A Native boy lays alone in a bedroom that will never feel warm enough. It is quiet in this house, his foster parents have already gone to bed even though the sun still lights the horizon. He closes his eyes remembering the laughter, the voices, the sound of television, and family that floated through the air of a home no longer his own. He remembers his mother, the little things she did to make the house feel like open arms wrapping around you the moment you stepped through the door. He remembers his family, the warmth they created, so powerful it seemed like they wouldn’t need electricity in the winter. The boy slides his hand between the mattress and box spring and pulls out a picture of a family unbroken. In the photo he sits on his mother’s lap and his father holds his sister. They are smiling. The photograph was taken at noon, the day his father returned from firefighting. It was blue skies and sunny that summer day. He remembers that after the picture was taken his father took them to eat at Tastee Freeze. The boy’s heart has memorized everything about this photograph. He touches the faces of each in the picture but the one thing he wishes it captured was the warmth in each smile. The photo is heavy with love butcold to the touch as he traces the smiles with his finger. The boy breaks his own heart every night when he looks at this picture. He knows this but does not care.
The boy knows that inside him something has changed, shifted, or shattered. He feels old, somewhere way beyond his years. Every molecule of his young Assiniboine body aches from this cold,quiet, empty house. The boy knows that pain and loss have aged his heart and that no child as young as he should know these kinds of tragedies.
The boy remembers one sermon in particular from the priest at his church his foster parents take him to every Sunday. It dealt with death and taking one’s own life, that suicide meant an eternity in hell. The boy remembers that word suicide floated around his reservation from time to time, touching and changing lives as it settled on peoples shoulders. “A way out.” someone had told him when he asked what it meant. “A way out…” the boy whispers as he looks at the picture one more time before puttingit back under his mattress. The boy fears the word, suicide, as much as loss.
The boy imagines, years from now, that he is too scared to love, to offer himself fully to another. He knows this much because that same kind of love and loss has created this. Each night the boy prays for God to, “Just, please, God, please take me tonight. Please…please.” because he knows his family is there somewhere in Heaven. He falls asleep, quietly sobbing this plea.
In the morning he wakes to a bowl of cold cereal, his foster parents zipping past each other without a word. There are no, “Good morning” or, “How are you?” Just silence that one could fit a lifetime into. He waves to them as they separate and go off into another life while he stands, abandoned outside, waiting for the school bus to arrive and take him away from here, waiting for God to answer, for something to change or shift, waiting to be returned to his old life while pretending to live in this one…
Born a few centuries too late and raised on U.S.D.A. approved commodity everything, Jonathan Garfield is an enrolled Assiniboine tribal member of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux reservation in Montana. His stories document the tragedy forced on “his people” (which he loves saying ‘cause it sounds cool) that is the rez. Jonathan has been published in various Art & Literature magazines and quarterlies. His short story, “Reservation Warparties”, became a short film, adapted to a screenplay and directed by Angelique Midthunnder. The short film was featured on the program, Independent Lens, on PBS. Jonathan Garfield continues to write poetry and short stories. He is also a practicing trickster.