Grow­ing up, I never knew two of my broth­ers — but I could picture them

The Walrus - - CONTENTS - by Troy Se­bas­tian / Nupqu a·k=| am’

Grow­ing up, I never knew two of my broth­ers—but I could picture them

When i was about six or seven, I lived in my fa­ther’s house on the rez. My room was walled with that cheap faux wood lining that cal­en­dars, pic­tures, or post­cards find it a chal­lenge to stick to. The effect — un­in­tended, as I can­not be­lieve that In­dian Af­fairs would be so pre­scient as to achieve this on pur­pose — evoked a feel­ing of im­per­ma­nent res­i­dence, hol­low and frag­ile.

Still, some things did find their way onto our walls. One should not dis­count “In­jun-nu­ity,” huh? My fa­ther’s head­gear — some wool hats for win­ter walks and well-worn ball caps for sum­mer sun — was laid out with pride by the kitchen en­trance, an un­set­tling large photo of the A&W bear was in the hall­way, and we had a ta­pes­try hang­ing de­pict­ing a group of black bears in the woods.

Among these trea­sures was a por­trait of John and Robert Kennedy that hung in my room. I used to look at them in pro­file and won­der how they could be so no­ble. One night, when my mom came in to kiss me good night, I asked her who they were. She turned, looked at the por­trait, and then looked back to me. Be­tween that mo­ment and the next, my child­hood was held with pre­cious care; she could have been a sur­geon, or an artist on some trapeze. She smiled and, speak­ing softly, as she al­ways did in these ten­der mo­ments, told me that they were broth­ers, that John had been the president of the United States of Amer­ica, and that they had both died. She seemed to miss them and to lament their pass­ing. That picture framed my first im­pres­sion of rev­er­ence for the dead.

Far­ther down the hall­way, across from my fa­ther’s bed­room, where his ri­fles and Canucks cal­en­dar hung, was a dark and cool room. I knew it as Johnny’s room. Johnny was my brother. My fa­ther kept the door closed and would not talk about it.

Once, I stole in­side. There was no light in the room, save for what crept in through cracks in the blinds. The air was stale. I was sur­prised to see that there was no bed. I won­dered where Johnny would sleep. I did find a wooden horse of the kind used for saw­ing wood. On top of the sawhorse was a leather sad­dle topped with a won­drous horn of gold. The leather creaked and chafed my skin as I ran my hand across the sad­dle. I wanted so badly to get up on it, but the sad­dle was too big. I must have walked around it half a dozen times just try­ing to see it all at once.

I was not al­lowed in the room again un­til af­ter my fa­ther died.

Later, I found out that Johnny had won the sad­dle. He was a cham­pion of the In­dian Rodeo Cow­boy As­so­ci­a­tion. I also found out he had died years ear­lier, be­fore my other brother Kenny dis­ap­peared. It all made sense. I had lost two broth­ers who I had never known — and their por­trait was in my room. I came to look upon John and Robert Kennedy as my broth­ers. I was im­pressed that they were so good-look­ing. I was im­pressed that my brother was president of the United States of Amer­ica. I was in­spired.

Soon, I came to re­al­ize that my broth­ers were not John and Robert Kennedy. They were Johnny and Kenny Se­bas­tian. Johnny was not the president of the United States of Amer­ica. He was a twenty-four-yearold rodeo cham­pion who was killed by a drunk driver. Kenny was not the former US at­tor­ney gen­eral killed in a ho­tel kitchen. He was a twenty-one-year- old boy who knew he would never make it to twenty-two. It was 1975, and young Ktu­naxa men and women in our com­mu­nity were dy­ing around him. Af­ter Kenny was sent for elec­troshock ther­apy, his clothes were found neatly folded by the road­side, near the river, his body eter­nally elu­sive.

In all of those lives of un­ful­filled prom­ise and tragedy, in­clud­ing that of my fa­ther, who died when I was eight, and that of yet another brother we lost, some­how, twelve years later, I find a tran­quil­ity. The depth of such loss guards me from truly feel­ing all that is and all that is not in each death I have come to en­dure. Per­se­ver­ance leads me to yearn for those days when I could look to that bed­room wall and see that por­trait and see not who had been lost but who was re­mem­bered. To look at that sad­dle and not lament a cham­pion’s prize but see that horn and dream that one day I, too, could ride.

*To tell one’s story

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