocket in front of my seat and looked at all the safety instructions.  I listened closely to the stewardess as she explained how to put on my seat belt.  I acted like I didn't have a care in the world... I'm just a regular girl on vacation...  I imagined the plane crashing and me being the one to explain to everyone, "If your oxygen bag is not inflated, don't worry! Oxygen is still flowing.  Exits are to the rear! If we need to exit, lift the handle up and press out.  Remember!  Your seat can be used as a floatation device." :)

When I arrived in New Mexico my aunt and cousins were waiting for me by the gate.  They were so excited to see me!  They hugged me and my auntie kissed me and told me how big I got.  I had no idea who they all were.  I just smiled and tried to be helpful.  I wanted them to like me.  I wouldn't let them help me with my suitcase.  I didn't want any part of me being there to be something burdensome for them.

The desert was beautiful.  Miles and miles of sky.  Far off in the distance I could see the outline of mountains.  When the sun started to set, the mountains turned purple and the clouds behind them were pink.  The sun made the whole sky glow with red, orange and yellow.  It was like being in an old western movie with a happy ending... only I was in a mini van instead of bareback on a magnificent stallion... 

After a long drive we arrived on the reservation just before dusk.  It seemed empty and naked to me.  There weren't any trees and the houses were so spread apart.  None of the houses had fences, or yards.  There was no grass, it was just all dirt.  The trees they did have looked more like large bushes and they hardly had any leaves on them at all.  The only thing green that I could see were these waist high shrubs, and a lot of those were brown too.  Something about it was so beautiful though.  All the buildings I saw were either real pueblos made out of clay or they were newer houses designed to look like pueblos on the outside.  It felt like I was in another world.


The next morning when I woke up we went to the river.  As my cousins jumped in and laughed, I stood there looking around at all the other people.  They all looked like me, with dark hair, dark skin and dark eyes.  As I stood there thinking about this I realized I felt like I belonged.  I was suppose to be here.... I was suppose to be jumping in rivers and laughing and looking at beautiful sunsets....  I ran!  I reached the edge of the bank and leaped in!  When I surfaced I felt renewed.  It was like I had washed away all the extra years I had earned by seeing all the things my mother didn't protect me from.  I was a kid again.

The reservation at sunset

Later that day my uncle took me to see my father's grave.  I had to throw spirit food at the gate to the cemetery and ask the spirits to bless us.  The graves in the cemetery were not like the other graves I had seen in California.  These graves looked like someone had been laid right on the surface of the land and just covered up with a mound of dirt.  Each mound was decorated with stones and flowers.  My Dad's grave had a headstone with some flowers, but there weren't any stones around his mound.  My uncle told me it was the family's job to keep the grave site clean of weeds and looking nice.  I got right to work.

I collected as many little round stones as I could find and obsessively stacked them around my father's grave.  I made a little cross out of stones going across the mound like some other graves had.  I worked for about an hour before my uncle told me we had to leave.  I wasn't finished yet though.  I had to finish.  My uncle insisted we had been there long enough and we had to go home now.  I shook my head no and my eyes started watering.  I couldn't leave him there... I wasn't finished yet.  I couldn't hold the hurt in anymore.  I sat down in the dirt, crying into my hands, embarrassed.  My uncle knelt down and grabbed me by my shoulders.  He looked me right in the eyes, with his own tears running down his face and said, "I'm sorry.... Can I help you finish?..."  My words were trapped in the same place my tears were coming from, so I could only nod yes.

The rest of my summer there was spent running around near the river with the other kids.  We were like a pack of wild dogs.  We especially liked to go out when it was raining.  The bank near the river was made mostly out of clay and when it rained it became very slippery.  We would dig out all the rocks and make our own natural water slides into the river.  We used the clay like a paint and covered our entire body and then we'd run through the brush near the river crying out like we were about to conquer the world.  We were conquering the world.

The end of the summer came soon and then it was time for me to leave.  My aunt and uncle drove me to the airport and walked me to the gate.  My uncle bent down to gather me in his arms and told me that he loved me.  Those three little words sparked a desire in me I didn't know I had.  I grabbed on and started bawling.  "Can I stay?... Ask my mom if I can stay.  She can come too.  If you love me then we can come, just ask my mom."  I could barely get the words out I was crying so hard.  My uncle started crying too and my aunt stepped in.  She told me that they would always be there for me, but right now my mom was waiting for me in California.  She said that my mom would be sad if I didn't come home today.  My mom missed me.  As quickly as my tears came, they were gone.  For me, crying like that, was scary.  I had to be strong... I had to be strong or I would die.  Today I was in danger of dying of a broken heart.

Tomorrow I would be in danger of being stabbed to death and raped by a man my mother owed drug money to.

Miss Kitty said I was strong.  I can be strong........  I will not cry.....  I will not cry.

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