Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Lemonade: Tribal Style

 Our relationship had always been like homemade lemonade, sweet, tart, and sometimes nearly undrinkable, yep, when the sugar ran low.

“The doc says I’m dyin’, get my affairs in order he says, and make amends he says. Anyways, I need you to tell my story brother, do my walking-on funeral service for me. You owe me you know.”

Blood fled my face to assist my heart filling quickly with lead. Clay was desperate, always was when playing the “you owe me” card and it always worked. Despite my arguing the opposite throughout the fifty years of our relationship, I believed Clay saved my life way back at age fourteen on the train bridge, the one used most often as a jungle gym by us guys in town.

I took my steaming cup of Italian Roast to the table and sat down before speaking again. He couldn’t know I was about to act again from a sense of deep obligation, in response to him the card. He’d palm the thing and use it repeatedly to milk my emotions. I bluffed a little.

“Your birthday’s coming up, good a reason as any to come see you. Buddy, we’re turning 64 this year. Alright then Clay, I’ll pack up and take off first thing tomorrow. You’ll just have to last that long. Still at the same place on the reservation are you, I mean Rez?”

I heard Clay sniff like maybe he was crying. It wasn’t the first time he’d done so. He was quite the troubled man.

“I’m in the hospital but they’re lettin’ me out tonight. I got maybe a few months to live they figure. So yah, just come to my place on the Rez. I really need you this time Migizi. Oh, by the way, bring me some of that fish jerky on your way through the U.P. will ya?”

“Always the opportunist right Clay? Sure, I’ll try, I like the stuff too. Hey dude, you got a phone?”
Muffled conversation took place and Clay replied.

“Ahem, yah sort of, I guess. My woman says I got a notice at home sayin’ it’s gonna be shut off anytime.”
I paused and he out paused me.

“Same number and service I suppose. Okay, I’ll get some credit on it for you so you can call me. Dammit Clay, you always get in my ass pocket.”

“I love you too Ain’t It. You’re solid. See ya tomorrow and…”

Yup, that was Clay. Hung up premature.

I was concerned. Clay rarely used my proper name. Going back to the fateful night we met, he typically called me Ain’t It, a funny saying among native folk. The term was tossed into a sentence totally out of context. I always figured an “influenced” person came up with it. Everyone found it funny so started using it to be smart asses. Using my proper name meant he was truly hurting.

I prepared my mind for making the eight hour trip to Lower Michigan. Life up in the Keweenaw of the Upper Peninsula happened at a far different pace than on the Rez. I got my bags packed and in the car before going to bed so I could leave at sun up. This time, the situation seemed serious.