Reprinted from the Intergenerational Trauma issue of Visions Journal, 2023, 18 (2), pp. 16-17
This is the story of a girl who lost her shadow.*
She would spend most of her life searching for this shadow. She lost it as a small child while she was asleep. As she slept, the shadow stealer crept into her room and wrenched her shadow from her. Startled, the girl grabbed her shadow and hung on tight. He dragged her and her shadow out of bed, across the floor. They went in circles. He even dragged her up the walls, across the ceiling. The little girl was not strong enough though, and the shadow stealer flew off into the night. He glimpsed back at her through the moonlight, and she saw he had no face.
After that, her life became grim. She eventually forgot the shadow, but the feeling of deep loss never left her. It drove her to run from the ones who loved her, for she sensed that she was not complete enough to love them back. As she grew a bit older, this loss drove her to seek out dark places, not understanding why. She felt drawn to places most thought evil. She kept evil as her companion, feeling it had something she was missing. The girl fell apart and all that was good was chased away from her. Her family drifted from her, as they could not watch what she was doing to herself. She was giving away her soul in the hopes that her emptiness would be filled.
After she had children, she saw this evil pass on to them. That’s when she could not take any more. The evil had a hold on her life, even her children. She fell to her knees, and with tears of frustration and confusion she screamed into the night, “What do you want with my children? Your business is with me!” She heard a giggle from behind her. She turned around to see an old woman on her couch.
“Nici, nici, nîcimos. Are you really that slow, girl? The way I remember it, Kohtawiy only dropped you on your head once. Aye aye aye, I tried telling you so many times you were looking in all the wrong places. I whispered in your ear while you were so drunk you could not lift your head. I guided you when you had your children. And whose idea do you think it was for you to go back to school? But no, you insisted on going to all of them parties, drowning your sorrows in liquor. I’m sorry, but did you honestly think what you were looking for was in those dark places you wouldn't stay away from?” said the woman.
The girl was confused and somewhat embarrassed. “Kokum. What do you mean? I don’t even know what I’ve been searching for.”
“My girl,” said Kokum. “You need to face your shadow stealer. Take what is yours. Enough of this silly bantering. Go back to that night he took your shadow and you tell him I sent you. Then you will be good, my girl.” She gave the girl a leather pouch of tobacco, sage and a braid of sweetgrass. Before she left, she told the girl one last thing: “Remember, he’s not in any beds; he’s not in any bars. He’s not at the bottom of that bottle or even in that wacky tobaccy you been smoking. He’s in the only place you’ve never looked…your heart. Then go back to your education and show your children what you are made of and they will follow your example. And don’t worry if they make the same dumb...oops…I’m sorry…normal mistakes you made.”
With that said, the girl returned to her childhood on the night she lost her shadow. Only, this time, the shadow stealer had a face. He was the face of dysfunction. He carried this face from generation to generation, infecting families. He knew her parents, her grandparents and now he knew her. He loved her toxically and conditionally. In fact, he was so scared of losing her that, by bombarding her with men who hurt her, he made sure she never felt good enough about herself to free herself of him; they raped her and pillaged her until she had no identity anymore. He then made sure she discovered a way to numb that pain with substances.
She found him and offered him the tobacco and told him she forgave him. When he came closer to take the tobacco, she saw her shadow poking out of his backpack. She shoved him down and stole her shadow back. He screamed, but her love for her shadow grew bright like a star and drove him deep into the earth’s core forever.
In her arms was the shadow, shaking. The girl embraced it with all her energy until they became one. Her shadow returned; she was now whole. She could go back to her children and teach them to protect themselves and how to remain whole. She could continue her education, and she could now love with an energy that would radiate.
This is the end of my story of the shadow stealer, but the story of the girl still continues…e’kosi kinana skomotin.
*Note on the text: This story was originally about an assault Aimee experienced as a young girl, but while writing it, she realized that losing her “shadow” was universal for all trauma experienced. When she reads it aloud, it is tailored to the group she is addressing so that a safe dialogue can be had afterwards. (Originally written for FNAT 380 class at Vancouver Island University, June 2005.)
Kokum – grandmother
Kohtawiy – your father
nîcimos – sweetheart
e’kosi kinana skomotin – that is all, thank you
About the author
Aimee is the Indigenous Literacy Coordinator at Literacy Central Vancouver Island and an outreach worker for 710 Club Society. She spent years in foster care and on the streets. She is of Cree, Saulteaux and Metis heritage. Now a mother to four and grandmother to two, she advocates for access to literacy for all, harm reduction and access to culture and medicine. Aimee would also like to thank her kids Ken, Kiera and Justice for teaching her patience and forgiveness and becoming such amazing people even though they had to overcome trauma together