April to present Oglala tent post

That first night when we set up the tent. One of the first things my brother told my kids before his epic meltdown was, ‘this isn’t camping’ and then he’d laughed about it. Because we brought one of our TVs with us. We had the generator. We had a large 10’x17’ dome tent, that TV, two new sleeping cots for the kids and one of their old twin beds for me. We just got the generator, which was the largest purchase at around $500. We set up the interior almost like a hotel room because we knew we’d be in it for a long time and wanted to be as comfortable as we could be in case it was longer than a few weeks (we are now about seven weeks living in it and it’s been two and a half months from leaving Denver).

The thing that gets me to this day is that when the kids and I discussed the potential for living in a tent on the Rez – it wasn’t some romanticized idea that this would be like a weekend at the KOA we’d vacationed at before. For months before moving, we discussed the very real potential for living outdoors, in a tent, and what we would need to survive such a state in the most inclement weather situation if it got to that point. They knew that we had lost a family member to the elements and that winters have killed livestock. We were not disillusioned that this would be sunshine and cool weather throughout. We talked about the racism to expect in border towns, too.

The next bit he did has been eating at me. With freezing wind blowing around us, with the tent interior cold and the tent put together as poorly as it was because he was so impatient, he was ready to leave us to any fate, including death. I told him that we needed the generator running so we could run heaters as it was freezing. His speech went something like this.

‘It is cold – and it’ll get colder. Early in the morning, it gets even colder than this. Without heat, it’ll be freezing inside, too. Goodbye.’

There might be minor variation with that. That he ended his matter of fact speech with ‘goodbye’ bothered me. It says that he acknowledges the situation -we had a tent partially set up with no means of warming it, nor did we have blankets because he only brought back two- but he had more important things to do than be bothered by the fact that the three of us -two in wheelchairs, one of whom only has use of one hand- could have died from exposure that night if left in that state outdoors – and it was already getting colder and windier. We evacuated as quickly as we could to a hotel that we wouldn’t have been able to afford without emergency donations because he spent our last $100 that same night. 

Plus, we don’t have a word for ‘goodbye’ in Lakota. In English, I’m used to hearing ‘later’ or even ‘toksha’, part of a phrase in Lakota that’s roughly ‘later’. So that ‘goodbye’ was like a burr, too; among ourselves, we rarely use ‘goodbye’, even when ending phone calls. He went from ‘this isn’t camping, lol’, joking, to being derisive and cold, ‘it’s going to be freezing later, goodbye’ in a short amount of time. I still wonder at the motivations and expectations he had for us that night; he didn’t read the instructions for the generator and voided our warranty by repeatedly attempting to start it without oil. Or rather, he made Raphael try starting it although Raphael has never had experience with such a device before. 

But how to talk about any of this without talking about him. It’s impossible. It’s important for us to be able to talk about all aspects of our move. It’s not a journey that we’ve done alone and many people have supported this very important but delicate move. What happened put us into a very bad mental and emotional state to which it took weeks for us to be able to discuss without being emotional about it. We want to be able to share our triumphs, but we need to be able to share the valleys, too. Or rather, I do as this is my site, my Twitter.

Let’s rewind a little to the time that we were all in a hotel for over two weeks.

After the first few days when it seemed obvious that there were too many barriers to finding a place to live in Rapid City -this is a whole blog of its own someday- the kids and I talked about camping. How, if we set up and got settled in sooner, we wouldn’t be spending money and we’d have time to adjust to the weather and our needs while working from there and hold onto money for our move. My brother shot us down day after day with stories about how we would die from the cold, we can’t handle winter weather or camping, we needed to stay in Rapid City. Except we didn’t magically find a place to live off the bat and that was a source of wildly fluctuating emotions from him as well. He and I argued a lot about every little thing and I did keep renewing our $150+/night room day after day rather than push for us to just camp and save money for a deposit. In addition to being an extra person that we paid for and fed the entire time, my brother expected booze with any number of reasons why he needed it. I bought the excuses at the time, but in retrospect, I believe that we were manipulated to keep him indoors and enabled for his substance issues until we were out of money. At the point that we ceased enabling him, he ceased contact and communication with us. I had told him that we needed to make peace and talk, but instead he said things that I can’t imagine being forgivable.

Over as many weeks. I have questioned myself as to why we -or rather I- let it go on as long as it did. Why? I mentioned something of this situation in Twitter and someone replied, ‘to keep you dependent on them’. That’s when things made more sense. I went from hurt bewilderment to realizing why I hadn’t ‘woken up’ to what had been happening until I enforced boundaries. Because it was familiar. Because it was ma and how we grew up. I doubt the kids realized the same and for the same reasons – he was their guardian once. He drank while he had custody of them, too. When we put things together, I wasn’t the only one angry.

Since then, I have chewed on a great many things. Ma is gone and I can only speculate as to the ‘why’ of things on her end. She didn’t drink or smoke. But for my whole childhood, she was… not a good parent. While many of our cousins have families and their children have families of their own, out of five siblings, only one of us had children, and then only two. None of us are in relationships currently and only one ever seemed to try. I don’t know my siblings’ reasons, but ma was the reason I didn’t have children, nor did I want a family for the longest time. The kids are in their 20s now and all of my siblings are at ages where more children from any of us is highly unlikely. I’ve thought about this a lot over the years and how it probably says something about our childhood. This is something that I hope to explore in the future, too.

This whole thing of seeing such striking similarities between ma and my brother also kind of illustrates that cycles of abuse can continue and live beyond the person who inflicted it. While also being true that cycles can be disrupted, such as how the kids have been raised. I’m in no way a perfect parent. But I did try damned hard and I’ve been honest with the kids about everything, good and bad. They know the ins and outs of every decision I’ve made for them as minors and now that they’re adults, they have input and a voice. If they choose to become parents in the future, I feel confident that both of them would be a good parent to their children.

When ma and the fam moved home oh so long ago, it was partly because ma’s health had deteriorated as well. This is where she wanted to die; it was basically the larger reason behind us wanting to move home as well. My health has been deteriorating and sometimes I’ve been worried about dropping suddenly or just not waking up. A time or ten, I’ve wished for it. I have talked about losing a lot of weight, which is, to me, alarming. I went from a women’s size 32 to a 20 and I don’t really know when that happened, just that I’d been holding my pants up walking for some time. 

One night after we got here, I was laying on my side and watching a movie with the kids. What felt like a hand moving across my back was a fold of extra skin shifting from the top to the middle of my back. It’s common enough now that I can anticipate it, but those first few times were something else. From my heaviest to my last weigh in, it’s a hundred pounds that’s been lost. I am very squishy. My kids know about my health. They got to live for almost a year of seeing me so sick I couldn’t eat, or so nauseous that I was retching. We also knew someone with similar conditions who wasted away before they passed away. That inevitability is something we’ve also talked about as a family, but that’s for another blog.

I’ve talked a little about my health improving since we’ve moved and it has. After the first week of tent living, I wasn’t retching daily. I can now eat something every day without getting sick or retching. I think I even gained a little weight, lol. There have been a few rough days, but not like how it was by the end of the year. Despite how dire our situation seems on the outside, I would say that mentally and emotionally, our little family is equalizing to the task of figuring out the living situation that we have. I’m very proud of the work Lio and Raphael have demonstrated in getting to the point where we are today. While I want to share some of our daily life, first I want to give a glimpse of our potential future this year.

Tiny home(s).

First, we need land. I’ve obtained a lot application and I need three signatures from local representatives before I can submit it to the tribe. Once it’s submitted, it’ll be a 4-6 month wait for approval. At that point, we will have a plot on which to build. In six months, it’ll be November, so we’re hoping it’ll be closer to the four month side of things.

In the meantime, we have permission to build our first tiny home where we are and we are going to start by building a platform for the 12’x12’ tent, which will be the final size of the first tiny home. Some family already have tools and we collected a couple more. We don’t have much, but we are going to collect what we can to start. It will be a ‘floating’ house in that it won’t be permanently affixed to the ground. It’ll be on four or five legs on top of concrete foundation blocks. Theoretically, we could move it from this location to the lot if/when approved. Or leave it for fam and build new ones at the permanent location if we can afford to.

Now let’s talk about that “afford”.

We’ve sourced ideas from online and my limited construction experience. The wood for the foundation and walls is about $250 per section – five sections will make up the foundation and four walls, so a total of $1000 for the wood alone. All four walls, the ceiling, and the floor will have insulation, which will be around $500. Drywall will be around $200. Siding will be about $300. Roofing will be about $100. Nails – I have no idea how many nails it may take to build one, but rough estimate puts nails at $50. I believe we can get a door for around $100 and I found windows at $70 each. A wood stove will be around $300 for a camping size one. Equipment wise, we have two hammers, a hatchet, a round and square shovel, and a small IKEA drill. Better tools, such as a nail gun or other power tools, would be a huge help. An electric cooler will give us a chance to sort of have our own fridge for cold food storage. A simple solar panel array will give the two of us adequate power to charge our wheelchairs as well as the cooler. In short, this build with these last two will give us about 90% independence while living here.

When I proposed the idea of the tiny home to the kids, it wasn’t quite new. We had talked about building tiny homes for each of us at some point so we would always have homes. It was something of a more future endeavor and not immediate though; kind of a retirement option if you will. When I brought it up again and pointed out that, should we get this plot, we could build tiny homes now and use that as a base of operations to work -me at my print shop endeavors and Lio for his candles- then we would have time to save up for another deposit in the city while living in a fairly stable housing situation. At ‘worst’, we’d have a stable shelter for this next winter, but we’d be able to install a wood stove for heating and cooking, too. We’d just be without electricity and running water.

This is the point that the pride I have for my kids is just…

Within a short amount of time, Raphael proposed what I had been pondering at that time, too. If we built even just one tiny home, we would have a stable work and living environment for Lio and I. Because of that, Raphael could return to Denver and go back to work. Because we would have our own tiny home, we wouldn’t be paying rent and between what Lio and I made and earned, we should be fine when it comes to food and we’ll have less worry from storms. Eventually, we’d have the funds to move to a nearby town or get a water line run to us so we have running water.

Separating the brothers has not been something I’d ever wanted to do. As with any siblings, however, they recognize that they might not live together their whole lives and had already discussed that. That part, I hadn’t known about. We talked about this plan, the benefits and potential negatives. This was a collective effort in which the kids had the most influence over its course. Now when I’m gone, Lio can move and live with his brother, or Raphael home will come back to live with him if we have running water and electricity up here by then. My friends, they came up with a long term plan with minimal support. They left wiggle room for adjustments too.

Excitement has made a welcome return to our lives as we’re all focused on each stage of this build. If we can get the platform built, we know we can do the one thing. If we can build one wall, we’ll know how to build the other three. If we can build one house, then we will know how to build the second.

It wasn’t exactly an impulse buy last week. We invested our funds last week in getting the equipment and wood to build the platform first. To prove more for ourselves that we can build it as a disabled homeless family living in a tent on the Rez. The frame for it is finally complete and I am sharing that now. We’re doing it! Lio has been my photographer for most of this. I haven’t wanted to try setting up to document myself so there isn’t pressure to ‘perform’ and we could concentrate on work.

Please keep our family in your thoughts as we enter this next adventure. We are working on things that we can offer for sale to raise funds for the endeavor as well, though that probably won’t be until the end of the month. Currently, there is a money pool set up with PayPal only to raise funds for this build.

There were misgivings amongst ourselves and it took us so much longer than the average person doing a build in all likelihood. Part of my nervousness was still that mental echo of how we can’t do something this ‘complicated’. I proposed how to construct the foundation, showed them how it’d lay out. Once we had to two boards positioned, we got the two sides in place. Measured the sides and cross length and started added interior boards. By the time the frame was done, clouds started rolling in and we called it a day. But we stared at this thing for a good long while because we were damned proud to have gotten this far – that was yesterday. You are now joining our work in progress. Smiley face.

Our money pool: https://www.paypal.com/pools/c/118293251992567072

See @aliwatson117 on Twitter for other updates, too!

Leave a Comment