Mom thought my brother could intuit the future. Her assumptions weren’t baseless; she was a historian. As Nlaka’ pamux, we’ve been known to see things, like the white man before he came, or Jesus before the text. It’s all in the history books, trying to dismantle the Other. Maybe anthropologists and their records are stupid things to reference. I’m beyond the era of total ethnography, we seem to exist in spite of it. Grampa Crow said when Simon Fraser came to Stein Valley it was hot; the women were taking baths in the river, and they thought Simon was Jesus. His white, starched shirt illuminated in the daylight. The women rested their hand on him and cried as he walked on the stony earth. Grampa Crow was a divine rhetorician who had several stories on how he lost his thumb: the war, the rodeo, Indian school, a big mammal bit it off. You can trust a storyteller for the true nature of something, but never trust the details.
Guyweeyo had a mild faith about it all: his powers, Mom, and the books, but not stories in their relation or their nature. His dizzy spells or visions could be sacred, or maybe he wasn’t eating enough. It was all the same.
He got his name from his dad, Tona. We think it translates to, “a place of hope,” but our ways prevent rendering the name. After 32 years of knowing my brother, I had only recently learned the name of his father. There have been too many traumas to go around asking questions of each other: Mother’s death, the fathers who stayed too long, and the ones who left. Nlaka’ pamux requires the dignity to deny a splintered lineage. In organicity, one can only be Nlaka’ pamux.
Mom walked in labor along train tracks, until Canadian Pacific Railway men stopped and took her to Chilliwack General. Guyweeyo’s life has always dealt with the tracks. The very temporal thing cannot contain the rolling machine on the alloy; he was almost born on the tracks. Long before the blow, he predicted a car wreck him and Mom were in. His first vision, his first full sentence was, “Train’s gonna bite our ass.”
He believes he lost his visions when he drank in eleventh grade, before our childhood friend left our house and died along the tracks with a Walkman on.
Mom called Guyweeyo a head banger, not necessarily because he had a Ratt tee-shirt, or wore studded cuffs, or preferred black in the summer, or started air-guitar contests when he babysat my brother and I, but because he used to bang his head into the wall when he was a child until his head bled. It was mentioned in jest, as if it was never a concern, but that Guyweeyo’s unusual behavior was always punk, always head banger. Mom laughed.
When my sister calls him tenderhearted, she says it like she’s talking to one of her children. He was called “Shy Guy,” in grade school, before they started calling him “The Undertaker,” and I hold him in that dynamism. The Guyweeyo who scared people in his graduation pictures, in a black trench coat, smelling like peppermint schnapps, giving El Diablo gestures to the camera, was the same Guyweeyo who meticulously filed and logged all my mother’s work when she died. He knows the stories of our grandfathers and their Indian names, along with the land they cleared.
A child can’t verbalize torture, and will take to breaking his skin against walls. We all have something from that time; I can’t sleep on my back without feeling exposed.
When Guy ran away my Dad had already left, and so did all the dads. Guy’s Dad left second. First was Larry, my sister’s dad, who left, came back, and left again when I was 16. My younger brother and I share a father. My sister calls him a sadist. He painted, and illustrated the nature of a circle to me before I could comprehend.
Guyweeyo ran away to look for his dad when I was a child. He called, and every time Mom cried. Eventually he was ready to come home, and we had to find the money to fly him back. I remember distinctly that Mom said his father threw him out. On the way to the airport she said his father hurt him, and we didn’t know what Guy was doing for cash on the street, and God only knows what Guy was doing out there, and Jesus Christ … Guy let me hug him for the first time when he got off the plane. It’s hard to hug him. We both wonder if we’re hurting each other, with concerned faces and forced smiles.
I saw my dad once after Mom died, and he didn’t throw me out, but he disappointed me as well. I could tell that he had hurt us by his denial, and the omissions when it came to my brothers and my sister, and that his wife, the mother of my new five siblings, had been my sister’s childhood friend.
Guyweeyo’s father froze to death, homeless. Larry died from alcoholism, and my father was beaten to death in a motel. We wonder what it means for us. Much of the ode to my brother is a refutation of the several stigmas we carry. It’s a slight subversion to take our Dickensian, Indian history and turn it to ode. It’s a slight against the brutality we endured to make it all beautiful.
I think some things are organic in children. My son nods his head to music, almost bonking it on things in close proximity: coffee tables, toys, and the wall. He presses his head into the floor when he’s tired. I gave my baby Guyweeyo’s name because I felt the enormity of his heart and his willful kicks. If things were harder would my baby hurt himself? His father is gentle but how much can one know a man? I wonder, and then I know Guyweeyo.
We’re all readers, but Guyweeyo’s genre is Romanticism. He was drawn to the poor children, the tempest nights, spirits and gloom. I will always be in the process of narrating him. I’m incapable of transmitting the nature of my brother’s self. He let Mom call them roommates until she could say ‘lover,’ he has always answered the phone, he hates the phone, he turns red, he will yell before he cries. He’s always shown containment. I cannot stand the absence of him within his own work, but how can the youngest child ever know? I feel surrounded by dead fathers when I think of Guyweeyo’s body pressed against the wall.
There was a man who would not let a boy walk straight. Every time the boy got up, the man pushed his head to the ground. The boy’s life began with locked doors and the wails from women on the other end, too young to be women, too small to break the door. The man became a father, and he let the children walk, afraid to touch them, but not to watch.
Terese Mailhot is a graduate from the Institute of American Indian Arts. She’s Saturday Editor at The Rumpus. Her work has been featured in Carve Magazine, The Offing, The Toast, and elsewhere.