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Archive for the ‘Memories’ Category

I was reminded again today that I haven’t written in a while.  I can’t tell you why not.  I don’t mean that it is private.  I just don’t know why.  Anyway, here we go again.  Please – be patient and read to the end.  It really does tie together and it is important.

Life has a way of weaving separate strands together to make a beautiful cloth.  That’s what has been happening lately for me.  I wrote about feeling homeless because my kitchen was being remodeled.  It’s done now and beautiful.  So beautiful that it makes me feel a tad guilty when I mention it on Facebook.  Why?

A number of my friends on Facebook are folks who live on Pine Ridge Reservation.  If you’ve read any of my prior posts (and if you haven’t, why haven’t you?), you know that conditions on Pine Ridge are very difficult.  90% of the people there live below the poverty level.  I have been poor in my life but I have never faced that kind of poverty.  And now, when I have accomplished something so wonderful, I almost don’t want anyone to know.

The fact of the matter is that, while I may have felt homeless, I wasn’t.  I was staying in motels by choice to avoid the chaos of construction.  I had a choice.  And I had a home!

That was thread number one.  Thread number two is my “brother.”  He has begun to work at a shelter, counseling domestic abuse victims.  He saw abuse as a child.  He has a frame of reference and I am so proud of him for putting that knowledge to use in such an important way.  It is such an important thing for a victim of domestic violence to have a place to go where there is no violence.  Safety is so important – especially for the children!

You probably know that I “work” for an organization that tries to improve lives on Pine Ridge by providing sponsors, food, wood for heat, youth programs and whatever else we can manage.  I match folks on the rez with sponsors.  I get to talk to a lot of folks on the rez.

I’ve talked to plenty of women who have been abused — when they were children or by a man as an adult.  They have all touched me deeply.  But no story has touched me like the story I was told by a woman I am currently trying to help.

Thread number three started for me a couple of weeks ago when I got an email from our director.  She had been on the rez recently and was approached by a woman who asked for our help.  She gave me the woman’s telephone number and asked if I would call her.  I did.  This is her story.

I’m going to call the woman Jane – because I don’t think I have ever spoken to anyone on the rez whose name really was Jane.  Jane had recently left Dick (if you remember Dick and Jane, you learned to read when I did and you are probably my age) . . . because Dick was beating her and the 4 children.  You may think he is aptly named – I do.  She did not want the children to grow up seeing that and she would not accept it for herself.

If you’re standing up and cheering Jane right now, that’s great.  But wait.  After I tell you the rest of this story, you’ll have to come up with something better than that.

Jane left Dick.  Jane took the 4 children and not much else.  No clothing, toys or bedding.  She hoped to stay with a relative.  But all of the relatives had full houses already.  (I’ve written about the severe housing shortage on the reservation before.)  The best they could do for her was to lend her a tent.  So she is now living in a tent with her 4 children.  They sleep on the ground.  They eat bologna sandwiches.  She has no refrigeration so she must walk into town frequently for the perishables.  She is an insulin-dependent diabetic.  She is keeping her insulin and perishable food in a styrofoam cooler.  (Did I mention the temperatures have gone as low as 50 degrees and as high as almost 100 degrees?  Did I mention the severe thunderstorms with hail and high winds?) Everything was in the name of the abuser, including the food stamp claim.  Control is another form of abuse, don’t you think?

Jane has a cell phone but to charge it, she has to go to a tribal office and settle in with the children while she plugs in the phone.  Oh wait, I see what I have forgotten to tell you – the ages of the children.  The oldest just turned 5 years old.  Then there is a 3 year old and a 2 year old.  The youngest child is 4 months old.  The youngest 2 children are still in diapers.

Jane had no stroller.  So every walk for every task means taking along 1 child, 2 toddlers and an infant.  As Jane told me, “We travel very slowly.”  Jane told me she is trying to make it an adventure for the kids so they will not have bad memories of the experience as they get older.  She is sure she did the right thing by leaving.  Still … it is hard.

The wonderful people who support our organization have responded admirably to the needs of Jane and her children.  A stroller and many other things are on the way.  When I told her about the stroller, she was so grateful.  She said, “I’ve never had a stroller before.”  (Don’t forget – the stroller is for her fourth child.)  Still,  it will be hard.  There is still no home.

That brings me to thread number four.  Cangleska.  That is the domestic violence shelter on Pine Ridge that I wrote about early on in the life of this blog.  It was a fantastic place and the program there was a model for domestic abuse treatment and prevention across “Indian country.”  They built a large, homey shelter.  Many, including myself, contributed to its furnishings.  (If you must know, I sent a crib and mattress.)  There was treatment for the offenders as well as the victims.  It had the potential to change people’s lives.

If you are wondering why I am writing about Cangleska using the past tense, it is because it no longer exists.  The non-profit that ran the shelter was composed of folks who lived on the rez.  They received many grants and other donations.  As I’ve written before, when folks who have nothing have access to serious sums of money, the temptation to dip into the funds is always there.  Your own family has needs, too.  And greed is sadly an universal human flaw.  The shelter was closed down following a forensic financial audit.

This weekend I discovered that there will be an auction of all the assets of Cangleska next week.  Everything will go (even the crib I sent).  The auctioneer’s website listed “highlites (sic)” including like new office equipment, computer equipment, digital phone system, office furniture, home furnishings, flat screen TV’s, kids’ playground equipment, new chain link fence, tipis, pick-up trucks, cars, minivans, trailers, building materials, construction tools and shop equipment.  Everything will go.  It breaks my heart.

There is now nowhere for victims of domestic abuse to seek shelter and safety on Pine Ridge Reservation.  Nowhere in the 2 million acres that make up the reservation.

That is why Jane and her family are seeking shelter where they can – in a tent!

I don’t know what this cloth will look like when it is complete.  I don’t think all the threads are in place yet.  For many months I thought I was weaving a different pattern.  Now, I’m not so sure.  Perhaps it is all part of a larger design that I don’t recognize yet.  I’ll keep you posted.

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This is a sad story, so if you are already depressed, you might want to read it another time.  It is the story of an event in the lives of our Lakota friends.

I have met sister/cousin before – actually the first time we visited the rez over 6 year ago.  But I really got to know her better when I visited for the house blessing this past August.

I should probably explain the term “sister/cousin” because it is one I made up to explain the relationship between the woman I will write about and my friend.  My friend’s husband’s mother and this woman’s father were siblings.  So technically the two are first cousins.  However, as often occurs on the reservation, the two ended up being raised in the same household as siblings instead of cousins.  I have found that on the rez, the terms used are more reflective of the situation than the technical, biological reality.  Otherwise, how could I be “Unci (Grandma) Bee”.  I have no grandchildren but I am unci to my friend’s takojas (grandchildren).

So the two are sibling/cousins.  They care about each other as if they were sister and brother.

Sister/cousin was pregnant in August when I visited my friends.  She was expecting her 5th child.  She was happy about it, even though she worries because her husband drinks with his friends and he is not a pleasant drunk.  But I thought she seemed very swollen, like she was retaining fluid.  That is not a good thing for a pregnant woman to do.

Fluid retention can be a sign of pre-eclampsia, a condition of pregnancy in which the mother’s blood pressure rises dangerously and her kidney function declines, resulting in the retention of fluid and build up of toxins in the blood.  It was at one time called toxemia because it was thought to be a toxic condition.  However, the true cause is not known.  It is associated with multiple pregnancies, poor diet, diabetes, cigarette smoking and prior hypertension in the mother.

If it continues to become more severe, the complications can include seizures for the mother, premature separation of the placenta from the uterine wall (called an abrupted placenta) which leaves the baby with no oxygen or nutrients, and maternal and/or child demise.

As both a woman who has experienced mild pre-eclampsia in her own pregnancies and a childbirth educator who taught over 1,000 students over her 10 year teaching career, I can say that most medical professionals take pre-eclampsia very seriously.  They check your blood pressure frequently and work to bring down the hypertension.  Why?

The only cure for pre-eclampsia is delivery of the baby.  If the mother’s blood pressure cannot be controlled by diet or medication, labor must be induced or a Cesarean surgical birth must take place immediately.  Otherwise, there is an increased risk of complications, including death, for both mother and baby.

Sister/cousin, so I am told, had pre-eclampsia when I arrived to visit in early August.  My observation had been correct.  By October, her blood pressure was unable to be controlled, even with the hypertension medication she was given.  She was finally scheduled for an induction of labor.  However, there was a week that passed between her appointment and the induction of labor itself.  I cannot say why [or personally understand why] someone whose blood pressure was as high as sister/cousin’s was, for as long as it was, would not be induced immediately or taken to the operating room for surgical delivery.  She was sent home for a week — and never put on bed rest, never told to lie down on her left side to improve circulation to the baby.  She went home and tended to her other children and husband.

When she was finally induced on Halloween and after a long labor, she gave birth to a 6 lb 5 oz son on November 1, in the wee hours of the morning.  The little boy was born dead — stillborn.

The extended family who had attended her during labor, including my friend and her daughters, were devastated.  Sister/cousin was beyond consolation. I don’t know if she had been prepared for this possibility before the birth by the medical staff.  Sister/cousin called her husband, who was not there, to inform him that his son was dead.  Being drunk, he cursed at her, called her names that are not printable in this “PG” blog and refused to come to the hospital.  Sister/cousin then called her own mother to let her know that her grandson was “gone.”  Her brother answered the phone, repeated her husband’s behavior and hung up on her.  My friend said the pain in sister/cousin’s eyes doubled after those phone calls.

The doctor who examined the baby told sister/cousin that based on the physical condition of the baby, it appeared that the baby had been dead about a week.  The baby was sent to Bismarck, ND for autopsy, though no one knew why, since that was unusual.  The baby was buried at the end of the week.

Rest in peace, little one.  You had a very short walk on the earthly part of the Red Road.

 

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I have owned cats all my life and I have seen cats do some odd things.  Eat spaghetti sauce with mushrooms.  Burrow under a pile of blankets to sleep.  But last night my 16 year old male cat did something I have not seen before.

I should point out that this cat is not feeling well.  He stopped eating while we were on vacation last week and has lost 2 lbs.  Not good for a small, 9 lb cat.  He has been losing muscle mass and is weak and slightly uncoordinated now.  I am worried that there is something seriously wrong and will be calling the vet in the morning.

Still, it was almost funny to watch this cat decide to take a shower.  We have a walk-in shower.  My husband was in the shower when he called me to quietly come in and look at the cat.  I expected to see the cat sitting on the toilet lid waiting for my husband to finish.

I did not expect to see the cat IN the shower.  He wasn’t there to drink the water.  He was wandering around in there because he apparently wanted to be with my husband.  The cat was in the end of the shower away from the shower head and there wasn’t a lot of water hitting him in that area.  Then he started to walk around a bit more, seemingly oblivious to the water sprinkling him.

Frankly I just stood there with my jaw dropped.  I knew for sure the cat was not well after that.  I put a towel in there for my husband to dry the cat when he was done, then shut the door and left them both there.

**********

I took the cat to the vet 2 days ago and they could not find anything obviously wrong.  We would have to wait for the blood work.

Yesterday we got the results of the blood tests.  It was not good news.  My cat was experiencing kidney failure without the presence of any infection.  There was nothing to do and nothing to treat.  My cat was dying.

I had 2 choices.  I could allow the cat to starve as all of his other organs shut down.  Or I could allow him to die quickly and humanely.  If there had been a way to cure whatever his problem was, I’d have done it.  But I could not be cruel and allow him to die a slow death.  So we opted for the second choice.

My husband took him back to the vet last night and buried him today.  I could not go this time.  I have taken a prior cat (at age 22) for the same procedure and could not do it this time.

But it still hurts.  I told my husband I had the cat longer than him.  I have never been without a cat in the house — in 59 years.

I’m going to try to focus on that image that made me smile just days before – the cat walking around in the shower.  Wish I’d taken a picture [my husband might not agree 😉 ].

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I got back from my recent trip to Pine Ridge Reservation last Wednesday and have spent the past couple of days recovering from travel fatigue and a pesky stomach virus that I must have picked up on the trip home.  I think I was also recovering from some of the stories I heard while I was visiting with my dear Lakota friends.

The occasion for the trip was a happy one – after 10 years of waiting, they had finally obtained a house of their own and had decided to have it blessed.  When I think about the hard times and sadness they have endured over the past 6 years that we’ve known each other (search the category “Lakota friends” for past stories), I think having the house blessed was a really good idea.  I had gone expecting a Lakota holy man to bless the house, but apparently summer, with its powwows and other gatherings, was not a good time to “book” one.  The task and privilege fell to one of the local Episcopal priests, who had also conducted the funeral for my friend’s daughter a couple of years ago.

As an Episcopalian who had also had my own house blessed (some 30+ years ago), I was familiar with the ritual.  I was also pleased to see that the priest, with his Lakota beaded stole, had made slight adaptations in the rite to align it a bit more with Lakota culture.

Much of the rest of the time I was on the reservation was spent sharing stories.  I have often thought that a book should be written about my Lakota friend’s life.  Although it may be somewhat common to the lives of many on the reservation, it is the story of a woman who has already, in her 30’s, overcome more obstacles in her life than most of us will face in a lifetime.  I tell her that if she gives me the stories, I will put them together in a book and the money will be hers since the story is hers.  She laughs, but I think she has been considering it more seriously of late.

While we were sitting at her dining room table sharing coffee and conversation, I asked her what her earliest memory was.  Personally, the early memories I have center around holidays and playing with my younger sister.  So I was not prepared for the story she told me.  As you read her story, I ask you to ask yourself:  What does it do to a person to have this as his/her earliest memory?  Can you put yourself in this picture?

Her earliest memory is an event that occurred when she was about 3 and her sister about 5.  They were at home in their mother’s trailer.  The extended family had gathered there – aunts, uncles and some she does not recall.  Her mother was 8 months pregnant with her next sister.

The adults were all drinking heavily.  Apparently that was typical at that time in her mother’s life.  Suddenly, and for no reason that a 3 year old could recall, her uncle picked up a huge, old-fashioned butcher knife and stabbed her mother in the back.  The knife, which had about a 10 inch blade, had been “slammed about halfway” into the left side of her mother’s back as she and her sister watched.

An aunt quickly pushed the 2 girls into a closet to protect them and locked the door from the outside.  However, since the trailer was in poor condition as are many rez homes, the closet door was not a snug fit.  There was plenty of space between the door and the frame to allow the 2 children to watch what was unfolding in the hallway outside the closet.

The girls could see the knife still protruding from their mother’s back as she lay on the floor only feet away.  They could see the huge pool of blood forming around their mother.  She turned her head and looked straight at them, forming the words “help me” as best she could.  My friend clearly remembers her eyes connecting with her mother’s eyes.

She also recalls that all of the adults who had been there left, without helping her mother or calling for help.  The 2 little girls, who were terrified, threw themselves at the closet door.  The door, which was not well made or in good condition, as I noted before, gave way.  My friend’s older sister ran and tried to pull the knife out of her mother’s back – but she was too small and the knife was too deep.  The girls ran to get a neighbor to help.

The neighbor pulled out the knife and called for help.  When the police arrived, they arrested the neighbor for the stabbing, in spite of the stories told by both the girls.  Although the neighbor was eventually cleared, the uncle was never arrested.  The police refused to believe the girls’ story.

My friend’s mother was taken to the hospital, where they delivered her baby a month early and worked to save both lives.  The baby survived.  So did her mother, although it took a long time for her to recover.

My friend has had a stressful, tumultuous relationship with her mother over the years, for reasons that still remain unclear to me.  However, part of the difficulty seems to stem from the fact that her mother has never accepted and validated the trauma that it was for her 3 year old daughter to observe the stabbing.

My friend told me that she once asked her mother to stop wearing tops with thin straps so much.  Her mother told her she would wear whatever she wanted to.  She didn’t understand that my friend had a reason for asking that of her mother.  You see, every time she saw her mother in a tank top or camisole, she could clearly see the huge scar on her mother’s back when her mother turned away.  The sight of that scar would tear open the scar on her psyche every time, bringing her back to the night she was a terrified 3 year old.

When I think about this story – the alcohol driven chaos, the violent violation of a child’s mother, the abandonment by relatives who were meant to care for family, the adults who would not believe a child’s story and the emotional scars left on an innocent little girl – I can understand much of the rest of my friend’s life.

It makes me feel so protective of that child and so angry at the adults when I think about this story.  It makes me sad beyond words that this is my friend’s first memory.

So let’s go back to my questions now.

What does it do to a person to have this as his/her earliest memory?  I suspect a psychologist could write a book on that.  In all likelihood, in layman’s terms, it would scar the person for life.

Can you put yourself in this picture?  In all honesty, I cannot.  I gratefully grew up in a home where peace was the rule and verbal arguments the infrequent exception.  There was no physical violence.  Some of you may have had more experiences with violence as a child.  I pray that your first childhood memory is not something this traumatic.

But that was rezlife as a child for my friend.  I sadly suspect she was not the only one.

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