Friday's Weekend Column
Tough Women In The Northland

by James Glaser
May 7, 2004

Charmaine is still behind me as I write this column. I can ask her questions and I do, but she can no longer answer them. She now nods if I ask her about wanting water and she does make eye contact with me which brings tears to both of our eyes.

Last night we talked the whole night, well I talked and she listened and she did smile a few times. I have no idea of what is keeping her alive and we both know the end is real close now.

The last few weeks we have been talking about our life together and right now it is kind of like when we first met. Charmaine has always been a woman of few words. The first few years we were together it would be nothing unusual if she said almost nothing between supper and bed time. One of my friends would come over for coffee and Charmaine would sit with us saying nothing at all, politely laugh at jokes, and when they guy would leave, she would thank him for coming.

As we grew closer she became my favorite person to talk to. Charmaine is an Indian from the Bois Fort Reservation and I think she thought she was supposed to keep quiet, but she was filled with ideas and thoughts. After being together for some time, I think it made her real happy to have a chance to share them with someone.

Here is one that I really liked. When we were "courting" and talking about sex, Charmaine told me, that her mother told her, that a man and a women had sex when the man had a bad day. If everything was going good, then why have sex? Those first couple of years I had a lot of bad days and sometimes I would come home and she would say, "You look just terrible, you must have had a real bad day."

She also told me that it was always best to make love before we went out on a date, then we wouldn't have to think about that and we could enjoy ourselves. She was right. It made going out with her so much better, we were then into just having fun. When we first met Charmaine was real shy and later on she was asking me out on dates.

Charmaine, because of her upbringing, is one real tough woman. One time when we were living on the Reservation in a little house her mom gave to us, there was a knock at the door and I could see that it was a young Indian man of about twenty five. Charmaine all of a sudden looked real hard and said that she would answer the door.

She opened that door and Sunday punched that guy right in the nose. Not like a women punch, but a punch anyone would have been proud to have thrown. The guy went over backwards and when he looked up his nose was bleeding and you could see that his eyes were going to swell. She really drilled him. She said to him in a calm voice, "I told you to never come over here." I have no idea of what this was all about, but she sat right down and started our conversation again. The guy left.

After years of living together, Charmaine started to open up more to people that came over. She would join in on a conversation, but never in all of the years we have been together would she stop in to visit anyone. She never wanted to impose herself and as far as I know she felt very comfortable sitting here at our house, even if she was by herself.

She loved watching birds and animals. She could name what ever animal was here at night, by their track, and she could name a bird by its song.

One thing she couldn't do, even though she tried, was to bullshit. It didn't matter how she said it, if she was not telling the truth I could spot it right away, because her voice changed. She would come up with the best story about something and I would spot that voice change and call her on it and she would smile.

One time out in the woods picking wild plums she told me that we should leave because there was a bear in the plum trees with us. Well her voice sounded different and I said, "Bullshit, there isn't any bear out here." She grabbed my by the arm and pulled me over to the other side of the tree and there was a pile of bear crap that was so fresh that it was still steaming in the cold fall air. We left.

It has been fun talking with her about all the things we have done together and these last few weeks we have been closer than ever before. I have to admit that it is quite an honor to have someone trust me enough that they will let me make medical decisions for them. Charmaine said that she wanted to die right here at home and that she knew I wouldn't let anyone take her to any hospital no matter what. She did not want to die in a hospital.

So now we are playing it day by day and there aren't many days left. Both the nurse and the home health care worker that come here to check on her can't figure out what is keeping her alive. I know, to a fault, Charmaine is tough and she just won't quit.

I talk to her all the time now and it is kind of like how it was in those first few years we were together. She listens and some times she smiles.

BACK to the Essays.