One of my best friends here is named Burt. He is a security guard at our school and I’ve spent a lot of time with him over the past five or six weeks.
One night, I was driving him home to Rosebud; the hills rose and fell around us like knees shifting covers in restless sleep. We were talking about his family and how they are all so close. We talked about how in the Lakota culture, you bring people into your families and no one is ever left alone. Your father’s brothers are considered your fathers, your mother’s sisters are your mothers and there is no degree of cousin – all are first cousins.
I told him about my family, I told him about home and how I think I’ve changed since I left. He asked me what was different. I paused for a moment, torn sky clearings moved across my windshield.
“At home I was scared, I worried a lot.” I kept my eyes forward.
“Yeah?” He asked, “About what?”
I had to ponder for a while, a couple of rez dogs ran along the side of my car for a time – Free.
My lips parted, “Safety,” I said carefully, “at home this past year I wanted so badly to be safe, to have everything in line, to be prepared, to get where I needed to be next.”
We made the turn off toward his house.
“And I think a lot of folks feel the same way where I’m from,” I looked at him as we rolled to a stop in his drive way.
He looked at me for a moment, shifted his weight and put his hand on the door handle. After a breath, he said, “Out here – we just make friends, that way you don’t have to worry about anything – money, anything.”
He shot me one more glance, “See you tomorrow, bro, thanks for the ride.”
He got out, stepped over the barbed wire gate in front of his drive and made his way up to the house.
We just make friends, I thought. What a concept.