Sometimes to get to the past you have to travel, eyes shutting, can’t help it, earing ringing from tiredness and caffeine, and the road, the endless road at night, the roadlamps and the blinking lights, and the halogen lamps and the chugachugachuga of a worn out suspension down the potholed 5. The gas station drinks and the over priced grocery stores, kid’s baloney sandwiches and my bag of apples. You can live on so little if you have to. No sustenance – not for your soul, your body or your unquiet mind. You can, but you really shouldn’t you know…you just shouldn’t get so see thru, so gossamer thin, so bloodless. The signs all read danger. The road is not for cowards. I hate to be the arbiter of real, not me, who tried so hard to escape it, but you see the Pretenders the Tourists, the people peeking through the key hole at The Road, and there you go again,…girl, there you go again…..offending people….chugachugachugga…but it is true, they don’t have a clue, they don’t have a clue. Going dirty a day, eating burnt camp fire food, but food! Enough food! With their clean machines, their shiny clean machines that pass inspection for the campgrounds near the road, while you are pushed back, they don’t even want your money, you know, they don’t even want your money…You are Not Good Enough with your elderly camper, your rust and your non matching blinds might mess up the joint. Mess up a glorified trailer park! I snort, almost bringing myself back to a degree of awareness of the here and now, but we must push on, past water fights in Auburn, Washington, past waterfights in Oregon, past fairy tee pees, past bunches of flowers picked wild, saying “to mother,” past the remembrance of her hand in mine, frail, fading away. Past support groups and emergency services, and fastballs and Cub wins, past it all, to a point where I pull in panting, wholly burnt, burnt to the bone with love and loss and longing. Burnt to the bone.
Her hand on mine. It is daylight again, and we swing into a Rez grocery store. A tall, stocky Indian boy with a mohican waves at me grinning ear to ear. I do not know him. Billy stops and idles the engine, letting me hop out. I unclip my seat belt, grab my purse, and carefully put a foot to the step then the floor. And my heart, my heart is beating as I look back and see Girl and Boy conspiratorial, and Billy’s kind smile. Still kind. Everything was still kind. I wave, and see, “see ya in a little bit, darings!” A chorus, a beautiful chorus echoes back echoes back…back…back….like ghosts they wave and they smile and they call and they love. Me. They love me.
My heart! My heart. My heart.
I walk into the store, not Teals, not Rays…something, I cannot remember, or else don’t want to tell and place me there. The Tall Indian knows my name. I was kind to his brother, David. I still cannot work out why he is smiling at me…then remember. I had been here last time. The rich white tourist in front of me had been very nasty to a sweet teenage boy, must be David, I concur, refused to put the money in his outstretched hand, refused to answer his polite chit chat, instead staring at him like she was the Queen of all she surveyed and not on the reservation that belonged to his people, people that the rest of the damn country had been stolen from in the first place. I rolled my eyes, I might have said something disapproving, probably, knowing me, probably…and I proceeded to try and be nice. We spoke about the heat and the storm the night before and the tree he had to cut up. It was nothing. I did nothing, but the Tall Indian man was being very kind. I fall easily into auntie talk. He bounds inside, a person, I think, a person who knows how to enjoy life. He busies himself helping a mother shop while her disabled son holds the Tall Indian’s hand. I feel a rush of motherly pride which does not belong to me. I pull gluten free snickerdoodles off the shelf, a few ears of corn, a bag of potatoes, some eggs and a cabbage. As I round the corner Girl comes running up to me. She missed me too much, she says. She missed me. She might also have been missing some m&m’s but for the sake of kindness, let’s just say she missed me.
She slides her arm through mine. She puts her head on my arm hugging me closer and closer, hanging onto me, reaches up on tip toes to kiss my cheeks. She doesn’t look damaged, she doesn’t have the signs on her face or her walk that she is disabled. Not enough oxygen at birth perhaps, I think sometimes, she was born blue, beaten out of me by her father. She is so fragile, so delicate. She is mine and I am hers and we walk up an aisle and to the back of the store, hunting for candy. She has a small purse in her hand, full of pennies I never let her spend. The purse has a VW camper van on it. As we walk, a force of nature comes barreling towards us. An Amazonian gigantically tall Indian woman, who is built like a tank, utterly drunk, and in charge of a run away shopping cart. Each leg a tree trunk, her arms straining to keep her body upright as wheels conspire to send her tumbling into a display of dog food. She is yelling. Indian men see Gaia Herself, drunk and on wheels, and scatter. David pushes himself into a cooler, and me and Girl stand in her path like rabbits in the headlights. “CRASH!” she yells. “CRASH!” I pull girl out of the way laughing as Gaia makes a grand effort to stop the runaway train and skids to a halt inches short of disaster. I want to give her a round of applause. I wish I was here. I wish men scattered before me, scared of me, not the other way around. A white women scowls, shaking her head at my new friend. I stick my tongue out at her and me and Girl giggle and hug and find a pack of M&M’s and go and pay a beautiful Girl whose name badge says Cheyenne. In front of us, a man lines up. He leaves the line a second to put bread back on the shelf. He thinks, and leaves again, and puts back half the apples. He keeps on until all his has is a bag of 15 heads of corn and a box of Velveeta cheese. He looks panicked as he counts his change. Cheyenne pretends to count the corn. “FIVE innit?” She declares. He looks overjoyed. “Yeah, five, eh…” he replies softly. He is in love. He hands over a bill and some change and goes with his bounty of corn and fake cheese. People will eat tonight. I might love Cheyenne a little bit.
David appears to help us pack. I notice him looking at my daughter. Both of them are about fourteen years old. He clearly thinks she is cute. I agree, and worry. He doesn’t know. He can’t know, but Girl is not quite right. She giggles and glows. He tries to help her put the bags into a cart. I stand there smiling. That won’t wash. She looks at him growling. “I can do it!” she says. He looks back at her and says “do not be afraid.” She is stumped and so am I. I expect tears and a melt down. Instead she is giggling like a teenage girl confronted with a handsome boy. She refuses to let him push the cart, but he walks back to the camper with us, and wimps out before we drive off, shaking her stepdad’s hand and telling him he works two jobs. “I hope you guys stay for winter” he says.
I fall in love with Minnesota. All around me there is love. The last perfect summer before the road takes us on.