Rapid Creek cuts town in half. South of the creek, you are downtown and, from there the city sprawls. It’s white. Bars and churches and steak houses. Meat and potatoes and beer, south of Rapid Creek.
North of the creek, it is Indian Country, and you find tiny, immaculate houses, sad apartment complexes, gas stations, trailer parks. Walking around, you see tiny airplane bottles of vodka and whiskey littering the dry lawns, and barking dogs trying to jump fences. There is an elementary school, with “Don’t do Drugs” emblazoned on the fence in pink ribbons. There is a high school, across the street from the annual Black Hills Pow Wow, a gorgeous, inspiring event where no white people go because they are too bigoted, too scared.
The drunks live along Rapid Creek. It’s not safe to walk at night. But this is also where Crazy Horse was born, along this creek. He is still an inspiration to those who try to survive here, on the north side, drunk or sober, mean and bitter, or at peace.
I arrived here on October 1, and two days later, my friend, who was outside his apartment smoking a cigarette, ran inside and told me there was blood all over the hallway. Someone had been hurt.
We called 911. The cops arrived. The man was sent to the hospital in an ambulance. I was sobbing. A man is bleeding to death. We were told, after the event, that this man was seeking help from his mother, who lives here in this apartment complex. He had been assaulted. A blow to the back of head. He was a drunk Indian man. If he had not gotten help when we called 911, he would have died, swiftly. We saved his life, I guess.
It took the apartment complex four days to clean up the blood. Then it stunk of bleach. There is still blood on the sidewalk.
Welcome to Indian Country. Occupied Territory. Poverty. and suicide and segregation and despair. This is America.
I am not interested in Hillary or Bernie. They do not speak to the despair I have seen in a few short weeks. They do not speak to me.
I suppose it makes sense that I ended up here. I am going through a horrible divorce. Trauma that has been absorbed by my cells. Cancer and divorce.
I tried to connect with people in Seattle and I could not. My story is too raw. Too intense. Go somewhere else. Don’t talk to us, I was told. So I left, with my head held high.
There are people who have experienced trauma, to the point where it has affected their DNA. On All Saint’s Day, I drove back to Rapid City after camping out in the Badlands. I heard, on Lakota Radio, KILI, a story about how it has been proven that trauma is genetic, that the genocide that has occurred here and across the Americas has physically affected native people. I could identify with the article the DJ read to his listeners.
I came to South Dakota with that in mind. I was deeply wounded by my divorce and cancer. My best friend is here. I knew that I could not relate to the inane hipster kids in Seattle or Portland or Vancouver – be they 20 or 35 or 55 – anymore. I am done.
Instead, last night I drove to Wounded Knee. I took offerings of sage and sweet grass and a photo of my child.
On the radio, I heard nouveau country music and a call-in radio show about suicide and domestic violence. I got out of my car and there were no stars in the sky, no moon. It was entirely black.
I prayed. I prayed for my child and for myself and for my husband. I asked for help. I left a photo of my child there, her school photo from Grade 5 – she looks wild and proud. She is my baby.
Then I drove back to Rapid City. And my friend told me, and he is right: “Some places are haunted. There is a spirit world. You have experienced it now. You know that spirits can be fierce teachers. You don’t have to explain it to me. They want to help you get back on the Red Road. Get on the path.”
Two weeks ago, I was in a restaurant here in Rapid City, south of the creek. A Lakota man walked up to me and said, out of nowhere, “Kristin, you have a problem with anger. Heal.” Then he prayed for me in Lakota in the four directions. He showed me his sun dance scars. He is a medicine man, a grand child of Crazy Horse, he said.
God willing, I will take his advice.
But what have I found among the trailers and little plastic bottles? I have found acceptance and truth. I have realized how to live with dignity and respect. And that money and beauty do not matter. What really matters is how you treat other people, and how you care for yourself.