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Life Arts    H4'ed 3/24/11

On the Trail to Mission Lake

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My friend, Emmet, is dead.

He was paralyzed from the neck down. Lived the last few years of his life incapacitated, virtually a moving head and nothing else. After losing his ability to speak recently, he and the others around him decided it was best to take him off the machines that were keeping him alive. To take him off life support.

I say "take him off life support" because "pull the plug" seems so callous to me. I can't bear to think of my friend as an inanimate object, kept alive only by the electricity flowing inside a cord. Like a toaster. A microwave. An alarm clock.

He died less than 24 hours before Elizabeth Taylor.


There is this story:

A group of young Blackfeet men were out riding horses, looking for stray calves. They split up in pairs and rode off in the evening light. Emmet and Sonny went off together, Sonny rode far ahead.   Sonny would not slow down, would not listen to Emmet's calls to wait up for him. He just kept going further and further along, oblivious to their task, not looking for strays but loping towards Mission Lake. When he was almost to the lake, Emmet saw Sonny get down to a gate, stop and wait for him. He called out that they didn't need to go down there, it was way too far away from where they should have been. They were already miles past where they should have been anyway. Sonny stood waiting. Emmet turned back and rode home. When he arrived back at their employer's -- a friend's dad -- ranch, the rest of the group was preparing to set out to look for him. They wondered where he had been, they thought something happened to him. Emmet, surprised to see Sonny already at the ranch, said: "This guy.." and pointed at his friend: "he kept trying to lead me down to Mission Lake, I don't know how he beat me back here".   It was then when Sonny said that he didn't ride out with Emmet.   Nobody knew who did.

Or what.

Nobody knows what that person or thing wanted with my friend.


When Emmet was young, he and his friend Sonny used to walk out in fields together. Those were hard times. Emmet had lost his parents as a child, grew up impoverished, raised by his older sister. He said that he and Sonny used to walk out in the fields and eat dandelions. Anything to survive.

That's how I always thought of those guys. As survivors.

Even in a place as bleak as a reservation, you always have those who have seen and lived in times so bad that it makes the others glad for what little they have.

About 9 years ago, Sonny was stabbed to death.

I think this haunted Emmet. That a part of him died too.

When I first heard about it, I was staying in Tucson with my friend, Mike Kittson, who grew up next to and with Sonny and Emmet. We stayed up all night drinking. Lamenting. Drowning our grief. I remember something in me thinking that maybe Emmet wasn't going to be that far behind Sonny. That maybe Sonny really was that guy riding that horse, and Emmet was going to follow him, somewhere, to do something.

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Bill Wetzel is Amskapi Pikuni aka Blackfeet from Montana. His writing has appeared in the American Indian Culture & Research Journal, Yellow Medicine Review, Studies In Indian Literatures (SAIL), Hinchas de Poesia, Red Ink Magazine, Literary (more...)

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