My Way of Saying I Love You


A lyrical meditation on how I learned to love through trauma and assert my power in spaces of dysfunction.


When they finished the pipeline, they brought my mother a bottle of champagne. I had only ever seen champagne in the movies, usually being popped by a dapper gentleman for a woman in red.

This man at our door wasn't in a tuxedo, but a safety vest that opened where his belly protruded. He smiled like he knew Indian women wanted alcohol.

My mother slammed the door in his face and turned around to see me. She grinned, mischievous, empty handed and proud of it.

This is her way of saying I love you.


Crying On His Pillow

When Tony sent me a picture of his gun and a forty, I had a photo shoot of my own with toy guns and malt liquor.

I made a life of violence the way people make a good home.

When a man threatened me, I told him to do his worst. I had so little to lose when I saw what was left.

The smell of cedar and mold reminds me of my home. Reminds me of my body and lungs and mucus and breathing through my pillow to fall asleep. I wanted a filter between me and the world, between my mother’s misery and my own.

In the pictures, I’m in a black dress and my legs are bare. There are small bruises on my ankle, like the imprints of a hand.

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Bottles and empties are a cliché - just the sound of them is so familiar. The collective sound of glass against glass muffled by a brown paper bag and tin-empty things. I hid my empties because I didn’t want to be a drunk Indian.

My mother took pictures of my father when he was passed out drunk to remind him that he was a drunk. I looked at those pictures constantly.

I wonder if he ever told anyone about me.

I hear empties and I hear him. I hear the clang of bottles, and I somehow know my father’s bottles were green and that he didn’t leave them hanging around. He hid them like I did.

I want his ghost to abandon me. The more I know of him, the stronger I will him away. It’s the purging of a ghost, and I don’t know if I should hide him or let these memories touch - to make familiar music from these empty things.

By Meky Ottawa

The volume of each uncovered picture or memory can’t be poured back into me because I made a life out of not remembering. Maybe he did too.

Lonesome As I Can Be

I didn’t grow in soft earth, so my roots aren’t weak. Some women have bird bones and privilege.

Some women can find the moonlight in a dark room instead of turning on the light. I learned to sleep in the day.

People looked for me, and I was busy with diamonds and open doors. Popping bottles felt like standing on a bridge over the rush of a river. Felt crystal like the water. Rosé is how I loved myself - a heart in my mouth to swallow. I wrapped myself in pink sheets, like a card, like a baby, and never felt safer. I didn’t want to be looked for - I could barely acknowledge my own body and I couldn’t stand to be looked at in the daylight.

Whisper to Me

I still want them to do their worst. That look my mother gave me at the door.

Say no, she speaks to me now.

There is nothing they can give you, she says.

I know.

I make the pages stand on a bridge. I make the pages rosé.

My mouth doesn’t open for bottles or men. My words are the smile at the door for my children behind me.

Look, I say. Your mother does not bend.

Well, That’s Just My Way

You can speak small things at first. Little eyes - what you remember in that house. How you don’t look in the corners of rooms because you think mold follows you.

You can say more. A lung - for the times you could not breathe or speak. You can be rushing water or wield it in small streams. It’s your power now.

They’re ready for your heart. Let them swallow your grief because their mouths are open. You can say you’re angry and that you don’t forgive. You can tear a river through the body because for so long, girl, for so long, you were the only person who saw what you could do.

That’s my way and every Indian woman should know there is a drought for her story - for the truth. There is nothing they can give you that you can’t earn yourself. Not even a feeling. Everything about you is a pumping organ too large to swallow whole.


Terese Marie Mailhot is a columnist for Indian Country Today and a Saturday Editor at The Rumpus. Her work has been featured in The Offing, The Toast, Burrow Press Review, Feminist Wire, Carve Magazine, and elsewhere. She was listed as notable in Best American Essays 2016, and has won fellowships from SWAIA, Writing by Writers, Vermont Studio Center, and Elk Writers Workshop. Her book "Heartberries" is forthcoming from Counterpoint Press.

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