nîtisânak launches in a matter of weeks, but in the meantime, here’s an excerpt:
I gave birth to a universe at nineteen years old. I got on a Greyhound bus with my lover, who I will call Back to Black (B2B), a name I gave them to describe a love so instant—full of addiction, mistrust, lies, and abuse that we reasoned away as passion—that it could only be compared to Amy Winehouse’s album of the same name. We headed toward the closest big city: Edmonton (Deadmonton or Oil-town). That’s how the common-folk got around the prairies—by hurtling down its endless highways in a beat-up old Greyhound. The lack of air conditioning and locked anti-suicide windows made the ride so hot that passengers’ thighs stuck to the gaudily upholstered seats, which hadn’t been updated since the 1980s, and were stiff and scratchy like a towel with dried semen on it. There was always that middle-aged biker, sans bike, with his leather vest and Harley Davidson tattoos, offering his seatmate swigs off a forty half-assedly concealed in a paper bag. I remember the horizon seeming just a little out of reach, no matter how many hours we passed driving those dusty prairies roads, and the journey endless like maybe I’d continually be on the move. If the world’s at large, why should I remain?1
The living skies made the terrain look infinite, like a never-ending sea of gold and green. The land was speckled with a broken-down farm here, and a decaying wheat elevator there—all remnants of western settlement come to pass before everyone moved to the city, and the disappearance of my Cree, Métis, and Saulteaux-Anishnaabe ancestors. The Depression era destroyed the small-farm economy of my yt settler relatives and imprisoned my Cree, Métis, and Saulteaux-Anishnaabe ones within extreme poverty and/or the reserve system—an economic shift that destroyed the prosperity of rural Saskatchewan communities, and the blame for which yt rural communities transferred onto racialized migrant communities and Indigenous Peoples.
My mom and dad were there to see me off on my first big move out of the prairie town where I grew up. My mom seemed small sitting in her wheelchair. I had no idea how sick she was. Our relationship was never secure, but she always wanted to do the right thing, like see me off that day. My mom would die only ten years later, when I was leaving on my final (and farthest) run away yet, after having run from their home multiple times since the age of fourteen. For once, she couldn’t stop me. I was an adult now.
I used to have nightmares about causing my mom’s death.
VISION 5: I dream that I am studying for a stats exam the next day and my mom has a heart attack. I call 911 and keep trying to get ahold of my dad who is unreachable. I panic, frantically trying to reach someone to come save her, but for some reason I keep failing to get through to anyone, which only makes me more frustrated and heightened—my hands shaking so I can no longer dial the phone. A nurse in a cab comes to help, but neither of us knows how to use the defibrillators. My mom dies in front of me. I remember the underlying feeling of the dream being that I am responsible, that I have killed her.
Telling the story of me and my mom feels like an attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable
Telling the story of me and my mom feels like an attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable, mainly because I’ve lost her side of this story, and can only weave together our history from my memories. Still, I’ve had The Truth of yt men supersede my own for so long that there is something empowering about at least trying to piece together my side of our relationship. But I still struggle to ethically unravel the intricacies of her emotional abuse, the kind that lasts decades, slowly chipping away at the spirit, and likely derived from her fear, loneliness, and loss of independence from illness. My mom feared loss of control, having always been the master of her own life, so she sought to control me. A friend once described chronic, incapacitating illness to me as waking up in the midst of a panic attack, feeling claustrophobic and trapped in your body. Making me think of my mom, their description touched me. She was lonely, alone in her house all day, while the rest of us continued to live our lives, and she was cut off from the community she had loved so dearly—she and the pills. It was an ironic cycle though, because as she turned more to the pills for comfort, she became more incapacitated, more of an invalid, as my dad once put it.
I don’t know what else to do now other than forgive and hope she forgave me—and even then it would just be for me, to reconcile my own unrest. I know that she never meant to project all her quickly dying hopes and desires onto me, viewing my body as an extension of her own moral imperative toward conformity through the creation of the perfect home. I understand drug addiction as a way of coping with the loss of control over one’s life—a hell of a thing. I don’t blame her, any more than I blame nikâwiy for having nothing left to give me. You could say a lot of things about my mom and nikâwiy, and the choices they made, to let me go, to attain me, but they did what they could for me and did what they could to survive. Honouring the efforts my women kin put into who I am today, I own the scars their negotiations left on my body.
I mourned my mom before we burned her body because we had created a silence between us so deafening I had already felt years of grief about her loss. I had spent so much of my teenage and adult life running from her grasp because it felt suffocating, just as her illness was suffocating to her. Cyclical smothering.
I want to be careful when dredging up the past because memories confound. I have to deal with a black hole of unresolved feelings now, but still, there is no regret. At the time, I had to choose myself. I put fifty-two city blocks between my parents and myself and, when that proved to be not enough, finally a province. Neither of us knew then how little time we had left, that day when she saw me off. All that wasted time would pass so quickly for me. Silent days would turn into silent months, sometimes, and into the final silence before her death. Eventually I would put five more provinces between us, and then an ocean. But I didn’t know it that day, at the Greyhound station. That day she was just beaming with pride and love from her wheelchair, trying to support me.
We didn’t know yet how different a yt gay male and an NDN queer were, in the grand scheme of that LGBTQ2+ thang
We shared that exhilaration of the premier weirdo-4-weirdos vibe; of staying out until dawn, driving out of the city limits, parking our car, and sitting on the hood to watch the sunrise while some embarrassing emo band was playing out of the speakers. Would you die tonight for love?3 I, too, felt sadness and mourning for breaking that sacred bond, and leaving him to face the harsh prairie terrain alone. But we still had plenty of other weirdos to have intense friendships with, in the cities where we respectively ran, and we didn’t know yet how different a yt gay male and an NDN queer were, in the grand scheme of that LGBTQ2+ thang.
Though there were some glimmers of hope in Regina, I hated it and everything I had endured there. I hated the rednecks who called me a fat Indian bitch at school, but came a-knocking (as Grandma Edna might say) on the weekends, all wanting a taste of that sweet caramel they heard was so easily conquered. Fuck teachers (all yt men, of course) who told me I wouldn’t graduate from high school, that I’d never amount to anything, and that I didn’t belong in advanced classes. I left behind all the kids who couldn’t play with me because they weren’t “allowed to play with Indians.” Funny, it was always the adults who were the most racist and antagonizing figures in my life, not the kids. It’s the same mother who called my school’s principal to narc on me, telling them that I was a “witch” to protect her perfect yt children from my brown devilish ways. I once heard someone say that calling the cops on a Black person is attempted murder. What is it called when security culture and disposable Native bodies meet in the form of an uppity suburban yt lady? The Craft had just come out and my friends and I went through a goth phase, like every yt girl at my elementary school. But no one else had their “phase” taken as a serious threat, and their teacher pull them aside to tell them they were in trouble.
Driving out of the city, one of the last things I saw was the Sears warehouse. Just off the Ring Road and built in the 1970s, it was a giant industrial building that had at one time housed Sears operations, an archive of the brutalist architecture throughout Regina. Unpretentious and unassuming, its contents a little bit cheaper than you’d find in the big city, it was the perfect metaphor for Regina. You had to drive past it leaving and entering the city from the north, and at night it would light it up. Day or night, it always seemed lonely, sitting by itself in an empty field, badly deteriorating before its demolition in 2016. It was like the Hollywood sign, but much less impressive. But before its destruction, no matter where I was or where I’d been, the Sears sign was always there to let me back in…
1 Modest Mouse, “World at Large.”
2 A reference to the show Daria.
3 HIM, “Join Me in Death.”