Tanya

desert

We were six. You were a Navajo, and a black girl, my soul sister-more sister to me then my own flesh. I loved you. I love you. You were dark brown and your hair hung in glossy black ringlets. We read books on archeology in the library, we giggled over mummies and sphinxes, talking about the ruins we’d wander, the deserts we’d ride across on camel back. I’d hold your hand. You’d hold mine and say, “Shall we?” I’d answer, “we shall.”

Home was hard. My mama screamed, punched, kicked. Your mama drank, smoked, fucked your nameless fathers. Thank god for grandmas. Mine was an immigrant, dancer, nurse, a jitterbugging good time girl grown gray. Yours was a white haired squah, mother to many, once a reservation maiden sent to Indian school and beaten for speaking in her people’s tongue. We both lost our families to violence.

My mama brimmed with poison, spilling her lies into my ear for spite. “You need to know Eleanor,” she said, “Tanya is not black, and she is not Navajo, and there are no people  who will claim her. She has no people. Her mother is a bad woman and her life will be hard.”  I looked at my mother, the red-haired L.A. calendar girl, ex-go-go dancer, and nodded, my heart sinking in my chest because I loved you.

That week we stood in the sun watching your little brothers play, one Mexican, one almost white. “I got something to tell you,” I said, and I poured mama’s poison into your ear in a hushed voice, a loving voice laced with concern. “I need you to be brave,” I ended, “because mama say’s your life will be hard.” I remember how your big eyes held mine, how you nodded at me and said, “OK.”

I cursed you that day, my mama’s words working you over through me. Christ, how her lies laid thorns in your path. No one knew what you could be but mama’s words took everything. You and I…we were everything…until that day. I remember saying goodbye. Mama didn’t want me playing in your apartment because she’d asked your uncle where he was from and when he kept saying, “here, I’m from here,” she’d got angry. But honestly, where else could a Navajo be from but here?

Years later, when we were 13, I heard you got pregnant. You partied drunken like your mama, while I rode fancy ponies in pretty show rings in a tweed jacket and hunt cap. I was told you left school to earn money while I went to college to pursue my dreams. I became an angry person when the dreams fell through, ready to fight the man and the system. Did you fall into the system? I grew up, grew old. Did you get to be old too? I remember everything about you, the way you danced, how the sun lit up your hair. I remember that I loved you…never seeing your pretty color as anything but beautiful.

If I could take my white mama’s curse back, I would replace it with courage, with kindness, with the vision of us riding camels in the desert together seeking lost civilizations and buried treasure. If I could change the past I’d hold my hand out to you and say, “Shall we?” and taking my hand you’d answer, “We shall.”

The Sanctuary of a Story: Part 15 of Rain on a Cloudless Day

green world

Everything is safe in a story. Stories have beginnings and middles and ends. If the storyteller is kind then the story ends well. Though not all stories end the way we want, a good story, a story worth the telling should leave you with something that makes you think, makes you feel, and makes you see the world in a slightly different way. The very best stories leave you awake, aware, nourished; feeling fully connected and alive. I know stories, I live in stories, I hide in stories when the world becomes too shrill, sharp and blinding.

I sit on the edge of the world. As far away from humanity as I can hope to go, while my shaking fingers twist thin willow switches into ornate braids. Today I am an ancient girl, a timeless nomad, making what I need from the bounty of a vast green country. The air is cold, fresh, and pure. I taste the wind, feeling it as it wriggles in the folds of my gown; its rough spun wool smelling of grasses and smoke and earth. I am a part of the earth. The earth is a part of me. Together we make beautiful things.

The bracelets I weave are a gift. They calm my nerves, help me to breath, and fill me with a silence that restores my peace. I take a smooth black rock from my pocket and place it in the middle of my braid, twisting the thin willow switch in circling patterns around it. When the stone is secured and centered I tie off the ends. This braclet is for my mother. I lay the strip of willow and black stone on the ground with the other two I have made.

Girls walk towards me. They whisper in low tones, their bright modern colors destroying my illusory peace. I’m forced to sit up, to smile, to act…normal.
“What are you doing?”
“Making willow bracelets.”
“Can we see them?”
“Yes,” I look down on the bracelets that lay on the grass where I sit.
“They’re beautiful. Can I have one?” The girl is kind. She’s always been kind. Her name is a memory I can’t catch. I lift up a bracelet with a pink stone and help her tie it around her wrist.
“Why don’t you come play with us?” Her expression is curious, not judging. I would like to play with her but just being forced to speak to her has constricted my breathing, sending my stomach into knots. I need to be alone, in silence…free.

“Thanks but I like being here.” The kind girl smiles softly, her right hand sliding over the pink stone bracelet like a gesture of understanding. I watch them walk away, whispering and wondering why I sit alone. I try again to remember what it was to be timeless, to be alone in rough spun fabric I made myself, to be unindebted to a world without center, but the time has gone. With the ring of the bell I am forced to gather my things and head back to class.

Kids run with soccer balls, girls laugh, skip and play. I walk with my head down, trying not to see all the colors, feel all the noise. My mind grasps at a vanishing blue sky, an endless, enfolding expanse. Wispy clouds call to me through aluminum edged windows as block walls separate me from my true self, my green self, my free self. The story I embodied retreats, is saved for later, buried deep. Yet its memory lends me calm in the riot of noise that only stills when the teacher calls the class to silence.

Being Enough: Part 14 of Rain on a Cloudless Day

late bloomer
I’m drowning in the reality that I’m not good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, kind enough, or thoughtful enough. I thought I was a little girl but they tell me I’m a “late bloomer?” There’s even a book they read me. It makes me angry and sad at bed time. So every day I struggle to be more…. If I can become more then I can feel ok. I can bloom. But when I’m messy, stupid, or outspoken, or hungry, then she notices. She is my Mother and my Mother is a Goddess. I’ve seen her put Daddy down like an old dog, and burn our world to scorched earth with a look. Goddesses are tricky creatures. Please them and they’ll ignore you. Upset them and you’ll see how quickly everything you thought you were gets singed to ash.

I’m not enough. Daddy isn’t enough either. Together we let the team down and that makes us embarrassing. I’m his because I have his hair, his eyes, and his shape while Sis is hers because she is thin, red haired, pale, and universally adored. Sis is a Goddess in training. I am a late bloomer!

This reality divides our house into the reds vs. browns, thins vs. fats, petted vs. rebuked. In Mother’s corner is Sis and a tenuous, uncertain me – wishing to please and be accepted. In Daddy’s corner is Daddy, looking alone, sad, confused, goofy and often outright obnoxious. I drift to his side now and again but scorned Goddesses are never merciful.

Daddy has always been the odd man out. He wears his constant rejection like an old sweater that is too shabby to bring comfort, yet too familiar to be taken off. So he says and does things that make everything harder, needing to be loved while he gives us reasons to push him farther away. I feel his need to be loved like I feel his need to be accepted. I want him to be loved and accepted; to be better, thinner, smart, and funny in a way that will please her, but he doesn’t try like I do, so I, too, am ashamed. In being ashamed of him, I become ashamed of me, ashamed of us.

So here we are! It’s a hot, sunny summer day and my uncle is complaining that the meat we bought for the barbeque is too cheap a cut for him to eat. Mother makes food and ignores him, while wearing a tee-shirt two sizes too small; her low cut bell bottom jeans flaring in all the right places. Sis is in her bikini looking equally radiant, while I wear my one piece, the only kind of swimming suit this round bloomless girl is allowed to wear.

Daddy fills the paddle pool. Then he fills up water balloons and before we know it a neighborhood-wide water fight has begun. Hoses reach under boxelder trees, are pulled across M St., while buckets are filled and balloons smashed. Pop! We shriek, laugh, scream and run but not fast enough as buckets of water are dumped over our heads. In minutes we’re all soaked, laughing and happy.

Cold water turns to steam that rises off hundred degree concrete, filling the air with that most succulent of urban scents: hot wet sidewalk. It’s a memory scent that makes me happy every time I smell it. I’m lost in the scent, in being happy, in the sparkle of puddles on scorched brown lawn. It’s the yells of men that makes me look up. Daddy has the hose but Uncle and another man have hold of Daddy. In a second he’s dragged across the lawn and thrown down in the paddle pool face first with Uncle and this other man landing on top. Daddy is pinned to the bottom of the baby pool and the fight is over.

Everybody laughs. It’s funny? It doesn’t feel funny! It feels mean! When they let him up Daddy’s half drowned and defeated. He is again the youngest brother of five, the boy who never wins. I feel mad because they took the game too seriously. Like the water disappearing into the ground, all the fun’s leached out of the day.

I go in the backyard and sit alone, the sound of laughter still ringing in the air. There is no way to fix this thing I feel but can’t express. No way to take sides in this invisible battle that no one ever talks about. All I can do is try to be better, to be kinder, to be a lady, to be enough. If I can be enough then maybe I’ll bloom.