Don’t get stranded on the Rez, or something like that.

My cousin from California once called the stretch of I-90 that runs through Sheridan, Wyoming the freeway. I quickly told him that we do not have freeways in Wyoming, careful to dispel any misconception that Wyoming is anything like anywhere else in the world. But if you follow I-90 north out of Sheridan, it eventually takes you to Billings, Montana. This route is very familiar to any northern Wyomingite as the nearest mall and well-functioning airport is located in Billings. As you cross the Wyoming/Montana border a green government sign solemnly reads, “You are now entering the Crow Indian Reservation,” in white block lettering. I-90 winds through the Rez for another sixty miles until Hardin, Montana finally appears. As a child this was significant because Hardin meant a stop at the good old Purple Cow restaurant. They make a mean grilled cheese, although I was always cautious to try the burger.

The Crow Reservation is a mere twenty miles from my home, but my knowledge of it has always been sparse. The most I can tell you is that you lose cell reception within its borders and in the winter the roads are icy because Indians hardly care if you have a pleasant drive on our way in and quickly out of the Rez. My mother once told me a story about driving through the Rez on a summer evening. She was in her mid-twenties when she got a flat outside of Lodgegrass and discovered that she didn’t have a spare. A capable and free woman, my mother walked into town to the grocery store. The man working behind the counter was casually talking to another man in the store in English when my mother came in and asked if they had any way to help her fix her tire. I don’t really remember how the story ends, all I know is that the two men gave her one look, revealing recognition, before they went back to talking to each other, this time in Crow. Moral of the story: don’t get stranded on the Rez.

That story used to make me uncomfortable because I had no idea how I would handle that situation, how I would fend for myself against the Indians, probably especially because I don’t remember what my mother did to get out of it herself. But now the story makes me uncomfortable because it’s not actually my mother’s. The two Indian men weren’t interested in helping her escape the Reservation to make it back to her beautiful home atop a forty-acre plot of land at the base of the Bighorn Mountains when no white man had ever been interested in acknowledging the unjust containment of a capable and once free people. The Indians have known the moral of my mother’s story for centuries. They’ve just never had the luxury of being able to learn from it.

New found fear of the Devil

I saw it in a look given to me by a boy I once loved and it scared me. Even though it was always when he held me close, I knew he was farthest from me then. The cool expression of raging hormones and greedy lust was in his own eyes, not mine. I swear. I did not know the Devil myself, I only believed in the good of humanity and the love of all, though it would be me he blamed later.

A boy of good repute and a dangerously charming smile, he carried with him the smell of wood smoke, horses and undying faith. We conveniently met at the age his parents allowed him to start dating and it seemed that God himself was smiling down on us. Indeed He must be, for a good-looking Mormon boy to hold my hand and sing me songs so sweetly. I thought the joy of Jesus and the hope of heaven pervaded me by his simple touch. I even breached my best friend’s crush on him in the name of the good of this church-going boy.

But the touch that lit my path to salvation darkened his own. When I pressed my lips against his for more of that innocent light, he could not speak to me, but he would press back. Pulling away, I would search his dark eyes for any proof of life, any shred of love. But I failed on my quest time and time again; his empty frame was all that ever held me.

Soon our faithful teenage love had rotted and the God that let me kiss him took him away because I had. When I loved, I thought to show it, but I did not know that God really saw it differently. I did not know the Devil hid in my physical affection. My best friend asked me how I dared to be unhappy after my careless deceit. I had no way to explain my new found fear of the Devil.

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