Read an Excerpt
In 1964, at the age of ten, Nelson Seymour was taken from his grandmother’s house on the reserve near Kenora and placed with a Mennonite family in a small town called Lesser, south of Winnipeg. A white man and a white woman came to the reserve in a blue Ford Galaxy looking for two brothers, Raymond and Nelson, but Nelson was the only one home with his grandmother at the time. He was taken immediately. His grandmother tried to stop them but her pleas were ineffectual. The man was wearing a fedora and he took it off and held it at his hip and he said, “Where is the other boy, Raymond?” The grandmother looked at the floor. Then she lied and said that he was away, up north with his father. The man in the fedora looked around at the bicycles in the yard and the old swing. It was autumn and the leaves were gone from the trees and the wind was sharp and cold. The man looked down at a piece of paper that he held in his hand. “It says here that Raymond Seymour has been attending school. How is that?”
The grandmother turned her gaze to the sky and shrugged and said that the school people were wrong. The man looked at Nelson. “Your brother, Raymond, where is he?”
Nelson glanced at his grandmother, who regarded him and nodded. Nelson imitated her nod, and then began to cry. The man put his hat on and then turned away and walked out towards the car with a weeping Nelson, while the woman gathered up a few of his things. The grandmother called out that Nelson was hers and where were they going with him, but there was no answer.
Later that night, Raymond was back home and his grandmother told him that the government folks had taken Nelson, and she said that she didn’t know when he was coming back. She didn’t know where he was going, maybe to live with a white family because this is what had happened to Elijah Prince a month earlier. She said that Nelson was strong, stronger than Raymond. Her hands were folded on the table and they were shaking. The next morning she brought Raymond to stay with his aunt Donna, off the reserve about five miles away. Raymond remained there for two months. He did not attend school any more that fall, and no questions were asked, and it would be years later that he’d learn that he should have been taken with his brother, and might have been if the authorities had decided to come back for him.
Within the first month at his new home, Nelson ran away three times, once almost making it back to Kenora before the police picked him up. Another time, in the middle of January, his adoptive father found him walking on Highway 59, just outside Île des Chênes. Driving back to Lesser, his new father said that Nelson should start appreciating what he’d been given. “You have a mother and father who love you, you have a wonderful home, clothes, food, you have three sisters who would do anything for you. Your name is Nelson Koop, you’re my son now and I’m your father. No one’s going to hurt you. You understand that?”
It had snowed the day before, and the fields were blown over and everywhere there was a pure whiteness that was blinding in the sun. Nelson looked out the passenger window and studied the fields and imagined walking out into the emptiness. After this last escape he did not run again, though he often thought of it. At the beginning of the year he’d been placed in grade five and he’d done very poorly. Halfway through the term, he was sent down to grade four where the boys made fun of him, though they stayed away from him because he was known for having quick, hard fists. On the first day of school a boy named Benjamin Senkiew had hit him and given him a bloody nose. The following day, passing by Senkiew in the hallway, Nelson attacked him and pummelled his face until he was pulled away by the gym teacher. He was suspended for a week and returned to find that he was neither taunted nor talked to and he grew accustomed to the silence and the grudging respect and the hatred that surrounded him.
The fall he turned fourteen he joined the football team and quickly became known for his ruthlessness and his disregard for his own body. He came to be accepted, and for a time he went out with Glenda Ratzlaff, a tall, thin girl, but her father disapproved, and so all he was left with was the recollection of her soft hands sliding up inside his T- shirt as they stood in the cold night behind the curling rink.
As the years passed he relinquished the memories of who he was and where he had come from, though there were times, in the middle of the night, when he woke from a dream in which someone was calling him by the wrong name, and he would sit up and say, “My name is Nelson Seymour.”