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Celilo

My mother has the most beautiful name in the world. It's Celilo. Apparently her parents borrowed her name from a dead waterfall that was murdered by an industrial dam. The native people fished there for thousands of years, she told me, and now no one even knows that it's there under all that invader cement. Her parents named her that so at least one person would remember who was here first. As long as one person remembers something it can't be condemned as the past yet.

Now that my mother and father are in prison, I feel sort of responsible for being the only one who knows what Celilo is. I'm surprised, actually, that I don't feel more important. The fragile survival of something buried and hidden is mine to carry.

There is a white-haired girl I look at during detention sometimes and I bet she is the kind of person who would listen if I tried to tell her my Celilo story. I bet she'd be very careful with something as rare and delicate as a history. I bet it would mean something to her if I gave her a piece of my secret.

As I'm trying to sleep tonight, I decide that I will share my Celilo story with her. Gwynn says that it's good to decide things every once and awhile, just so you don't forget how to do it.
Maybe the white-haired girl and I could make a trade, some of her music for some of my history. I could become silent like her and we could sit isolated together and only look at each other.

It makes me feel less strange when I can't stop thinking about the white-haired girl. Gwynn says that's how it all starts when normal kids mate.





This morning during breakfast an administrator informed Gwynn that her parents are dead. She didn't even flinch or cry. She just kept frowning like usual, her freckles all twisted like a galaxy.

It's a shame that Gwynn has to learn how to be a gentle mother like all the other girls because she'd excel in the army. She's already a soldier. Who but a soldier can just shrug and say "f*ing Socialists" when they're told their parents are dead?

Now that it's dark outside, I'm worried about her though. Everything gets worse at night. If I wasn't scared I'd sneak over to the girls dorm and check on her. Gwynn has no friends and, now, no family. I bet she's secretly lonely. She was the one who told me that a person's skin starts to crack if they're lonely for too long. Lonely is like jealous, she said, it eats your guts before you can see it.

Gwynn makes me very sad. Even though she usually looks at me like she'd like to spit on me, I still want to reach out to her. Someone needs to show her that she's still made of flesh instead of petrified wood. Sometimes I think she needs reminding.

I can't help but wonder if Gwynn's mother had a significant name like my mother's name. What piece of the old world is lost now that she and Gwynn's father are dead?

I think I should probably tell my Celilo story to Gwynn too. She might be rough with it but she might give me something in exchange. Maybe she and the white-haired girl and I can all exchange what we know. The world is shrinking fast and we've got to get as much out of it as we can before it's erased and remade.






I remember this one awful time when some federals from the school came to my house. It was when I was nine and my parents were letting me have school at home. The federals didn't like that at all. One of them came right in our house without knocking. He asked my father if there was a reason I was being deprived of a proper education.

My mom told the federal about how the other kids at school beat me up. We decided we'd had enough when they broke his arm, she said, it wasn't a safe place.

The federal shrugged. It isn’t supposed to be safe, he said, school is school, not some sort of Socialist flower garden.

My father was holding my shoulder with a grip that hurt because it was so hard. Sir, he said to the federal, my son is making much more progress here than he was at the school. He couldn’t concentrate because he was too scared.

Well, no wonder he’s such an embarrassment, said the federal, pointing at me. Boys need that sort of rough environment in order to grow up right. If you let him toughen up a little he wouldn’t be a bawling mess right now.

I started crying harder. I didn’t want to be an embarrassment and a disgrace.

My mother came over to me and moved her fingers through my hair, which was starting to grow out again. Her hands were the only safe thing.

He can understand you, she said to the federal. Her voice was getting barbed and dangerous.

The federal looked at me like someone would look at a wet, dead kitten on the side of the road. It’s good for him to hear some harsh truth sometimes, the federal said, something besides socialist poetry once and awhile.

The bad world laughed with him.

My father told the federal to get out of our house. The federal stopped chuckling. He went outside and brought in the two other federals that were waiting outside. They opened the door too fast and roughly and my mother’s tribal artwork fell off the wall. They had weapons.

Your son needs to be in school, said the federal to my parents. It’s the law.

My mother was fierce. What we choose to do with our child is up to our family, she said. I’m not going to send him somewhere where he’ll get hurt.

Unfortunately, one of the armed federals said, you don’t get to decide which laws you will and will not follow.

The federals put their weapons away but they all took out lighters. They put fire all over our books and maps on the shelves and walls. Everything I was going to learn about the world was turning to black dust. I wanted to breathe the dust and absorb it all but it made me cough.

The federal grabbed my mother’s arm. We’ll see your boy in school tomorrow morning, he said.



My father cried for the rest of the night over all the black, murdered books.

My mother took me upstairs and cut off my long hair in the bathroom. She told me the story about her Celilo name as all my hair fell on the floor and down the back of my shirt. They’re going to teach you violence, she told me, but remember that there was a time before soldiers. There was a time before concrete and war and industry when Indian families would fish together at the falls and everything was simple.





I dream about that day for the rest of the night. I try to remember the exact words my mother used to tell that story so I can tell it perfectly to Gwynn and the white-haired girl tomorrow.

I bet their parents had libraries and maps too. Maybe all the screwed up kids here came from book-and-map families. Maybe all that knowledge was what made us turn out different.




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