A piece of short fiction: What Camille knows.
Feeling like an imposter, Camille spent most of her childhood trying to exist in between two different realms of racial identity.
Being her older brother, I was always protective of her.
The youngest of the four of us, she was the only one born with white blonde hair and blue eyes. Her features held memories of her Native American ancestry- her almond shaped eyes, her broad nose, but her fair colorings gave her guilt infested advantages that the rest of us siblings didn’t have.
Dad was white. A fair, Scotch Irish mix, he had met our mother during the war while he was stationed in North Carolina, near an Indian reservation. The details of their meeting remain murky –dad refuses to talk about the war.
Camille never got to meet her mother. Soon after she was born, mom left. Dad likes to rewrite history. Dad used to say,
“Your mother left, like the wild Indian woman that she was. She went wherever the wind blew her, and she was done with the married life. I saw it coming from a mile away, I just loved her so much. I took the time with her I could get.”
And then he would spit out his chew into a mug, like he had done a thousand times before, and took his thousandth sip of whiskey.
For us kids, Dad was all we had. So we fed into his lie. We saw in him a very sensitive man, and we danced around him with kindness and compassion. We all knew his truth was peeking out closely beneath the surface. He drove her away.
As an adult, Camille existed mostly among other whites, but held the darkness deep inside of her. The darkness of not knowing her mother, of being half a race that she didn’t look like that she yearned to know more about.
As a young adult, she visited the reservation mom came from. Known as the Qualla Boundary reservation it wasadjacent to the great Smokey Mountains in western North Carolina. The place was impoverished and run down like many reservations across the country. There were empty vodka and mouthwash bottles lying around in the dirt. The houses were shacks. A 10 year old looking boy with no shoes smoked a cigerette, and stared directly through Camille.
Full of youthful naivety, Camille thought she might find her mother. She thought she might be accepted with open arms, into a nation of people that she was half of, but new nothing of.
While she visited, her reception from the locals ranged from luke warm to frigid. When she explained to them that she, too was part of them, they took one look at her and laughed. Camille will always remember the way the Cherokees laughed – a deep, barreling laugh, guttural and bold.
She was only armed with the information of her mother’s first name- Ahote, which she found out means “restless one” in Cherokee.
Although Camille scoured the town trying to find some trace of where her mother was, or where she ran to again, her trip was full of dead ends.
Camille wouldn’t realize this until she was a much older – but the trip provided closure for her that she at the time wasn’t ready to recognize. As she became more comfortable talking and writing about her ancestry, she realized that most people had secrets. Most people, even if they had both parents, didn’t know or wanted to know more about where their parents and grandparents had come from. She realized that that dull, unreachable ache that she had since she could remember was really an ache that we as humans all share. The yearning was just part of the human condition; the desire to know more than what is obtainable. As an older woman, she finally embraced the ache: to have this ache was to be alive.