I want to write about my family, I want to give my grandma back what she tried to give to me. I want to come to terms with Oklahoma. I want to learn the lessons of the vanished prairie and Territory filled with dozens of Native American tribes. I want to know why it's so important to rush forward beyond the moment. I want to sit in the leftover dining room chair on the homestead, in the grasslands, by the oil derricks, and in my grandma’s house. I want to look through time with a sharp eye and open heart and risk the world I know for the one I should know more. This is a microcosm, Oklahoma, of everything we understand in America and who we’ve become. I want to run my fingers over this state’s rough edges and trip on what I find in the afterimage.
Next my grandma and I would hit Brahm’s for a hot fudge sundae, then I’d get dragged to Great Grandma Vogt’s, or driven by some field twenty minutes south whose name I can’t recall—the Harms’ 80, the Vogt 40, the Martin 80. All the time I’d be in the backseat, sitting in the sun, barely able to see out the window, the dirt roads tossing me into the air, my grandma gazing out the window from the cool interior, wistfully remembering something she wanted to share, felt she must share, but knew was impossible to bring me into. I was too young. When I visit those same fields today, sometimes with my dad or uncle—both who insist on a similar tour of wheat stubble and natural gas wells to show me what’s ours—I get the same ache in my legs and dryness in my mouth. There is nothing out here but a moment lodged into someone else’s brain, something I can’t recognize as a seven year old or as a thirty year old. I never lived here in the way they did and I feel made to repent my distant life. The dust trailing behind our cars are ghosts that can’t keep up, that either settle back down until the next car passes, or lift up into the air falling miles away, perhaps permanently suspended in the atmosphere.
I feel guilty about two things—never listening to / appreciating my grandmother and her stories, and never loving Oklahoma like she did. I found her the boring Grandma, and found the state hot, dry, and oppressive. Backwater even. I felt it in my thick accent the moment I stepped into a Minnesota grade school classroom. Maybe MN made me hate OK more, maybe I always hated it, I don’t know. I do know that upon living half my childhood in each place, and now living twelve years geographically between the two in Nebraska, I must bring them together in order to move forward, to find my place in a new place wherever it may be. Until I do that, I can’t live fully and I can’t honor myself, my family, or the landscapes I hope to heal. The irony is that in confronting my loathing of OK, I’m growing to appreciate and even revere aspects of it.
Words are the bridge between the unconscious and conscious, between emotion and action—without them I am adrift and useless. But facing myself and my family I must also face the prairie, the Native Americans, and manifest destiny. The loss of the world is the loss of the people, not the other way around—confronting that lineage of pain is to not repeat those mistakes (if I honor the people and the place now, maybe I can be honorable in any place in the future). So if I can find the place of Oklahoma I may find some glimmer of my grandmother in me or I in her, and in turn, some glimmer of the future.