Thursday, November 17, 2016

Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee

Wounded Knee- probably one of the most well-known of the Indian Wars, right up there with Custer’s Last Stand. Somehow I made it to my junior year of high school without ever really researching the Battle of Wounded Knee, but our literature assignment gave me perfect reason and opportunity to knuckle down and get that done. For the assignment, I read Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, one of the most critically acclaimed accounts of “the systematic destruction of the American Indian during the second half of the nineteenth century.” (see back cover) After reading it, I think this is a pretty great summary of the book. It truly is a thorough, logical account of the Midwestern and Plains Indians, but it doesn’t lack emotion like so many nonfiction history books these days. I wept for Black Kettle, cheered for young Crazy Horse, shook my fist at Army General after Army General, and felt my soul drop into my shoes at the Battle of Wounded Knee.
One of my favorite details about Bury My Heart was that at the beginning of each chapter, Brown listed a sort of timeline for the rest of the world so that going in you would have an idea of what was happening around you. That helped me connect a lot of events and realize more fully how recent these tragic events are to our nation, which brought the facts home even more. Understanding that 1890 was only 126 years ago was huge for me- this was only what, three generations ago? My grandfather’s parents were probably alive then, and yet I know more about the Revolutionary War and the Black Plague than I do about the Indians’ fight for their homeland and battles like Wounded Knee.
Another thing I loved was the open perspective. Anymore, modern historical literature seems to be under the impression that the whole Western Expansion deal was good guys versus bad guys- and it wasn’t! Nothing is here. It wasn’t ‘angry white men murdering all the Indians for no reason,’ and it wasn’t ‘angry redskins murdering all the white men for no reason.’ Brown took a fair look at men like Custer and Red Cloud for who they were and what they did, not what various prejudices ask us to buy into. The fact is, Indians were just as mean as white men sometimes, and white men were just as innocent as Indians other times. It fascinated me how quickly the Indians learned cruel and disgusting ways of retaliation from the white men, which made me think about how much we teach others in everything we do. Even in war! The white men arrived and fought dirty with the Indians, hacking off their limbs and ravishing their women, and the Indians learned to do it right back the next time.
The book focused mainly on tribes like the Sioux and Cheyennes, the ones who fought a number of the major battles. Even at that, it was a little hard for me to follow which chief was from where and did what with whom, but if I focused hard and flipped back a few pages I could usually figure it out. Being unversed in nonfiction, I was worried about getting bored with just the facts, but Bury My Heart was so much more than just the facts. Brown takes facts and cites a billion sources in the back of the book, bracketing chapters with quotes and heartbreaking paragraphs from Indian lips, but in between he fills the pages with emotion and compels the reader to follow the brutal, tragic tales of tribe after tribe fighting for everything they had and losing anyway- losing everything they had and being sent to barren reservations with no food in drastic conditions. I don’t cry over books and I don’t really get into nonfiction well, but I literally could not put this one down. Brown makes their struggles become more relevant to me than the riots in North Carolina today.
The information is well-ordered, being strictly chronological and generally well-flowing. Brown took a wider focus with Bury My Heart; instead of zeroing in on just the Cheyenne or just the Sioux, he compiled all of their histories into one. This makes it easy to get a lot of information all at once, but that information is a little jumbled up at least in my own head. I know I’ve got a pretty hefty list of deeper research projects right now.
It’s hard to narrow down the book into a few paragraphs of ‘this is what it was about’ because truly, it was about so much. Bury My Heart is about the Indians’ war for their freedom, it’s about the white man and his arrogance at times, it’s a heart-wrenching story of a desperate people struggling to survive while the men in power run amuck over everything the Indians thought they could count on. It’s a story of failed interpretations and miscommunications, as demonstrated by the many treaties that were signed and then turned out to not mean what the chiefs thought they meant at all. It’s almost a picture of why democracy is so hard to pull off- the big centralized government back in Washington may have meant well for the Indians; at least, President Grant was certainly not out to annihilate them, but the government’s good intentions meant nothing to the rugged army generals whose first thoughts were to take out the Indians altogether.
Every chief or warrior comes alive on these pages, making it more than just a list of facts. There’s distinct dialogue between chiefs and generals, similar to a novel but this rings truer than that- this is more satisfying. This is my nation’s history, and it sure isn’t pretty but it’s what made us who we are today.
I’m left with a lot of questions after reading Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee. It’s a stellar book, it’s full of information and it’s beautiful to read, but it does something very few modern fiction authors know how to do anymore: it makes you think. Brown will tear your heart out as you watch Black Kettle fight for every inch he has, and ultimately lose everything- but he leaves you with no “this is what was right, this is who was wrong.” In some ways, that may be the best part. Instead of being a shove-it-down-your-throat-until-you-see-it-my-way kind of book, this is a these-are-the-facts-and-I
‘M-going-to-break-your-heart-with-them-but-what-you-do-with-it-is-up-to-you kind of a deal. That’s the kind of empowerment we need more of today; just giving people the honest facts and making them think about it without forcing an angle down their throats.
It took me about a week to read Bury My Heart, and it shouldn’t even have taken that long because I read about three hundred pages in one night. Riddled with cliffhangers and action scenes, the deadline wasn’t the only thing making it impossible for me to put this one down. History is getting so boring these days- people are forgetting how to teach it, but Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee surpassed my expectations of a history book. Instead of being slow and dry and factual, this book came alive and draws readers in by the heartstrings. It’s obvious that Brown cared a lot about his topic, just from the passion and emotion in the writing. If all history books were written like this, I’d wind up with a doctorate and a Ph.D in history.

All sources are from Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee. Dee Brown, copyright 1970.

Libbie Custer: Boots and Saddles

I’ve heard it said that behind every strong man is an even stronger woman. This may not be true in every case, and quite frankly, I’m not inclined to believe it’s true very consistently, either -- but the fact remains, in healthy, married life, much of the energy and well-being of one person is derived from the other half of the relationship. I see this in my parents and those around us, and it’s a joy to watch. And make no mistake, I know some pretty strong women. I could write for hours about my mother, or about the lady in my church who’s outlived three husbands and four heart attacks, or the woman next door who finally stopped doing weed and now runs an adorable little business.
But I’m not going to. These women are all strong, at least in the eyes of the twenty-first century. You want to see strong? Let’s take a look at Libbie Custer, wife of General George Armstrong Custer, first woman to travel with a division of the Army, and author of the first reliable history on the General, “Boots and Saddles.”
Going into her book, I was perfectly convinced that General Custer was a cruel, heartless man who deserved his death in the battle of Little Big Horn. About four pages in, I was a little less certain. Libbie begins her tales with her marriage to the General, barely introducing herself before diving into a delightful anecdote wherein the General learned he was to be deployed into the West, plopped Libbie on the dinner table, and proceeded to dance and holler with excitement. It’s obvious from the first few paragraphs just how much Libbie loved her general, and that love truly held out through the entire book -- throughout his entire life.
She reports that their honeymoon was interrupted by a summons to the West just after the wedding, which turned my stomach just a bit, but Libbie didn’t regard her own feelings. While I would have cried and probably been most upset, she joyfully packed up, skipped her honeymoon, and followed him out to the fort. Time after time, she proves how much she loves him as she follows him everywhere, into the depths of no-man’s-land, through multiple-day-blizzards in a shanty, from Fort Lincoln to the Dakotas and chest-deep in unexplored Indian territory. She leaves nothing out in regards to his courage, stamina, and heroism -- but surprisingly, she writes with little regard to her own emotions throughout their travels. She describes the harsh weather, the grueling travel, and the constant battle to be in control and not hinder the men. Libbie was fully aware that women had never traveled with army commands before, and she knew that, being a woman, she was regarded as weaker. But she was determined to keep those fears unfounded, consistently hiding tears or exhaustion or hunger, simply because she knew that she was expected to keep up with the men. At one point, she describes a time when the command was traveling and ran into a band of Indians that had potential to be savage, and Libbie knew right then that she could die. The men were instructed that whoever was watching out for Libbie was to kill her if the group was attacked. This would have spared her from a brutal murder at the hands of the “savages” and also made the men more free to fight, without having to worry about a woman on top of the Indians. Thankfully, Libbie lived, and kept her head even while knowing that if it came to blows, she would probably be the first fatality. She literally handled it all, without complaining or pitying herself, but always with respect and admiration for her general. This inspired and impressed me, and gave me a deeper understanding of just how weak we are today compared to women like Libbie.
Another thing that fascinated me was the way she referred to Custer himself. He was never “George” and very rarely “my husband,” but always “The General” or “General Custer.” She spoke of him very formally, which I understand was the social norm in those days, but the formality still struck me. It’s so obvious that she loved him, but she never called him sweetheart, baby, or hubby like we do today. She never even used his first name. That degree of respect is astonishing, and it’s beautiful to realize that she could show us just how much she adored him without ever saying his first name.
Her love for him was so fairy-tale ridiculous that I worried a bit at the beginning of Boots and Saddles. I worried that it would be a one-way street, that he wouldn’t reciprocate her love, that she was just an infatuated dreamer and he loved his military more than he could ever love her. The whole skipping-the-honeymoon-to-go-to-a-fort thing was really concerning to me. I also knew going in that Custer fathered a child by an Indian woman, which only added to my fears for Libbie.
But those fears were unfounded! She may have been fairy-tale ridiculously in love, but her general cared for her just as much as she did him. At one point, Custer was court-martialed for leaving his regiment to go visit his wife, just because he missed her. There were very few times when she didn’t travel with him, and when she didn’t it was because he feared for her safety (or possibly because he was working out his little affair? I’m not sure, but I’d definitely like to think of him as more gentlemanly than that.). Regardless, the Custers’ love for each other was by no means a one-way street.
Libbie was a beautiful writer, someone other writers today should aspire to equal. However beautiful her writing was, though, she remained rather intensely biased in regards to her husband. She adored him to the point of being unable to see or document any of his faults, for any reason. She backed him up and believed in him no matter what. While this made their love something incredible, it also skewed the American public’s view of George Armstrong Custer until forty or fifty years ago, when historians really started looking into who he was and what really happened at Little Bighorn. As a result, I had decided that Custer was a “bad guy” of the West way before I even heard of Libbie or considered reading her book.
Finishing the book left me with a pile of tissues, ragged nerves, and intensely conflicted opinions. I know that he led his entire regiment to their deaths because he was arrogant and cocky. I know that he straight-up hated Indians and made no bones about massacring them. I also know that he was the perfect gentleman to every woman in his camp. I also know that he adored his wife. I know that she portrayed him as the most beautiful human being to ever walk the face of the planet, and that she completely convinced me to fall head-over-heels for him.
So what’s my final opinion? I don’t have one. That’s uncomfortable for me, because I always have an opinion. I’ve been known to just ramble about a topic for eight minutes until I circle around and decide what my opinion is. But on this one, I’m going to have to sit out. I loved the book, I loved the way Libbie wrote, I loved learning about life on the Western frontier as an army wife, and I loved every detail she packed into that book. I adored it. I’m in the process of hunting down a copy for myself. If she was still alive, I would be chasing her down for an autographed copy.
But my opinion about Custer? Your guess is as good as mine. He’s like an extreme version of all of us. We all have good sides and bad sides, we all have reasons to be adored and reasons to be hated, we all do dumb things and brave things and kind things and mean things. Custer just took that to an outer extreme that most of us don’t reach, thank God.
I'll leave you with this: he was human, just as much as you or me. We can make him a hero for loving his wife and protecting her and fighting for his country and being a gentleman to his fellow American, or we can make him into a demon for massacring hundreds of Indians for the simple reason of hate. But at the end of the day, he's still just another human being. So who am I to call down judgement upon him?

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Chicago: A Photographic Recap

So before we get started here, I'd like to give some credit to my lovely photographers. Without them my posts would have been a lot more bland and you would have seen a lot less. Thanks to them, I got to share with you some of my favorite moments and I think it livened up this blog hugely. Huge thank-you's to...

Elise, for not being afraid to tell me I needed more pictures with people in them and providing great people-y shots.

Renee, for taking pictures of literally everything and letting me paw through them in the dead of night because "guys, I can't find the foot picture from the tower" (major kudos to Elise and Renee for knowing what in the heck I was talking about) and also hugely amazing editing skills.

SongWeaver, for doing the selfie thing with me and remembering eensy teensy details and donating snaps of the in-between moments that I didn't catch, and also for always being around and not letting me be alone.

I think that's all of my picture-donaters. Most of the pictures you'll see below are from them, but I don't remember who sent what on all of them (sorry, chicas. You are loved.). Some of them you might have seen before, but I'm sharing my favorites again anyway because I like to look at them. 

Okay, enough chatter. On with the show!!!

 Renee sent me this one and holy cow, is that not tremendous editing? I love it. This is a shot from the skytower, looking out over whichever lake it was we saw. I love the blend of the city and the lake- it's super super cool and inspiring.

This is almost exactly the same picture, the only difference is the editing. To me this looks more smoky and mysterious, like a ghost-metropolis just begging to be written about.

I literally love this one so much simply because every time I see it, I think the two people are getting engaged. They weren't- I just snapped the picture at a deceptive moment, but it's still sweet. Navy Pier is such a romantic place in the evening.

You've seen this one before, just my best friend kissing my turtle buddy, but I love it. I was going to just sneak a candid-camera shot of her sleeping with him (that sounds bad, it wasn't, I promise- Elise, I can almost hear you laughing from here so just shhh, I'm blogging), but she caught me and turned it into one of the cutest pictures I caught all trip. 

Because this was literally all they did in the bus besides sing about "es caliente, so no mas ropas," it seemed like. Sweet dreams, girlpeeps.

Aaaand here we have...Renee, hugging a ship-steering-wheel-thingy? I wasn't around for this one but Renee looks so tiny compared to the thingy that I just had to share. She rocks the shortness.

Again, I wasn't around for this one but it's trademark girlpeeps so obviously it's going up. Happy faces, amigas! And yes, their hair is all the same. We planned that. Or they planned it. Whatever. More on the hair later.

And this. THIS. I have no idea how I ended up with this but it's from the Chicago Symphonic Hall- it's the whole conglomerate choir and woooow what a picture. This blows my mind. I sang up there. I did that. Wow.

The National Shrine of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini- I didn't think I'd be able to show this to you but somebody sent in a picture of it so here you go! It was absolutely massive in there- and look at the windows! I loved the windows. 

This one I remember- it's courtesy of Elise, 'because you mentioned the Trump building.' Okay but what even is the Trump building? Does he live there? It's huge and it looks really cool and just driving past it sent Mancub and SW into a tizzy, but what is it??

This is just a great shot of the Navy Pier. It was so big- I didn't even know there was a Ferris wheel until I saw the picture. Isn't it cool?

More of Becca and Elise and Renee! This is in the waiting parlor/ballroom at the concert. 

Unfortunately, this is the only shareable shot of the Bean that I have. The others are full of familiar faces (like fifty of them) and I don't have time or willpower to track down everyone and ask permission to post their face on the Wide, Wild Web.

SW and I before the concert, in the hotel because she just suddenly said, "Hey, Scotty, we have to take a picture." And we did. And I'm grateful, because otherwise I wouldn't have any pictures of us before the concert, which isn't something I would have thought I'd have wanted but I think I'd regret not having one.

I don't even know where to begin with this. Just looking at it cracks me up. When I submit his application to the insane asylum, I'm sending this photo as proof. And I'll stand in the courtroom and present it as Exhibit A, and then I'll sit down and say, "No further argument, Your Honor," and the judge will just sit there and go, "Wow." (dramatic pause)

 "And the verdict is?" the bailiff will ask. 

"Guilty on all counts of insanity," the judge will stammer. 

"Sentence?" comes the bailiff.

"Execution! Off with his head!"

And I will giggle in my head, because there's no giggling in a courtroom but I won and finally the world sees that he's criminally insane. 

Okay. That was a little intense. Even for me. Sorry, Mancub. Think of it like the "Just You Wait, 'Enry 'Iggins, Just You Wait" scene from My Fair Lady. 

Here I present to you the sign at the door- isn't it fancy? I love it. The programs looked almost just like that too, only smaller. So professional!

I'm not sure what or where this is, but it's some pretty stinking cool architecture if you ask me. If you want to know what it is, I recommend chasing down Elise or Renee (this probably came from one of them) and asking about it. Also ask for their autograph, because they're awesome.

This is while walking to the skytower- you can see it, it's that tall spiky white thing. Do you see why I loved walking in Chicago so much?

Oh, and did I mention we went to the Roman Coliseum? We totally did. It was a lot smaller than I thought...and the Museum of Science and Industry had it all locked up in a little glass box. Apparently the Romans played with Legos too??? ;)

And then... the Saint Louis Arch was a couple displays away from the Coliseum and apparently my geography is worse than I thought. All this time I thought the Coliseum was in Rome and the Arch was in Saint Louis, and it turns out they're both in Chicago. Whaaat??

Another of my favorites. Pardon my face. I was okay standing on glass 103 stories above the ground, but when they said to lay down I thought I'd really rather just die. Photo credits to Mancub, our semi-unofficial photographer. And kudos to Elise and Renee for being brave enough to actually smile when he said to and not just chomp on their lips while staring blankly into the sky, which was entirely too close and too blue. Y'all are gutsy and that's all I've got to say about that. 

On our way out of Chicago and back to Nowhere. It looks a lot less ominous and huge from the Interstate.

Call me crazy, but I absolutely loved our fire-escape view from the hotel. It's just magical- I could write a thousand stories based on this one shot. Renee edited it and honestly she didn't add magic; she just enhanced it and she did really well.

I don't even know why I love this so much. It's just feet. But it makes me so happy. I wish we'd gotten SW in there, but it's still a really cool pic. It's us- it's Mancub and Elise and Renee and me (and yes, that is proper grammar, to say 'me' in there, just trust me on this one) and it makes me happy. I have friends, you guys, I have friends and they're good and nice and they like me and I like them and we do things together. 

I like together.

Together is good.

And there you have our little clan of seven- our BraidSquad, because Renee did braids in everybody's hair on the way into Chicago.

Yes. I'm watching you count braids, and you're coming up with twelve, and that's not good because twelve divided by two equals six and I said there were seven of us.

Easy explanation: it's like at weddings. There's always one guest who isn't in a single picture (if you watch Sherlock you probably remember this). No matter what. He's just not there. You never see him. Who is he? The invisible man? The stalker?


He's the photographer. 

Our semi-unofficial photographer is Number Seven, the one you don't see. Fortunately, he wasn't running around stabbing people with little tiny skewers (if you watch Sherlock, that will make sense. Otherwise...I'm sorry. Don't be too creeped out.).

The photographer was also the only BraidSquad member who didn't have braids in, for obvious reasons of A) dudes in braids is just a baaaad idea, and B) not enough hair to braid. 

But there were seven of us- and I got to be one of the seven. I think I usually got counted as 5. Thanks to Elise and Mancub for counting us and keeping track of us and not losing me. Thanks to Renee for being a safe place and cheering us up and always being real. Thanks to SW for not letting me be alone or cry too hard for too long. 

And thanks to you, for reading and joining us while we took Chicago by storm.

This concludes Scotty's Adventures With The Seven: Chicago.

Hitting publish in 5...4...3...2..



Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Taking Chicago By Storm: The Final Stretch

Chicago 2016 was drawing rapidly to a close and my heart was torn. These people had become my family- I'd made connections and become a part of their lives for a moment. I'd built relationships stronger, forged new ones, bonded with people and learned to appreciate company more than I had before. I'd learned the importance of knowing what you can and can't handle. Of leaning on other people and not being afraid to be weak. Of doing things just for the heck of it. Of laughing and being happy and real. 

Of being little and letting people see that you're not strong enough and need help.

I sat sideways in that seatbelt-less bus and stretched my legs and stared out the window and listened to the low hum of voices running under Hairspray on the speakers. Swiveling my head I could see them- my people, my semi-family, the ones I'd depended on for anything I couldn't do alone for almost a week. 

Es caliente, so no mas ropas, my brain chanted, and I shut my eyes, remembering the drive up when I was so scared and uncomfortable and uncertain. The museum played in my head, stumbling and wobbling around and listening to Mancub and SW discuss this and that. The hotel, trying to sleep while SW cuddled, or Renee and Elise singing Cruella DeVille while waiting for room checks. Walking here and there and everywhere and not getting lost because there were people there who took care of me. 

Being taken care of. Not having to be alone. Not being abandoned.

That's what I remembered most.

And I sat on the bus and I was alone.

Because we were going home, and I wasn't Scotty of The Seven anymore. I was just Scotty. The sometimes-high schooler. The one that missed everything. The clueless one. The loner who didn't speak and just sort of hovered on the edge.

I wasn't part of them anymore. They all had their own lives and their own stories and I envied them for that because their stories all mixed together like spaghetti and I just wasn't there.

So we would go home, and again I would be alone and hover in the background and everything would go back to the way it was.

And I didn't want that. I wanted anything but that. I wanted to be home, with Squirt and Momma and Dad and Ninja, but I didn't want to be alone again. 

For four days, I had people. Elise and Mancub were always protecting and looking after and making sure we were all present and safe (when they weren't murdering each other, anyway). Renee was always including and cheering and being comfortable. SW was always listening and encouraging and rubbing tired shoulders and reminding me that I was part of this group because they wanted me and people weren't all evil. They were all there, all the time, and they cared. We were a family because we were all sort of alone without our families so we built our own. And it worked. It was a little dysfunctional and way more moody than any family I've ever seen, but it worked. "It was little and broken, but it was good." It was people, all of us caring about all of us (most of the time...) and including everyone and knowing everyone and looking out for everyone.

It was good to have people.

It is not good for man to be alone (or woman).

We need people. I need people (ouch). And the thought of losing that family atmosphere of being around my people for four days straight terrified me. I didn't want to be Fifth-Wheel Scotty anymore.

So I sat on the bus and listened to Hairspray and felt lonelier than I had when we left Nowhere, because it hurts a lot more to lose something after you know you love it.

Raindrops splatted on the windshield and voices murmured about snow and Kimball and Interstate 80 and shhhhh, we're trying to listen. SW snuggled Richie and we rolled closer to Nowhere and closer to Alone. Elise and Renee chatted and giggled and reminisced and Mancub howled about somebody's spilt Dr. Pepper.

I was going home.

Part of me was oh so ready. I don't think on the same level as high schoolers. It's a homeschool thing. Stick me in a room of toddlers and I can babysit the crap out of them. Put me in a room full of adults and it's the most natural thing in the world for me- I can converse and socialize no problem and I'm comfortable.

Squish me on a bus full of fifty of my peers and I have absolutely no idea what to do. I don't know what to talk about or how to act or what to say or anything. So I go into childish armadillo mode and act like I'm four years old and absolutely stupid. Being post-high school in every subject in eighth grade didn't score me any points in the socializing-with-peers department, for sure.

So I was ready to be around people that I could converse with and be myself around.

But I wasn't ready to be alone again either. Most of the time I spend out and about is spent in the high school, with other high-schoolers. And I'd established a place in their pride, I'd made a spot for myself among them that I was about to lose because I'm not in touch with them.

So part of me wanted to stay in Chicago for weeks and weeks and weeks and just be part of their lion's pride and have a place. I wanted to walk to the Sears Tower every morning at nine and take a picture out of every window. I wanted to walk with them. I wanted to walk to Chipotle and eat burritos for lunch with them. I wanted to browse a museum and laugh about being absolutely smashed with them. I wanted to dash up and down the pier and sing about my long list of ex-lovers with them.

Because yeah, I have people. I have grown-up people.

But sometimes it's okay to need people your own age, I think. To need interaction with your peers. Because that's what pushes me the most. That's what challenges me to be who I really am. That's how I grow into myself.

At about six-thirty we pulled into York, which I'm sure is a nice town but I've never been there. I think it's biggish. Not compared to Omaha or Lincoln probably, but compared to Nowhere I think it's kinda big. They have a Wendy's.

We were threatening mutiny if we ate Wendy's again.

They also have a Runza.

We stopped there because fooooood. 

And they have salad. I like the Southwestern because it's a little spicy and I like to pretend I like spicy foods, but they also have a newer one- Chicken Bacon Ranch or something like that, and I like Ranch and chicken and bacon so I figured hey, live a little. Try a new salad (wow, really livin' dangerously there, Scotty.).

Again I ordered last because it was becoming the comfortable thing to do (also I was having a minor panic attack because apparently life was scary or something). If you order last you get decide where you sit and who you sit with and if you want to sit alone then go for it.


Runza was smaller than Wendy's.

There were no empty tables.

And I didn't want to be alone. I didn't want to invite myself to a table, either- I wanted to be wanted. I wanted someone to not want me to be alone.

Everyone was busy. Talking and interacting and doing what I couldn't do because I couldn't get out of my own head.

And the workers weren't quite as on-the-ball, either. Their system worked okay for small groups, but when we unloaded fifty-four people on their tiny restaurant I'm pretty sure the waitress's blood froze completely solid. I'd have been scared too, for the record. I freeze up when I need to think fast. Works real well, let me tell you.

But I'm not telling you about that. I'm telling you about the food and the eating and the being alone.

It took them forever to get everything sorted out and start handing out food, and then they had a really wacky way of doing it. Say we ordered eight medium fries, they'd bring out a tray of eight medium fries and you just grabbed what was yours, rather than keeping all the orders together. It was kind of complicated and ominous for a while, especially with raindrops splatting outside and purple clouds billowing on the horizon. Plus, we were in York- York, at the opposite end of the state, at six thirty and we were supposed to be home by ten thirty. Four hours. 

My aunt lives in Kearney, which is between York and Nowhere but considerably closer to York, and whenever we drive down to see her it takes us five hours.

We were so not gonna be home at ten thirty.

And I needed to sit and think about this- or rather, think about how late it would be getting home because the best I could figure we still had eight hours to go AT LEAST and that put us in Nowhere at about four thirty Monday morning. 

Which meant another night on the bus. 

Which I didn't altogether hate because it was pretty fun all in all, but I didn't feel like getting yelled at for not falling asleep on the bus again. But see it didn't feel safe. There were people on that bus that I still didn't know. There were possibly mean people who would do mean things like Sharpie on my face or worse than that and I didn't want to think about worse than that, so in order to avoid the Worse Things, it made sense to just stay awake so no problems would arise. Nobody would mess with me if I was awake.

I was having an almost-full scale meltdown when Mancub and SW waved me over. Specifically, SW waved me over because she knows my panic faces and apparently I didn't look calm. I sat and they talked and I wanted desperately to converse and be a part of it because this was my last chance but I couldn't because if I opened my mouth horrible things would come out. Like about how freaking lonely I was and how much I didn't want to go home and be alone again, or like how incredible it was to have friends and be a part of things and how wonderful it was that they were my friends. Or how distressed I was about sleeping on the bus because Bad Things might happen and I had to stay awake but no one would understand that.

So I sat, quietly, and listened to them talk and that was better because then I just sort of fed off of their calm and their chill became my chill and I was okay.

Okay. But still lonely, because I couldn't get out of my head and the little voice in there kept saying, "they don't really want you here; they just felt bad because you're like the stray puppy that nobody wants or knows what to do with so they took you in for now. you annoy them. you're too dramatic and selfish. get over yourself. walk away. stop bothering them." (and yes, the voices in my head have terrible capitalization skills. It's part of what makes them so terrible)

So I sat, and they talked, and then I started rambling and panicking about Worse Things happening and then Mancub was yelling at me for being afraid and self-conscious and careful and that was worse and I didn't know how to respond. Somewhere along the line we piled back on the bus but I was numb and I don't really remember that part. We finished Finding Nemo (wait, we watched that? Apparently. I don't know.) and then it was Jurassic Park and all of a sudden Mancub was leaning on the back of my seat and talking over me to SW and she was shushing and arguing and he was too close and getting agitated and his voice rose and sounded violent and I kept laughing because he and SW were. And for a while we were okay and it was the three of us against the dinosaurs or something, and he said he'd tell me when to close my eyes- like I was a baby not quite brave enough to handle humans being devoured by dinosaurs, and that wasn't too far wrong. 

But it was us. We were back, like a revival and I had people again and we chattered back and forth because I was okay again and it was safe. It was pouring rain outside but it was safe inside and I wished we could stay that way for always, safe and together and not fighting.

Somewhere along the line he drifted off to Somewhere Else and it was just SW and I, and then she fell asleep and then everyone was sleeping almost, except me, and there was peace and quiet until- hey, gas station and we're two hours from home so everybody go pee real quick and then we'll be home. We passed around a baggie to tip the drivers, who deserved so much more than they got because they rocked it, and SW slept the whole time and Mancub was back on the floor and it was almost just like on the way out of town, except that I wasn't stuck under a seat and I was on way less of an emotional high.

There was something about the route we took- we drove out of the storm, and it was pretty dry when we got to Nowhere, but my mom messaged me and said to text Daddy when we got to Kimball, I think it was. And I asked what if we don't go through Kimball because I'm terrible with directions and what if I miss a cue and have to sleep at the school or something terrible (because apparently I couldn't wake up my parents, and I sure couldn't just hitch a ride with SW or even walk the mile to my house from Nowhere High, right, okay I was tired, sorry). So then it was 'text when you get to Bridgeport,' I think. One of those blippy little towns. Somewhere.

And it was eleven thirty and wow, our drivers must have timewarped us or something because no way could we be here now, and then I was falling asleep and 'can't fall asleep, you'll fall out of your seat and that would hurt and you'd probably kill yourself, you klutz' so I jerked myself awake and watched the road for a while, and then Nowhere's lights were peeping at me over each hill.


We pulled into the school parking lot at close to midnight, and I've seen few sights as sweet as my Daddy and Squirt waiting for me in the Trail Blazer as soon as I stumbled off the bus.

I wish I'd said good-byes, or bothered to talk to somebody or say something or act friendly, but I didn't. I picked up my stuff from our drivers, hugged Mr Q (who knows my parents and looked after me the whole trip), and booked it for the truck. Daddy and I piled my things in the back- and then home.


Home, to my pink roses and lilies and Seuss the stuffed Moose and my own pillows and my igloo pile of blankets, and my home with my people and my momma and my daddy and my sister, and that was what I wanted at midnight on April 17th (18th? However that works.) and I don't care who knows it. 

Chicago was an experience I'll never forget, and I wouldn't trade one second of it. I established some relationships I'll never outgrow, and I laughed with people I never thought I'd speak to, and I roomed with three of my best friends in the whole wide world. I learned a lot about how much I can handle emotionally and how people work up close. I saw a German sub and stood 103 stories above the ground and stared down at little tiny ant-people driving little tiny matchbox cars and I saw where Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini died and I stood onstage in the Chicago  Symphonic Hall and sang at the top of my lungs for all the world to hear. Those are all the facts and the things we did that I might never be able to do again.

But I won't remember the submarine or the Symphonic Hall when I'm ninety-five. I won't remember standing on top of the world and taking pictures of my feet over Chicago. I won't remember the shrine or the Bean or arguing politics on our way there. 

I'll remember the emotions, because that's how my mind works.

And most of the emotions on this trip were some of the best of my life thus far. We stormed Chicago and I loved every second of it. But I'm so, so glad to be home. Back to the routine and my people and the alone time. I still think it would rock to go on tour with those my peeps, but for now, I've got my sights set on an Associates Degree from our community college by the time I graduate high school. Touring with SW and Elise and Renee and Tink and Holly and Mancub and Pumba and everyone is definitely on my bucket list, however. Maybe next I'll post my bucket list. Who knows? Anything can happen. 

In closing, here's one of my favorite snaps from the trip. Peace out, Chicago. 

So that's two. Sorry. This really only scratches the surface of my 'favorites.' I'm planning a Chicago: In Pictures post soon to get all the shots I haven't shown you and some that I maybe already have but love enough to share again. Stay tuned, peeps.

Hitting post in 5...4...3...2...



Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Taking Chicago By Storm: Day 4.0

Almost done, guys. I know I said I probably wouldn't write today, but heck, I got time. I have to be at the concert in like 90 minutes. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with blogging in between doodling on cutoffs (thanks for the inspiration, SW) and laundry and makeup and supper. I can multitask.

Just don't ask me to walk and talk at the same time.

My multitasking skills are sadly limited.

But we're not talking about that today, or this post would be called Multitasking Mishaps. Go ahead and check. It's not.

Sunday morning we were up and ready to go at seven. It was a short stroll down to the Corner Bakery for breakfast, which was obviously my new staple of yogurt and granola. This time I threw in a latte for good measure- decaf, of course. I didn't feel like falling out of my seat every other town and listening to Elise scold me all the way home. But I wanted coffee, because it's cool and I like pretending to be cool.

See? Coffee. I'm a big girl and I drink coffee. I drank it all the time when I was little, until my non-coffee-drinking grandmother arrived on the scene and taught me that tea is waaaay better than coffee. Now I don't usually like it unless it's whiter than my legs (and I wear jeans practically 24/7 so I'm blindingly white and absolutely okay with that) (funny thing is I didn't wear jeans at all in Chicago) (and I'm wearing capris today; not sure how that happened) (and I am SO triple-parentheses-ing right now because yes, I am that cool).

Whew. Rabbit trail much? Sorry about that.

Anyway. SW and I were a little behind the breakfast crowd so it was less packed when we arrived, which was loooovely. We got seats at the bar by the window and watched traffic for a while because I don't make sense until about ten and SW barely forms sentences at seven in the morning (reason number 4,861 how come we're best friends). It was pleasantly quiet, the low hum of other voices just barely sneaking into my train of thought as taxis and buses and cars hustled by and pedestrians meandered past, sipping coffee or arranging shopping bags (apparently in Chicago shopping is an all-day endeavor and you should get started at seven thirty in the morning. what even.).

Mancub was later than we were and bobbed past our window considerably after we'd been seated. He sat with us, but conversation didn't pick up. He claims he needs a pot of coffee every morning or he commits multiple homicides, and based on his level of I'm-not-really-functioning-just-walking-and-breathing, I assumed the pot had yet to be consumed and therefore he was not a force I wanted to reckon with.

So there we sat. SW on my left, Mancub on my right.


Crowds thinned inside and out as everyday people dispersed to their jobs and members of our tribe headed back to the hotel to triple-check rooms for possibly missing toothbrushes and floss and phone chargers. SW and I cleared our things and probably mumbled adieu to Mancub, or she probably did, but my antisocial level skyrockets before ten. I have a handful of people that I love being around no matter what, but the majority of students on the trip were not in that handful. Also, what are you supposed to say to someone that might unleash a lethal attack on you just because they didn't have enough coffee yet? "I'm sorry, sir, please don't kill me?" "I'm sorry for your loss?" "I didn't do it?" "Have a nice day?"  Like actually. I had a considerably amount of stuff on my mind (I always do) and death wasn't one of those things.

Okay. I thought I traveled lightly. I was even impressed when I was able to get everything back in my duffel bag the night before we left (no, I don't have luggage, don't need it, backpacks work fine, thanks, and my pack has more than enough room for my things).

But squeezing down the elevator with the duffel and the Rory Bag and probably a book in my hand, along with the standard three or four other people and their luggage...

I didn't travel lightly enough, apparently.

It was pretty full. But we lived, and no one got irreparably squished, so it's all good.

Our wonderful drivers had pulled the bus up outside and were helping us load things into the little hidey-holes underneath. How cool is that- a bus with storage underneath? I love it! You can squeeze all kinds of stuff under there and there's still room for all of the people!

Okay. Nerd moment over.

By 'helping us load' I mean that they were basically doing all the work, taking suitcases (or duffels) and shoving them into storage compartments. We climbed onto the bus and found our typical seats, which weren't assigned but it seems that high-schoolers are creatures of habit and we all pretty much sat in the same spots. For SW and Renee and Elise and I, that was the second row on each side.

We counted off, waited for our last few stragglers to get on, and then WHOOSH! We were off.

Bye, Chicago.

It was kind of a weird feeling, leaving a huge city that had been a great experience and realizing that I quite probably wouldn't be coming back. Not to mention the adventure was coming to a close, and by ten pm I would be back with my parents and sleeping in my own bed and doing laundry and cooking and doing family stuff again. Four days seemed like an eternity, like we were really cool famous people on tour and this was just what we did and none of us knew any different.

I didn't cry when we left. I didn't really think about it. I mean, everyone else pretty much zonked out as soon as our wheels started rolling, so it was just myself and the drivers and Music Man, and they didn't talk to me, so I was left alone with my thoughts.

And my camera.

I have pictures. Not interesting ones, and not good ones, but there's people in them and Elise said I need more pictures with people. So have some people.
 Here we have SW, kissing my stuffed turtle buddy named Richie, whose name she never could remember. Ralph? Rod? Ricky?

No. Richie. Like Richard the Lionheart or something.

 There you see Elise and Renee. Well, you see Elise. Renee is somewhere under the chevron lump; at least, I think she is. I mean, last I knew Elise wasn't cannibalistic (it's frowned upon in our culture; one of the few things that everyone actually has the guts to call wrong, and I'm just gonna leave that there) and other than being eaten alive I'm not sure what could happen to Renee in the first half hour of a sixteen-hour drive.
 Mancub. In the aisle. Again. Maybe he was lonely or just like annoying Renee and Elise. I don't know. Maybe aisles are to him like corners are to me, safe places of refuge. I had to crop everyone else out because he's one of very few people who gave permission for me to plaster their faces all over the interworld. Everybody say, "hi, Mancub."
 This is from later on, closer to home. We landed in some rain, which was lovely but I prefer snow. Snow is awesome. Don't shoot me, Ninja. You got your rain, you pluviophile you. Now we can have snow.
 This is...a lake. I guess. I don't know which lake. It might be a river. I don't know. It's a body of water, and I took a picture of it. Because water is cool, apparently. I'm sure this water was very cool. So cool as to be called cold, even. But I digress. Below is a picture of the 1240 mile marker in Iowa, or Illinois or somewhere awesome like that. I don't remember which state. One of the ones we drove through.
The Marker of an Unknown State.

And that's all the pictures I'm posting for now. All the other ones are full of faces I can't share. And we were bouncing a lot (I think the bus needs new shock absorbers, or maybe it's just the fact that we were in a bus with 50+ seats.) so my slightly-less-than-average photo-taking-skills turned into "hey-I'm-two-years-old-and-I-stole-Mommy's-phone" skills.

Sleep is cool. I like sleep. Most of the people I know like me much better when I sleep. 

But really, guys?

Are you that tired?

Most of them stayed awake long enough to thoroughly panic about the fact that I-80 was closed from Kimball to Cheyenne because of snowfall, and then they were out. All of them. For like forever.

Which I mean, wasn't that bad actually, because I got to sit and ponder and stare out the window and write stories in my head, but still. It was like 8:30 Chicago time. Up and at 'em!

8:30 Chicago time is seven thirty in Nowhere. 

7:30 in Nowhere on a Sunday morning means I'm at praise team practice with Ninja, probably play-fighting about something dumb while we practice or punching him in the chest or shrieking and chasing him around the church while he laughs and makes off with my purple pens.

Except on April 17th, apparently. On April 17th at seven thirty AM I was sitting in a bus full of people who might as well have been dead, for all the company they were.

I was also texting my mom, and my sister. 

And Ninja. We hadn't talked much during the trip, you know, because he has a full-time job and I was running all over the place all the time, so it was really nice to catch up while everyone else snoozed.

So there I sat, on a bus, with 54ish people, ninety percent of whom were asleep, and I took pictures and listened to faint snores and talked to Ninja and daydreamed.

And it was pretty okay. It still bugged me that I was missing church, but the trade-off wasn't horrible. I could have gotten some good writing in if I'd had the presence of mind to bring a notebook, but naturally I wasn't thinking about that. 

They slept through all of Illinois and straight into Iowa, where we stopped outside of some city at a rest area to stretch our legs. Music Man also handed out granola bars, which put him pretty high on my list of favorite people (not that he was all that low to begin with; he's legit my favorite teacher). Give me food and you're automatically elevated to best friend. I'm an easy bribe where food is concerned.

Renee and I took a stroll around the rest area and spotted some grey squirrels, which apparently only live in Iowa. They're pretty cute- they look skinnier than the squirrels in Nowhere. They're very glossy and playful- but our squirrels are playful too. Renee couldn't seem to stop talking about the squirrels. Mancub was less than interested. But that's typical for him. Typical for most of the guys I know, now that I think about it.

Anyway. Short break to stretch, then back on the bus. We headed on into Davenport (pretty sure that's the name of the city, but there's a lot of big cities in Iowa so I could be wrong) and stopped at Wendy's for lunch.

One thing you might not have thought about as I'm narrating all this is the food situation. Between fifty-four people, especially when fifty-one of them are high school students...there's pretty much always at least one person complaining of hunger. That's just how it goes.

But then there's the issue of feeding all of us. Mom and Squirt and I can run through a drive-through (okay, fine, we drive) in about fifteen minutes. Or we can go inside and it'll take us about half an hour, mostly because fast food places are pretty much not even close to fast these days.

There's a big difference between three people and fifty-five people.

What could be a half-hour stop turns into a ninety-minute stop really fast. And when we pull into the parking lot I'm pretty sure every employee in the building has a mini panic attack. But most places we ate at handled everything surprisingly well, and Wendy's was no exception. Not to mention they had salad. 

My dad has this thing about holding doors. He always holds doors for my mom and sister and I. It's just what he does, and if you want to be getting on his good side you best be holding my doors (a process I'm still teaching Ninja, who's very long on helping me be as independent as he can). Sometimes I catch myself holding doors for other people, just because it's what I've watched him do for so long.

Holding the door for fifty people takes a really long time.

But it's doable. Anything is doable. *sings* Anything can happen if you let it

I was one of the last in line, which is okay because I wasn't squished somewhere in the middle of the line. I ordered my salad, picked it up, and headed for the lobby.

Enter fifth-wheeling act.

There's five of us- Renee, Elise, SW, Becca, and me.

Four seats to a table meant my peeps were occupied.

*shrugs* I can just sit by myself and read.

Didn't bring a book in.

Good going, Scotty.

Either way, there was a lovely empty table by a window kind of away from the masses, so then I could people-watch and chat with Ninja and my mom and eat my salad and sort of hermit, as best as one can hermit while on a sixteen hour bus trip.

I settled in and slathered dressing on my lettuce and leaned into the corner to watch. There wasn't a lot to see or hear; the sounds all blurred together and people eating is less adorable than people sleeping so watching them really wasn't interesting. Besides, it gets weird when people are awake. 

The thing about fast food salads is the lettuce. It tastes great, looks great, and it's not going to melt your insides, but they can't seem to chop it all evenly. So you end up with a three-foot strip of lettuce and a six-inch fork, and that doesn't really work. When eating fast food salad, therefore, I am quite okay sitting alone. It can be messy and I don't cope well with messy.

But that didn't change the lonely factor. I love being alone most of the time- it recharges me and peps me up so I'm more friendly the next time I have to interact with people.

Being alone and being lonely are two different things. I didn't mind sitting alone, and I knew that if I pulled up a chair, Elise and Renee and SW and Becca would be more than okay with me joining them. 

The issue was with the little voices in my head telling me I didn't belong and I would just be interrupting. I've gotten a bit better recently at just jumping in and including myself, but Sunday wasn't one of my more socially competent days. Being alone was okay, it was the listening to other people laughing and talking and not being a part of that that wasn't so okay.

But I had Ninja. For a little while, before he wandered away from his phone to do some semi-grown-up thing that semi-grown-ups do. About that time my mom was getting out of church and heading to Sunday School, so we talked for a bit in between. She hates Wendy's, I don't, we spatted playfully for a bit about whether or not Wendy's could be good. I was just happy they had salad.

Clack. "Hi. We decided to come join you."

I glanced up from my lettuce and recognized two sweet juniors I met last year in Mary Poppins, we'll call them Tink and Holly.

And Mancub.

Tables of four again, so we all fit fine. Tink across from me, Mancub on her left and Holly next to me. I like them, they're nice people, and I was certainly all right with the interaction.

It was the why that I couldn't figure out. 

I'm just me. I'm like Mr Incredible or something (only nowhere close to that muscular; Ninja takes care of the muscle department for both of us)- "I work alone" and all that. At least I was then. I'm working on being less like that now, but still. As far as school people go, I'm pretty much off on my own for seventy percent of the time I spend around them. I like being close to them, just not necessarily joining in and socializing. I typically find a quiet spot away from the chatter and read or something. It's just what I do. And it doesn't seem to bother a lot of people beyond Becca because she's the exact opposite of me and can't figure out why anyone would ever want to be alone.

So having not just one, but three (three! three!) people randomly move their whole setup over to my table to sit with me was something relatively new. People were okay if I joined them, but they didn't join me. Sometimes they'd wave me over or save me a spot, but I always came to them.

And then there's Tink, showing up out of nowhere and plunking her things down across from me, declaring, "Hey, we decided to come join you. You were all alone."

Faith in humanity restored.

I'm such a needy kid. It bugs me sometimes. Literally all you have to do is say, "hey, can I sit with you" or just show up and chat and I'm beyond happy. Kind of pitiful.

No matter. Having three extra people didn't even really up my need to socialize- they talked around me pretty well. Mancub and Tink talked track, and the thing I picked up out of that conversation is that the reason Mancub is such a toothpick is because he runs so much and just runs all the protein right off him.

I kind of love conversations like that- where I can jump in and ask questions or give input if I have it but I'm not pushed into talking. Then I don't have to fumble and mumble around with words so much.

We talked about school too, I think, and I probably put in my two cents about taking all my Gen. Ed classes over the next two years and graduating with my AA from the community college, because college is my obsession at the moment and if you say "school" or "graduate" or "college" you're liable to send me off on my whole spiel about what in the world I'm doing with my life.

Then we had a little bit of Inappropriate Phrases Which Scotty Will Never Ever Use and Does Not Need To Know 101, courtesy of Mancub. I'm not going to repeat that conversation; all you need to know is that sometimes my thick skull is a blessing, especially when lovely people who can't quite answer the "Why does Scotty need to know this?" question decide to take me on as a full-time culture student. 

Off to the bus we went and loaded up again in the bright Iowa sunshine. Now most people were thoroughly awake and the bus was a lot louder. Due to high schoolers being easily bored, Music Man put in a DVD- an older film, something like Ferris Bueller's Day Off or whatever. I frowned for a second, ready to turn to SW and ask for the scoop when someone hollered my name. "Hey, Scotty!"

I turned a little and answered, "Yeah?"

D'arwin met my eyes. "I don't think you're gonna like this one. Don't watch it."

"Wasn't planning on it, but thanks," I replied, kind of cheered by the fact that hey, he thought to warn me and not just throw me to the wolves. 

Yet again, friends are cool. I think I'll keep them.

We toodled off down the Interstate while Ferris Bueller took a day off, and don't ask me about the movie because I honestly don't know what happened. I just know my ears were assaulted with an astonishing amount of crude language and humor. I watched the landscape go on...and on...and on...and guys, Iowa is a really big state.

Between Ferris Bueller and Hairspray, we made it to Lincoln/Omaha around five PM, but I'll fill you in on that later. For now, adieu, lovely readers, and have a great evening.

Clicking publish in 5...4...3...2...