Updated: Mar 25, 2020
By Kyle Mt. Pleasant
“Did you go to Elaine’s funeral this morning?” Uncle Grant asked my Dad as he carried me up the side of the mountain the trucks came and made on our reservation.
“What Elaine you talking about now?” he replied between trying to catch his breath and shifting me on his shoulders.
“You know, Elaine Brown, graduated a couple years after us. Pretty thing with the only ass I’ve ever seen on an Indian girl.”
“Ohhh enit. What happened to her now?”
“Same thing that seems to happen every year around this time. Her and her car were wrapped around that tree down Louie’s lane a couple of nights ago... I never understand how you never know nothing. We only have a few big families on this Rez and it takes you two weeks to hear any news.”
“Grant, you know I don’t go around looking to hear what happens around here. Tell me the last time you heard anything good.”
“Yeah I know Frank, and I know you don’t go looking for talking, but people been asking about you. Afraid you fell off the wagon since Bev died. Worried about little Mike there.”
“Tell all our aunties and cousins and gossip starters that as long as Mike is alive they won’t see me put the bottle to my lips again. All they do is lay shit to you for drinking and then when you stop they start calling you a goody-goody uppity Indian as if you’re walking around with gold-rimmed glasses and driving down Red Creek Road honking at boozers in your Caddy.”
“Aye I know brother, you’re a good man Frank… even with those chicken legs that can barely carry your son up the reservoir.” My Dad laughed and told Uncle Grant to fuck off, which was only one of three times I actually heard him say a bad word. When we got to the top Dad set me down and told me to go run to the red sign post stuck into the ground, the same one he always timed me on every time we came up here.
Running back, out of breath but expecting a new world record to be announced, I saw Uncle Grant staring at Dad, except from far away I was sure it was someone else. His face reminded me of oranges left on the kitchen table after making juice. I could see veins on his neck and forehead and arms and everywhere. “What the hell do you mean you’re leaving the Rez?” Uncle Grant said in a quiet voice that was scarier than if it had been a yell.
“I’m going into the city to find good factory work, something that will make sure Mike’s taken care of.”
“Taken care of? He’s taken care of here. What’s better than being around all his cousins and growing up like an Indian? You think I’m going to let my nephew be one of those City Indians? Let him just come back here for funerals and have to explain ‘That’s Frank’s boy, Yeah he’s gotten big now, enit?’. He belongs here. We’re family Frank. He needs gram and aunts and everyone to raise him. Now I know you’re one of the few men around here whose been left raising a boy on his own but that’s all the more reason to keep him here.”
“Grant, you’re my brother and I’ll just tell you this once. You were Dad when he wasn’t. You made sure I had socks on my hands before we went out in the snow. You fought fights for me and went out and brought home rabbits when we were sick of waiting to see if Ma and Dad spent this month’s check at The Marlboro. You worked when you ain’t have had to so I could stay in school. I love you for all of this. More than I can say. But now I have to make decisions for my boy like you did for me. You know what it’s like here. It sucks out everything. The only way for people to root for you is to do worse than them in life. If you getta good job, take care of your kids, and never hit your wife you’re either treated like this outsider or like someone who owes them everything. We’re leaving. We need to. He needs to.”
“Frank, no one will treat you like an Indian again. They’ll call you and your son white. Fake Indians. Apples. Red on the outside and white on the inside. Ma and our aunties and everyone will be like strangers.”
Dad looked down at the reservoir not yet filled with water for the power plant. After a minute Uncle Grant did the same.
Below there were stone roads crossed by dirt paths.
There were stumps and the foundations of stolen houses.
There were car parts that the government had been too lazy to remove.
There were Dad and Uncle Grant’s memories that they collected growing up.
Their first kisses in the decaying wood shack some ways behind their trailer.
Tying rope to the back of the family’s beaten down truck and using the lid of a trash can to get pulled through the snow at 20 miles an hour.
There was their Dad coming home at 3am and Grant walking into the living room like a boy to the gallows. Water dusting his eyes and waiting for the hangman’s words.
My own Dad crying in that same shack where he had his first kiss; not knowing whether the sounds echoed in the woods were coyotes or his brother.
Not knowing which scared him more.
Water that was to be used to create hydroelectric power for far off cities began to fill the reservoir as I stood next to Dad and Uncle Grant.
For hours we listened to the pumping of water hide their pain.
For hours we listened to the pumping of water fill their pasts and drown them.