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Letter to June 2032
I’m writing this from a roadside motel—yellowed as an old postcard from an intense sun. It’s adjoined to a onetime “fifties diner.” Now, since the 90s, a Chinese family’s restaurant. They, the Lu’s, also clean my room a couple times a week. It’s in a contract we made up years ago, handwritten in their stick-like lettering on a tattered napkin.
Yes, I’ve been living here, roadside like a traffic fatality, going on nine years now. We see little of cars these days, here in the deep Southwest—on a frontage road going nowhere. If you were to drive by or stop ‘round dinner time, you’d find me in that particular booth by the window, under the Christmas lights hung continuous, staring at the greasy dust that wraps their luminosity and thinking of a “time,” like it was 900 years ago.
Funny about those lights and Christmas, we haven’t seen any of the white stuff ‘round here in nearly 10 years. How ironic to hear Bing Crosby on the radio and it’s still 100 degrees on a date when I’d occasionally wake to a thin layer of snow.
I still recall the pretty portrait of you sent as a holiday postcard back in the 70s. The way the camera-flash lit up your baby-white skin, your mirrored black hair and lashes: the product of a French daddy and his Crow wife. The gold-lamé print of your pantsuit reflected your parents’ wealth, I thought, as I stood jealous in my own family’s poverty. You must have been ten then.
That was up in Montana, out of Browning, near Glacier—where your parents would take us to pick wild mushrooms. Your dad with his book, teaching us which were good, which were bad, and the similarities were so close. Later, your mom would fry them up to taste, surprisingly, like steak. I never wanted to leave those summers with your family.
In the still heat-shimmering evenings I go trekking this high desert terrain, hoping to see a ghost of a coyote, but they, too, are gone. Remember, June, when the fireflies would flash to us in a Morse-like code: Could it have been an SOS, warning us of a dangerous future? A future you would not live to see. Your baby-white skin matted down by the mortician’s hand. Your stuffed animals, worn and much-loved, surrounded your thin frame.
These days wouldn’t suit you, June. It’s best the animals— the real ones—are mostly on your side now and in your tender care. The last of the zoos have closed down, the circuses have left town. Good riddance to that. We both wished, even then, animals would never be caged or stared upon. And the honeybees, we once chased through fields with our glass jars, trying to catch them by their wings, have become revered in only my lifetime. You go on, sweet cousin; I’ll catch up with you later.
As routine, I retreat to my motel room/home/everything. It is void of references to the past: a few pictures of the kids who’ve moved on, a scattering of pens, cheap bottles of wine made into candleholders, and boxes of papers. Yes, I’ve become a hoarder of incomplete papers following me through my life, multiplying faster than rabbits.
I continue to write in longhand, as we were taught. Inspiration arrives on those evening walks, after the sun has set. Whoever thought, when we were children, that the sun would become our enemy, burning away all that is tenderskinned or fur-covered? The deaths have been on the news for years now, but one never really gets used to the sight of suffering and prolonged death.
Don’t worry about me, June, or my lack of affection here. Time has made me a patient recluse. Most likely they’ll find me here, taken by my own hand, in this room I’ll haunt until the sun sets it aflame.
A.M. Nelson was a junior/senior student at the Institute of American Indian Arts when she wrote this piece. She is Crow and Seminole. She returned to college in 2008 after both her mother and grandmother passed away in 2007. “I had grown up in poverty on an impoverished reservation, but it was my mother and grandmother who put pens, pencils, and crayons in my hand and who gave me encouragement,” she says. “I don’t think I’d be where I am now if it wasn’t for them.”
In 2008 and 2009, Nelson was accepted to the ABC/Disney/IAIA Television Workshop at IAIA, and she has received a number of awards, including the L. Rivard Scholarship, the Truman Capote Award, and the Naropa Scholarship, which is offered only once a year to one IAIA writing major. She feels blessed to attend the tribal college and is grateful for its fine instructors. Adding that another of her passions is animal rights, Anna says, “I am in the process of writing a book of poetry for the animals. After I find a publisher, I want to donate any future funds I receive to their many causes.”