There Is No Way to Move the Mountain

I wrote this a week after Kobe Bryant, his thirteen-year-old daughter, Gianna, and their family friends were killed in a helicopter accident on January 26, 2020. It was not until today, the penultimate Sunday of Lent, that I felt compelled to share.

Kobe and Gianna Bryant at a Lakers Game
(via NBC News)

I don’t know why, but I looked up Kobe Bryant’s funeral today only to find out it still hasn’t happened. This unnerved me, and I don’t fully understand why. Still? Grief has stages, but no timetable. All nine bodies recovered, returned, not yet laid to rest. I think in statements about this horrific accident, I suppose, to try to square it with myself.

Why were they flying in that fog?

It was a frightful and gruesome way to go. Blunt force trauma into the side of a hill on a mountain in Calabasas, California; three weeks of nonstop press; a federal investigation; jerseys, candles, flowers, eyes red from weeping, purple, yellow. Where does this leave Los Angeles? I need to stop reading all the press. I need to look away from the wreckage strewn along the hillside because, more than a week later, it is still there on every article and in every news clip, the scene that none of us can unsee. And there is no way to make this better, no semblance of resolution. I’m angry it was Kobe, Gianna, and their family friends. Fog, blunt force, press. Every shot clock read eight, twenty-four.

Why did it have to be someone who told us he was sorry?

We wanted Kobe to be invincible because he elevated his focus and his work to a high art. Yet all that stares back at us from our screens is the scorched side of the mountain, the delicate trails of white smoke rising to a God I am pleading with for answers. Where does this leave the rest of us? There is no way to make this better. I refuse to believe Kobe was barreling towards that hillside his whole life because it’s just so egregiously unfair.

Like the wreckage of burnt, mangled edges of helicopter scattered along that mountain, none of this fits together anymore. No similes stick, and all my ruminating on the Black excellence Kobe reflected back to us are woefully incomplete. He did what you are supposed to do─he won─and he exploded into the side of a mountain. I was so rattled and angry at God the first few days that I prayed the hours faithfully, earnestly, searchingly: none, sext, vespers, compline. Vanessa, Natalia, Bianka, Capri. 

I can’t stop thinking about the sound of the impact, the explosion the churchgoers heard and felt from the street below. 

It shook the mountain. 

Why did You look away?

What does it mean to be recovered, returned, and not yet laid to rest? What does it mean to not know where to land? My mom once told me that funerals are very important for Black people because we need to look death in the face and accept it. I can’t keep looking at the crash site.  I write about it to integrate the shock, the outrage, the strangely heavy sorrow, to look unflinchingly at the mountain. I write about it to come back. There is no way to make this better. There is no resolution this side of heaven—only our grief. 

I know this to be true. And—not “but”—I don’t know why the Bryants, the Altobellis, and the Mausers had to die that day. And—not “but”—I know enough to know an explanation for an unnecessary helicopter accident is not a place to land. A funeral is not a resolution. It was a horrific accident. And when we acknowledge the mountain, the grief begins to move.

Begin Again

After three years, I’ve decided to start dancing ballet again.

This is huge for me, because ballet is something I have associated heavily with New York. On weekends, and sometimes after my unfulfilling 9-5 in Midtown, I used to walk to Alvin Ailey for the beginner class. Ballet slippers and leotard tucked neatly into the bottom of my purse, I didn’t mind the long avenues and wide streets to get where I was going.

I loved dancing. I hated life in New York. Other than the vibrant Native community, it was suffocating and deeply isolating. I stayed, in all honesty, because I thought I should. I didn’t know what it meant to be myself in Providence; to have finished school and not yet settled into whatever was next. If I had to struggle with existential questions and quarter-life crises—which seemed inevitable—the struggle might as well, at the very least, have a veneer of importance.

I left three years ago now, but I fear sometimes that misadventure stripped me of my nerve, my boldness, my audacity. Loud noises startle me. Men make me nervous when they stand too close. The smell of bourbon turns my stomach. I hate when people tell me how busy they are. It’s like I’ve shrunken into the shadow of the courageous young woman I used to be.

But if you’ve been following this blog, none of this is new. Blah blah blah. Even I want a new storyline. My own discomfort has dulled into white noise, and my anxiety notwithstanding, I have to ask myself: what’s next? I am learning that sometimes things get better…and some things don’t. Maybe there is no existential solid ground; maybe the best I can do, for now, is to feel my way along the unease.

Last night, I fished my ballet slippers out of a box I still have not unpacked from New York. I placed them next to my bed on the rug I bought in Morocco (which features, if you are wondering, an Indigenous Amazigh pattern from Anfa, or so-called Casablanca). When I woke up this morning and looked down at them, I felt a twinge of indignation grip me by the spine.

Get up.

Take your life back.

I shook the old slippers loose. I tried them on—point, flex—and let my heart break. Again. I’m angry that I left. I’m angry that I came back. I’m angry that in all this time, I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.

I don’t know if it’s the anxiety, the wack antidepressant that hasn’t done anything for my pessimism, the weather, the back-to-back-eclipses. Some days I don’t feel brave; others I wonder sometimes if I’m wack. All I can do is put on my ballet slippers, show up, and try again. And again. And again. And again. And again. As many times as it takes until I feel my feet on the ground, until I break open.

Geographies of Belonging (I Loved You)

I wrote this a while ago but felt like sharing it today. Here’s to editing less in 2018.

I loved New York, but I’m not sure New York loved me. Educated, multilingual, young, hardworking: the city stifled me. Too much space, too many avenues, not enough context, even though more Native people live in big cities than anywhere else.

Still, I couldn’t find myself there. In New England, I am a “city Indian” but, clearly, belonging somewhere. In New York, I was anonymous and ambiguously brown, without tribe or nation. I had come from a margin to the center, and yet, at the center, I was just another nameless nobody trying to make it, all without ever having defined this elusive “it” for myself. An apartment, a job, a boyfriend—the Sex and the City Trinity every young womyn who finds herself in New York is supposed to strive for?  I wanted to see myself in the streets and smog, the grime, cigarettes and self-important millennials, delayed trains and deferred dreams. But I couldn’t imagine the city as my own.

Instead, I kept my frustration to myself. But it was clear New York was not meant for me. My first winter dumped snow over my block in Queens, burrowing me in for days. It didn’t melt for two weeks. The second winter was dry and gray uptown, where every day Dominicans barked at me in Spanish and I stared back at them, incredulous. I didn’t know any insults in Narragansett––only the few words my elders had taught me, because outside of that, I hadn’t asked. And so I burned with silent resentment.

In the spring, I met someone who I thought I could love, and yet, he was beyond help. He loved the idea of our people too much and himself too little. It was pathological, but I wanted it to be better. I wanted him to be better. What was I supposed to do? He left at the beginning of May, maybe to Los Angeles, or the rez where he never felt accepted, or the moon. Who knows? He left.

Those were my longest days and worst nights. I didn’t drink; I had struggled with alcohol before. My grandfather died of cirrhosis when I was small, and I didn’t want to repeat the pathology. At times, in the hazy twilight above the city that did not see me, I smudged. I wept to my grandmother who walked on before I was born. How do I get better? How do we get better? I wept for my family, my trauma, my hopeless almost-love for a hopeless fool full of hope for our people. And he loved New York. Everything he treasured about the city, I hated. It was a riddle I couldn’t figure out.

As the spring nights thawed and eventually stretched into an airless summer, I wondered if I was doing it wrong. Other millennials, it seemed, were having the time of their lives in Harlem, downtown, Brooklyn––anywhere but where I was. When I crossed paths with them, they seemed exuberant to leave their old selves behind. The city, they told me, was a place where you became new. You didn’t bring who you were when you came. You didn’t weep for your ancestors or the land you left behind, and certainly not for the people on whose stolen land you now inhabited. They told me to walk the streets like a runway, but I longed for the woodlands and shores my people have inhabited since the beginning of time. They didn’t understand me, but the fool who left me did. Wherever he was, he carried with him secrets I hadn’t told anyone in New York: my sadness, shame and stigma, my pathologies, my pain. Maybe, at best, we commiserated. We saw each other in our sorrow. We wanted to believe in each other’s come-up story. It was fucked-up and, clearly, ill-fated.

And somehow, life went on. Or not. During the day, from my air-conditioned office forty floors above Midtown, I watched the resistance at Standing Rock unfold. He appeared from the flood of posts and hashtags and retweets. I was angry and concerned, disoriented, afraid. At night I smudged for, and because of, him. I worried for the Standing Rock community, for the earth, for our sovereignty, and for us. Both of us and all of us.

During the day, I watched my people being sprayed, attacked by dogs, shot at and mowed down; and in the dead of a New York City summer, I walked to the train ice-cold to my bones. The revolution will not be televised, and it certainly won’t be advanced by a sad, lonely Narragansett girl moping in an office on 34th Street.

But I didn’t tell anyone that I’m Native. I ached silently for my people and the pathology called America––a pathology we didn’t ask for or perpetuate on ourselves, at least not willingly. If Standing Rock was a start, I wondered how I could do better for all of us, living a half-life on a cruel concrete island I wafted over like a ghost.

I loved New York, but I was lying to myself. So I left at the beginning of September. I came back to New England and held my breath for several months. In the emerald forests of Arcadia, on the breezy shores of Narragansett, I listened to the wind at sunset and thought of nothing. Maybe a pukwudgie would get me after nightfall, or even worse, maybe I’d catch up with myself. Either way, I didn’t dare cry, or talk about my stifling days and sleepless nights.

Space, avenues, context, belonging: I learned that margins and centers are relative. There was so much I thought I could love, and yet, none of it loved me back. Standing at various points in the middle of nowhere, I heard the wind and thought of spring. What does the thaw feel like in North Dakota? If I ever saw him again, would I have anything to say? It was an overwhelming silence, a hole in my heart. I began learning Narragansett. I wore my knees out praying because I wanted to get better.

Even still, I don’t yet have the language for what happened: heartbreak. Rage. Rupture. Who knows, and at this point, who cares?

In New York, I faced my sadness, shame, pathologies, and pain. I decided to lay my trauma to rest, and for that, I feel grateful. I learned that, for now, I need to be in my community and on the land my people have inhabited since time immemorial. And ultimately, I left because I’m bigger than the city. I left because you never asked me to stay.

It’s 2018, and I’m Still Writing

I’m working on sharing my writing more.

I didn’t sleep at all after I got home on New Year’s Eve. Instead I dreamt weird and unnervingly vivid dreams half awake; then lay in bed well past noon. Hangover notwithstanding, it felt important to just write. It matters less that I had a brush with death last year and more that I’m about to turn 26 (!!!) and I’m learning to embody authenticity in my life.

And so, as it were, I did not wake up to a clean slate of 2018. Nobody does, ever, no matter how much we like to romanticize New Year’s as a fresh start. I woke up to a pounding headache and the reality that I’m still in Providence, the deeply divided, broken city I love and have returned to again and again. I’m still waiting to hear back about some day jobs; still impatient with myself at times, still working through my FOMO and anxiety; still relieved to have dumped my emotionally constipated ex; still searching for the perfect oil for my hair in the wintertime.

Most importantly, I am still writing every single day. Through my hangovers and heartbreaks, I’ve been writing. I don’t share as much of it here I’d like to – I’m still working on that inner critic. But I’m grateful for this space as I begin my second year of blogging. I couldn’t have imagined the connections I’ve made through this blog, and to that end, I’m enormously grateful for my readers. In particular, I’m grateful for the other Indigenous and Black artists I’ve met through my own (mis)adventures here. May we all have the courage to keep creating.

Wunnánumaonkash.

IMG_2316
Thanks, Dap.