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As I Lay Dying

“I’m not brave anymore, darling. I’m all broken. They’ve broken me.”

– Ernest Hemingway

I keep thinking about William Faulkner’s book, “As I Lay Dying” but only the title, because I have never opened the book. Only the title applies to my current situation; metaphorically of course. Actually, I take that back. Through copious amounts of therapy I have been inundated with the knowledge that the mental circus I put myself through does greatly affect my physical health. So, as I am in the midst of this mental breakdown, it is happening, as I lay dying. My brain is destroying my body.

“The Mind Controls The Body,” “Mind Over Matter,” and other shrewdly placed mantra signs you see throughout gyms and therapy offices spin around my head like a ticker tape. Physically, I am lying on my side on our bed unable to think of anything other than that Oprah quote about taking charge of your life. “Come on, Emma, fucking take life by the horns and get out of bed.” It does not work. My body is still laying here on our bed, and I am staring at his pillow. Whenever I read quotes like Oprah’s, it makes me think of those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books we read when we were kids. Usually one of the adventure choices ended in your character falling off a cliff or getting stomped by an elephant, and your character died. The book is over. It strikes me that this is not unlike my real life, where I’m lying in bed unable to get up to get an off-brand seltzer water from the fridge 25 feet away. So yes, I guess, one of my choices in this moment is to die here in this bed if I so choose to.

I digress. I’m back to thinking about the Oprah quote. I Am Positive! I can think my way out of a debilitating anxiety attack/mental breakdown. All I need to do is load up my Spotify playlist of, “Guided Anxiety Relief: Ambient,” lay down, tell myself to take some deep breaths in Deepak Chopra’s voice, and I will be free from these shackles that have tethered me to my “safe space” …under a weighted blanket on our bed while tears stream down my face. I look around. My phone is on my desk, four feet away. Fuck. Wow, well maybe I should take this as an Opportunity! Rather than fall deeper into my hole of anxiety and despair, I can use this as an Opportunity for Growth. I can do some real meditation like I see on Instagram where people actually just sit and take deep breaths while their phone captures them looking serenely and without worry. By the way, who is taking those pictures while they’re solo meditating? The angles are captured in such a way I do not believe it is self-timer mode. Wow, the universe truly works in mysterious ways to present me with such an Opportunity. If I succeed in doing this one action of going to get my phone to begin my process of calming down, I will make a sacred promise to myself I will fast forward through every Calm and Headspace app commercial (because I will no longer be the target audience of those) on the true crime podcasts I cannot stop listening to. Oh, you think that adds to my anxiety? Hearing the gory details of a sociopath’s murderous plan is essentially a history lesson, a course in human development. I have a plan to not be murdered because I have listened to all the tips and tricks. It’s called being prepared.

Well fuck it’s been a couple hours now and I really haven’t done anything to Help Myself. Occasionally this would cause me to spiral more, as if this mental breakdown can be solved by a simple pick me up: a face mask, listening to my favorite song, my favorite coffee beverage, a phone call with a friend, and I could go about the rest of my day. This pesky anxiety attack has simply put a damper on my “to do list” for today. But the fact that my jaw is so sore from clenching it so tightly and my back is wringing with pain from rocking to self-soothe, I do know now that whatever “to do” list I had today went through my mental shredder hours ago. I am aware that I will eventually have to get up, and do something, but I really can’t. And maybe that is the biggest signal of all: my body is paralyzing itself so it can rest, rest, rest.

But I am a doer. I make lists, and cross off the things listed at all costs. I do all the things and use achievement and productivity as measures of my own self-worth. Dammit to hell if I am up all-night ruminating over the things to do, I will do them despite the utter lack of sleep and rest because I am resilient. But not right now. Right now, I’m paralyzed in our bed under my weighted blanket trying to figure out what that Oprah quote even is, while I silently watch my boyfriend come next to me and light my favorite candle (vanilla and tobacco scented) and I hear his soothing voice tell me, “It’s going to be okay.” Then I cry some more because a part of me doesn’t know if it will be, and I cry some more because this person is watching me completely fall apart and needs to not only keep himself standing on two feet, but he’s holding me up right now as well. He says these five words with such conviction I allow myself to stand on the precipice of belief. He will believe for me, until I do. I think this is my definition of love. And right now, I just need to try standing. I need a small strand of hope to help me up, and to help me believe it will be okay, and that even if I can’t move now, I will eventually. The Oprah quote[1] will come to me, and that there are more days ahead of me not under weighted blankets than there are days under them. One day I will be able to look back and cross “Had a Mental Breakdown” off of my life to do list, and not have to write it down again.

1 “You have the power to discover your purpose and live your greatest truth.” – Oprah


Part 3: Toledo, Ohio

“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”

— Maya Angelou

“Invisible threads are the strongest ties.” 

—Friedrich Nietzsche

In August of 1967, Forrest O’Dell drove Millie, and my Dad to Toledo, Ohio with Richard, his wife Sandy, and their new baby David Lee in tow. The six of them moved into a house in the Old West End on Chatham Court. My Dad was to enroll for his junior year of high school at Scott High School that September. With a month to explore Toledo before school started, he became close with his cousin Rick who lived down the street, and who lived in the DeVilbiss High School district. “We hung out, went fishing, and generally roamed around. Rick had a minibike so we would take that out, and just get into whatever we could. But I didn’t like riding that minibike, so I asked Millie and Forrest if I could buy a car. Forrest took me out to see a friend of his who sold cars and showed me a blue 1953 Chevy Belair. I paid $150.00 for it, and wasn’t riding the back of Rick’s minibike anymore. One night when I was over at Rick’s, my Uncle Bob (Millie’s brother) pulled me aside and told me I should go to DeVilbiss, and not Scott. He said I could use his address, and nobody would be any the wiser. And since I had a car, I was able to drive me and Rick to school everyday. That’s how I ended up going DeVilbiss.”

Senior year, 1969
Junior Year, 1968

On his first day at DeVilbiss, my Dad experienced culture shock. In Albuquerque, his classmates wore Levi’s jeans, white socks, and t-shirts. DeVilbiss was a far cry from the casual southwest style he was used to. “It was obvious a lot of rich kids went there. The parking lot was full of new cars, and the guys were wearing Haggar slacks, Arrow shirts, black socks, wing tip shoes, and penny loafers. But it didn’t intimidate me too much.  I had some money, because I worked at a furniture store downtown.  I mostly dusted the showroom but it was money in my pocket so I didn’t care.  Richard ended up getting a job there too, driving the delivery truck, and then our cousin Jim then got a job helping out Richard. Ha! It was a real family affair. When I saved up enough money, I bought a pair of wing tip shoes.” The incident with my Dad’s teacher at the thrift store back in Albuquerque left a lasting impact on him, and he didn’t want or need charity to assimilate into his new environment. If he couldn’t make his internal pain go away, he could at least try to feel a part of his new community by looking the part. He continued to feel the isolation from his own family. At this point, Richard and his wife Sandy had a new baby boy to look after, and they weren’t able to spend as much time with my Dad. In addition, his connection to Mary and the Indian School was severed when they moved to Toledo. He had not heard from Mary since they left Albuquerque.

Haggar slacks ad, circa 1967

Junior year of high school began, and my Dad played varsity basketball, and varsity baseball. At one of the first baseball practices, my Dad started calling his own pitches. Coach Kahler pulled him aside. “He came up to me and said, ‘Mex, what the hell are you doing?’ He called me Mex, because I was from New Mexico and looked Mexican (my Dad audibly sighs telling me this). I told him I’m letting my catcher Rusty know what pitch I’m going to throw so he’s ready for it. He said ‘That’s not how we do things around here.’ But you see, when I was in New Mexico, my old coach, Coach Dixon, let me take the reigns and call what I wanted. I didn’t know any different. So Kahler pulled me and Rusty, and we hashed it out. A few minutes later, I walked back to the mound, and he walked back to the plate, and Rusty said, ‘OK, Chief, let me have it.’ And from then on I was Chief, and I called my own pitches. Mex was no more.”

My Dad is the 6th man on the top row. DeVilbiss Varsity basketball team, 1968
My Dad is the 5th man from the left. DeVilbiss Varisty baseball team, 1969.

After a successful junior year baseball season where my Dad earned Toledo City League “All City” honors, he caught the attention of a summer league coach named Tom Ziegler. Tom coached a summer league team comprised of guys from all over the Toledo City League, specifically ones who had earned “All City” accolades. They were sponsored by a local grocery store called Churchill’s Supermarket.  “He took me to his house and showed me the trophies and photos of past championship teams, and asked if I wanted to play for him. My pitching caught his eye, and he asked where I learned to pitch, and I told him Ken Powell of the Albuquerque Dukes hung around our little league team and taught me.  Tom was a good guy.  His mom would cook us food, he’d feed us, and basically take care of us.  There was a bar in west Toledo called “The Meeting Room” and we’d have our team meetings there because that’s where Tom drank. The guys on the team who were 18 could drink 3-2 beer there too. Ha, things were a little different then.  He was a good guy, he was another father figure for me, just like my other coaches were.  That’s where I learned discipline, and how to do things Frank never taught me. I had the physical talent to pitch, but Tom taught me the mental skills to take my game to another level.”  

Dad in his Churchill’s Super Market uniform, 1968

After a successful summer ball campaign with Churchills, my Dad forewent basketball his senior year, and focused solely on baseball.  “I worked on my pitching whenever I could, and basketball got in the way of that. Kahler built a plywood mound for me to practice in the winter. I’d run laps in the gym, lift weights, work on my game.” It paid off. My Dad once again earned “All City League” honors for pitching, and earned a spot on Tom Ziegler’s Churchill’s summer ball team for a second season. “DeVilbiss baseball was over, and I had just graduated. I had a really hard time in between seasons, because I didn’t have a means to escape my feelings when baseball wasn’t going on. I knew summer ball was coming up, but I was feeling really down. I was thinking about killing myself at that point, because the emotional struggle of escaping the pain, coming back to it, and escaping it, and I just couldn’t do it anymore. It was too much for me. Even exercising and working on my pitching wasn’t always doing the trick anymore. I was tired of feeling this way. The only out I saw for stopping the pain was to kill myself.”

During one of my Dad’s off days, his teammate Doug Kennedy called him. “Doug called me Wes, and he was badgering me, ‘Come on, Wes just come over. Just come over and hang out for a bit.’ So I finally relented and I went over to his brother Bob’s house.  They were all drinking, and I had never had a drop of alcohol before.  They were watching baseball, and they offered me one.  I told those guys, I’ve never had a beer before and they were just saying shit like, ‘Come on Wes, come on, just try a beer’ and I was feeling like shit so I said fine, okay, I’ll try it.  It was either Stroh’s or Rolling Rock, I can’t even remember.  It was probably Rolling Rock because I really liked that later on.  I had that first beer and I remember feeling loose, and relaxed. They asked, ‘Chief, you want another one?’  I liked that feeling.  So I had another one.  I remember thinking that I don’t feel like shit anymore. I’m not experiencing the pain.  I think I drank 5 beers.  I remember sitting there watching the game and not feeling nothing, just completely numb.  Then I realized I had to drive home.”

“I somehow made it home. I drove straight up Central Avenue, and turned right on Scottwood, left on Strasburg, left on Parkwood, and ran into the house. Richard, Sandy, and Mom were there and I busted through the door. Mom immediately asked, ‘Whats wrong with him?!’ and Sandy yelled, ‘He’s drunk!’ and she started laughing. I puked immediately.  It was the first time I had alcohol and I was puking everywhere but it didn’t stop me from drinking.  Because I knew the pain was being taken away. I didn’t have to wait for baseball to start up again. I could drink and escape this pain I had. That first beer started my downward spiral. It was like pouring fucking gasoline on an already out of control fire.”


Part 2: Transitions

“Life has a way of testing a person’s will, either by having nothing happen at all or having everything happen all at once.”

Paulo Coelho

After Frank left, Millie was unable to keep the household afloat, and needed help.  She called Mary, the Westfall’s close family friend and asked if they could stay with her for a while.  Mary had a three-bedroom house on the west side of Albuquerque, beyond the McKinley Junior High school district where my Dad attended school. “Oh, I was pissed.  I said I’m not moving, I’m not leaving my friends.  But I did, because I had no choice.” My Dad and Millie moved in with Mary, and her new beau, a man named Richard Bird.  “Yeah, Richard was an asshole.”  My Dad was beside himself.  He didn’t want to leave his friends and teams, but had no other options.  He enrolled at John Adams Junior High, and threw himself into sports once again.  “I just didn’t want to think about it.  I didn’t want to think about Frank leaving, me moving schools, I just wanted to forget about it.”  

My Dad’s brother Richard and my Dad, 1958

They stayed with Mary for a few months, and eventually were able to move back into their own home, in the McKinley Junior High school district.  But they were still scrapping by.  One day at McKinley, one of my Dad’s teachers walked in and told him to come with her.  He immediately thought something happened to Millie, and was asking the teacher where they were going and if his Mom was alright.  She assured him that nothing happened to his Mom, and that they were going on a trip.  Mrs. Heitman took my Dad to the local thrift store, and told my Dad they were going to buy him some clothes, underwear, shoes, and socks.  “I stopped cold.  I knew right then and there we were poor.  This was more than just being on food stamps.  I was embarrassed.  I went out the next day and asked my neighbors if I could work for them doing yard work, and odd jobs, because I couldn’t stand that feeling.  I didn’t want that to happen again.”  

I’ve seen this work ethic in my Dad in a lot of ways throughout my life. I saw it when my sister was in a tight spot: she needed a new bedframe, and was stressed about the cost and logistics. My Dad responded with, “I’ll just build you one.”  I watched him build my sister a bedframe from reclaimed wood in his garage as he blasted Jimi Hendrix on vinyl.  My Dad is a retired painter (interior and exterior), he has accrued forty plus years of patience through literally watching paint dry. He’s instilled in me a mentality that if you’re going to do spend time doing something, take the time to do it right.  

He coached a lot of my sports teams growing up, and I have one specific memory when he was coaching my softball team.  I was pitching, and I was absolutely tanking.  I was upset, and wanted to be pulled.  I asked to be pulled and have a reliever come in for me. My Dad’s response? “No.” I was floored. I snappily reminded him how poorly I was doing out there, and close to tears, I said it was hard.  His response? “I know.  That’s why I’m not pulling you.  You have to learn to work through it.”  I was pissed, and basically stomped back out on the mound.  I managed to salvage some semblance of dignity and finished out the game.  I can’t remember who we were playing, or what summer it was, but I remember getting my first taste of playing the cards you are dealt, and working with what you have.

I digress. My Dad was elated to be back at McKinley Junior High. Although he didn’t really enjoy school, he missed his friends.  He reflects fondly on his baseball and football coaches when he was in junior high, and they left a lasting impact on him. Despite these connections, “the pain” still festered.  He began fighting in school, and he started by fighting the Mexican kids.  “I’d get pissed because the pachucos would kick the shit out of the Indians.  Oh, it would make me so mad.  Those Indian kids reminded me of the boys I would play with when Mary took me to the Indian School.  They accepted me, and then to see Indians get picked on and get the shit kicked out of them…”  

From left to right: Sandy (Richard’s wife), Richard, and My Dad, 1965.

During this time, Richard (my Dad’s brother) was drafted into the Vietnam War, and was told he needed to report to Fort Hood for basic training.  My Dad begged him not to go.  Richard had to leave, and the isolation my Dad experienced continue to grow.  He poured more energy into baseball, and got a part time job at A&W when he was a sophomore in high school.  I asked him how he handled all of this: the trauma, and how that affected him. Frank leaving, moving across town, moving back, Richard leaving… “You just keep going, I don’t know.  What else was I going to do?  I didn’t have any other choice but to just keep going.  I had baseball, I had Mom, I wasn’t living on the west side of Albuquerque anymore, I had my friends. I lived for baseball, and I really wasn’t home a lot.  I started at A&W and played sports, that was my life.” 

Then, at A&W, he met Sandy (Author’s note: this is not the Sandy featured in the above photograph).  “Sandy was so great.  We really hit it off when we first met.  I felt like I could actually really be myself around her.  She was amazing.”  Sandy was the first girl he had romantic feelings for, and my Dad’s first kiss.  They became close, and she was my Dad’s first girlfriend.  Sandy rode horses, and one day asked my Dad if he wanted to go riding with her after school.  My Dad declined, he had baseball practice that afternoon.  After practice, a friend of my Dad’s came up to him, and asked if he had heard what happened to Sandy.  My Dad carefully said, “No… and then he told me that she was in a horse-riding accident, and she died.  I don’t even remember what happened after that moment.  I just took off running.  I ran so hard up into the foothills.  I really don’t remember how long I was up there, or the days after. The funeral was horrible.  I don’t really remember a lot of the time after that. It’s… it’s completely blocked out for me.”  I didn’t push any further.  

Before my Dad’s junior year of high school, Millie told him they were moving.  Millie had been married to a man named Forrest O’Dell before meeting Frank Westfall, and he came to visit them in New Mexico.  Forrest had promised a better life for them in Toledo, Ohio. Millie accepted. My Dad was not having it.  My Dad was reluctant to move across the city, let alone move across the country to a state he had never stepped foot in.  Coach Dixon, my Dad’s baseball coach, asked Millie if she would consider letting my Dad live with him and his family, so my Dad could finish out his high school career in Albuquerque.  He offered to take care of him, make sure he kept his grades, and would provide a stable home for him.  Millie said no.  “Forrest came and got us with his truck, and loaded up our stuff, and we moved to Toledo.” 


Part 1: David Young

“The real challenge is not to survive. Hell, anyone can do that. It’s to survive as yourself, undiminished.”

Elia Kazan

My Dad was born on March 13th, 1951 in Gallup, New Mexico as David Young.  When he was just a few months old, his Navajo-Native American mother made an adoption plan with Frank and Mildred (Millie) Westfall, who resided in Gallup, New Mexico. Frank and Millie were white, and so my Dad grew up assuming he was white too.  They changed his name to David Westfall, and moved to Albuquerque soon thereafter.  Frank and Mille already had two children living with them: my Aunt Judy and Uncle Richard who were 9 and 5 years older than my father.  His adoptive father Frank Westfall was a cabinet maker, and made custom outfits for trailers.  Millie was a homemaker.

Clockwise: The Westfall Family: Frank, Mildred, Richard, Judy, and David (my Dad).

“Yeah, I guess you could call her a homemaker.  She would do some ironing for neighbors for extra money, because although Frank worked, we didn’t see any of his pay come into the house.”  When I asked my Dad what his relationship was like with Frank, “I really didn’t see Frank when I was a kid.  He was at work during the day, and then at night he would play with his country western band somewhere out near the Tijeras Canyon in the Sandia Mountains.  He drove a 1955 Cadillac but I couldn’t tell you a whole lot about the guy.” My Dad has told me when he was growing up he had a sense he didn’t quite belong in his family.  Even at 4 years old, he felt isolated, and a sense of disconnect.  “Yeah, I knew Mom loved me but there wasn’t a sense of real connection, I knew she would take care of me but I wouldn’t say we were close. I was closest with Richard.  I loved Richard.  He was five years older than me and he was my guy.  But outside of that, Judy was doing her own thing by then and I didn’t blame her, I didn’t really feel like I belonged in my family.” My Aunt Judy was 9 years older than my Dad. She eventually married when she was 18 years old, and quickly left New Mexico shortly after.  But Richard being only 5 years older than my Dad, they became close. Richard was a mentor, and someone my Dad looked to in guiding him through life.  

My Aunt Judy and Dad, 1952

Despite this connection with Richard, my Dad describes this time period as his experience with “the pain.”  He would talk to his dog Tippy about it when he was very young, and found her to be an immense source of comfort.  But he soon found another salve: A close friend of the family who babysat my Dad, and spent holidays with the Westfalls worked at the Albuquerque Indian School (AIS) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Her name was Mary Bird.  She would take him there with her, to play with the Indian children, and to be exposed to the Navajo culture. My Dad said he felt, “right at home, and began questioning why I didn’t feel like that at my actual home.”  He reflects on these days fondly, and connected with the Indian children in ways he was unable to with the Westfalls.

Clockwise: A Westfall cousin Jim Loveday, The Westfall’s close friend Mary, Frank Westfall, and (my Aunt) Judy Westfall

The Westfalls moved around a lot, because money was tight and Frank had difficulty paying the bills.  “I didn’t actually know we were poor growing up, because we always had food, Mom was always making dinner, I had clothes, and a bed to sleep in.  It wasn’t until I was at one of my buddy’s house that I realized their food containers and boxes looked just like ours: white with black print, and I thought, why do we have the exact same foods? That’s weird.  And it dawned on me right then: oh, this is government issued food. We’re on welfare.”  My Dad attended Belair Elementary School, and spent a lot of his childhood playing in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains.  There, he felt a sense of peace, and a connection with nature. “The wind would blow through the pine trees, and I would sit there, listen, and it calmed me.  I would spend hours up there, roaming the foothills and listening to the wind.” 

 He soon found another way to get rid of “the pain”: sports.  Specifically, baseball, where he was a part of a team with his friends, with common goals and a sense of familial comradery he was missing at home.  He threw himself into sports.  “When I was pitching, I thought of nothing else but the game.  Everything else in my mind was blocked out, and all I had to think of was the next pitch.  I didn’t worry about why I was different.  I loved the game, I used baseball to get rid of the pain.  Baseball kept me going.”  

As he got more serious about baseball, he saved up bottle caps (My Dad can’t remember the name of the company, but remembers collecting bottle caps to send to them) to send away for his own mitt. When it finally arrived at the house, he yelled for Richard, and they opened it together. When retelling this story, my Dad sighed, and then started laughing, “Emma, we opened it, and it was a right-handed mitt.”  My Dad was left handed.  “Richard told me right then that if I wanted to be good at sports I needed to be right-handed, and since I had the glove for it, I switched.  Richard wasn’t very athletic but he was smart about sports, and I only had the one glove so I was going to use it.”  I received my first left-handed mitt from my Dad when I was 3 years old.  The significance this moment must have had for my Dad is not lost on me.  

When my Dad was in the 7thgrade, Frank came to one of his little league games.  “I thought that was so strange, because he never came, and after the game he told me how well I played and I didn’t know what to make of it. It was just so out of character for him.  I knew something was up.”  A few days later, Frank said he was going on a business trip to Sante Fe, and he would be back soon.  He hugged my Dad tightly, told him he loved him, and walked out the door.  “Yeah, after he left, Mom called one of her friends over and they went in the bedroom and Mom just started saying how all of his things were gone.  Just gone. And I didn’t know what we were going to do.  I couldn’t believe it.  He was just gone.” My Dad never saw Frank Westfall again.

Pulling on a Single Strand

My Dad and his dog Tippy, Albuquerque, NM 1954.

I am Navajo-Native American, my lineage stemming from my Dad’s side. I grew up in Toledo, Ohio, but my Dad was born in the southwest; a vague destination I knew of as a kid as the place my Dad would go help my Grandma with cattle drives and bring back kachina dolls for me and my sisters. He wears turquoise jewelry that was handmade by his Uncle Leroy, and the handwoven blanket made by his great aunt now rests on display in my oldest sister’s living room. Growing up we would settle in on the couch to watch A Man Called Horse, and we listened to a lot of Navajo flute music. My Dad swears under his breath when anyone mentions the name “Custer” and I knew about the dangers of Skinwalkers from an early age. I would page through the Navajo-English dictionary on our book shelf wide eyed and confused, and gingerly put it back as if it were a sacred document I shouldn’t have touched.

When I asked if we would ever visit the reservation in Window Rock, my Dad would say he didn’t think that was a good idea. I later learned my Dad saw first-hand the devastation that alcohol and poverty had brought to Native Americans. As a young boy he recalled seeing Indians passed out drunk in a ditch off one of the main roads leading into the reservation. He said that wasn’t the representation of the Navajo he wanted us to see. This would typically launch my Dad into lamenting about how we learn about the Civil War in school but we don’t learn about the first Civil War of the United States: the removal of Indians from lands that were theirs, and the broken promises the United States government made to the original inhabitants of this country. It would be a disservice to my History degree if I didn’t do a quick dive into this part of history:

Europeans and Native Americans have been fighting over land since the 17th century, but for our sake I will start with our Founding Fathers in the 19th century. Good old Ben Franklin tried to convince the rest of the gang that they needed to create an alliance with the Native Americans, and split their land into pieces to make sure that it was “secure” and that they stayed in their “proper districts.” He presented this idea to the Continental Congress in 1775. Thomas Jefferson was on board because he was fascinated by how the Native Americans were able to live peacefully, “stemming from their sense of moral right and wrong” and thought the best course of action was to actually intermix with Native Americans because he “believed the Indian then to be in body and mind equal to the whiteman.” K, thanks. I think we all know where this leads, but I’ll stick to the quick hits version: It led to a lot of horrible acts passed by Congress to steal land from Native Americans, eventually leading to war(s), the Trail of Tears, and devastating poverty and the withholding of Native American rights.

I digress. I wasn’t necessarily emotionally invested in my culture and heritage from an early age, because I saw it as a factual part of my ethnicity; just like I have brown eyes and dark hair, I’m also Native American. Growing up I didn’t ask too many questions about my Dad’s life. As a child, your parents are, “Mom and Dad” and not “Lori and David” as if their lives began after their children were born. As I got older, my Dad revealed more details about his life in these small tidbits. Such as, he was adopted. Okay, wait. But, why? When? How? What? Dad’s brother passed away when Dad was in his 20s. Grandma lives in Post, Texas. There’s a city in New Mexico called Truth or Consequences and we have some family there. Aunt Judy and Uncle Richard aren’t blood related to each other or my Dad. Who are the Westfalls? We need tribal I.D.s. These pieces of information were missing roots, and missing a cohesive time line. I couldn’t make sense of it.

I pulled on a single strand in this jumbled mess of facts. Why don’t we have tribal I.D.s? Also, what is a tribal I.D.? Another history lesson coming your way: Per the U.S. Department of Interior, Tribal enrollment requirements “preserve the unique character and traditions of each tribe. The tribes establish membership criteria based on shared customs, traditions, language and tribal blood.” Tribes set what the enrollment criteria is, and it varies from tribe to tribe, so uniform membership requirements do not exist. To enroll, you need to do genealogical research, document your ancestry, contact the tribe with which your ancestor was affiliated, and then they will decide on an individual basis whether or not they grant your eligibility for membership. and 23AndMe need not apply, as each tribe has incredibly documented and meticulously kept records of blood lines. I’ve found some are even handwritten. Spoiler: I found some of my family’s.

So about four years ago I started trying to slowly piece together this timeline. I started with the question: Why don’t we have tribal I.D.s? In asking this, I uncovered more questions than answers, but kept digging. This project has been on my creative back burner, but I am finally able to devote more time and attention to it. Over the course of this blog, I want to tell my Dad’s story, and try to answer some of the questions I’ve had, and make sense of my family’s blood line. Thank you for reading. The story begins next week.