THERE IS A DREAM I’ve had, different in variation, the family members changing depending on the season or time of year. There’s one version of the dream where my father and I meet in a river-bottom park in Bismarck, walk the winding cement paths and watch the veined cottonwood trees shimmer in the late afternoon sun. He’s heavier and older—white hair has replaced the red hair we shared. I am older and heavier myself, white hair beginning to frost my temples and break through the prairie patchwork of my beard.
I imagine us being silent, our determined steps pushing against the ground, against the weight of what has passed—the missed birthdays, Christmases, Thanksgivings, the missed graduations—against the weight of the space between us. I imagine my tears trailing behind, me wiping my eyes. In the dream, there are questions I want to ask him: Why he let me go? Why his love for me—the love I know he still has for me—cannot transcend the limitations of our shared heritage?
But in my imagining, in my dreaming, there are no words, there are no hugs; the questions are never asked. In my dream, there is a fracture—and then a pivot where we stop walking and I turn toward my father. I begin to roar. I begin to point. I begin to thunder.
There is, in my dreaming, no happy, satisfying ending. There is no completion of this circle of pain, sadness, and rage. There is only separation, a growing chasm as time passes.
There is, in my life, no happy, satisfying ending. I have not seen my parents since my grandfather’s funeral. I often wish I could, but I cannot find my footing on the path toward reconciliation when, on that sunny night in August after I graduated from college, I was told it was not okay to be this way, that it is not okay for me to be gay.
I no longer feel ashamed for the person I am.
WHEN I STRUGGLE, I close my eyes, breathe, and go there—to the bend in the Missouri River where, when the light strikes the surface of the water just right, it sparkles, and the wind and leaves and orchestra of the prairie snap into sharp relief. There’s the croak of the northern leopard frog; the cut banks slough into the sepia-stained river; the piping plover trembles across the wet sand, searching for its nest.
In my mind, there’s an eagle, sharp and lean, perched against a backdrop of the darkening cottonwood river bottom. In the bottom, somewhere, a lynx slinks among the lush grass. A log, stripped of its bark, smoothed to marrow, is submerged in the river, and then the armored ghost comes into my imagination—larger, more fully grown now than when I saw it years ago, it’s whitened with old age, its barbels trace the murky river bottom, its small eyes barely detect any light; the sturgeon hunts, as it always has, for seventy million years. It’s here, in the dark bottom of things, where I have gone in my journey. Like a grain of sand pushed by the current, my life has meandered, slowly shifted farther downstream, where it inches toward a new beginning as I continue to search for the deep current, to find the place where I am meant to be.