The following is the story of Hope Dancing Bear's last Thanksgiving, as well as the deaths of her parents and her grandmother the following day. I like that it gives a little insight into her past. It shows a younger, pre-winged Hope, living her life and being even more immature than she is in OUR ONLY HOPE.
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Our last Thanksgiving with Mom, Dad, and Grandma started out simply enough with me getting up after 4 hours of sleep and rushing over to Brian's house to pick him up for lunch at our grandparents' house. His car wouldn’t start, so he’d called me for a ride. As I exited my car, I noticed a kitten, about 6 months old, begging me for attention. After Chuck had died a month ago, I’d figured he'd wait until spring to get another mouser, but much to my surprise, he had not.
"She has six toes," he told me proudly. Of course. Why would he pass up a free cat that's also an aberration?
I laughed. "Are you going to name her Mutant?"
He cracked a smile that crinkled the corners of his brown eyes. The playful kitten seemed to have lightened his mood considerably. “It’s down to two names for her. Either ET—for extra toe—or Rick James. Because she's a superfreak.”
I thought about it for a moment while the cat wound her way back and forth around my legs. She wrapped her tail around my calf and mewed up at me. “I'm leaning toward Rick James because—aside from being the freak of having an extra digit—she's super lovey and begs for attention as much as Chuck did. Look at her rubbing all over my legs.” She jumped up on the short stone wall around his herb garden, crying to be petted. “By the way…happy Thanksgiving.”
Brian snorted a humorless laugh. “Yeah, right. Are you ready for this?”
I pulled out a joint. “Are you?”
He waved me off. “None for me. Not today. I gotta keep up the defenses.”
“Works for me.” I tossed him my keys and sat on the short stone wall.
I sparked up and smoked the whole thing to my head while I played with the cat. Fucking hell…that was a mistake. I’d been sober for weeks and I got way, way too high to be around my parents and grandparents. I tried to hold my eyes wider than they wanted to be held, cursed myself for not having any Visine, and avoided eye contact with my mother since I used to smoke with her and she'd know the signs when I was stoned. But, I was still way too high to stand in that house and be near any of them. This was far beyond my comfort zone of a meditative high. It was well into my I-don’t-like-this zone of being ripped out of my mind. I needed fresh air and a cool breeze.
I went outside where my brothers were riding their dirt bikes around the neighborhood. I called out that dinner was ready a few times when they passed, but I was in no hurry to get back inside. Even though I could hear our mother screaming inside the house—“Where IS everybody?!"—I was enjoying the cool wind that was clearing my mind. I also didn't want to diminish the fun the boys were having when they so rarely saw each other anymore. After a while, Will ran out of gas and had to push his bike up the last hill.
“You guys ready to eat? She’s pretty much fucking losing it in there.” I tried to suppress my smile while we all listened to our mom screaming inside the house. We found it funny that she’d not once bothered to look outside. It was like she thought we were all still small children, hiding somewhere in the house just to drive her mad.
“I guess it’s now or never,” Brian said with a smirk. We went inside, and the insanity began again.
I don't really recall most of what was said that day; I only remember the pattern of it all. Both of my female relations talked about inane bullshit while I tried to figure out if this was really how they were. I avoided speaking, whereas every time one of my brothers spoke, our mom interrupted him to tell her own stupid story about work or a TV show she’d seen. No wonder I avoided her as much as possible—she was bat-shit crazy and had her priorities completely upside down.
But, I just couldn't be rude to my grandmother. She had always been so kind to me and my brothers. So, when my mom stole my seat next to her mother-in-law, I grinned under my cringe because I knew she'd just fucked herself over. The entire hour we all sat there, my grandma was trying to talk and tell stories about shit that had happened recently. I tried my best to pay attention, but my mind was working on so many other things.
I’d always been sensitive to the moods of others, but that day felt like the floodgates had opened. Eventually, I’d compare it to turning on a water faucet, though it did not seem an apt comparison at the time. I could feel the anger radiating off my mom. My grandpa was annoyed, but the women’s behavior was so common he'd given up and accepted them both for the way they were. He knew it was useless to dislike his son’s wife. And he ignored his own wife’s babbling sessions as much as he could. He knew she was losing her mind in her old age, so he did his best to remember her the way she used to be. Will was thinking about riding bikes after we ate, and Brian had his mind elsewhere. I don't think he caught much of what was said during their ramblings, either. Dad, as usual, tried to play the peacekeeper.
The whole day, every time my grandma would start talking, Mom would sigh and/or grumble, “You've already told me that.” To which the old lady would reply, smiling with a bobbly head, “Yes, but I'm telling the kids.” I smiled or nodded when I should, frowned or shook my head when I should, but when I left there, I had no idea what Grandma had told me. I was too busy trying to block out thoughts and emotions of those around me to retain memories of the bizarre conversations. Most of the time, I was also wondering why they were talking about such ludicrous shit.
One thing I do remember…after dinner when the guys were riding their old dirt bikes again, Grandma announced that their giant, new flat screen TV was too small. I laughed. She said it needed to be ten inches bigger because of the size of the room and I laughed again. That was just so silly to me. I couldn't understand why she was being so consumeristic. I let it go and left, thrilled that Brian was ready to leave and I could escape the madness.
I returned home and proceeded to get ready for work. It was supposed to be a big day for gambling, drinking, and buffets. They had lots of specials and deals going on, trying to draw in the white people who were too lazy to cook for their families. I was still pretty high, so I left as soon as my mother got home. I didn't want to have to be around her. Will and I were really too old to still be living with her, but we’d both given up on trying to leave until we had irrefutable reasons. I dreamt of a family. Will saved money for school. She just had this way of guilting us into staying. Brian had been strong enough to leave, but I was not. So I slept there and that was pretty much it.
I showed up half an hour early at work with a five inch pumpkin pie for everyone that was working in the bar that day. After about an hour, we'd all decided to heat up the pre-cooked turkey our boss had bought for us as a thank you for working. The turkey had come with rolls, green beans, mashed potatoes, gravy, and stuffing. I'd also brought some Watergate salad.
The turkey was whole and there was no way it would fit into the small pizza oven we had in the bar, so we decided to deep fry it. It was pretty amusing. Most of the time it cooked, we all just stood around and watched it like it was the most interesting thing we'd ever seen. We actually only had about twenty customers all day, so at that point, it was the most interesting thing to do. I'm not sure how long it took to heat up, though. We just kept fishing it out and sticking a thermometer into it to see if it was up to temp. We all sat down to eat and it was pretty good. The skin wasn't edible because of the fryer grease, but the inside was good.
Then, to fuck with our boss, we put the leftovers in storage buckets that we use for pre-cut garnishes. We labeled them all with what they were on entirely filled out made-ready-discard labels. I wish I could've seen her face when she found it all.
It was a good Thanksgiving. Probably the best one I’d ever had in my life. I suppose it was Brian’s company that kept me sane that day with our family. It was certainly my friends at the bar that made the rest of the day so great. We’d always managed to have a good time there. After my wings started to grow and I had to quit, I really missed my old coworkers.
That day was also the second to last time I ever saw my mother alive. Friday morning, she had to take Grandma to a special doctor for brain scans. She’d been showing signs of Alzheimer’s and the rez hospital didn’t have any of the machines that could check for the plaque build-ups in her brain. It was a long drive through the mountains. If Mom had taken the safer route, it probably would’ve taken them five hours in the snow. But my mom just had to take the shorter route—through the mountains—just so she could try to save a little bit of time. It was so stupid, so senseless, and entirely unnecessary. Her trying to save a little time wound up killing them both, along with my father and Taniya’s mother.
Dancing Bear and Sophie hadn’t needed to die. There had been no reason to rush north and risk their lives. Mom, Grandma, and Sophie had all died on impact according to the videos from the cars. Dad hadn’t been so lucky. He’d lingered for over twenty minutes. Mostly, he’d whispered and mumbled to himself. A few times, he’d audibly apologized. Sometimes to my mother, sometimes to his father. At the end, just before the car’s computers stopped registering any detectable vital signs from him, he took his hand away from where the steering wheel had crushed him against the seat. He reached for the camera with his bloody hand. “White Eagle,” he grunted. “I’m so sorry.” He took a few panting breaths as he grimaced in pain. “Please, Dad,” he whispered. “I’m so sorry. Name her.” His arm dropped to his side and his final breath escaped his lungs. I didn’t understand that until three years later when I was named White Eagle by my grandfather and the other tribal elders.
The cops told me they were sorry for my losses and that they regretted having to show me the videos. “A positive ID must be made,” one of them had said while he avoided eye contact. He was taller than me, with close-cropped blonde hair and gray eyes. He appeared to be just a few years older than I was.
I laughed without any humor. “Right. Because his fingerprints, driver’s license, and dental records aren’t enough. Can I fucking leave yet?”
“We’re sorry for your loss,” the older officer said as I turned to leave. I continued the circuit and spun on the older man.
“Loss? Loss? What would you know of what I’ve lost?” I screamed at him. “I have to go back to my people and bury both of my parents, my grandmother, and my best friend’s mother.”
The cops shared a look of surprise.
“Yeah. Didn’t you ever think to ask why they were on that road? They were on their way up to Montrose to identify my mother and grandmother who were in a crash on their way to a doctor’s appointment in Grand Junction. Grandma needed to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.”
“At least now she won’t spend years of suffering with the disease,” the younger cop said.
I turned my dark glare on him.
“Hang on. Don’t get mad yet,” he said as he held up his hand. “Now, my gran had Alzheimer’s. Me and my sister took care of her.”
“My sister and I,” the older cop grumbled.
The blonde rolled his eyes at his partner before turning back to me. “I’ve been there, girl. I’ve looked dementia right in the face. That woman practically raised me and she didn’t know who I was for the last five years of her life. It was a slow, agonizing deterioration. I would’ve given anything for her to have not suffered like that. Please, please, for your own sake, try to look on the bright side.”
I stared at him for a moment while that Monty Python song rang through my head. “Always look on the bright side of life,” I sang in a low voice.
The older cop whistled the tune.
I managed a small smile. “Thanks. Maybe I’ll play that song for my brother, Brian.”
The older officer stepped forward and gave my shoulder a comforting squeeze. “Drive safe, now. Another storm is about to blow in.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you.”
I got in my car and sat by myself for a few minutes, trying to clear my head. I hadn’t let Taniya come with me. The cops had said they only needed one person to identify the bodies and it didn’t have to be a relative. I knew the procedure. I was well aware that they’d make us actually watch the video of the crash. The thought of my best friend seeing her mother die made me sick. I knew I could handle it better than she could.
I’d just buckled myself in and was preparing to pull out of the parking lot when the phone rang. “Hello?”
“This is Officer Buckley. We were just talking inside?”
I wasn’t sure if it was the older or younger man. “Okay.”
“I called the Montrose Police Department and had them send us the video of your mother and grandmother. Could you please come back inside? That way you won’t have to drive all the way up there.”
I sighed. “Sure.” I turned off the car and went back into the police station.
By the time I left, I’d decided to never celebrate Thanksgiving again. I knew Brian would agree with me. Ever since he was a teenager, he’d objected to our observance of the holiday. He said it was like spitting on the graves of all of the long-dead tribes who’d been wiped out by the European invaders. He felt that it was wrong to participate in the gluttonous tradition. But Mom loved to cook and make the huge feast, so she’d always insisted that we eat it. Now that she was dead, she couldn’t force us to have Thanksgiving dinner ever again.