Sunday, July 27, 2008

brilliant trace #8 - Part II

You were holding a pine cone and a book, and asked me through the screen door if you could come inside. I was so happy to see you I'd forgotten to open the door.

You handed me the book The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. You said my writing reminded you of hers, and you thought it only right that I should own your favorite book by her. Then you handed me the acorn. You said there was a lack of flowers to pick from in neighboring yards, and that the pine cone would last longer because it was just a seed.

There was nothing I could do but let my heart melt.

We went up to my bedroom because it was the only private space we had. You were living with your aunt and I was living with two house mates. We lay on my bed and played some of our favorite music for each other. You had just discovered Billy Bragg, so that's who we mostly listened to while lying and talking for hours.

You eventually reached over and brushed a few strands of hair away from eyes and said, "I'm scared."

The comment took me off guard.

"Why?" I asked.

"Because I like you. I mean, I feel myself really falling and I'm scared I'm going to hurt you, and me, in the process."

"Then don't hurt me," I said.

You held your gaze into my eyes, smiled, and then we kissed for the first time. The knot of butterflies in my stomach completely unfurled, and I could feel myself falling too.

The next weekend you invited me to the coast to visit your mom, sister, and nephew on Olympic Peninsula. We stayed in a cabin that your mom's friend owned, and when I left the room your nephew looked at you, gave the thumbs up, and said, "Dude, good job." We both had a good laugh about it later.

The next day you took me to the ocean because I had never seen it. I'll never forget driving around the corner into LaPush. The waves were breaking against First Beach with jagged rocks coming up from the water. I gasped and reached over to your arm. You just smiled and chuckled. We spent the next hour or so walking on the beach and hunting for stones.

On the way back to Seattle you surprised me with a visit to Sol Duc Falls and we walked on the bridges overlooking the waterfall while holding hands. All the fresh mountain air made me tired, so you let me rest my head on your shoulder while you drove us home. I fell asleep before we even got out of Olympic National Park, and I when I opened my eyes about 20 minutes later I was surprised I didn't wake up from all the hills and curves in the road. You smiled and said you'd driven slower than normal so you wouldn't wake me.

The next three weeks flew by with late night chats, drinks at our favorite bar downtown called the Library, and just feeling at home with each other while reading books, watching C-Span, or listening to music in my bedroom.

About a week before you were supposed to go back to Michigan you found out you weren't getting a job offer from the firm. The bad news combined with having to finish a term paper started to wear you down. You eventually got sick during our last week together, so I started picking you up after your 10-hour days at the office. When we got back to my place I'd make hot toddies for you and rub your back while you focused on finishing your term paper.

During your last night in Seattle, I helped you edit the final draft of your paper before heading to dinner with you and your aunt. I was completely impressed with your writing and depth of knowledge, and felt so incredibly lucky to have found you.

At dinner, your aunt took our picture and despite the heaviness I felt in my heart and the stress you were under, we both looked incredibly happy sitting side-by-side holding each others' hands. After dinner, I helped you pack and then cuddled face-to-face with you on the futon in your aunt's living room. You were stroking my hair and I yours. You asked me if I was going to cry in the morning, and I told you I couldn't make any promises. You said it was going to be even harder to leave if I did. We held each other for a little while, and I went home so you could get some rest for the long day of driving ahead.

I showed up early with breakfast and helped pack the last of your things into your little red VW Golf. Your aunt said goodbye and went inside. You kissed me and I instantly started crying. We eventually ended our embrace and walked to our cars. We waved goodbye with you driving one direction and me the other. I wanted to believe it wasn't the last time I would ever see you, but it was.

By mid October your phone calls and emails had grown fewer. You kept telling me it was just because you were busy between finishing your last year of law school and searching for a job. I was hoping you would come home for Thanksgiving, but you again said you were too busy with course work. I ended up celebrating the holiday in Neah Bay with your family, and when I called that night to wish you a happy holiday you couldn't talk because you were at a party.

The next morning I finally saw the ocean at Shi Shi Beach and from the cliffs of Cape Flattery, the two places where you said you wanted to take me. While watching the waves crash against the rocks, I could feel you drifting away and knew I needed to have the talk with you I was dreading.

I called you a few days after Thanksgiving and asked if it was over. You said you still felt the same for me, and that you were just busy with coursework. I asked if you were coming home for Christmas, and you said you were planning on it. I told you I would ask for some time off and drive you from Seattle to LaPush, and hoped we could spend a few days together. You said that sounded nice, but weren't completely sure of your holiday plans because you also had to visit your dad in Los Angeles. Then your voice turned forlorn telling me you wished you didn't feel pulled in so many different emotional directions by your family.

I waited for word about your Christmas plans, but none came. Only a picture of you and a beard you had grown over the last four months.

Then Christmas Day came and went, and still no word. I tried calling, but you didn't pick up the phone. Then two days after Christmas I woke up to an email saying you had met someone, that it was only two weeks new, but it was serious and you wouldn't be coming home over your holiday break. You said you drove around L.A. all night trying to call but couldn't because you couldn't bare to hear me cry. Then you quoted a line from Billy Bragg's Must I Paint You a Picture and said, "It's bad timing and me."

I wish I could say that all I felt was a broken heart, but it wasn't. Having you write off everything we'd shared with nothing more than an email made me feel completely insignificant.

I felt as if my very insides had been ripped out of me, but I had to force myself to go to work because my publisher wanted a feel-good story for the next day's paper and my editor had scheduled me to interview a local woman who walked her duck on a leash. Even as the eccentric lady babbled on about her duck, all I could do was feel like the crazy one for having fallen head-over-heels for a guy who found me nothing more than insignificant.


I saw a woman in the park yesterday,
walking a duck on a leash.

She turned to me and said,
"Ducks never leave.

"A morsel here, and a morsel there,
and ducks are as loyal as can be."

With a quack and a pluck,
the woman and duck were on their way.

I sat to myself thinking,
such a strange thing to see.

A woman with her duck.

Then I thought of you,
and a little bit of me.

A morsel here, and a morsel there,
as loyal as can be.

Then I thought of you,
and a little bit of her.

I cried to myself thinking,
such a strange thing indeed.

Your aunt called the next day to say how horrible she felt, and asked me not to hold against her what you had done. She said our friendship meant the world to her, and that you were a complete fool to let someone like me go. It's strange how your aunt ended up being a person of great comfort to me during the next several months, but all of that ended when rumors started spreading like wild fire about me.

One of your distant relatives in Neah Bay, who was as well as married, tried to take advantage of my vulnerability and broken heart. When I told him exactly what I thought of his deplorable actions he took revenge by spreading rumors. Pretty soon I was painted as a home wrecker, and to this day I can't step into Neah Bay without a look of hate casted my way. It didn't take long for your entire family to turn against me, and the last time I ever heard from you was to confront me about one of these rumors that held not even an ounce of truth.

Sunday, July 23, 2006 - The box

It was a pine cone. A perfectly round pine cone plucked from the ground and kept in a box for almost a year. It never had a chance to grow while resting alongside several rocks, an address, and fleeting memories of a summer when I first saw the ocean. Tonight I opened that box. I said goodbye to the pine cone and the rocks with a whisper, a kiss, and a toss into the night sky. I took the box and address and threw them in the trash, but the memories - those I'll keep. They may be bittersweet, but they're mine.

It has taken me three years to fully come round from the feelings of insignificance and pain you and your family caused me. I went from being completely loved and embraced to nothing at all. I think back to the day when we first kissed and you said you were scared of hurting me. Now I know why.

From you I learned two things. A person is only as insignificant as they allow them self to be, and that letting go is easy once you dispel a mirage and realize something was never worthy of you in the first place.

Status of brilliant trace #8: Married

brilliant trace #9

Sunday, July 20, 2008

brilliant trace #8 - Part I

It was almost pitch black and I could barely see your face. I was helping your aunt breakdown the t-shirt booth outside of Daybreak Star after a long opening day of their summer pow wow.

All I could make out was your tall figure, curly hair, and dark glasses as I watched you silently stand there while your aunt excitedly fussed over the arrival of you and your little cousin.

It wasn't until we were inside your aunt's office with the smell of cedar filling the air and the moonlight bouncing off of Puget Sound that I clearly saw your face. We caught each others' eyes for a moment while you chatted with your aunt and I helped my friend pack away the t-shirts for the night. When we were done, your aunt suggested you join my friend and I for drinks because it was my first weekend in Seattle.

The three of us laughed for hours sharing our most humiliating stories while drinking pints at a small bar in old Ballard. I hadn't laughed that hard in a long time, and when my friend drove me home I couldn't help but ask about you. She told me your summer associateship with a tribal law firm downtown was ending in a month, and you'd be headed back to Michigan to finish your last year of law school. I cursed my luck, and then tried to bury my attraction to you in the knotted lump of butterflies in my stomach.

My attraction didn't stay buried for long when you came up to me the next day with a big smile outside of your aunt's t-shirt booth. You told me you were so amazed at how much you shared the night before, and that you were very impressed by me. I looked down at my feet and tried not to blush. The moment was broken a second later when your aunt came from inside the booth and handed you a fanny pack.

"Put this on. I need you to be in charge of the money today," she said.

You looked at me a bit embarrassed, and then put the fanny pack over your shoulder.

"No, no," your aunt said. "You need to put it on. We can't lose any of the money."

This time you tried not to blush while fastening the fanny pack around your waist. I giggled and told you it was OK because I already knew much more embarrassing things about you. Then, for the first time, you looked into my eyes and smiled.

At the end of a long day in the July sun, you drove me home and we ended up talking until 4 a.m. We both came from a place of feeling like outsiders in the American Indian community because of our pale skin and light eyes. After talking for hours about our fears of never fully being accepted, I shared a poem with you I had written for my college's literary journal.

And That's the Way the Story Goes

I used to stare at this funny looking monkey head made out of a coconut that hung in the window of my Grandma's sewing room. In the winter at sunset, the window looked like it was tinted blue. One time I wiped the frost off the window, and when I looked outside I could see the stillness of sub-zero weather sitting in the air and the Turtle Mountains standing silent behind my Grandpa's fields.

My Grandma makes the best bread. We always joke that our Grandma has the best set of buns a Grandma could have. But better than her buns is the fry bread she would make for us every year at Christmas. We were silly and called it Indian Bread.

When I was in the fourth grade, we learned about the first Indians and how they were very brave hunters. I could feel the pride growing inside of me, and I knew I would burst if I didn't say something. So I raised my hand and started waving it around in the air.

"Yes?" my teacher asked.

"I'm part Native American," I said.

"You don't look Indian, you're a liar," someone shouted.

I turned red and wished I hadn't raised my hand.

My mom's sister married my dad's brother and they had some kids. My sister and brother look like them. They all have dark hair, dark eyes, and olive skin. I look like my father's uncle Lucien. He had light hair and blue-green eyes. But my brother and sister always teased me and said that I was adopted.

When pictures were taken of the grandchildren at family reunions, I always sat next to my blond cousins, the four kids of my uncle who married a woman with Norwegian blood. I didn't look as white sitting next to them.

When one of my blond cousins was in the fourth grade, they sat at the kitchen table on Grandma's lap.

"What are you learning in school?" Grandma asked.

"About the Indians," my cousin said.

"You're part Indian you know," Grandma said.

"No I'm not, I'm blond," my cousin said.

"You're my grandchild and that makes you part Indian," my Grandmother insisted with a smile.

"No I'm not!" my cousin shouted. "Those are dirty people and I'll never be one of them."

My cousin jumped off my Grandma's lap and ran away.

My Grandma tried to laugh, but a tear came out instead.

In my Grandma's memoirs, she wrote that one of her proudest moments was when a white man wasn't ashamed to ask for her hand in marriage. That was my grandpa.

"Do we call ourselves Native American, American Indian, or French Indian?" I asked my sister.

"None of them. I'm just American," she said.

Driving down the gravel road with my mom behind the wheel, I could hear the rocks popping like ice beneath the tires. Leaving my grandparents' farm I could always see the road ahead disappear up a hill.

"Can we see the reservation today?" I asked.

"No. You don't want to." That's all she ever said while turning onto the paved highway leading into town.

There's a bar along the railroad tracks in the town where I grew up called the Trading Post. It used to have a figurine of an Indian wearing a headdress standing out front.

The neighbor boys who moved in from Montana always wanted to play cowboys and Indians.

"Bang bang, you're dead," one said as he shot me with his finger made gun.

"How come I have to die?" I asked.

"Because you're they Indian, and the Indian always dies," he said.

"I'm not just any Indian, I'm a warrior princess and I refuse to die," I replied.

We kept playing cowboys and Indians and no one ever died.

Across the street from our house used to be a bunch of Sioux burial mounds. We liked to play king of the hill on them. Now those Sioux are buried under fancy new houses with even fancier cars parked out front.

I was talking to my best friend on the telephone one time when she was still going to the University of North Dakota and I was living in New York. She kept complaining about how annoying her Native American professor was in her Indian Studies class because she kept talking about how hard it is to be Native American today.

"Well, that's just crazy. I mean, they even created fifteen extra slots just for Indians in the premed program here. How hard can it be to get drunk all the time and still get into a great program? Not to mention the government pays for their tuition," she said.

A lot of my cousins go to UND, and the government pays for their tuition.

"Oh yeah. I'm sorry. I keep forgetting you have some of that blood in you," she said.

I didn't say anything, because she was my best friend.

If a person is lucky they'll get to see the Northern Lights at least once in their life. I'm especially lucky because I grew up seeing them twice a year. One year a friend of mine who had moved to the Turtle Mountains to live with her mom came back to visit. As we stood catching up on old times the lights came alive in the sky. So we lay on our backs in the snow looking at how beautiful they were. She started singing in an even more beautiful language, one that I had never heard. She was singing in Ojibwe, and at that moment we felt closer and farther apart than before she had moved back to the reservation.

Last summer I carried myself packed with a broken spirit and a broken heart on a plane back to North Dakota. Later I brought myself back to New York carrying a letter from my father promising me everything would be all right because the stars told him it would be.

I lost the turquoise ring my Grandmother gave me as a little girl when I was working at a restaurant in New York. I told my boss about the ring hoping someone had found it.

"What? Are you Indian or something?" she asked.

"Yeah," I replied.

"Well, what tribe are you from then?"

"Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa," I said.

It felt strange to be asked what tribe I was from, but it felt empowering to answer.

"Huh. And I thought you were Jewish," was all she said.

I never did find the ring.

I stood in the doorway of my bedroom watching the reactions on your face as you read the poem. You nodded and smiled at parts you identified with, and when you were done you looked up and asked if you could keep it. I, of course, said yes.

The next day at the pow wow you informed me that our late night talk had caused quite the stir of discussion with your family that morning, and your mom was asking your aunt all kinds of questions about me. I was completely nervous the whole day until I overheard your aunt say to my friend, "I really like that Vanessa. She's so sweet."

My friend looked at me and burst into laughter, "It's a good thing you didn't say she was a complete bitch."

Your aunt had no idea I was sitting within earshot, and then we all had a good laugh.

After packing up the t-shirt booth for the last time, we all took a celebratory picture and then went out for beers and food. At the end of the night, you drove me to my car in Discovery Park. We sat in the dark and exchanged phone numbers. I didn't think you would actually call because you were leaving in four weeks.

Imagine my surprise when you showed up on my doorstep the next evening.

brilliant trace #8 - Part II