a creative nonfiction piece
As she past the black dress on the floor, she was reminded of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC. Many years previous, in her theater design class, she watched a documentary about the designer of that memorial, Maya Lin. During the documentary, there was a veteran who had called the memorial nothing more than ‘a black scar’ within the earth. This dress was that for her living room floor.
She had set it out to dry two days ago. It was to be worn at the funeral of a distant aunt. The young woman didn’t own any black dresses. She only ever ended up buying them for funerals and then never wore them again. Her mother had suggested that she go to the local thrift store. She had and was happy to find two outfits for under fifteen dollars. The young woman had planned on attending both the wake and funeral. This was before she knew that later in the week she would be traveling to Arizona to help her husband say goodbye to his grandfather. Now the dress would be worn to the grandfather’s funeral instead.
Death had been lingering in her mind for a few weeks now. A conversation with a friend had reignited an old curiosity around the death of one of her uncles. He had died at the hands of the police. There had always been mystery around his death. He was alive. The police officers entered the room. They pushed him to the ground and then he never got up again. This was all the family knew. She had promised herself that someday she would meet the men or women who were in that room when her uncle died. She kept thinking about her uncle.
This had led to thoughts of her other uncle, the sweet grumpy one who had died less than a year ago. His birthday was coming up. He would have been 51. She knew this because for his 50th birthday they celebrated. Her mom got pizza and ice cream cake and invited all his friends. The young woman and her husband had joined. She had taken many, many pictures that day. She had felt connected to her family and so happy. After all, a main reason she moved to North Dakota was to get to know her family better.
Her efforts had not gone as she had hoped. They were all busy and had lives of their own. They were also different than she was and many of the numerous clan didn’t know her. She had grown up in cities far away. Many of them had grown up in North Dakota on farms or ranches. She knew they loved her, but during family events she always felt separate, not really knowing who to talk to. Her family loved her, of this there was no question, and if she needed help they would drop everything for her. She had desired something else though. She wanted to feel that she belonged. This would only come with time, but she knew her time in North Dakota was in its final lap. Her husband and she planned to leave within the next two years. Now was the only time left to make true connections. Being a military brat, she knew how hard it was to maintain relationships over a distance.
This desire to belong was only deepened by the sense of cultural bankruptcy which became more apparent daily. She had grown up off her reservation, away from her tribe. She didn’t speak her language or understand the traditions and customs of her people. In the past year, for the first time, she had bumped into many who were interested to know and understand her culture. Which put her in a particularly difficult situation since she didn’t know it herself. Her mother had done what all the elders of her time told her, “Get off the rez.” Now this choice, made before the young woman was even a thought in her parents’ minds, caused her to feel set apart from her tribe.
On top of this, she missed her church family. It had been two years since she had been to church, but she finally missed them. She had left because of questions she had about the character of God. These questions had proved large and vast. They would take time to answer. Sitting in church growing bitter would do no good, or so she believed.
Quietly she sat down at her black kitchen table, staring at the dress. All she could think about was the great longing in her heart. Since moving to North Dakota she had lost a friend, an uncle and now an aunt. Soon her husband would lose a grandfather. Her mother had somehow survived the loss of both her parents and three brothers, not to mention the aunt who helped raise her and the grandmother who was a mother to her. The young women questioned if she had the strength to be like her mother. Could she survive more loss? Did she even have a choice?
The long black dress on the floor seemed to grow and shift. It was a reminder of the trip her husband and she would take in two days. It was a reminder of another ending of a life. The names of her uncles, her friend and her aunt pounded in her head.
Endings had always proved problematic for the young woman. She loved potential and an end was the death of potential. In the past few months she had become more comfortable with endings, but the end of potential for a human life still caused her great trouble. She had yet to open the cards she received after her sweet grumpy uncle’s funeral. She couldn’t. Like many she sought to delay the end. This was a lie.
Truly, the only lie she tolerated. You can’t delay the end of a life. Maybe this was why she couldn’t bring herself to pick the dress up off of the floor. If she disturbed it, something could happen. If she moved it, she would have to acknowledge that something was happening.
This day was the day her distant aunt would be buried. The day before, the young woman had seen the grieving family. They had asked her to return tomorrow, but she knew she couldn’t. Being at the wake had made the names pounding in her head grow louder. She had to be there for her husband. Soon he would be the family grieving.
She felt inadequate. Her power had always been in words. They made things clearer and signaled so much in her life, but when death came to visit the young woman, words failed. The things she depended on so often. They failed her. They were useless and wrong and out of place. They were nothing. They are nothing.