On a beautiful June day, the sunshine just seems to last forever. I'm not sure how we knew it was time; maybe it was just a pause between games when we finally heard the rumblings from our stomachs. In any case, suddenly the spell was broken and I knew that my amazing afternoon was over. I walked with all the girls to the edge of the pit where the gravel road leads back up to the main road, and got ready to say my goodbyes. As I drifted over to the side, waiting to break away and follow the narrow path leading back to my home, one of the leaders called out to me.
"Hey Monik, do you want to check with your parents and see if you can come back with us? There's a barbecue for all the kids back at school, and you're welcome to join us if you'd like..."
I can't believe my ears - I look over in astonishment at Dorothy, and she and some other girls are laughing at me - again.
"So go ask!" she tells me.
"Yes!!" I answer back, "Do you want to come with me and see my house?"
Dorothy nods and, suddenly re-energized, we break into a run - this time with me in the lead. We zip along the trail and across Tetroe Road right into my driveway.
"This is my house," I explain, "Oh, and those are some of my brothers. I'll just find my mom - be right back!"
I leave Dorothy standing awkwardly in the yard. My brothers glance up briefly from the game they are playing but quickly lose interest. I'm only gone a second or two and come running back out, the kitchen screen door slamming behind me. I'm not sure if Mom already knew what was coming, but obtaining approval was quick.
I'm still in running mode, and Dorothy jumps into step beside me. I'm feeling shy and nervous the farther away we move from the house. Dorothy hasn't said much and I wonder what its going to be like over at the school.
"What's it like?" I suddenly ask her, "The school, I mean, is it fun? My older sisters got to go to boarding school in Winnipeg when they were little, I wish I got to do that, too. There would be so many girls to play with all the time, and a uniform to wear so you didn't have to worry about clothes..."
My voice trails off as I realize she hasn't said anything. She's just kind of looking at me, like something hurts her somewhere, but then it's gone and she's laughing at me again.
"All those brothers, no wonder!" she says.
By this time, we've caught up with the rest of the girls and we walk in little bunches along the road, laughing and talking, all the way back to their school, back to CJ School.
This is the first time I've been so close to the school, walking up the driveway and past the big chain fence. There's a bustle of activity today, I don't remember ever seeing so many people out in the yard. I have about a million questions, but we've been out playing in the pit all day and running around, and now the lake beckons - a lake with a Jumping Rock. I have truly died and gone to heaven.
We kick off shoes and socks, but into the lake we go with everything else on. The water is beautiful - although its a small lake, it's very deep and stays refreshing on a hot day. There's a small jackpine beside the rock with the ragged end of a rope still attached, and I try to jump up and catch it for a bit of a swing.
"That tree would be perfect for a rope swing," I announce, like no-one has ever thought of THAT before, and Dorothy suddenly just pushes me into the water. I come up laughing and she's in right beside me, frowning.
"We're not allowed to have a rope swing," she explains, but it's lost on me somehow.
Glancing around, I notice one of the older girls glaring at me and I swim unceremoniously back over to the rock. I climb out and find myself a space on the warm rock where we've lined up like a catch of trout.
"Sorry," I say, not looking anywhere now, not sure where I've found myself. I realize there's something else going on here, although I'm still not really sure what. Dorothy looks over at me and she can see now it's my time to feel awkward.
"C'mon," she says finally, "Let's go find out what's to eat."
We peel ourselves off of the rock and as we walk away, I can feel those eyes in my back but when I turn around, I see that those eyes are not angry but sad. I want to ask what's the trouble, but something inside just stops me.
Back up at the school the barbecues are blazing outside but the food is all inside, in the gym. Dorothy leads me into the gym and what I notice most is that there isn't much colour around, for a school, and its dark and cool inside. I realize that there are boys around here too, not just girls at this school. The boys are ignoring me for the most part, which is just fine with me; I have enough trouble with brothers at home. I also realize that this isn't just a barbecue, this is their dinner - this is the weekend, but all of these kids are here, living here, like I guess they have all year. I see groups of girls giggling and teasing with some of the boys, and I see some other kids, like the older girl at the lake, just kind of on their own and looking sad. Not a fresh kind of sad, like something just happened, but more like a worn out kind of sad - the kind of sad that lasts too long and makes your heart hurt. Dorothy is watching me take it all in, watching me watch everyone.
"Are you sad, too?" I ask her, but maybe it's because I say it too softly or maybe it's because right then, a boy has come over to laugh at us in our wet clothes, but now she's busy laughing with the boy and she doesn't answer and my question is gone, it's floating up over everyone like a cloud, a big, puffy question mark and it's dissolving into the air above our heads in the gym. Something happens in me then, I don't know what it is, but it feels kind of like a little sliver of something in my heart, and I Know.
We fill our plates and I remember to say Yes Please and No Thanks and we take our dinner outside. We find a spot along the wall of the school in the sunshine, the rays slanting now through the trees. The food is good, but not like my mom makes.
Dorothy and one of the leaders walk me back home, and then it's time to say goodbye. I want to say, thanks for the great day, and thanks for the swim, and thanks for being my friend; but even more I want to ask my Mom if Dorothy can come and stay with us. Even that's no good though, because I know this is not where she needs to be, she already has a home - somewhere.
"Bye," I say, "And, thanks..."
As they start walking back towards the road, I lift a hand to wave. Dorothy slowly waves back, and then she laughs!
The Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School closed in 1974, when I was 12. I never saw Dorothy or any of the other girls or boys again. I still think of them, and when I do I can still feel that little sliver in my heart.