When I was 15 I was kidnapped by Indians.
The politically correct term is Native Americans, and maybe some would argue against the experience actually being a kidnapping, but the situation turned scary for me very quickly. The summer of 1996 was easily one of the most confusing times of my life, and honestly, it was insanity for my entire family. That last sentence barely scrapes the surface of meaning as it’s hard for me to put into words what insanity looks like for an already insane family riddled by mental illness, neglect, drug, alcohol, and physical/emotional abuse.
Let’s set the scene:
My father, the eldest of seven, died in March of that same year from an abscess tooth. What?! Yes, you read that right. In modern times, a man of 38 straight keeled over from a toothache. If you’ve ever had a tooth that required a root canal, as I have, you’d understand that the pain is one of the most unpleasant things you could feel. My dad didn’t go to the dentist or the doctor because 1) he was a man, 2) he didn’t have insurance, and 3) he was a drunk. He masked the pain with a case of beer a day and rolled a doobie or two for good measure.
At the time my dad reached the point of no return, I was a freshman in high school and had been living with my grandma for about a year (that’s an entirely different story, but it began with a belligerent father calling his 14-year-old a slut because a boy called her home phone). I had no idea Dad was ill, but Mom took him to the emergency room, carrying all 136 pounds of him to the car from their bed, because he was unable to move. The infection in his mouth had poisoned his blood stream; he had meningitis, needed heart valves replaced and all his teeth removed. Dad spent two weeks in the ICU, and I spent those two weeks reading William Shakespeare. My friends and I were deep into a culminating project, turning Romeo and Juliet into a 1970s-esque novella.
Things took a turn for the worst, Dad slipped into a coma, and he took his last breath on March 18, 1996. My mom slipped into depression. My home life had been pretty shitty for the past 15 years; however, the loss of my dad hit my mom like a combination of all the times my dad had hit her (with a rifle, jumper cables, a car, his fist). I learned what valium was, and I learned that my mom didn’t want to talk to me.
My dad’s family (three sisters, two brothers, and his mom from Texas; one brother from D.C.) spent the week at my parents’. They brought significant others. It was the week of my father’s death that I met the cutest boy (I thought so at the time anyway). He and his family were of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe in Livingston, Texas. The week passed in typical Greenlee fashion: a bar fight, lots of booze, and a marijuana-hazed burial where the family gathered at the cemetary to play frisbee and sing Hank Jr.’s “Family Tradition.” You can’t make this stuff up, folks. All the while, I’m making googly eyes at the boy with the shiny black skater cut.
At the funeral home I made a comment to my uncle that I would probably never see them again now that my dad was gone, and he made a big fuss about it, but ultimately, I was kinda right as I’ve truly only seen them all a handful of times in the 20 years since. My siblings and I were invited to spend the summer with our dad’s family. My mom was a zombie now, a painkiller junkie, so it was an obvious ok from her. My uncle made the fourteen hour trip from Livingston in one day, stayed the night, and we rode back to Texas with him the next day. As an adult, I now see the economical genius of the quick trip: he was transporting pounds of pot in the panels of the truck from Texas to Missouri. It was no big deal to bring the kids back with him; he could take them home on his next run!
We get to my aunt’s house and are excited to see our cousins; at this time there were five. Truthfully, the summer wasn’t all bad, but it didn’t take long for the “vacation” feel to wear off. We ate Spam for breakfast, lunch and dinner (at least it seemed like that). My mom would sell her food stamps to send my aunt money for our care, but the food would last maybe a day with all the people staying under one roof, over twelve in a two-bedroom, one-bath house. The only air conditioning was a window unit in the living room, so that room was blocked from the rest of the house with sheets to keep the cool contained. The one toilet the house had didn’t flush, so every so often one of my uncles would have to get a bucket of water and a plunger and work some magic that I wanted no part of.
Over the course of our two month stay, my schizophrenic aunt tried to cut me with a beer bottle, another aunt got her foot run over in the parking lot of the local bar that served me wine coolers at 15, and the third aunt’s boyfriend molested my 11-year-old sister. My brother got Cat Scratch Fever and was unable to walk as the bacteria attacked the lymph node in his groin. No one was home except the kids at the time. I had to find keys to the only vehicle around, a car that needed major brake and engine work, and drive him 30 minutes to the bar my aunts and uncles were at so that he could go to the hospital and get help. There were no cell phones then, and I knew no phone numbers.
I was pretty miserable and over it all, but there was always a chance I’d see the cute boy. He was the son of the boyfriend of one of my aunts. We talked by phone and were able to hang out a few times. We were flirting and obviously liked each other, but he also had a Texas girlfriend that I was supposed to be scared of. Whatever, I wasn’t going to be there forever. He was cute, and I knew it wouldn’t last once summer was over. We had a picnic at the lake on the reservation, he took me to the PowWow and kissed me in the back of his dad’s truck. It was like a Nicholas Sparks romance!
One night, near the end of our stay, my aunt’s boyfriend was playing in a baseball game at the rez. Several of us went to watch him play, and I went with hopes of seeing him. My cousin is a year younger than me, and she was dating another boy from the tribe. He and some friends were going cruising and asked her to go. She invited me along. One of the friends was the brother of my summer fling, and he promised we’d see him that night. Our destination was L.A. Of course I now know what L.A. refers to, but at the time I just thought it was some place across town. I mean, my aunt even gave the ok (granted, she was probably stoned and drunk and didn’t know what she was agreeing to).
My cousin and I walk with the guys to their car, a goddamn Honda Passport! There were five guys, the car was a five-seater, and there were two of us girls. My cousin is fine, crawls right up on her boyfriend’s lap. Great. I told them I’d sit in the back, meaning the cargo area. It was actually kind of comfy, at least compared to everyone else’s positions. I could stretch my legs out and move around a bit. That was until they stopped to get a keg.
As the driver took each turn, the keg would slide and smash into my shoulder. A full keg weighs more than I did at 15, so I was really taking a beating and was uncomfortable. Not to mention that I became the portable barmaid. They’d pass me a solo cup, and I’d have to figure out how to pump and pass without a lot of waste. Too much slosh and I’d be soaked in beer and they’d be out dollars of liquid gold they weren’t willing to share with the floorboard.
After a while, I gave up and asked if I could sit up front. The passenger offered his lap. What were my choices here? I took him up on the offer but sat in such a way that was the least inviting, if that was even possible. This seating arrangement didn’t last long either. Everyone in the car was buzzed and/or high, and I know it may seem hard to believe, but I was not. It’s complicated with my history, but I was not about smoking or trying anything after all I’d witnessed as a kid. I’d had alcohol before, but I was still too young to appreciate the taste of beer. The passenger seat-guy got handsy, and I could only play like it was no big deal for so long. I somehow managed to get into the backseat and this time sat on the lap of the brother of my summer love.
Ok, so here it is, hours into this trip to nowhere. I don’t recall exact times or places. It was all so confusing and disorienting. There were stops alongside the road, at gas stations to pee, somewhere by water, and even at someone’s house where I was attacked by giant mosquitoes. I would occasionally ask where we were, where we were going, if we were going to see him. The laughing, teasing, playing around started to feel a lot less fun. The brother was becoming touchy, and I was very uncomfortable. I did allow him to kiss me, and it’s scary what else could have happened because I was so vulnerable. I was able to make my way back into the safety of the keg-smashed cargo area, and I let tears run down my cheeks.
Night turns to day, and I learn we are in Louisiana… L.A. My cousin and her boyfriend get out of the car to swim and tell the driver to leave them behind. I try to get her to come, but she’s determined to stay. I’m torn because it’s hot, we’re in the middle of nowhere, and I have no water, food, or money. If I get in the car, the guys have money, there’s air conditioning, and they’re going to take me back to my aunt’s, right? In the car, they feed me beef jerky. I’m noticeably quiet, but I’ve asked a few times to go back.
We arrive at some guy’s house. It’s surprisingly nice, and while they share a joint, I am able to fall asleep on the sectional. They laugh at me for not wanting to smoke or drink with them, and they no longer are interested in me. The idea of me being a good time or a party girl has come and gone.
At a gas station later that afternoon, I find a payphone. I call my grandma in Missouri because it’s the only phone number I know. I’m crying into the receiver, and she’s telling me she can be in Louisiana by the next morning and to just stay at the gas station. I give her the number on the payphone, and she says she’ll call me again so stay near.
The payphone rings, and it’s my aunt’s boyfriend. He asks for his son. I can hear the yelling. We are all quiet back in the car.
A couple hours later, I jump out of the Honda onto the dirt yard of my aunt’s house, sweaty, smelly, hungry, and relieved. My cousin and her boyfriend sit cuddling on the couch with smirks and snacks, but there is no concern for what I had been through.
My uncle is angry with me, says my cousin told him all about the drugs I was doing and that when she wanted to go home, I just wanted to keep partying and that’s why I still wasn’t home when she made it back. I felt so betrayed. I wasn’t a completely innocent person, but I was a straight A student with absolutely no discipline issues up to this point (well, except the write up I got in 8th grade for kicking Greg in the nuts when I was trying to be a Power Ranger). How could my family think of me like this?
I had just a couple weeks left of summer vacation, and I spent them with my dad’s mom in a neighboring Texas town. When I packed to leave my aunt’s, I couldn’t find everything I came there with. My cousins and aunts denied having my stuff, said I thought I was better than them and too good to stay at their house. They said I was spoiled. Stupid me, I felt defeated, beaten, exhausted. My mom decided to make the trip to get us. She had just bought herself a classic Cutlass Supreme with my dad’s social security checks.
I don’t remember the trip back to Missouri, but I imagine I felt the safest I had in weeks.