My Uncle Dave and Aunt Elizabeth picked me up from the airport. The reservation was just as I remembered it. Beautiful. I had no real memory of ever living there before, only a lingering feeling of familiarity... It felt like I was remembering a past life, not my own. The house they lived in was a newer home designed to look like a pueblo on the outside. The house was surrounded by dirt and a scattering of fences made out of tree limbs. In the yard was a mini van, a beat up truck with no bumper, a brand new civic, and an old, green, Volks Wagon van that was called the Pickle. It looked like a scrap yard. There was also a trampoline, a shed, and an outside Indian oven in the back.
The inside of the house was decorated with drums my uncle had made and parts of costumes used in ceremonies. There was a colorful Indian blanket nailed to the wall and a painting of a buffalo. It was nice. I was lead into a room with a bunk bed and N-Sync and Usher posters all over the walls. I would be sharing a room with my cousin. She took the bottom bunk because she said the top bunk was for little kids. She was younger than I and put on a show to appear older than she was. I resented it. Years of childhood had been stolen from me... and she just wanted to give hers up.
Right after I arrived at my uncle's house I was told someone wanted to see me. It was a surprise. I didn't know if I should feel excited or scared. I felt both. We pulled up outside of an old trailer and when I walked in the door I heard, "Cucuyatramatz!" It was Uncle Steve! I ran to him, threw my arms around him and cried. It felt so safe to cry in front of someone I knew that loved me. I couldn't cry with my Uncle Dave or Aunt Elizabeth... I didn't know them well enough and I still felt too responsible for my own well being to let down my guard. I lost my mother, Fred, Bird-Bird, and Crystal, but I did not lose Uncle Steve. Just the relief of knowing that I still had him was enough to make me sob.
I was enrolled in a public school in the nearest city to the reservation and had a little bit of a shock when I found out I had to wake up at 4AM and get to the bus stop at 4:45 in the morning. The bus ride to school took almost two and a half hours. My classmates were all Native Americans or Hispanics. There were maybe 6 white kids and 2 black kids in my entire school. Most of our teachers were white too. Because I was Native, I was accepted immediately. I belonged. Native Pride was strong! Our people stuck together. All of the kids that spoke our Native tongue would purposely talk around the teachers to irritate them. They wanted to show them that they were outsiders, no matter if they had authority or not. The school was ours. I learned the language quickly.
I took up my role as my aunt and uncle's new daughter. I liked that I had to do chores and help make dinner like the others kids. I craved their love. If I wasn't sucking up to my aunt and uncle, I was over at Uncle Steve's trailer. I had brought my tap dancing shoes that I had saved from the time Larry had me in dance classes. I wanted to show Uncle Steve what I could do. I tap danced in his kitchen and covered the floor in black scuffmarks. He smiled and hooted and yelled for an encore. He loves me... I thought. I'm going to make them all love me.