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October 13th, 2018

She is road savvy. Hippie girl in ripped jeans, light blue eyes and long, blonde tangle of hair, a world traveler with her passport safe inside a plastic Ziploc inside a zippered pocket inside her backpack. A bedroll lashed to her pack, the road weary pair of Merrill hikers she stole from a Big 5 when she turned eighteen the summer she left for good, a felt hat with a beaded band the daughter of the medicine man who healed her out in the Yuma desert gave her the next morning full of sunrise and longing while they stood toe to toe on the side of the dirt road, a solar phone charger had been a gift from a boy she met in Indonesia making her promise to text him every day before he let it go, every single day, so he would know she was safe, a braided leather belt from a craftsman in New Zealand, the span of his hands around her waist his measuring tape, the glass pipe in the front pocket of her Levis she had blown herself in a small studio on the Pacific Northwest coast one late, wine-sodden evening as the young gaffer shaped the molten parison with a strange tool in his long-fingered hands while she squinted, blinded by the searing sun of the oven, kissing the blowpipe. That boy had cried, his face hidden behind mittened fists when she told him she was leaving.

Don’t forget me, he had begged her.

She shook her head, smiling, enigmatic. How could I? she asked him. I’ll always remember how I sleep so good here. She looked around the small room, the ocean violent outside his window.

+

It is a dream that hangs on her mornings. The dreamt images a laundry-basket-worth of clothes pinned to the line, but in the way of a dream, the clothes disintegrate, unravel, decompose, disappear.

She could swear she has been dreaming it every night of her life. But of course, she knows that is impossible. Infants don’t dream of dead natives; children rarely dream of Indian Chiefs in full war paint and feathers on their knees executed with a stoicism that broke the heart, teens surely don’t know the familiar weight of a Civil War-era Remington Model 1858 .44 caliber revolver used to blow a Cheyenne’s brains out his forehead summarily.

Sometimes in the dream, she is the soldier with the gun, sometimes the Chief with pursed lips and enraged eyes, but most often the child cut down by a saber slash, lying in the prairie grass watching her father lose his life.

+

Just outside Bend, Oregon, she climbs into the old Chevy truck cab of two of her sisters’ father. He promised to take her to Sturgis the summer she came of drinking age. He doesn’t ride, but her father does, and he has business with her father.

It is pre-dawn. What’s the name of this time of day, she asks him.

Inside, her sister is passed out on the couch, and she presses a quick kiss into the crown of raven black hair, and laughs at the mumbled reply, promising, “I’ll text you later. When we get to Montana. I’ll snap him. Promise.”

They will stop in Montana, stay a few days with her older sister who is now living with a man none of them know. She had left Brodie the Baby at the altar for him.

+

Her oldest half-sister is recently married, recently graduated with a nursing degree, and recently in therapy which she suggests that all four of them could benefit greatly from. LOL, the three other sisters type into their group text. LOL.

+

iPhone messaging, Instagram, Snapchat, FB. She is an unwitting social media darling, with a steadily growing number of followers. Some she knows, some she does not. Some she reaches out to, dm-ing them, asking to crash at their houses, strangers becoming friends, and others she will never meet. She rarely peruses the accounts of her followers although she dutifully follows all who click on her name.

She loves to skinny dip and dance on bars. Her waist-length locks aren’t quite dreaded but bed-headed enough that her mother worries out loud that people with that kind of hair get arrested.

But her mother is an always-recovering addict who performs some magical exchange with the doctors on the oncology floor she works to write her scrips for bottles and bottles of controlled substances. None of the daughters take her haphazardly given advice or slurred opinion.

The two oldest mother the two youngest. All four mother the mother. They have raised themselves and reassure one another with the fairy tale of their neglected childhoods.

Her mother is also anorexic. When she was fourteen years old she had to listen to two of the popular girls making horrified comments during eighth-grade graduation as they watched her mother search out a good seat. A wrecked beauty in disco shorts and a tube top because it was June and sweltering. The snickering tone of her classmates has stayed with her. She despised those girls, but they follow her on Instagram and sometimes she leaves them cryptic comments punctuated with the hashtag #drunkcommenting. None unfollow her or block her because her naked ass is a thing of utter beauty and she knows each one of them pinches her posts bigger to memorize every mole on the pale bare flesh of her backside.

She can dance. That's the gift I gave you, her mother tells her. She goes commando, wears baby doll dresses, and her short videos are a millennial burlesque. Comments left in emoji.

+

They stop in Montana, her half-sister rushes them from the front door, dragging her down into the gravel with an embrace and tear-stained face.

She works for the Forestry Service and is living in a mail order timber frame on the edge of a mountainous forest with a logger in his mid-40’s who has two kids somewhere. They all drink whiskey each night outside around a fire pit and eat elk steaks for dinner.

She secrets herself out of the house one early morning to take a long hike alone and finds the carcass of a bear. She wrenches the skull free and scrubs the desiccated bits of hide sticking to the bone off in her sister’s half-bath sink, using a nail brush, and then wraps it up in the old Spearhead t-shirt she had been wearing when she found it. She packs it carefully into her sisters' dad’s truck so she can give it to her dad when they finally meet up with him at the motorcycle rally.

The morning they leave, they all group hug while her sister’s pack of dogs yip and run in frantic circles around them. She climbs out the truck window, tumbling into the bed and stands waving and waving until her sisters' father pulls out of their sight and knocks on the rear glass to tell her to get her ass back inside. She sits cross-legged on the bench seat grinding homegrown bud, tapping it carefully into a paper. She winds it tight, and he pops the vintage lighter into the dashboard, and when it pops back out, she wonders if she has ever felt more content and wistful at the same time in her life. #ontheroadagain #greenbud #missingsis and borrowed #copwonderswhatbrandismoke. She doesn’t know that’s a Clash reference. Later, she sleeps all the way to the Dakotas, the states she had been named for.

+

In Sturgis, thousands of people, cars, motorcycles block the streets, the sidewalks. A vibration can be felt in the air, rubbing against her skin. She scans the crowds. Her sisters’ father taps out a number on his cell, leaves a message, and three minutes later it rings. He drives out of town and into a campsite. Bikes are lined up, on kickstands, and a man walks toward them.

Her own father, shirtless beneath a denim vest, flying colors, the Iron Horse Riders, his hair two long braids, the sharp edge of a hatchet profile. He opens her door, and she steps out like Neil Armstrong.

+

The next morning, her sisters’ father leaves for parts unknown. The plan is for her to ride back west with her father. Visit all the tourist traps.

+

At Mount Rushmore, she gets off the bike, shaking the blood back into her feet, and stands looking up at the visages carved into granite. She doesn’t know how to feel about the monument, the desecration of the stone, the homage to the country into which she had been born. Tourists take pictures, holding at arm-length their phones and iPads. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln over their shoulders peeking down into a future they could not have begun to imagine.

Behind her, her dad walks up and spits a fluid rope of chew saliva in the direction of the monument.

That was supposed to be Red Cloud up there, he says, his voice venomous. You know I ain’t your pa.

She twists her closed lips sideways, narrowing her eyes.

Your sister is my daughter.

She nods, her chin in her shoulder, thinking of Cheyenne, probably taking her first smoke break at the Planned Parenthood Clinic back in Oregon.

I knew, the minute you were born you weren’t mine. All that bone white skin and cloud of fine white hair. Still.

She closes her eyes, lids thick with cream-colored lashes.

Come here, girl. I know this isn’t no surprise. It’s just time we said it outloud.

She lets him enfold her; he smells of leather and wood fire smoke and stale beer. She has never wanted to have this conversation, this knowledge laid out like the losing hand in a winner-takes-all poker game.

They walk, arm in arm, back to his bike. He reaches into the saddle bag where the skull is tucked, still bundled in her shirt. He fishes it out, unwrapping it, cradling it in one forearm. It is the size of a newborn child.

This bear you give me? That’s something good. That’s something between just us. I’ll keep it special my whole life. You take this lower jaw, look at them god-damned fangs, to remind you how dangerous you are. But also, to keep in mind that each one of us is a fragile thing.

He presses the toothed curve of bone into her hand. She knows, can feel that she is holding it like a child holds something precious. 

I’m going to take a leak. We’ll be in Oregon this time tomorrow. Unless you need a break from the bike. Then we’ll stop somewhere.

+

It’s easy to catch a ride out of the parking lot. The enormous granite heads imposing, passing judgment on her as she leaves. Forefathers of some bastard child.

They drop her at a gas station outside the park and inside she stands in front of a spinner rack of postcards. She laughs at one; a cartoon rendering of the monuments with three infamous presidents and a goofy freckled wide-grinning boy’s head. What, me worry? it asks on the front. She wants it, to remind her of this day, but she can’t waste money on stuff like that. Instead, she takes a picture of it, makes that her phone wallpaper and uploads it with #whatmeworry.

+

Back outside, she threads her arms through her backpack straps, hefts it higher between her shoulders, leans into the day and heads east.




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