End of Trail

Sculptor…James Earle Fraser (1915)

 When you were born, you cried
and the world rejoiced.
Live your life
so that when you die,
the world cries and you rejoice.

White Elk

She was folded up like a segmented doll, and balanced , not seated, on the wheelchair. She resembled a baby…small and fragile. I came around to help her into the cab, and opening the door, I asked if I could carry her to the front seat, and to my surprise, her face lit up and she gave me the most beautiful smile, although she seemed incapable of lifting her head.

“Oh yes…please”, she said.

I carried her in my arms like a tiny mummy folded in a fetal position, and placed her delicately on the front seat, carefully weaving the seatbelt beneath her contracted arms. Her elbows were permanently contorted into her ribs, and she could only move one forearm.

“Thank you.”, she said and then began to chat amiably about the day, and how most drivers didn’t want to touch her and would call for an attendant. She was happy that I carried her.

I asked if she was comfortable, and she said “Oh yes…” and after a pause she asked, “Are you wondering how I got like this?”

Her voice was so tiny and absolutely guileless…sweet and open, that it disarmed me completely. I told her that I assumed she had been born like that. I had seen photographs of children with withered limbs who looked like that.

She said: “Oh no….my son did this to me.”

Due to the contortion of her neck, she talked mostly into her chest and I had to strain to hear her. By way of introduction, she recited a long litany of horrors inflicted on her tribe, by the white man, many years ago. Her people, she felt, had been turned into alcoholics and drug addicts, by policies of isolation.

Her son was no exception.

For years she had supported him while his habit got worse until in desperation, she refused his latest request for money. After much screaming and yelling, he began tearing her house apart, believing she had money hidden. His destruction accelerated into blind rage as he failed to find what he wanted, until, having run out of objects to break, he began beating her…first with his fists, and then with a brass lamp.

As she recited this, her voice became more and more angry, as if she was reliving her resistance.

“I knew he had broken my back, because I could no longer move my legs, but that didn’t stop him from beating me. He beat me in the face breaking my jaw and all my teeth…and screaming at me…’ Give me the money, bitch.’ And then my son, who I gave birth to and raised, took his dick and forced it into my bloody mouth. My son did this……always screaming: ’Where’s the fucking money?’……….my son…………my son…”

Her voice faded out, and we both sat in a stunned silence as if witnessing, me for the first, and her yet again, her vivid hell. I was dumb-struck. What do you say? I’m sorry?

I was so much more than sorry.

Even then, months, if not years, after the fact, she was still struggling to comprehend this darkness…forced to look forever down at her broken body.

Finally, she continued, “He beat me more with a chair, and then left…the neighbors came and called the police…I never saw him again.”

I did tell her I was sorry…sorry for her, sorry for her son, and for all the centuries of pain inflicted on the Indians…and sad……….sorry and sad.

I must have been babbling a bit, because she began to comfort me, saying it was over, and nothing will change the past. Today, she was happy to be alive. She had friends at the convalescent home who treated her wonderfully.

The trip had been over for a while. I had reached her destination during our common silence, put the car in park and turned off the meter, waiting quietly for her to finish her story. Now, I got out and retrieved her wheelchair from the trunk, and lifted this tiny, broken Indian once more. I found myself not wanting to leave her, but the attendant had come to take her inside.

Before she left, she grabbed my hand, and pulled me down so that my ear was close to mouth level, and said quietly, “ You know, through all of that, I never cried…”

She squeezed my hand, and was wheeled away.

“The song and the drumming were like this:

Behold, a sacred voice is calling you…

All over the sky, a sacred voice is calling.”

Black Elk

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~ by theoxherd on October 20, 2012.

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