My phone was ringing. After you jump off the cliff, what else can you do, but Suck it up and get ready to hit the rocks below. I, cautiously, picked up the receiver, “This is Shadow.” In a somewhat cold and business like tone, the male voice on the other side said, “This is D___ P_______.” and then there was silence. It was my birth father.
I wonder if the panic I felt at that moment was how the buffalo felt at the moment they realized they had gone over the cliff? AS they were free-falling, did they look down, see the rocks below, and feel the terror-stricken, adrenalin rush of fear that comes with knowing you are crashing to your death? Did they close their eyes as their heart began pounding, and their breath was being sucked out by the force of the fall, knowing they could do nothing to stop what was about to happen? I know that feeling. It is how I felt at that moment.
Something about the tone in my birthfather’s voice, and the dead silence following his introduction, was unnerving. I could not speak. My tongue-tied in knots, my stomach twisting up into my throat, I closed my eyes took a deep breath, and still he said nothing. There was just silence, an endless, empty silence I must have been hoping he would end, somehow, someway, because I had no idea of what to do next. Just how do you tell a man, who doesn’t know he has a daughter, that you are his daughter?
You may not know it, and, as astounding as it may be, it was possible for a buffalo to survive a buffalo jump. On occasion a few actually did survive. Those buffalo, who went over the cliff last, had the best chance of surviving, their fall being cushioned by those, who had gone over before.
Why couldn’t he say something? “Can I help you?” “I’m returning your call.” Anything would have been better than this seemingly, oppressive silence. After all my agonizing over what to say the day before, I found my mind frozen in fear with the possibility that what I had believed for the past 15/16 years was really true, and this man would, indeed, hang up on me once I broke the big news to him. . I was completely at a loss as to what to do next, and the intimidation of his silence was not doing much to help eliminate my fears.
If a buffalo had a chance, slim though it might be, to survive a buffalo jump, then, surely, there had to be a chance for me to survive this? I had survived thus far. After all, he had called back. I knew I had to say something, and so, with my heart thumping so hard I thought it was going to burst out of my chest, anticipating the blow that surely must be coming, with uncertainty in my voice, I apologized. “I’m sorry.” There was only silence on the line. Feeling even more awkward and foolish, I explained, “I’m a little nervous.”
I wonder what he must have been thinking at that moment. Whatever it might have been, he wasn’t saying. Maybe I was hoping for a sign from him, something that would let me know it would be all right? The silence on the other end of the phone continued.
Growing weary and still waiting for the big blow that seemed even more inevitable with every second of silence, somewhere within, I began to understand that if I wanted to survive this; I wasn’t going to get any help from him. I was on my own, and so, I forged on. “Do you remember a girl named E____ R_____?” Finally, he spoke. With a bit of curiosity, and caution in his voice he answered my question. “Yes”, and the silence continued.
I think somewhere inside I really expected him to deny knowing her. The fact that he hadn’t was encouraging, but I hadn’t dropped the big bomb on him just yet. I was still at a loss as to how to tell this man I was his daughter. Still terrified of his response to the revelation of my identity, I was hoping, he would, somehow, save me from having to come right out and say it. When only silence followed, I continued apprehensively, “Do you know who I am?” Still somewhat cautious, a bit hesitant, but with a bit of an awakening, he replied slowly, “I’m not sure.”
By now, I was literally trembling. I don’t know why I couldn’t just come out and say it. “I am your daughter.” How hard was that really? My eyes were getting moist. I could feel the tears forming. I would not cry. I would not! I would not allow him to know just how terrified I really was. No! I would not allow him to see my fear, my weakness. Why couldn’t I just say it? “I am your daughter!” It just would not come out of my mouth. What was stopping me? I was at some kind of breaking point I couldn’t understand; could not face.
In my mind, I was begging him, “Please don’t make me say it.” Could he sense my distress? I don’t know. There was only more silence. Finally, my voice beginning to break, I managed one last desperate effort to avoid having to come out and say it. “Do you “think” you know who I am?” with an emphasis on think. I was still, in my mind, begging, “Please put the pieces of the puzzle together! I’m not sure I can tell you. Please, don’t make me say, “I am your daughter.”” I saw the rocks below coming faster, and faster. I closed my eyes, waiting for what I am not sure, but waiting just the same.
Something was different in his voice this time. Something had changed. Was it realization? Was it surprise? Maybe it was both? I don’t really have a word to describe the tone in his voice when he responded, “Are you trying to tell me we are related?” Whatever it was, the lack of expression in the tone of his voice was gone now. . Still fighting back the tears, and feeling a bit of relief that I had not had to come out and say, “I am your daughter.” I, with my final breath before hitting the emotional rocks at the bottom of the cliff I had jumped from, the day before, exhaled, “I think so.”
To say I had knocked the breath out of him would be putting it mildly. The blow of rejection I had been anticipating, expecting, did not come. Instead, came a different blow, one I had not been expecting, nor was I prepared for. He was thrilled! The intensity of his response was more than I could handle in my current emotional state. I was hearing his words, but I was not there. I was somewhere deep inside myself just trying to breathe. He was saying, “I didn’t know! I always wondered what happened! I didn’t know! I never heard back!” I could not speak. He continued with out a breath, telling me how special my birth mother, E, had been. I kept saying, thank you for saying that.” Why was I thanking him? I just kept thanking him, but it wasn’t me. Inside my head, I was hearing his words, scrambling to put it all together. Who was this person in my body, and why was she thanking him?
Was that really excitement in his voice? Was I truly hearing joy in his voice? Was he really saying he was happy I called? He was asking me questions now. I tried to answer, but couldn’t form words. I just kept thanking him for whatever it was he was saying. Why was I thanking him? What was going on? My body was literally, and physically, shaking. I had to stop this, end it, before I passed out. I had to get off the phone!
He kept talking. He just kept talking, telling me we would talk again. If I were his daughter, I would be a part of his life. What was he saying? I was no longer comprehending his words. What was happening to me? I had to put a stop to this. It had to stop!
Email. My husband was next to me writing down his email. Did I just say I would email him? I had to hang up. I couldn’t breathe! Breathe, Shadow, just breathe!
I hung up the phone, but it wasn’t me hanging up, or was it? What had just happened? I sat there trying to breathe and stop the shaking. He hadn’t hung up on me. He said he was happy I had called. He said we would talk again. Wow! Just freaking wow! It was going to take some time for all of this to sink in. As I slowly regained some consciousness, I realized, I had jumped off the cliff, and I had survived. I wasn’t sure if I was alright, but I had survived! That was good enough for me.
I was a buffalo. The Indians had surrounded me. I found myself being forced by the fire they had set, towards the edge of a cliff. I jumped in hopes of surviving. It seemed, somehow, my fall had been cushioned. Was it possible that I could be one of the few buffalo to survive a buffalo jump?
There is one more thing you should know about Native Americans and the use of buffalo jumps. Although it was possible for a buffalo to survive the fall, the Indians believed it was bad medicine to allow any buffalo to survive a buffalo jump. The Indians believed allowing a buffalo to escape would curse the hunting site. A buffalo, fortunate enough to survive the fall from the top of the cliff, would most likely, be battered, bruised, and probably have a few broken bones. If by some slim chance, a buffalo were somehow able to scramble to their feet, and possibly escape, the Indians would track that buffalo down and kill it.