Since this is a storytelling place, I thought I would invite you to read a story that may not make it into one of the books I am working on. It might though, I’m not entirely sure. I just figured that since we’re all inside with nowhere to go – it’s a nice time to read.
I moved a lot as a child – my parents worked for the government in the IHS for a number of years. This meant they transferred to different reservations and their hospitals often. It was always scary, exciting, and a lot for me to process – I value and crave both adventure and having solid roots. Anyways, here’s a peek into my early years.
The first time I remember moving was to a place in North Dakota called Belcourt on Turtle Mountain. I imagined that we lived on the actual back of a giant tortoise, deep jade green and cool. Belcourt was in a forest close to the Canadian border, and in my backyard I had a fairy ring of trees surrounding a pretty little bird bath. Not far from my house was a grey-green pond surrounded by birch trees and overgrown brush that deer liked to frequent. The pond frequently reminded me of my dad’s eyes.
At first, I was delighted to move, but it was a deep winter. We had moved from Washington where I could still roam freely in my giant backyard under a few inches of light snow. In Belcourt, the snow drifts were as tall as my parents and the wind howled angrily outside my window all night as if it had lost it’s way. There was a frozen river named Ox Creek and one of the very first Ashinaabe, or Chippewa, word I learned was Siipiising – the original name of Belcourt. It means ‘creek that sings with life giving water’.
I was also small, still somewhat sickly, pale with aquatic green eyes, crooked teeth, and blond frizz whereas everyone else here was beautiful, tall, and strong. When I went to my first day of school, I couldn’t stop staring. Beautiful shades of caramel and gold skin, tawny brown to deep black hair, golden brown and green eyes, tall and slender. Most days I felt like a really fashion forward garden gnome.
I wasn’t well liked but I collected a weird little assortment of people and friends. I had a little kindergarten boyfriend named Benjamin with rusty blonde hair. He was a very good introduction to love. I loved him because he ate glue and would trade his raisins for my apples from our sack lunches some days. We took naps next to each other everyday and held hands during story time. He had a handsome assortment of sweaters that looked cozy. Everyday during recess, we would plan to run away to Regina and live at a hotel in the pool and eat apples.
The boy across the street, Willie, was a real adventure. He came over often and I despised him. He peed in our birdbath. At one point, he insisted to my parents that he would marry me. He smelled like hotdogs and at my summer 6th birthday party, he successfully ate half the bottle of ketchup. He threw up in above mentioned bird bath. Later that week, I had to help scour it. I noticed that birds no longer enjoyed the water in my fairy ring birdbath and was infuriated. That fall, on the first day of first grade – I kicked both of his shins. After that, my parents relentlessly teased me about marrying Willie. (Do I move this after the babysitters?)
My best friend Angela and I were deeply competitive in a “Your momma” and a “Well, my daddy” sort of way. In kindergarten, I had won “Best witch” at Halloween and she was so mad because she won ‘Best Princess’. At the end of the year, I won ‘Best storyteller’ and she won ‘Perfect Attendance’. Yet again, this was infuriating to her, so she told me that day on the way home that my front porch was full of rattlesnakes – a fact I still believe today. I was so mad though that the next time I was over at her house, I announced that I knew her older brother, Gabriel smoked – in front of her whole family. I was officially uninvited from her home after that.
So I spent the summer before first grade alternating between my two babysitters, Cora and Shirley. I did my best to ignore Angela. At Cora’s, it felt like there were literally dozens of kids spilling out of every corner, doorway, and room of her house. If you blinked, they just multiplied. While this was super overwhelming, it could be amazing fun. I always brought my bag full of books, barbies, and essentials, but usually abandoned it to go explore with other kids. We would often venture out to the woods behind her house and use cut up logs to make our adventures of the day. We would make the Flintstone’s cave and car. We would make story circles and build small bonfires. We built the Scooby Doo Mystery Machine once. We hiked to the little pond.
The bus also stopped by Cora’s and if my father was awake after sleeping of an ER night shift, he would come and walk me home. He would take my little hand and tuck it in his coat pocket. Usually we would walk to the little pond first, even on the bitterly cold days. These were moments I always held my breath during because I never knew what to expect. There were times he would be smiling and call me my nicknames, then tuck a Hershey’s kiss in my cheek after we walked home. A lot of the time, we would wander home very quietly.
One time, my father and I walked to the little pond after school and there were deer drinking. It was cold but the pond wasn’t entirely frozen yet. We watched quietly as a doe led a baby to the water and suddenly my father asked if I thought they were beautiful. I thought it was all beautiful – the wiped, smudgy cold sky, and the bowing, bare trees next to the barely blue-grey water. The way the doe nudged her child encouragingly. I said yes happily and he nodded, his grey eyes tight.
Suddenly, he said, ‘It’s very beautiful, boogers. You won’t be though. You probably won’t grow up beautiful. Tonight your mom’s telling you that we’re moving. So let’s get home now.’ I exhaled, feeling pins stabbing behind my tummy and eyes. I looked back and the doe had seen us. They flicked away through the birch trees without a sound.