"Will you put on Walela?" Π asked. As Sunshine located the CD and loaded it into the stereo she continued, "What do people in prison do when they're really sick? Were you ever sick like this when you were in?"
"I was never as ill as you are now when I was in prison. But it's awful being sick there. Some women won't go to the infirmary, no matter what."
"I know. I used to write to a prisoner who had cystic fibrosis. She refused go to the infirmary. She said, 'bitches die in there.'" Π started to cry.
"Are you sad, thinking about your friend with cystic fibrosis?"
"No, I'm crying because I'm afraid to go to prison. I didn't used to be afraid. I always used to carry a book when I went to demonstrations, in case I got arrested."
"Because that's what Emma Goldman always did, so she wouldn't waste her time in jail. Now I don't even take part in demonstrations, because I'm afraid I'll have a seizure from the noises or I'll get sick from the smells. I'm a wimp."
Sunshine thought it extremely unlikely anyone would be allowed to keep books they had with them at the time they were busted, but what was the point of going into that? "I don't think you're a wimp. Those are very real things."
"It must have been hard for you when you had the baby in prison."
"It was much harder to relinquish her. We've talked about it before. We should probably keep the conversation more calm, don't you think?"
Π finally got settled in bed and took the pot pill. "Do you want me to sleep here beside you?" Sunshine asked.
"Maybe you should. I think the marijuana will help, but I'm a little scared to be taking it. I used to have colitis and at the time I smoked pot—way before medical marijuana of course—and it did help then, so I figure it might ease these cramps."
"I hope so. How long does it take the pills to take effect?"
"A long time. Maybe 45 minutes. Maybe less, since I'm not eating. Could you take a look at my labia problem?" Π still wasn't opening her eyes.
It looked puffy and red." Wow," Sunshine said. "It must really hurt."
"Everything hurts. I'm not having much fun lately."
"I know, Π. Hang in there, ok?"
"I'm really trying. I just don't want to go to the hospital."
Sunshine crawled into bed beside Π, giving her as much space as possible. She felt unsettled, with memories of the bust, the wrenching apart of her family, Cochise's death, the jail time, the utter loss of the baby girl she'd given birth to, held for an hour, then never saw again.
She met Cochise at Alcatraz in 1990 on unthanksgiving day. He had been stolen by white people from his teenaged mother It was a closed adoption, he never even knew her name or tribe, or anything about his father. All he knew was his mother was very young, and his adoptive parents told him he had fetal alcohol syndrome. As soon as he turned 18, Cochise left his adoptive parents behind, changed his name to Cochise ("I feel in my blood I'm Apache" he would say) and never looked back. She was 18 herself when they met, and connecting with him gave Sunshine an exhilaration she'd never felt before or since. He was such a beautiful warrior. But nothing gave him peace. How could you feel peace, when your land was occupied by another nation? Sunshine had been raised on stories of the IRA by her parents, you'd think they'd understand. But no, after the first arrest, they wanted no part of her. So Sunshine changed her name too, and left them behind.
They lived in a rage fever, looking for actions to try to balance the score. That would be impossible, but they resolved to at least do something, even if they made mistakes. And they did make mistakes, Sunshine admitted that. But the kids, that was no mistake. They were creating their own tribe.
She had hoped the kids would give him peace, and he was as gentle with them as he was with animals. Kids and animals, there must have been ways to use his gifts with them to build the new world, dream the old world, into reality. When their baby boy was born they named him Naiche, just like the first Cochise's son. He was so Native, so Irish, both Cochise and Sunshine saw that. They took Naiche to his first powwow when he was six months. Cochise would meet up with other guys, they'd disappear, and when he came back sometimes he told Sunshine what they’d planned and sometimes he didn't. Naiche had no grandparents who were interested in him, but plenty of aunties and uncles from California Indians and the powwows. He didn't want for elders when he was a baby or a toddler. And they stopped the really dangerous actions when he was born. They still had to live underground, but by then they'd gotten good at it.
When the tree sits came along Cochise was excited and frustrated. "Saving the forests is going to take more than sitting in a few goddam trees," he said.
And so they'd gone to the belly of the beast, and bombed Pacific Lumber offices—so carefully planned, making sure no janitors were there, no one working late. No humans were to be hurt. Except the bomb went off with Cochise still in the building. Sunshine couldn't leave—how could she—when the explosion boomed and he didn't come out. She thought he was injured and went in for him, with the alarms wailing. The cops got to her before she found him—she didn't even get to touch his body one last time. Child Protective Services snatched up Naiche right away. And that was when she called her parents—he was their grandson, wouldn't they take him?
"We don't know him," her mother said. "How do we know how he'll turn out?" her father said. He must have known how awful that sounded because he added, "You cut us off. You turned to a life of crime and it didn't turn out well. When you finally get out you'll want him back and you'll say we didn't raise him right."
Naiche wasn't an enrolled tribal member of course; there was no way to place him through official Native American channels. Sunshine knew people who would have gladly cared for him if it all could have been done informally, but with such a high profile case they didn't want the FBI and Homeland Security in their communities more than they already were. And so CPS permanently took away her parental rights, and now she didn't even know where he was, who was raising him. His adoptive parents had the choice to tell him about her and Cochise. Maybe Naiche would search for her when he turned eighteen. That was it.
Sunshine had only missed one period when she was arrested. That had happened before, stress, whatever, not surprising. When her nipples started to hurt she had a pregnancy test. If she hadn't been in jail, if Cochise hadn't been killed, if there had been any chance at all that one day they could make another baby, would she have had an abortion? If, if. As honest as she could get with herself, if they'd been in what passed for their "normal" life, she would have thought about it. But her decision would have been the same, to have the baby. The couple—she really didn't even know if it was a couple, but her intuition said it was—who adopted Naiche said yes when she wrote to CPS to see if they'd adopt this baby too.
What she could give the child was the best possible start before she or he left Sunshine's body. She tried to be positive, to eat the best food she could manage and to keep the stress hormones from bombarding the baby. But it was still post-9/11 and she was considered a domestic terrorist. When she went into labor they took her to the county jail and chained her to the hospital bed. Although Sunshine was "Black Irish," with darker hair than Cochise's and dark blue eyes, the girlchild she birthed had red tendrils and sparkly blue eyes that might change, might not. Sunshine decided to name her Danu, after the Irish Goddess. She still had a hope that one day her parents would want to know their granddaughter. It had worked. CPS sent letters back and forth from Danu's adoptive parents and Sunshine's folks. The adoptive parents sent pictures of Danu and Naiche, and sure enough, now her parents sent letters and gifts to both their grandkids. They'd come from Boston to California to visit the kids and Sunshine, although not all of them together, of course.
So heartbreaking, so much to be grateful for.
"Have you forgiven everyone who intentionally hurt you?" Π's voice jerked Sunshine out of her reverie.
"Not yet. But I figure if I'm going to be the kind of person I can live with. I have to eventually."
Barbara Ruth creates art at the intersection of Potowatomee and Ashkenazi, disabled and neuroqueer, fat and yogi, not this and not that. Her photographs, memoirs, poetry and fiction appearing in the following anthologies, all published in 2015 and 2016: Tales of Our Lives: Fork In the Road; Slim Volume: This Body I Live In; Biting the Bullet: Essays on Women and Courage; Yellow Chair Review Anthology; Lunessense, a Devotional to Selene; The Spoon Knife Reader; Barking Sycamores Review Anthology; and QDA: Queer Disability Anthology. She lives in San Jose, CA.