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  • My sister lost her son this year. Eighteen, gun wounds, an accident. He had just left home to become a man. He was doing well. He had just bought a truck. He was on his way. Gone, just like that. It happened in November. I could not see her until July. To be quite honest, I was terrified to see her.

    When July arrived, I waited in Colorado Springs for a week waiting for my brother to arrive from Oregon so we could go into those mountains together to see her. She lives almost on the top of a mountain an hour and half outside Colorado Springs. She is not my blood sister. Our parents were together for 18 years. Her and I lived together through some pivotal years. I have been through some things with her to know just what she is made of, which is gold. She is one of the few I have met on my path who is pure. I wished I could take those bullets from her son. I spent that week looking at the mountain she was on, thinking of that. I also saw friends during this week.
    They all know my sister. We all grew up together. Working at an arcade, living in a Colorado mountain town. Such rich histories we share. Most have kids now. Some of these kids are grown. It is so nice to check in with these people after so many years. Time is weird. Life is fast. The first question all of them asked was,

    “How’s Trish?”

    I could see the parent in them flinch. I shook my head. I did not know how she was. I would see her in a week. I would report then.

    My friends and I grew silent. What do you say? God does make sense at times. We agreed on that. We caught up after that and eventually said goodbyes and until next time. Another day closer to seeing my sis.

    My brother arrived. Flew in from Oregon late. That did not stop him. My brother was set on seeing Trish. I got in his rental car. His wife and his little boy who is his mini-me rode with us. My brother and I did not talk about what we were doing. We have never needed many words. This was a journey we had to make.

    We drove until we were almost on top of a mountain. No more trees were growing there. Old time gold shacks spotted the timberline mountainside. Goldfield, the town where my sister lives. My brother turned down her street.

    How would she be? I imagined she might be curled up in her bed. I held in my breath. My brother turned off the motor. He motioned me to open my door. I looked at him. I was terrified to see her. He pushed me like a little brother does. I got out and walked to my sister’s front door. A note hung in the window, written in a hurry on an index card. Scotch taped.

    NO VISITORS
    PLEASE GO AWAY

    My breath sucked in more. I turned. My brother looked at me like, “I know.” I started chattering at him with “Maybe she got scared and doesn’t want to see us. That is okay. Oh this is worse then I could imagine. Should we tell someone? What can we do?” My brother shut me up and motioned me to another part of the house. The back. Dogs barked. I heard a WHOPPEE!!!

    A WHOPPEE I would recognize anywhere.

    My breath let out. She was all right. I walked closer to the fence. I saw my sister’s other son, Tanner T, the identical twin of the boy who went away. These twins were born three months before they should have come to this earth. Some of the smallest babies the hospital had ever seen. Miracles. Now, one twin stood over six feet tall and his other half was six feet under. Funny how this life works.

    Tanner’s eyes were lit with love, not of tears. He greeted me with,

    “Hey, Aunt Renee, it’s so good to see you,” he tried to hug me through the gate.

    His love took me by surprised. I had no time to process this because the WHOPPEE burst out of her front door and grabbed me from behind. I turned. We embraced. My sister, the pure. She held on tight. She let go. I took her in.

    Her wild thick brown mane held up with a paintbrush or a pen. Her standard wife beater shirt. Those arms, ripped with the muscles it takes to live on this hill.

    “I’d ask you how you are,” I said.

    She let out one of her laughs, which comes from deep inside.

    “Oh, I’m fucked. Don’t doubt that,” she grinned, “But come in.”

    She opened the door where the note had hung. My brother, his family and I walked in. The house was the same. Animals and stuff everywhere. Some might call it a mess, but I have always found comfort in this mining shaft turned cabin she bought by selling dog paintings on rocks and raising three kids by herself up until a few years ago when another miracle struck.

    Shawn, her husband of five years, sat in the kitchen. He stuck out his hand. A damn good man and smart one too, I might add.

    This place redefined down to earth. I could breath. A parrot squawked somewhere behind my head. Tricia kicked the back door open and motioned us there.

    “Go out there and I’ll put some coffee on!”

    My brother and I knew to listen to her. We went out back. Tanner sat in a lawn chair, next to him, his chick, Megan. She wore shorts and cowboy boots with American Flags. He had his father’s taste, I made note. Tanner stood up. We hugged. We let go. I took him in.

    He had been such a wild boy. Both of them had been. I remember taking them one summer when they were ten. I can still their little faces floating down the Rio Grande River. Now Tanner stood there. He was a man and his brother was no more. I expected to see anger in Tanner’s face but there was not a trace. He felt good to be around.

    We sat back down. We chatted while we waited for her. She came out with four cups of coffee balanced somehow. She handed one to each of us. She sat down in lawn chair herself. Took a swig of coffee and lit a cigarette. She held it in her teeth, leaned her head back like a cowboy gangster and said,

    “Let’s go!”

    That’s how this afternoon began in this place that is almost at the top of a hill, where no trees grow and the sun is most intense.

    We talked of many things that afternoon. We talked of childhood. Of teenage years. Of funny times, Of hard times too. We laughed until we cried. Then, she spoke about the night he passed.
    The Native Americans consider those who have had to endure suffering on the level that my sister has to be the most Wakan. Wakan translates in many ways, but basically, it means Sacred.
    As I listened to the journey she has been on since the night her son laid dead in a trailer in the prairie below her mountain top, I could not help but agree more about her being Wakan. My sister was and is literally transfixed and transformed by all that has occurred since.

    She spoke about waking up that night. She spoke of seeing her son’s face through a window that night. She spoke of hearing something whisper the word sorry that night. She held nothing back with regard to that night. We, the visitors, listened, transfixed by her tale. She took another swig of coffee and lit another cigarette. She held it in her teeth again and threw back that long head.

    “Want to see my art?”

    My brother and I could not wait. We had spent many days watching her create a better place with her pencils and pens. `We nodded. She sprung up, kicked the door open again and motioned us in again. We followed her to a tiny room she carved out for herself in the midst of raising 3 kids and tending a countless amount of pets. A small radio sat on a stack of paper. Country music played soft. She took a notebook from the table and opened it up. She said she heard God say to her one night when her grief kept her up to draw the 18 words people should not do without. My breath sucked in again. The sketches she had were unlike anything I had ever seen her do. Figures of animals and words wove rich on every page. Her art had gone to another level. I looked up at her. She had as well. Most Wakan. I took pictures of every page. She told us her plan was to publish these words to create an adult coloring book and call it 18 Words We Should Learn.

    She, then, too another swig of her coffee and told us her last word would be LOVE. She, then, said with that sketch, she planned on drawing more dogs than she ever had before. We all laughed at that. She was true to form.

    My brother and I stayed in that room a while longer. She asked if we wanted ashes of her son. I said I did. My brother did not. He wanted to see the gun. The air in the room left. My sister agreed. She reached into the back of a closet type thing. She pulled an arm length box out. The word EVIDENCE was taped on the edge. She said then,

    “This is the first time I have looked at this.”

    We held out breath while she opened it. I was struck at how old the gun was. It looked like something from World War II. We stood around it for a while. Silent. She, then, closed it tightly and placed it back behind some boots. We went back outside.

    My sister’s best friend arrived. My friend too. Bobo is her name. A woman who has been in our lives since at least 1986. Bobo and I used to smoke behind an arcade appropriately called Tokens. Bobo found a lawn chair.

    The conversation began again. . We joked about the how the local Loaf and Jug where we used to spend our Friday nights hanging out as teens was now making a mint after Colorado legalized. They have never sold so many Doritos was what Bobo reported. This made us laugh until we cried again. She was getting married in September. It was good to hear this. A death one year, a wedding, the next. Home, a place we ebb and flow.

    The afternoon sun turned to dusk. My brother announced it was time to go. He pushed me into the car. We drove down the mountain. We spoke little of went on. We would do that tomorrow. I looked out the window as our elevation descended. I thought how I would answer the next person who asked how my sister was. My answer to them now after seeing her and being around her would now be,

    “His death has caused her to go to another level, a place where only the truest can stand!”

    She will keep on walking on. She has become Wakan.
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