Our people have rituals and ceremonies meant to bring us vision. I have never participated in any of them, but I have seen things. I have been lifted up and out of this physical world into a place where time and space have a different rhythm. I always remained within the borders of this world, yet I had the eyes of one born to a different plane. Our medicine people would call me a seer. But I was in the thrall of a power I never understood. It left me years ago, and the loss of that gift has been my greatest sorrow.
So we hid from the white men. Benjamin and I developed the quick ears of bush people. When we detected the drone of an engine we knew to run. We'd grab the old lady's hand and scuttle into the trees and find a place to secret ourselves away until we knew for certain that there was no danger.
I wondered what would become of us there. I wondered if the spirit, the monitous, of Gods Lake would look upon us with pity and compassion, if we would flourish on this land that was ours alone.
I crept to the edge of the ridge and looked over. The face of the cliff had collapsed, and the camp was gone. Vanished. Even the trees had been scraped away and the beach was strewn with boulders. The chalky smell of rock dust brought tears to my eyes and I stood there weeping, my shoulders shaking at the thought of those people buried under all that stone.
She smiled again with the same ghastly lack of feeling. “At St. Jerome's we work to remove the Indian from our children so that the blessings of the Lord may be evidenced upon them.”
We'd never seen anyone so composed, so assured, so peaceful. Something in her bearing reminded us about where we'd come from. We surrounded her like acolytes and that enraged the nuns. They thought Sheila was thumbing her nose at them and they set out to break her.
I would not feel lonely or afraid, deserted or abandoned, but connected to something far bigger than myself. Then I'd climb back into bed and sleep until the dawn woke me and I could walk back out to the rink again.
Sometimes three or four boys would be visited like that. Sometimes only one. Other times boys would be led from the dorms. Where they went and what happened to them was never spoken of. In the daylight we would look at each other blankly, so that we would not cause any further shame. It was the same for the girls.
"God's love," Angelique Lynx Leg whispered one day.
"Hockey is like the universe, Saul," he said one day. "When you stand in the dark and look up at it, you see the placid fire of stars. But if we were right in the heart of it, we'd see chaos. Comets churning by. Meteorites. Star explosions. Things being born, things dying. Chaos, Saul. But that chaos is organized. It's harnessed. It's controlled.
"Do they hate me?"
"They don't hate you, Saul." 'Well, what, then?"
"They think it's their game."
I looked around at all those adult faces, lingering on Father Leboutilier's. I'd never been offered choice before.
'All right," I said. "I'll go."
No one said a word. They didn't have to. I stripped off my jersey and sat there breathing in the atmosphere of that small wooden shack. I was a Moose.
When we walked into the lobby the first thing we saw were glass cabinets along the walls filled with trophies and photographs. It was like a shrine to their home team. We stood there with our gear bags in our hands, studying the display. There were no awards in our bush league. The winners were celebrated with feasts and parties but there was no money for trophies.
There were moments when you'd catch another boy's eye and know that you were both thinking about it. Everything was contained in that glance.
All the hurt. All the shame. All the rage. The white people thought it was their game. They thought it was their world.
"My dad never talks about the school," he said. "Mom neither. And they don't say anything about what happened before that. Maybe someone just gave you a chance to rub the shit off the board once and for all."
The press would not let me be. When I hit someone, it wasn't just a bodycheck; I was counting coup.
When I made a dash down the ice and brought the crowd to their feet, I was on a raid. If I inadvertently high-sticked someone during a tussle in the corner, I was taking scalps. When I did not react to getting a penalty, I was the stoic Indian.
When I hit the ice I was effective. I scored twenty-three points in nine games. But the taunting from the stands continued, and I fumed and smoldered and racked up one hundred and twenty minutes in the penalty box. I caused the Marlies to play short-handed a lot of the time, and we lost seven of those games. Finally, they benched me completely. After one night of sitting in the stands, I packed my bag and got on a bus back to Manitouwadge.
I punched him in the head with everything I had, and he crumpled onto the floorboards. I turned to face the rest of them. I was frigid blackness inside, like water under a berg. I wanted another one to stand, wanted another one to swing at me, invite me to erupt. But they stayed seated, and nobody spoke as I walked slowly over to the table and picked up Jorgenson's discarded hand of cards. I studied the cards, then smirked and tossed the hand back on the table.
"Game over," I said. They never bothered me again.
I was an alchemist, mixing solutions I packed in my lunch kit to assuage the strychnine feel of rot in my guts. It was a dim world. Things glimmered, never shone.
He'd told me I could play when I was big enough. I loved the idea so much that I kept quiet. I loved the idea of being loved so much that I did what he asked. When I found myself liking it, I felt dirty, repulsive, sick. The secret morning practices that moved me closer to the game also moved me further away from the horror. I used the game to shelter me from seeing the truth, from having to face it every day. Later, after I was gone, the game kept me from remembering. As long as I could escape into it, I could fly away. Fly away and never have to land on the scorched earth of my boyhood.
"The journey you make is good." "What am I to learn here?"
He swept his arm to take in the lake, the shore and the cliff behind us. "You've come to learn to carry this place within you. This place of beginnings and endings."
"Did they rape everyone?" I asked.
There was a long silence. In the distance I could hear the sounds of the mill and a train. I waited and they both looked at the floor.
"It doesn't have to be sexual to be rape, Saul," Martha said.
"When they invade your spirit, it's rape too," Fred said.
"They scooped out our insides, Saul. We're not responsible for that. We're not responsible for what happened to us. None of us are." Fred said. "But our healing-that's up to us. That's what saved me. Knowing it was my game."
"Could be a long game," I said.
"So what if it is?" he said. "Just keep your stick on the ice and your feet moving. Time will take care of itself."
"Did you want to hunt that fucker down? Make him feel some of the same pain?" Virgil asked. He still couldn't turn away from looking at the ice.
'At first, yeah. Then, the more we got into it at the centre the more I realized it was more than just him. I'd be hunting a long time if I lashed out at everyone. In the end, I learned the only one I could take care of was me."
"Even up here in the sticks, we like to use a hockey puck to play hockey," Virgil said and pushed out onto the ice.
"Old habits," I said when he reached me. "New days," he said.
"The guys here?"
"Them and more," he said.