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The Unraveling
Published in Amphibian Literature Review

I never thought my life would look so ugly in the end. A tangled gray-brown ball of twine in my hands, lumpy and fraying. It bulges with knots and beads and seeds, tombstones of choices, missteps, and triumphs; of probing joy and pulling sorrow. Of things I’ve broken or that have broken me, all in the name of love. 

I am tying on the last bead today, a blue stone polished smooth by my worry. And it will be the last – how could I continue after? My life has become a performance with only one listener.

The bead is blue for joy in a wedding, the blue of renewal, of sweet clear water. We called you mool-mool as a child for the little burbling noises you’d make, the sounds of a spring burbling life cheerfully from the ground. You brought us life, little one. 

It’s hard for me to remember that you are not little anymore. Tomorrow you will wear white, not blue; you will celebrate life in the new hues you have learned from your soon-to-be husband and his people. Your people. 

Don’t worry too much about the people you are leaving behind – even our name is a lie now. Growing family, pregnant ones. But our people are shadows, thinning and shrinking. It is no wonder you left our language. 

For a moment I wonder if I made the wrong choice, sending you to the modern school, the “melting pot” that promised to unite us but managed only to transform you. They made whiteness and womanhood from your innocence, an irreversible alchemy. A colonization of the soul. 

In the name of love. 

I should be grateful that you found love. A wedding is a day of joy. But the eve of one is heavy, a moment crouched on the threshold of memory. 

The blue bead affixed, I slowly unspool tattered thread. There is something I need to remember. I peel my life back one curl at a time: a brown clay bead tied on when you left home, fired with a prayer and misshapen where my thumb pressed too hard; a shard of wood, powdering now but still whole, from the cross over your father’s buried body; a seed, the arrival of the white men and the long debated treaty between us, a new hope planted, waiting to be nurtured. 

There. My fingers catch on a tiny tooth, its brittle edges still sharp. The first thing you ever lost.

It is fragile against my skin. I remember the look in your black eyes as you handed me this part of you. You looked sad so I told you we could plant it and when it had grown into a tall white beech tree you would be a woman. But you shook your head and said, with the grave wisdom of children, “It’s for you. Now you will always have a part of me. Just like I have parts of you.”

Slowly I wind the string back up, carefully tuck in the loose end beyond the last blue bead. Your bead. They’ll bury my ititamat with me when I die and that will be the end of our story. Then at last, my little one, you will live life unmoored from the things you have lost. 

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