I followed the warm night into the Market, driving past the stall where fish were thrown earlier. I came close to the park where the Totem poles stand watch.
“Hey Indian!” A voice called out the familiar phrase. “Give a ride enit?” Two young natives sat near the intersection. Original landowners, homeless, drunk, in love.
I had a convertible that night. And Seattle is beautiful when warm. “Hop in” I replied, restarting A Tribe Called Red and pulling closer to the curb they were on.
They shared the passenger seat and we took off in a blur of windy dark hair. We exchanged thanks and welcomes but not names.
After which I just drove silent as he looked up at her. She lifted her hands and face to the sky feeling the freedom. And he began to share his dreams of getting a degree, a “real job”, a car like this one or a house where she could make all the frybread she wants, “doing right by her.” She smiled at each promise and said “yeah right!” Or “you’re silly!” And quieted him with a kiss.
During this time we passed the waterfront, the space needle and Kerry park where I got out as they kissed in view of the city skyline.
I knew their story without asking. The forcibly broken families, conquest caused poverty, an addicted community self medicating generations of genocide. The million wires of the cage they were born into. And from which we all struggle to break free. Ceremony had been my key.
Perhaps he was going to make it out. Maybe she would first. And maybe she hadn’t really given up on him or herself yet. But often hope is the first casualty in our lives since disappointment becomes too painful.
I gave them that moment, because in another world I’m that guy. The one who never made it out. Who ended up in prison or dead like my friends in high school. I’m the one homeless in a city my family owned all of until recently.
I went back to the car after looking at the city, for what seemed a long time, remembering my own path out, and still trying to find the next step, the next foothold solid enough to help my community. To be a good hunter in a world with no more buffalo herds, a good warrior in a world that no longer remembers the dog soldiers, to find the sacred in a world that puts trust of god on its money, and one day be a good husband in a world where natives finding another native is a hundred times harder. We are the 1%.
Despite the alcohol still on her breath, she spoke with a clear soft voice as we headed down the hill. “I want those things too…I don’t say it, and you know I’m rugged like that. But you better know that too”
There was a beauty in that moment. A moment when she pushed aside her own past, and met him with her walls down. Her hair entwined with his in the wind, as the city with no place for them swept by.
They asked to be dropped off in the same place. Full circle. Back by the Totem poles, “NDN park” and their friends who battle the same historic demons, the ghosts Chief Seattle said would walk the streets if our people were forgotten.
They thanked me. Maybe they thought I was a ghost too. We talked services, local sweatlodges. And then I told him, he was a lucky guy…they both were. To have each other, they’re richer than most. It’s the one thing the cage couldn’t take, each other.
I’m back on my journey now, finding the next steps. Visiting my family, and remembering. My life, those lost, the ceremonies that helped me, standing rock.
Trying to tend and carry sparks of hope. I hope they accepted one.
By Redwolf Pope