by Bianca Lynn Brugger
I remember looking down at my hands in the rain as I was being handcuffed. They looked like an old woman’s — cracked, swollen and marked with scars. My grandma told me they came from my great-grandma, who worked so hard she passed down her worn hands to her children. They would carry a great burden.
When I was with my grandmother I was content. With my mother it was different. My mother’s mind was scattered like leaves in the wind, my grandmother said once. It was a nice way of saying she was mentally ill. When grandmother died, I was 15 and had to move back with my mother. On the bus to California, I watched the land change from fertile grassland with farmhouses and cows to a city with people of all shapes and colors, like sand when you look close. The buildings reached the sky. I felt like an ant on a sidewalk.
I thought of my grandma’s face. Her skin was like a dry lake bed; lush mud brown with cavernous cracks where stories of sorrow and glee lay hidden like artifacts. She smelled of tobacco and white sage. I would sit beside her by the fire as she beaded. Her hands looked like shale, tanned by the sun and coated with ash from the fire. I imagined them crumbling like cookies in milk. Her stories taught me to be patient and aware. Patient like the salmon swimming up waterfalls, making their way home to lay their eggs. Aware like the caribou sensing a menace by smelling the wind and listening to its surroundings. I learned dignity from her.
I waited for over two hours at the station. I hadn’t seen my mother for five years. She was bow-legged with slumped shoulders, wearing tight jeans and a faded black “Harley Davidson” shirt. We walked to the car. A man was sitting in the driver’s seat with a cigarette in his mouth. She didn’t introduce us. I watched the city fill with lights as the sun settled to sleep. It reminded me of Christmas, but there were no stars. I asked where they were, but my mother did not hear me.
Her driveway was filled with broken down cars and motorcycle parts. Dogs were rummaging through trashcans. The house was a pea soup green, with rusted burglar bars. The kitchen counter was littered with beer cans and fast food containers. My room had a mattress with no sheets and a crate for a table. The streetlight shone in through a sheet used as a curtain. I waited until my mother left to cry.
As rain started to rap on the window, my thoughts drifted to summer rains on the reservation. I dreamt I was in my grandma’s garden, hiding in her cornfield, listening to the wind rustle through the leaves. My hair danced upon my face and my knees were wet from kneeling on the rich, wet black soil. My grandmother’s songs lay in the air as she hung laundry on the clothesline. She would call to me. I would giggle to let her know I was okay.
A car horn awakened me. I fumbled my way to the bathroom. The toilet seat was broken and mold covered the walls. My hair still smelled like sage. It reminded me of my grandma’s story of the washi hunters who would kill or cage our relatives and could not understand why animals should be respected. Now I was the prey.
I walked into the living room. My mother and the man were passed out on a dirty plum sofa, naked. I looked at my mother’s body: She had acne scars on her face and knotted, unkempt hair. Her inner elbows had purple spots. Bones protruded through her skin. The man woke up and screamed. He walked towards me and began to strike me with his fist, dragged me into my room. He shut the door.
The man smelled of cigarettes and beer. He grabbed my throat with one hand and tore my clothes with the other. He pushed me on the bed and raped me. He stumbled out. I looked up and saw the light had dimmed. I picked my clothes up. My shirt was ripped and my pants were filthy. I slowly put them on. I quietly walked to the bathroom; I wiped dirt off of the mirror. My left eye was swollen and my nose was bleeding. My body looked like a freshly skinned deer. I was wet and bloody, with purple and blue bruises.
I did not feel anything. I walked into the living room. My mother was awake. She smiled. She said now, I was a woman.
I grabbed my bag and walked out. My body was no longer mine. It took me where it wanted. I let the rain wash over me cleansing my blood, tears, and sweat. The streetlights went off. I did not feel scared. I was finally safe. Darkness was a haven.
I came upon a dim light. There was an old woman by a fire under a bridge. She talked out loud to no one. She was cooking a can of beans. I collapsed on some cardboard beside her. When I awoke, I saw the old woman rustling around as a cop car rolled up. She fled. The cop picked me up, walked me to his car, and asked me questions. I did not answer. I looked up at the sky. The rain hit my face.
I felt him put cuffs on my wrists. I peered down at my hands and looked at their texture. I thought of my grandmother, and how she told me it was a great honor to have them. I screamed.
This story by Bianca Lynn Brugger, 24, was featured in SNAG Issue #5. Bianca is a member of the Osage Nation who lives on the Shoshone Paiute reservation in Owen's Valley, CA. Art by Ryan Singer.