A crinkled green poster is pasted to the wall behind the black man seated opposite me. It offers the message: "Home is what you remember." It's an advertisement for coffee or life insurance or something, but the first thought that kicks my brain is of my father.
When I was a boy, he took me to the top of Wapu Mountain. My hair was long then, past my shoulders. His skin, taut and tan, shone in the sun like the reflection off a mirror. He said quietly, "There will come a day when I will no longer be. But you can come here and talk and I will hear you." His words made me nervous, and I was afraid he would fall on the ground right then. Instead, he motioned me to follow him for our descent.
Last Thursday he died. He was 87, still living on Arrow Falls Reservation in Montana. Heart attack. Distant hospital. The telegram from an uncle I've never met in Helena rattled me yesterday afternoon.
My hair is short now, black with white reminders of age at my temples. I wear suits, go to a job in an office, attend a big Catholic church, make good money. There's this tugging, though.
At 23, I moved to Chicago. Tired of the Falls where my neighbors were at least one of many things: lazy, proud, apathetic, scared, ignorant, dependent. John Quails promised for 13 years to get down to the one-man radio station and fix the broken fence before he finally paid his son to do it. Mr. Mahpe left his house only to buy groceries. And Elaine Victor, she'd refuse to carry on with these stories about "the people." She spoke Cheyenne and refused to answer me when I said hello in English. My father was not the worst of men, but he never wanted to go beyond the grounds, saying how everything outside Falls was either not worth seeing or no different from home. I didn't want to end up like that. I wanted to see the outside.
Chicago wasn't the most likely choice, but that's where I went, leaving behind Arrow Falls, my father's disapproval, and the weight of an ancestral history.
First thing I did was find a barbershop. The lady looked at me funny when I asked her to "cut it all off." I watched as the crow-colored clumps fell on the floor's rubber mat almost as quickly as I shed the ties to my heritage.
Since then, I've been running. I run from memories of Dad and the neighbors. I run from mountains. Mostly, I run from myself, the part beneath my brown chest that tells me to understand and accept.
This evening, as I sway to the beat of the car on the tracks, I can't ignore the calling to go back. I read the poster again. "Home is what you remember." My eyes scroll down to the bottom where it continues: "Go there."
Wonder if that uncle knows how to find Wapu Mountain.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.