Escaping the Tears

By Melinda A. Gathman, May 2000

It was just so stupid! Why in the world would anybody believe in a God who sent his son to earth just to have him die?! And they both knew that he would die! It was God's will that he should die! Furthermore, God's son was perfect. Absolutely perfect. Disgustingly perfect, I thought. Another dumb thing about it was the Trinity. My mother (who believes in the crazy thing and knows a lot about it), says that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one. There are three reasons why that's stupid:
  1. If they're one, why do they have different names?
  2. If they're one, how did Jesus come to earth alone?
  3. If they're one, how is Jesus sitting at the right hand of the Father?
Which brings me to another point: If Jesus (God's son) rose from the dead after he died, and he was supposed to be a great miracle worker, then why couldn't he have just done whatever needed to be done by telling it to happen instead of making a huge scene over it?! It was stupid, just plain stupid. I forgot about thinking about how stupid Christianity was when I heard my brother, Mark, calling my name.

"Liza, Liza!" (My real name is Elizabeth, but most people call me Liza) " Wait!" he called. He came panting up to me.

"Don't touch me with your inky hands," I said. Mark was a type setter at the Phoenix, the Cherokee's own newspaper. It was started after Sequoyah, a Cherokee, wrote a syllabary for the Cherokee language. The newspaper is written in English and Cherokee.

"Liza, I've been looking all over for you! The soldiers came to our house today! Mother and Father and I were eating lunch, when somebody knocked on the door. Father answered the door. When he came back, he said that the soldiers had given us 2 days to pack."

"Pack for what?" I asked.

"The soldiers are coming back in two days to take us to a stockade. After that, they'll probably take us to Oklahoma."

Dread engulfed me.

"Are we going to try to escape?" I squeaked.

"Yeah. Mother sent Marie home and Father went to town to try and find a guide for the mountains, since he isn't familiar with them. He thinks it'll be safer that way."

"We're going all the way to the mountains?" I asked.

"Yes, deep into the mountains," Mark said. "You'd better go talk to mother about what to bring. I'm done packing. Tell mother I went to the Phoenix office!" Mark yelled as he ran off. I started running the other way, toward our house.

"Mother, mother, where are you?!" I ran frantically through our cabin, calling. "Mother, where are you, I need you!" Then, faintly, I heard her voice.

"I'm in the root cellar!" I raced outside. As I neared the root cellar, my mother's head poked up; she held out her arms to me. I fell into them.

"Mother," I was sobbing. "Mother, I'm scared."

"Sssssh. Of course you are. Now, we're leaving as soon as it's dark; we'll meet daddy at our hiding place in the woods. I want you to change into your most durable dress and shoes. Make a bundle with bread, apples, potatoes, peas, and canteens of water. Wrap them all in a sheet. There's string in the barn for you to tie it with." I changed into my work dress then started to gather the food. I was almost finished when someone started banging on the door. I went to answer it; hoping it was one of my friends. But it wasn't. It was a big man, with a beard, and lots of red hair. Behind him a woman sat in a wagon holding a infant baby in her arms.

"Aren't you out yet?" the man said, startling me.

"Out of what?" I asked.

"Out of the house, Injun."

"Why should we get out? We live here. My father built this house. It's ours."

"Actually, it's mine. I won it. See this?" He pulled out a piece of paper and shoved it up close to my face. "It says lott-er-y at the top. And here at the bottom it says that I won this house." He grinned. "So you see, this is actually my house."

"I know how to read," I said. "Actually, I can read both English and Cherokee." Suddenly I grabbed at the paper he was holding. With him on my heels, I ran to the kitchen and dropped it into the stove. I slammed the door shut with a clang.

"Now," I said without turning around, "now you may leave. This is our house." I turned around. The man was still standing there. Suddenly, it seemed as if he grew a foot.

"Now." The man turned around and so did I. It was Mark.

"I will," said the man, "but you ain't seen the last of me. I'll be back, ya hear? I'll be back!" He walked out, slamming the door. I heard the creak of wagon wheels and the clopping of the horse's hooves as the man drove away.

"Mark, do you think he'll come back?"

"I think he will, maybe with soldiers. But you never know. Who was he anyway?"

"He didn't say. He just came to the door and said that he had won our house in the lottery. He also asked if we were out yet. How did you know he was here?"

"I heard the knocking, the running and the stove door clanging. I wondered what it was. I got here right when you told him to leave. When he didn't, I thought you might need some help. What was it that you threw into the stove, anyway?"

"It was his lottery ticket," I said.

"Oh. Well," Mark sighed. "We're leaving soon, are you ready?"

"I've only got to get the potatoes and put my other shoes on, then I'm done. Will you please get some string for me? Thanks." I added the potatoes to my sheet then another durable dress, extra underwear, a blanket, and my comb since there was a bit more room in the sheet. I changed my shoes then tied up my bundle with the string Mark had left on the table. Suddenly, my mother stormed into the kitchen.

"What," she said, "what, was all that noise?!"

"A man came, mother." I told her what had happened, and she paled.

"He said he'd come back. Do you think he will?"

"He might, he might not. I don't know. If he does come back, let us hope it will be tomorrow or the next day. Elizabeth, is your bundle packed? We have to hurry."

"Yes'm, you can check it." Mother walked to the table and looked through my bundle.

"It's fine," she said. "but you'd better make sure it isn't too heavy." I picked it up.

"I can manage. It'll get lighter as we go along, anyway."

"Good," mother said absently. My thoughts wandered to my friends. I realized suddenly that I might never see them again.

"Can I go and visit Mary? I won't tell her that we're leaving, I just want to be with her. I'll never see her again, you know."

"Yes, you can visit her, but be sure to be back by dusk."

"Yes'm," I said. I walked down to Mary's house and spent an hour there, wishing the whole time I could tell her that this would be my last visit. When I returned, the sun was low in the sky. I decided there was time to go and visit grandfather. He isn't really my grandfather, but I call him that. The reason I know grandfather at all is because his daughter married my father but died six months later. Father married again, this time to my mother (Mark's mother too). Father is a Christian and so is mother and Mark, thanks to him. He tried to get me to believe in God too, but, as I said, I think that what Christians believe is stupid. Grandfather hates my father for marrying his daughter and teaching her a false religion. He also blames my father for her death. He hates him even more for teaching my mother and Mark about God. I am grandfather's favorite, because I rejected Christianity. He taught me about the Cherokee creation. About Kanati and Selu, the first man and woman. Suddenly, my thoughts were scattered by voices, voices that I recognized! One was the lottery ticket man, the other was grandfather.

"I've got a plan, one that should please us both. You want the family out, I want revenge. Well, everyone knows about the soldiers rounding up the cherokees and putting them into stockades. Everyone knows that they want all the Cherokees, right? Well, the Sweetwaters are escaping. Their maid, Marie, told me. She was sent home, she said, because the Sweetwaters are planning to escape tonight. Then she left. Now, all we need do is tell the soldiers about what they're about to do."

"Wait a minute. I thought that girl, Elizabeth, was your favorite. Don't you want to save her?"

"No. She used to be my favorite, but I had a dream. In that dream, Elizabeth turned away from all that I have taught her. She became even more like an unaka, a white. She became a Christian. Just like the rest of them." I could hear contempt in his voice. "I don't mean anything against you of course, but I don't care about Elizabeth anymore."

"Oh." The Lottery Ticket man sounded a bit unbelieving. "Who's gonna tell them soldiers about your family and all? I ain't gonna. It was yer bright idea, why don't you tell `em?"

"Fine, cow. You'd better get out of here, before someone sees you." I could hear the Lottery ticket man lumbering off. Grandfather didn't move. I didn't wait to see what he would do. I ran along the hedge, stooping down so grandfather wouldn't see my head. This was one crazy day. We now had three reasons to hurry and get out of here. I wondered if we could make it. I stumbled into our cabin.

"Liza, you barely made it. Are you ready? We're late.


"Good. Go get your bible and come outside."

"Yes'm" I ran into the bedroom and grabbed my bible. More stuff to carry. I went outside and we left.

"Mother?" I said when we had been walking for 1/2 an hour.

"What?" she answered.

"When I got back from Mary's, I heard grandfather and the man who came to our house earlier talking. They're going to tell the soldiers that we're escaping."

Well, they're too late. We're gone. They're not going to find us. At least I hope not." Father was waiting when we got to our hiding place in the woods.

"I got a guide. His name is Tsali Wasituna. The soldiers came to his home and gave him and his family two days to get ready to leave also. We'll meet him at a place in the mountains that I know well." This said, we began our long walk into the mountains. We walked all night. I must have been sleepwalking, I was so tired. Finally, we arrived at a cave. It was tiny, just big enough for the four of us. We hid our sheets full of food and supplies in a hollow tree just outside the cave, then went to sleep. We continued on for weeks, sleeping during the day (with father or Mark keeping watch), traveling at night. We were nervous the whole time, but especially after the third day. We were afraid the soldiers would find us. It got colder and colder. Then we reached the mountains. They came upon us gradually; the ground had more and more hills, the hills got higher and higher, then the hills turned into mountains. At first small, then larger and larger. One day father left us and disappeared into the forest. He came back with our guide and his family, the Wasitunas. Tsali (the father and our guide) lead us deep into the mountains. I was completely mystified as to how our guide was doing it. It seemed like the whole mountain range was impossible woods. (Actually they weren't impossible, because we went through them.) One morning (we had bugun to sleep nights again since we were under cover of the forests) we halted at a large cave. Daddy and Tsali were feeling that we were absolutely safe and could begin settling down. Or try to. Tsali and Daddy went out hunting and brought back a deer and two rabits. The mothers made stew and the fathers skinned the deer. I tried to get used to the idea that we were going to live here. Then we ate. Then came the absolutely best part. No more tiny caves orhard ground or dry river beds -- everybody helped gather moss, and we made beds, one for each family. We covered the moss with our sheets, putting the food and supplies up in a tree. Then, we lay down. It felt luxurious. So soft and warm with my family around me and a quilt over me. I yawned a huge yawn and went to sleep. The next morning, I was the only one asleep in our bed. I quickly got up and ate what my mother had saved for me from the morning meal. Then I settled down to scraping the deer hide. Suddenly, one of the Wasituna boys came running into the clearing.

"They're coming, some of the soldiers, they're looking for any Indians!" He said this rather breathlessly. My mother got up and ran around, pikcing up bedding and stuffing food and clothing into sheets. I helped. I could hear my mother praying.

"Mark and your father are hunting." My mother's voice startled me. "They will hear the soldiers and hide. We must hide also. Hurry and scatter the moss and put out the fire. We must leave no sign that we were here."

I did as I was told, then waited for more instructions. The Wasituna boy had gone. Mother quickly hid the luggage, then came back for me. We climed high into a tree. After hours of agitated silence, mother started climbing down. I started to follow, but changed my mind when I heard voices.

"Mother," I called in a hoars whisper, "Mother, I hear them. Come back!" She climbed quickly back up, her face white. We waited. Closer and closer came the voices. Then came a near-nightmare. The voices, definitely soldiers voices, came right under our tree!

"Oooh! I'm freezing! Why did we have to come out here, anyway? We haven't found a single blasted Indian and we've been wandering about for hours. Blasted weather."

"Oh, stop your grumbling. I don't see why we even have to catch Indians atal. It's their property, we have not right to it. If this job wasn't the only way I had of supporting my family, I'd quit."

This was a surprise. The other man leaned against the tree. I stopped breathing.

"What if there was Indians around here, and the're just hiding? In trees, for instance."

Oh no. Oh no. Help!

"Come on, lets go. I'm exhausted. Let's go, come on."

"Hold on." The nasty man peered up into the tree. I didn't move, I couldn't move.

Look down, I thought, look down, look down, look down, look down, look down.

"Oh well, they're not up there, come on," the nasty man said. They moved on, but it was hours before we came down.

We headed back to our camp, hoping that father and Mark were safe. They were. Mark, father, and the Wasitunas were sitting around a fire, waiting for us, hoping we would return. When they heard us walking toward them, father and Mark leapt to their feet and ran to us.

"We were so worried that you would never come back," said father.

"We've decided to keep watch every night in case more soldiers come," Mark said.

"Yes, we were lucky they came in the day this time. Tsali and I will keep watch every night, with the help of Mark and Tsali's eldest. We can't risk anything else happening," father said gravely. "Now, you should try to sleep. Don't worry." But we did. I hardly slept all night, and I'm sure mother didn't either. I was so scared that more soldiers would come. The next morning I awoke to find the sun rising. Father was dozing and Mark was asleep next to the fire. I looked around for the Wasitunas, but didn't see them.

"Father," I asked. " where are the Wasitunas?"

"They left before dawn. Awhile ago, Tsali recieved word that the soldiers would not harm or search for any of the Indians in the mountains, like us, if he would surrender himself to the soldiers." He said.

"But why Tsali?"

"I don't really know why. Maybe it's because he killed a soldier."

"He killed a soldier? When?" I asked incredulously.

"Right after we agreed that he would be our guide, the soldiers came to his farm and forced him and his family to go with them. Tsali had no other choice but to obey. While they were on the road to the stockades, one of the soldiers mistreated Tsali's wife. A fight broke out and one of the soldiers was killed. The Wasitunas ran into the forest and made their way to our meeting place," Father explained.

"But how do you know all this?"

"Tsali told me last night."

"And he surrendered himself to the soldiers? What will they do to him? Do you think they'll kill him?"

"I don't know." Father said.

A few weeks later I was stirring the stew for supper when I heard someone coming into the clearing where our cave was. At first I thoght it was soldiers, but the footsteps were to light for soldiers. It was the Wasitunas. The mother's eyes were red from crying. My mother went over to her.

Tsali went to the soldiers." Tsali's wife said "Our eldest son and Tsali's brother went also. The soldiers shot them."

Suddenly, all that my mother and father had taught me made sense. Jesus, God's son, died so we could have life. It was like Tsali dying so the cherokees living in the mountains could live. It wasn't stupid, it was an act of love. Jesus loved us so much that he died for us. It was amazing.

"Mother," I asked later. "I, um, well, I want to become a Christian, like you and father. I understand now why Jesus died on the cross. It's like what Tsali did for us, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is. You ask me how to become a child of God. Well, all you have to do is ask. Ask God's forgiveness for all your sins and ask him to be lord of your life."

I did. A wonderful feeling came over me and I hugged my mother. Grandfather's prediction had come true, but I was glad.

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