People who knew him all have distinct memories, times they will never forget. Like when the Native students attended a workshop, got matching t-shirts, and moments later, he had ripped the sleeves off and "thrashed" his to demonstrate his style.
He was one of our fancy dancers on the Indian Dance Team and enjoyed dancing, but may have enjoyed being admired by the girls even more.
Before his Senior Prom, he agreed to wear a tuxedo everyday to school for a week as a promotion to get one to wear for no cost to the Prom because money was an issue in his life.
When he and his mother moved to Miami, they lived out near Dotyville in one of the units that had once been a motel. They didn't have a car, so if he missed the bus, or wanted to get around he would have to walk to town. Later they were able to move to tribal housing just past the turnpike.
After weeks of trying, I convinced him to come home with me by listing all the things he could do there: ride a bike, run, practice tennis, or archery, take a hike. He asked me: What do you have a RESORT OR SOMETHING? No, I just lived in the country with dirt roads and no traffic. So biking or hiking was much safer than walking was for him out on the highway where he lived. We had a big bale of hay my dad had brought so my son could practice archery. We had a wall of the house he used to hit tennis balls.
Sometimes it is easy to take for granted what we have when someone else has so little. A friend recently spent some time in the house my parents had lived, a quarter mile from mine. He found an old bike of my son's to ride, took the Gator out for a spin on the mowed trails through the pastures, fed the barn cats and dealt with the raccoon that was living in the attic. When he heated up the house, all the hibernating red wasps began to appear to check out the reason for the sudden change in temperature and he discovered books waiting to be read all over the house. He enjoyed solitude but wound up a few antique clocks just to stop the sound of silence.
Where I live is special to me. The mowed trails are perfect for mountain biking and the dirt roads lead to all parts of our county. The wildflowers still blooming are providing the last monarchs a boost to get them on to Mexico and the seeds are sought out by others to grow even more of those pollinator plants. The tall grasses have recently been dug up to be used as background for studies comparing plants growing in contaminated soils at Tar Creek with the same type plants grown in clean native soils.
My land has been in use by our family since the 1880's. Here in Craig County the Toxics Release Inventory indicates the whole county has zero toxic emissions. So I can breathe the air and not worry about styrene, lead and cadmium, ammonia or hydrogen sulfide or benzene pooling in a perched aquifer beneath the ground. I don't worry about the ground caving in beneath me as I drive a tractor as heavy as some machinery operating on the Tar Creek Superfund site, with operators at risk for collapse each work day. As my son says, "People work all their lives to retire to a place like this."
I don't live in a fancy house, but one my dad and I built over two summers while working for Miami Schools as an Indian Counselor, where I got to know Jerry and so many other students. I came home to a safe and healthy place and got up the next morning and continue waking up and going to a place I want to become better, safer and healthier and a place with more hope for young people who sometimes lose hope.
For some, the network isn't there, or they don't see it wrapped around them, with the care and support we all thought adequate, until we find we were wrong.
When Tisha Blakely told Jerry she lived on Morgan's Hill he immediately said he liked that and was going to have a Jerry's Hill. He never got to live in a "resort" or his own hill and for reasons we shall never know or understand, took his life before Indigenous People's Day became a thing. He never got to understand how his culture could become a protective shield. But it can and will be for ones who follow.
Then future celebration days can be: when the last of the asbestos is hauled away from BF Goodrich, when the last chat pile is gone and when Tar Creek runs clean. And hopefully sooner, when suicide is no longer needed as an option for anyone.
Respectfully Reflecting ~ Rebecca Jim