Ehanna (long ago)! In a small, one-room log cabin located in a sparsely populated area on a Indian (NDN) reservation lived an NDN boy, his mother, and nine siblings. The mother was a strong Dakotawin (Indian woman) who instilled her Dakota values of honesty, courage, hard work, and pride in her Dakota heritage in all her children. It was a simple life, one of sharing, hard work, and making do with what little they had. The NDN boy knew somewhat of the Wasicu (Caucasians) who lived on the reservation, but he didn't care to learn anything about them. Wakan Tanka (the Great Spirit) had made them different from him; their skins were pale, and the men had hair on their face. They lived in different houses, they had different customs, and they practiced a religion that was strange to him
Growing up in the country, the NDN boy was shy and withdrawn when he was sent to a BIA school. It was there that he experienced his first on-going interaction with the Wasicu, the ones who came from outside the reservation. They were his teachers, and the world they described sounded so strange to him. It was a world so different than his, a world he knew he could never be part of, nor did he want to be.
When the NDN boy was in the third or fourth grade, a "Black Robe" (missionary) came knocking on the NDN boy'd door. This Black Robe would be the first of several Black Robes who came to their log cabin to cajole his siblings and him into attending a Christian church. He soon found Christian religions were the opposite of the Dakota values his mother had instilled in him. By the time he was a teenager, he rejected Christianity altogether. Around the same time the first preacher showed up at his log cabin, his older sister began to read books to him and his siblings by a kerosene lamp up in the loft of the cabin where they slept.
Exposure to Christianity and books had a profound effect on the NDN boy. In a short time, he was reading every book he could get his hands on. Due to his Dakota upbringing, the books he read were books predominantly about his people and other Indian tribes. He would become very angry when he read about the wrongs his people and other tribes suffered at the hands of the Wasicu who were supposed to be "civilized." Because there was no electricity in the log cabin in which he lived, he often had to read by the dim light cast off by kerosene lamps when the sun went down. "Istima!" (go to sleep) his mother told him many times when he became engrossed in a good book and would read long into the night. By the time he reached eighth grade, he had ruined his eyes from reading by the dim light of kerosene lamps. Eventually, the historical wrongs he read about, committed against his people, his disillusionment with the Christian religions he was forced to learn, along with his own, rebellious, trouble-making nature led him to adopt as true these three principles that would influence him for the rest of his life: all religions were false, rules were made for other people, and he was smarter than most people (Many years later, he would also accept the fact that part of him would never grow up.).
In the eighth grade, he joined the school basketball team. Although, he was not a very good player, he was able to play a few minutes every now and then when his team was far ahead. One such time happened at a non-Indian school located about 30 miles off the reservation. He was familiar with the school because his older sister was a high school senior there due to their reservation not having a high school at that time. During the last minutes of the game, he was substituted into the game and lucky enough to score a basket. Up in the balcony, his sister went wild (from what he was told later). More importantly, at least as far as this story is concerned, during his time on the bench, his eyes were drawn, again and again, to the prettiest girl he had ever seen. She had long hair, a stunning face, a beautiful smile and the sexiest legs he had ever seen. She was a cheerleader for the opposing team.
When the NDN boy graduated from grade school, not wanting to attend a-year around Indian boarding school, he reluctantly followed his sister's example and enrolled in that non-Indian school where he had seen that gorgeous cheerleader the year before. It was the lesser of two evils. Although he was scared and nervous on the first day of school, the pretty cheerleader, the one he had seen the year before, had lingered in his mind, and he found himself searching for her in the crowd in spite of his nervousness at being off the reservation and in a strange environment. He had the feeling that she had graduated from eighth grade just like he had and would be in one of his classes. And, she was!
When NDN boy finally saw her, he could not stop staring at her. She was much more gorgeous than he remembered. She must have noticed him staring because she looked right at him, and her look took his breath away. His crush on this beautiful young winyan (lady) soon turned into hopeless love that never wavered in the entire 4 years he went to school there. He never spoke once to her in those 4 years due to his extreme shyness and due to his mistrust and fear of the world she came from. For, although not yet an adult, he realized that his culture and her culture were as incompatible as oil and water. So, he adored her from afar, often glancing at her when he was sure no one else was watching. At times she would catch those looks, their eyes would inadvertently meet, and he truly became lost in those beautiful brown eyes.
Alas, in the summer of the NDN boy's junior year, he finally succumbed to the temptations of alcohol that was so prevalent on his Rez. He would managed to return to school for his senior year, but he was already caught in alcohol's downward spiral that would continue on for about a dozen years and result in some horrible consequences for him.
At the start of the NDN boy's'
senior year an Indian guy, a transfer student, begin to take notice of the
cheerleader. He soon became infatuated with her and could not help but notice
the glances exchanged between the NDN boy and the cheerleader. The NDN boy was
aware of his infatuation with the cheerleader, after all they stayed in the
same dorm, but he never gave it much thought. By now he was wise enough to
realize nothing would become of his love for the cheerleader. More ever, over
the summer he had his first experience with the wild side of life and that life
was calling to him.
Until one weekend when he was in Devils Lake's infamous Colonial Bar. When he came out the bar the Indian guy sucker punched him right in the mouth. Not expecting the punch, the NDN had no chance to defend himself and fell to the ground with one tooth knocked out and two so loose that they had to be removed later. The Indian guy never gave a reason why he sucker punched the NDN boy, but they both knew it was because the Indian guy was jealous of the glances exchanged between the cheerleader and the NDN boy. The Indian guy dropped out of school soon after that and within a couple of years he was dead by his own hand.
As a result of his disreputable lifestyle, he felt he was unworthy to be even in the same school with this girl of his dreams. He would vacillate between continuing to adore her from afar, or ignoring her altogether. However, try as he might, he couldn't ignore her for long; her smile, her captivating eyes, the way she walked, how she dressed, her beauty, all had to strong of a pull on him, and he would go back to adoring her from afar. He did manage to avoid looking at her the entire last week of school. He knew he would never see her again, therefore, his heart hurt when he caught glimpses of her, so he avoiding looking at her altogether. In spite of missing 32 days because of his burgeoning addiction, he graduated.
The perfect storm of NDN boy's alcoholism and his guiding principles (all religions were false, rules were made for other people, and he was smarter than most people) was to lead him to live a life filled with drama, heartbreak, and disappointments. He served time in jail, won and lost the love of several good winyans, was chronically unemployed, and his recklessness eventually resulted in a car accident, which left him paralyzed from the waist down. It was only by is family's prayers to Wakan Tanka, a dedicated therapist who pushed him hard, and his own refusal to believe that he would never walk again, that he regained his ability to walk (somewhat) again. During that dark time in his life, he often thought about that beautiful cheerleader he lost his heart to, but by then she seemed more of a vision than a real person. He also remembered some of his mother's Dakota teaching and this led him to get his act together and straighten up.
In the years that followed the NDN boy's return to sobriety, those three principles that brought him so much sorrow and heartbreak, began to bring him much happiness and many personal and professional accomplishments. He conquered his alcoholism, started a family, obtained a teacher's degree, won a state championship in pool, obtained the highest degree possible in education, held many satisfying jobs, and as a Marine Corps veteran, he carried the Marine Corps flag in the Grand Entries at his reservation annual powwows, a significant honor among the Dakota people. But, most importantly, he raised three sons and a daughter as a single parent after his divorce. Thankfully, he learned in time, it's not the abilities the Creator bestows on a person that are important; it's how a person uses them.
Many of friends and relatives had given up hope that he would ever turn his life around. When he did sober up many asked what influenced him,
the biggest drunk around, to quit drinking? His reply was always, "It was
how my mother raised me, the Dakota values she instilled in me as child that
guided me back to sobriety." Sobriety brought a lot of regret of the things he did and didn't do during what he now calls his "Hobo Joe years". Not having the courage to let the cheerleader know of his feeling towards her in High School was a major regret. At that time he made a promise to himself,
"I'm going to live my life in a manner that when I reach 50 years old, I won't look back at my 40s with this much
regret." It was a promise he kept. When he reached 50 years of age, he didn't
have nearly as many regrets as he did when he reached 40.
As the NDN boy began to take advantage of the potential which Wakan Tanka blessed him with, that beautiful Caucasian cheerleader with the amazing smile and enchanting eyes would pop into his head, and every now and then he would think, "I wonder what she's doing tonight." Unexpectedly, he began to experience some mild regret at never having spoken to her much less never having told her about his feelings toward her.
Then in his 55th year of the NDN boy's life, when he was enjoying his life, which had settled into a pleasant routine, when most of the professional goals he had set for himself had been reached, when he was comfortable with his growth as a Dakota Wichasa (adult man), when his children were grown and had blessed him with many beautiful thakozas (grand children), when he had the respect of his family, friends, and relatives, when he was enjoying the freedom of his bachelor life, he was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer and was told he had 5 years to live.
It was shortly after he was diagnosed with cancer that he had his first dream about the cheerleader he loved so deeply, so long ago. Over the next 5 years, he had several reoccurring dreams about her, and he wondered if he was going crazy. How could a girl he had only known for 4 years, so long ago, whom he never spoke a word to, keep haunting his dreams? Not that they were bad dreams, but the dreams brought feelings of intense regret. Illogically, he began to think, "If I can just talk to her, and tell her how I had felt toward her, so long ago, maybe those dreams would stop."
Also, during this time the NDN boy's son convinced him to get on Facebook. As he became familiar with Facebook, he realized he could reach out to almost anyone he had met over the years. The cheerleader was an obvious choice when he began to look up old classmates. After he located her, he struggled with the idea of contacting her via Facebook. After all, it had been 4 decades since he had seen her. He was concerned that she might become offended if he reached out to her. When he did work up enough courage to send her a message on Facebook, he discovered her message feature was not activated.
Then, one day the NDN boy ran into another alumnus from his high school, and this alumnus happened to mention the name of another classmate who was living in the same vicinity as the cheerleader. Although it was a long shot, he decided to send this other classmate a message hoping she, in turn, would tell the cheerleader that he was trying to contact old classmates. And, maybe out of curiosity, the cheerleader would activate her message feature on her Facebook. On this slim possibility, he sent this other classmate a message.
He didn't know if it was a long-shot, or if the cheerleader suddenly turned on her message feature, but one morning on a trip home from Montana, he tried to send her a message, and it went through! He immediately felt as shy and unsure as that young NDN boy did so many years ago, whenever he was in the same room with her. After sending her a couple more messages, she eventually responded, albeit, just a few words.
Their brief chat on Facebook was enough for him to finally convey to her how he had felt towards her in high school, and why he had never acted on his feelings. She replied sort of how he'd expected her to. She was not the person that he remembered.... Forty-three years of joys and heartaches had changed her.... She was happily married with children and had a good life. He told her it wasn't his intent to turn the clock back as he too had had a good life, but it was something he was compelled to do, and he couldn't explain why. And, he wasn't that shy little NDN boy anymore. In the 4 decades that had passed, he had grown into a very outspoken individual, one who said what he meant and meant what he said.
Now that the NDN boy had contacted her and said the words that he had wished he had said so long ago, he still wonders, what compelled him to do so? Sure he had dreams about her, and as a Dakota he is aware that some dreams are instructive, but it had been 4 decades since he had last seen her, and he was just a kid at the time. Could it be that his love for the cheerleader was more than a young man's crush, a love that he had subconsciously suppressed due to his loyalty to his Dakota upbringing, an upbringing that was radically different from the cheerleader's world? Or, had his unconscious mind, which has a will and purpose of its own, regretted that he knowingly chose to "forget" the cheerleader and to travel down a path of alcoholism after he had graduated from high school, because it was a wild, exciting lifestyle that was extremely attractive to him at the time? And, had he regretted that choice, and it had come back to haunt him after all these years when he least expected it to? Or, was it simply a love so strong that it had to be stated even though 4 decades had passed and both the cheerleader and he were leading happy, productive lives? He really doesn't know why he felt compelled now to say the words that he wished he had said long ago to the cheerleader.
Maybe the reason is not important, for there are some things that are just not meant to be known. However, his Dakota upbringing knew that some dreams are Wakan (sacred) and carry important instructions that must be followed, so after much thought he did contact the cheerleader and said what should have been said many years ago. Now that the ghost of his youth has been appeased, he will now face whatever challenges life may bring with one less feeling of regret. End of story.