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Wake of grandfather Young

Makah Reservation, Washington

July 2000

 

You had only met your grandfather once when you were four years old and that had been for the next five years of your life the only contact you had ever had with your mother’s side of the family.

 

At nine, your mom had taken you up North to Washington and only once you got there and been covered from head to toe in black did you understand this was not a simple vacation or family reunion. It was a cold, humid day that caused your hair to puff and stand up in all kinds of direction and for all those reasons, you did not like this lost little town.

 

When you asked her who died, she had stopped moving altogether in the hotel room she had rented out for the two of you. You were sitting on the bed with your nice black dress on, playing with the hem that reached past your knees.

“Do you remember your grandfather? My dad?” She had asked in a small voice, full of emotion and you had looked right back at her and said, confused, “No?”

You knew you had family here, relatives you hadn’t seen in years but it was your mother who had walked out on them and never introduced you to anyone. As early as nine, you resented her for that, why was she crying, why was she sad that you didn’t remember someone you met once half a decade ago?

That was her fault, not yours.

 

After you were ready, she brushed your hair one more time to get it all down – a losing battle – and sat you in the car. The tiny buildings and houses grew more and more scarce as the car went, being replaced by thin trees and soon dense woods. This was so unlike back in Spokane, you didn’t like it. She turned on a path in what you decided was the middle of nowhere and only then did you ask, “Mom, where are we going?”

She kept her eyes on the road as little houses appeared along the way, “Waatch. I grew up there.” She kept driving, speeding by a small town by the water shrouded in mist. “What was that?”

“Neah Bay, you have cousins there.”

The car went along the road, one or two cars passed you but apart from trees and the road, nothing stood in your way. “Why did you leave?” Some more houses bloomed on the right side of the road, then a small building.

“Life around here is hard, I wanted something easier as a child.”

 

You were about to ask another question when one house caught your eye, mainly because there were a dozen cars parked near it and your mother was pulling over there. “You lived there?” You pointed to the house with cracked blue paint, “It looks old.”

“Yes, it does.” She stopped the car and took a deep breath, tightening her grip on the steering wheel. You got out yourself, closing the door behind you. The ground was wet and muddy, like it had just rained and if your hair was any indication, it just did.

Her own car door snapped shut, a group of men in casual clothes were outside, sipping on glass bottles. Your mother took your hand in hers and walked you to the porch. She stopped to receive a hug from one of them, that was Harry Clearwater, your first cousin once removed, she told you. As a kid, you wondered what he could have possibly done to be removed from the family and then be brought back in and asked him right there and then and only got a short silence before barks of laughter broke out between your mother, him and the two others who had witnessed it all for your trouble. He had a boy and a girl too, Seth and Leah, about your age, you should go see them inside.

 

So, you had been brought inside the house. The atmosphere wasn’t strained like your mother was but still, she kept a firm hold on your hand and walked you around, prompting you to greet and introduce yourself as you went. Some recognized you, asked you if you did in return.

After those painfully awkward one-sided conversations, your aunt – apparently – with sad eyes and dark hair cut in a short, severe style put a hand on the back of your head and walked you over to a group of what you could hesitantly call children. They were taller, older, except for one.

The youngest of the group, Seth, was already eight and made fun of your frizzy hair. You didn’t like him. Your aunt introduced you, calling out to her own daughter, Emily. She wasn’t that much taller and had short black hair that pained to reach past her chin whilst Leah, at her side, had waist length straight hair. They were both thirteen but got you into a game they played and you stayed with them for the rest of the wake.

 

Unbeknownst to you, fast forward five years, your grasp and view of the world would run straight into a wall and never fully recover from the impact.