When I was a kid, life wasn’t simple. I grew up in a place where even at the tender age of the primary grades in schools I was learning about and dealing with complex issues such as race and racism, inclusion, oppression, crime, suicide, and other aspects of the grown up world, preferably left to an older age.
However, it wasn’t until I was 12 that I truly lost my simplicity I couldn’t tell you the day of the week, or even the exact date at this point, but one day in December, 1994, my life changed.
I received a note at school telling me to take the bus to my (step-)grandma’s house after school instead of going home. I thought it was weird, as usually when my dad and step-mom would be out of town they’d give me a note for the bus driver in the morning before I went to school. Being 12, innocent of most subtle queues of life, though, I didn’t think too deeply of it and just went about my day, and on over to my grandma’s house after school.
The bus ride all around the valley and deep down East Lane gave me a bit of time to think, and to start to worry. My dad was a truck driver: he drove a double trailer dumper for a local feed company. Did he get into an accident? My dad dealt with large machinery, and did his own mechanical work on the dumper, did something fall on him? Smash him? Stab him? By the time the bus stopped outside my grandma’s house my mind whirled with so many “what if’s” that I ran from them across the yard, like I was trying to escape a nest of angry bees.
I pounded up the steps to the house, the rickety old porch wobbling and complaining under me. Bursting into the shabby dim entry way of my grandma’s house, the dusty musk that permeated every room nearly gagged me as much as the frenzy I’d whipped myself into. The cloying atmosphere seemed heavier than normal, and I waded through it into the living room, “Is Dad ok?!” I demanded.
Wearing her usual K-Mart sweatsuit, my grandma sat in her creaky leather recliner (that had just about as much duct tape on it as it did leather). She looked up, startled, and hesitated. “Your Dad and Lois just had to go out of town today, that’s all”. She replied, looking back down her crossword puzzles, that were perpetually in hand. I looked across the room at “Uncle” Donald, laying on the metal framed bed in the corner of the room, cowboy boots crossed. He only stared over his boots at the public programming that muttered on the old rabbit ear TV.
I didn’t believe her, I slowly scanned the room as if I would find the answer among her dust blanketed knick-knack shelves that spanned up behind her chair. Finally looking back down at her, the best I reply I could come up with was “Why?” She peered up at me again, her large plastic-rimmed eye glasses making her look like some sort of ancient owl. “They can tell you when they get back home.” Obviously, I was getting no answers, but I tried anyway, “When will that be?”. She looked back down at her crossword, bony shoulders shrugging, “I don’t know.”
What seemed like an eternity later, my step-mom came into the house. “Mom, we’re back, thanks for watching [name].” She looked over at me and said quickly “C’mon, time to go home.”
Usually my step-mom and grandma would talk for a minute when she came to pick me up from being out of town. Something was up, and all I wanted was to see my dad. I grabbed my backpack and hurriedly followed her out the door. As I navigated the broken and buckled cement that used to be a walk-way at some point in its life, I blurted out, “What’s going on? Is Dad ok?”
My step-mom responded, not looking back, “Your dad had a seizure at work when he was pulling his truck into the yard. He’s in the car we’ll talk about it when we get home.”
I scrambled into the back seat of our Plymouth Voyager and inserted myself over the center console, practically in my dad’s face. He was pale, even beneath the ruddy red-brown of his Native and Sun leathered skin. Everything about him just seemed to sag, as if defeated. “Dad, you had a seizure? What’s wrong?!” I demanded, beginning to tear up. “We’ll talk about it when we get home.” He replied tiredly, but not unkindly. “Sit down and put your seat belt on” He said, patting my cheek.
I retreated back to the bench seat and did as I was told. The ride across the valley and into the Rez seemed like an eternity. I tried my best to hold back my tears and worry, some valiant subconscious telling me I had to be strong. This was a losing battle, but I struggled on regardless. When we got home, my sense of urgency was replaced by apprehension and avoidance. I watched my dad slowly and carefully climb out of the passenger seat of the vehicle. Even seeing him in the passenger seat was a foreign concept to me, my dad always did the driving. It hadn’t hit me until that point, but I’d never in my life before seen my step-mom driving, and my dad the passenger. This was unnatural.
My dad gingerly made his way around the car and towards the front door, my step-mom holding his arm not so much for support, just so much as what seemed as caution. This too, was unnatural. My dad was a 6’7″ no bullshit, strong, can do anything, force of nature type of man. Treading cautiously and unsure just wasn’t right.
We got into the house, my dad settled in his large “dad sized” leather Lazy Boy, and I on the couch. I perched at the edge, staring at him, still fighting my battle of worried tears. “Dad, what’s wrong?” I half whispered, half whined. He sighed and slowly rubbed forehead, taking a moment to collect himself. Looking back on it with an adult eye, I realize this moment he was more worried about me than himself, with the coming news.
“They found a tumor in by brain today, and they think it’s cancerous. I have surgery next month to try and remove it”.
It wasn’t for another 13 months that I would lose my dad, on January 13, 1996, but this was the day I lost my simplicity.