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[1 of 5] There There, by Tommy Orange (2018), Prologue and Part I, pages 1-78

Author: Tommy Orange

Orange, Tommy. There There, Prologue and Part I. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, 2018, pp. 1–78.


In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing.
About the dark times.


Indian Head

There was an Indian head, the head of an Indian, the drawing of the head of a head dressed, long-haired Indian depicted, drawn by an unknown artist in 1939,broadcast until the late 1970s to American TVs everywhere after all the shows ran out. It’s called the Indian Head test pattern. If you left the TV on, you’d hear a tone at 440 hertz—the tone used to tune instruments—and you’d see that Indian, surrounded by circles that looked like sights through rifle scopes. There was what looked like a bull’s-eye in the middle of the screen, with numbers like coordinates. The Indian’s head was just above the bull’s-eye, like all you’d need to do was nod up in agreement to set the sights on the target. This was just a test.

In 1621, colonists invited Massasoit, the chief of the Wampanoags, to a feast after a recent land deal. Massasoit came with ninety of his men. That meal is why we still eat a meal together in November. Celebrate it as a nation. But that one wasn’t a thanksgiving meal. It was a land-deal meal. Two years later there was another, similar meal meant to symbolize eternal friendship. Two hundred Indians dropped dead that night from an unknown poison.

By the time Massasoit’s son Metacomet became chief, there were no Indian-Pilgrim meals being eaten together. Metacomet, also known as King Philip, was forced to sign a peace treaty to give up all Indian guns. Three of his men were hanged. His brother Wamsutta was, let’s say, very likely poisoned after being summoned and seized by the Plymouth court. All of which lead to the first official Indian war. The first war with Indians. King Philip’s War. Three years later the war was over and Metacomet was on the run. He was caught by Benjamin Church, the captain of the very first American Rangers, and anIndian by the name of John Alderman. Metacomet was beheaded and dismembered. Quartered. They tied his four body sections to nearby trees for the birds to pluck. Alderman was given Metacomet’s hand, which he kept in a jar of rum and for years took around with him—charged people to see it. Metacomet’s head was sold to Plymouth Colony for thirty shillings—the going rate for an Indian head at the time. The head was put on a spike, carried through the streets of Plymouth, then displayed at Plymouth Fort for the next twenty-five years.

In 1637, anywhere from four to seven hundred Pequot gathered for their annual Green Corn Dance. Colonists surrounded their village, set it on fire, and shotany Pequot who tried to escape. The next day the Massachusetts Bay Colony had a feast in celebration, and the governor declared it a day of thanksgiving.Thanksgivings like these happened everywhere, whenever there were what we have to call “successful massacres.” At one such celebration in Manhattan, people were said to have celebrated by kicking the heads of Pequot people through the streets like soccer balls.

The first novel by a Native person, and the first novel written in California, was written in 1854, by a Cherokee guy named John Rollin Ridge. The Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta was based on a supposed real-life Mexican bandit from California by the same name, who was killed by a group of TexasRangers in 1853. To prove they’d killed Murieta and collect the $5,000 reward put on his head—they cut it off. Kept it in a jar of whiskey. They also took the hand of his fellow bandit Three-Fingered Jack. The rangers took Murieta’s head and Jack’s hand on a tour throughout California, charged a dollar for the show.

The Indian head in the jar, the Indian head on a spike were like flags flown, tobe seen, cast broadly. Just like the Indian Head test pattern was broadcast to sleeping Americans as we set sail from our living rooms, over the ocean blue green glowing airwaves, to the shores, the screens of the New World.

Rolling Head

There’s an old Cheyenne story about a rolling head. We heard it said there was a family who moved away from their camp, moved near a lake—husband, wife,daughter, son. In the morning when the husband finished dancing, he would brush his wife’s hair and paint her face red, then go off to hunt. When he came back her face would be clean. After this happened a few times he decided to follow her and hide, see what she did while he was gone. He found her in the lake, with a water monster, some kind of snake thing, wrapped around her in an embrace. The man cut the monster up and killed his wife. He brought the meathome to his son and daughter. They noticed it tasted different. The son, who was still nursing, said, My mother tastes just like this. His older sister told him it’s just deer meat. While they ate, a head rolled in. They ran and the head followed them. The sister remembered where they played, how thick the thorns were there, and she brought the thorns to life behind them with her words. Butthe head broke through, kept coming. Then she remembered where rocks used to be piled in a difficult way. The rocks appeared when she spoke of them but didn’t stop the head, so she drew a hard line in the ground, which made a deep chasm the head couldn’t cross. But after a long heavy rain, the chasm filled with water. The head crossed the water, and when it reached the other side, it turned around and drank all that water up. The rolling head became confused and drunk. It wanted more. More of anything. More of everything. And it just kept rolling.

One thing we should keep in mind, moving forward, is that no one ever rolled heads down temple stairs. Mel Gibson made that up. But we do have in our minds, those of us who saw the movie, the heads rolling down temple stairs in a world meant to resemble the real Indian world in the 1500s in Mexico. Mexicans before they were Mexicans. Before Spain came.

We’ve been defined by everyone else and continue to be slandered despite easy-to-look-up-on-the-internet facts about the realities of our histories and current state as a people. We have the sad, defeated Indian silhouette, and the heads rolling down temple stairs, we have it in our heads, Kevin Costner saving us, John Wayne’s six-shooter slaying us, an Italian guy named Iron Eyes Cody playing our parts in movies. We have the litter-mourning, tear-ridden Indian inthe commercial (also Iron Eyes Cody), and the sink-tossing, crazy Indian who was the narrator in the novel, the voice of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. We have all the logos and mascots. The copy of a copy of the image of an Indian in a textbook. All the way from the top of Canada, the top of Alaska, down to the bottom of South America, Indians were removed, then reduced to a feathered image. Our heads are on flags, jerseys, and coins. Our heads were on the penny first, of course, the Indian cent, and then on the buffalo nickel, both before we could even vote as a people—which, like the truth of what happened in history all over the world, and like all that spilled blood from slaughter, are now out of circulation.

Massacre as Prologue

Some of us grew up with stories about massacres. Stories about what happened to our people not so long ago. How we came out of it. At Sand Creek, we heard it said that they mowed us down with their howitzers. Volunteer militia under Colonel John Chivington came to kill us—we were mostly women, children,and elders.

The men were away to hunt. They’d told us to fly the American flag.We flew that and a white flag too. Surrender, the white flag waved. We stood under both flags as they came at us. They did more than kill us. They tore us up. Mutilated us. Broke our fingers to take our rings, cut off our ears to take our silver, scalped us for our hair. We hid in the hollows of tree trunks, buried ourselves in sand by the riverbank. That same sand ran red with blood. They tore unborn babies out of bellies, took what we intended to be, our children before they were children, babies before they were babies, they ripped them out of our bellies. They broke soft baby heads against trees. Then they took our body parts as trophies and displayed them on a stage in downtown Denver.Colonel Chivington danced with dismembered parts of us in his hands, with women’s pubic hair, drunk, he danced, and the crowd gathered there before him was all the worse for cheering and laughing along with him. It was a celebration.

Hard, Fast

Getting us to cities was supposed to be the final, necessary step in our assimilation, absorption, erasure, the completion of a five-hundred-year-old genocidal campaign. But the city made us new, and we made it ours. We didn’t get lost amid the sprawl of tall buildings, the stream of anonymous masses, the ceaseless din of traffic. We found one another, started up Indian Centers,brought out our families and powwows, our dances, our songs, our beadwork.We bought and rented homes, slept on the streets, under freeways; we went to school, joined the armed forces, populated Indian bars in the Fruitvale in Oakland and in the Mission in San Francisco. We lived in boxcar villages in Richmond. We made art and we made babies and we made way for our people to go back and forth between reservation and city. We did not move to cities to die. The sidewalks and streets, the concrete, absorbed our heaviness. The glass,metal, rubber, and wires, the speed, the hurtling masses—the city took us in.We were not Urban Indians then. This was part of the Indian Relocation Act,which was part of the Indian Termination Policy, which was and is exactly what it sounds like. Make them look and act like us. Become us. And so disappear.

But it wasn’t just like that. Plenty of us came by choice, to start over, to make money, or for a new experience. Some of us came to cities to escape the reservation. We stayed after fighting in the Second World War. After Vietnam too. We stayed because the city sounds like a war, and you can’t leave a waronce you’ve been, you can only keep it at bay—which is easier when you can see and hear it near you, that fast metal, that constant firing around you, cars up and down the streets and freeways like bullets. The quiet of the reservation, theside-of-the-highway towns, rural communities, that kind of silence just makes the sound of your brain on fire that much more pronounced.

Plenty of us are urban now. If not because we live in cities, then because we live on the internet. Inside the high-rise of multiple browser windows. They used to call us sidewalk Indians. Called us citified, superficial, inauthentic,cultureless refugees, apples.

An apple is red on the outside and white on the inside. But what we are is what our ancestors did. How they survived. We are the memories we don’t remember, which live in us, which we feel, which make us sing and dance and pray the way we do, feelings from memories that flare and bloom unexpectedly in our lives like blood through a blanket from a wound made by a bullet fired by a man shooting us in the back for our hair, for our heads, for a bounty, or just to get rid of us.

When they first came for us with their bullets, we didn’t stop moving even though the bullets moved twice as fast as the sound of our screams, and even when their heat and speed broke our skin, shattered our bones, skulls, pierced our hearts, we kept on, even when we saw the bullets send our bodies flailing through the air like flags, like the many flags and buildings that went up inplace of everything we knew this land to be before. The bullets were premonitions, ghosts from dreams of a hard, fast future. The bullets moved on after moving through us, became the promise of what was to come, the speed and the killing, the hard, fast lines of borders and buildings. They took everything and ground it down to dust as fine as gunpowder, they fired their guns into the air in victory and the strays flew out into the nothingness of histories written wrong and meant to be forgotten. Stray bullets and consequences are landing on our unsuspecting bodies even now.


Urban Indians were the generation born in the city. We’ve been moving for along time, but the land moves with you like memory. An Urban Indian belongsto the city, and cities belong to the earth. Everything here is formed in relation to every other living and nonliving thing from the earth. All our relations. The process that brings anything to its current form—chemical, synthetic,technological, or otherwise—doesn’t make the product not a product of the living earth. Buildings, freeways, cars—are these not of the earth? Were they shipped in from Mars, the moon? Is it because they’re processed, manufactured,or that we handle them? Are we so different? Were we at one time not something else entirely, Homo sapiens, single-celled organisms, space dust,unidentifiable pre-bang quantum theory? Cities form in the same way as galaxies. Urban Indians feel at home walking in the shadow of a downtown building. We came to know the downtown Oakland skyline better than we did any sacred mountain range, the redwoods in the Oakland hills better than any other deep wild forest. We know the sound of the freeway better than we dorivers, the howl of distant trains better than wolf howls, we know the smell of gas and freshly wet concrete and burned rubber better than we do the smell of cedar or sage or even fry bread—which isn’t traditional, like reservations aren’t traditional, but nothing is original, everything comes from something that came before, which was once nothing. Everything is new and doomed. We ride buses, trains, and cars across, over, and under concrete plains. Being Indian has never been about returning to the land. The land is everywhere or nowhere.



How can I not know today your face tomorrow, the face that is there already or is being forged beneath the face you show me or beneath the mask you are wearing, and which you will only show me when I am least expecting it?


Tony Loneman

THE DROME FIRST CAME to me in the mirror when I was six. Earlier that day my friend Mario, while hanging from the monkey bars in the sand park, said, “Why’s your face look like that?”

I don’t remember what I did. I still don’t know. I remember smears of blood on the metal and the taste of metal in my mouth. I remember my grandma Maxine shaking my shoulders in the hall outside the principal’s office, my eyes closed, her making this psshh sound she always makes when I try to explain myself and shouldn’t. I remember her pulling my arm harder than she’d ever pulled it, then the quiet drive home.

Back home, in front of the TV, before I turned it on, I saw my face in the dark reflection there. It was the first time I saw it. My own face, the way everyone else saw it. When I asked Maxine, she told me my mom drank when I was in her, she told me real slow that I have fetal alcohol syndrome. All I heard her say was Drome, and then I was back in front of the turned-off TV, staring at it. My face stretched across the screen. The Drome. I tried but couldn’t make the face that I found there my own again.

Most people don’t have to think about what their faces mean the way I do. Your face in the mirror, reflected back at you, most people don’t even know what it looks like anymore. That thing on the front of your head, you’ll never see it, like you’ll never see your own eyeball with your own eyeball, like you’ll never smell what you smell like, but me, I know what my face looks like. I know what it means. My eyes droop like I’m fucked up, like I’m high, and my mouth hangs open all the time. There’s too much space between each of the parts of my face—eyes, nose, mouth, spread out like a drunk slapped it on reaching for another drink. People look at me then look away when they see I see them see me.That’s the Drome too. My power and curse. The Drome is my mom and why she drank, it’s the way history lands on a face, and all the ways I made it so far despite how it has fucked with me since the day I found it there on the TV,staring back at me like a fucking villain.

I’m twenty-one now, which means I can drink if I want. I don’t though. The way I see it, I got enough when I was a baby in my mom’s stomach. Getting drunk in there, a drunk fucking baby, not even a baby, a little fucking tadpole thing,hooked up to a cord, floating in a stomach.

They told me I’m stupid. Not like that, they didn’t say that, but I basically failed the intelligence test. The lowest percentile. That bottom rung. My friend Karen told me they got all kinds of intelligences. She’s my counselor I still see once a week over at the Indian Center—I was at first mandated to go after the incident with Mario in kindergarten. Karen told me I don’t have to worry about wha tthey try to tell me about intelligence. She said people with FAS are on a spectrum, have a wide range of intelligences, that the intelligence test is biased,and that I got strong intuition and street smarts, that I’m smart where it counts,which I already knew, but when she told me it felt good, like I didn’t really know it until she said it like that.

I’m smart, like: I know what people have in mind. What they mean when they say they mean another thing. The Drome taught me to look past the first look people give you, find that other one, right behind it. All you gotta do is wait a second longer than you normally do and you can catch it, you can see what they got in mind back there. I know if someone’s selling around me. Iknow Oakland. I know what it looks like when somebody’s trying to come upon me, like when to cross the street, and when to look at the ground and keep walking. I know how to spot a scaredy-cat too. That one’s easy. They wear thatshit like there’s a sign in their hands, the sign says: Come Get Me. They look at me like I already did some shit, so I might as well do the shit they’re looking at me like that for.

Maxine told me I’m a medicine person. She said people like me are rare, and that when we come along, people better know we look different because we are different. To respect that. I never got no kind of respect from nobody, though,except Maxine. She tells me we’re Cheyenne people. That Indians go way back with the land. That all this was once ours. All this. Shit. They must not’ve had street smarts back then. Let them white men come over here and take it from them like that. The sad part is, all those Indians probably knew but couldn’t do anything about it. They didn’t have guns. Plus the diseases. That’s what Maxine said. Killed us with their white men’s dirt and diseases, moved us off our land, moved us onto some shit land you can’t grow fucking shit on.

I would hate it if I got moved outta Oakland, because I know it so well, from West to East to Deep East and back, on bike or bus or BART. It’s my only home. I wouldn’t make it nowhere else.

Sometimes I ride my bike all over Oakland just to see it, the people, all its different hoods. With my headphones on, listening to MF Doom, I can ride all day. The MF stands for Metal Face. He’s my favorite rapper. Doom wears a metal mask and calls himself a villain. Before Doom, I didn’t know nothing but what came on the radio. Somebody left their iPod on the seat in front of me on the bus. Doom was the only music on there. I knew I liked him when I heard the line “Got more soul than a sock with a hole.” What I liked is that I understood all the meanings to it right away, like instantly. It meant soul, like having a hole in a sock gives the sock character, means it’s worn through, gives it a soul, and also like the bottom of your foot showing through, to the sole of your foot. It was a small thing, but it made me feel like I’m not stupid. Notslow. Not bottom rung. And it helped because the Drome’s what gives me my soul, and the Drome is a face worn through.

— My mom’s in jail. We talk sometimes on the phone, but she’s always saying some shit that makes me wish we didn’t. She told me my dad’s over in New

Mexico. That he doesn’t even know I exist.

“Then tell that motherfucker I exist,” I said to her.

“Tony, it ain’t simple like that,” she said.

“Don’t call me simple. Don’t fucking call me simple. You fucking did this to me.”

Sometimes I get mad. That’s what happens to my intelligence sometimes. No matter how many times Maxine moved me from schools I got suspended from for getting in fights, it’s always the same. I get mad and then I don’t know anything. My face heats up and hardens like it’s made of metal, then I black out.I’m a big guy. And I’m strong. Too strong, Maxine tells me. The way I see it, I got this big body to help me since my face got it so bad. That’s how looking like a monster works out for me. The Drome. And when I stand up, when I stand up real fucking tall like I can, nobody’ll fuck with me. Everybody runs like they seen a ghost. Maybe I am a ghost. Maybe Maxine doesn’t even know who I am.Maybe I’m the opposite of a medicine person.

Maybe I’m’a do something one day, and everybody’s gonna know about me. Maybe that’s when I’ll come to life.Maybe that’s when they’ll finally be able to look at me, because they’ll have to.

Everyone’s gonna think it’s about the money. But who doesn’t fucking want money? It’s about why you want money, how you get it, then what you do withit that matters. Money didn’t never do shit to no one. That’s people. I been selling weed since I was thirteen. Met some homies on the block by just being outside all the time. They probably thought I was already selling the way I was always outside, on corners and shit. But then maybe not. If they thought I was selling, they probably woulda beat my ass. They probably felt sorry for me.Shitty clothes, shitty face. I give most of the money I get from selling toMaxine. I try to help her in whatever ways I can because she lets me live at her house, over in West Oakland, at the end of Fourteenth, which she bought a long time ago when she worked as a nurse in San Francisco. Now she needs a nurse, but she can’t afford one even with the money she gets from Social Security. She needs me to do all kinds of shit for her. Go to the store. Ride the bus with her to get her meds. I walk with her down the stairs now too. I can’t believe a bone can get so old it can shatter, break into tiny pieces in your body like glass. After she broke her hip, I started helping out more.

Maxine makes me read to her before she goes to sleep. I don’t like it because I read slow. The letters move on me sometimes, like bugs. Just whenever they want, they switch places. But then sometimes the words don’t move. When they stay still like that, I have to wait to be sure they’re not gonna move, so it ends up taking longer for me to read them than the ones I can put back together after they scramble. Maxine makes me read her Indian stuff that I don’t always get. I like it, though, because when I do get it, I get it way down at that place where it hurts but feels better because you feel it, something you couldn’t feel before reading it, that makes you feel less alone, and like it’s not gonna hurt as much anymore. One time she used the word devastating after I finished reading a passage from her favorite author—Louise Erdrich. It was something about how life will break you. How that’s the reason we’re here, and to go sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples fall and pile around you, wasting all that sweetness.I didn’t know what it meant then, and she saw that I didn’t. She didn’t explain it either. But we read the passage, that whole book, another time, and I got it.

Maxine’s always known me and been able to read me like no one else can,better than myself even, like I don’t even know all that I’m showing to the world, like I’m reading my own reality slow, because of the way things switcharound on me, how people look at me and treat me, and how long it takes me to figure out if I have to put it all back together. — How all this came about, all the shit I got in, is because these white boys from up in the Oakland hills came up on me in a liquor-store parking lot in West Oakland, straight up like they weren’t afraid of me. I could tell they were scared of being there, in that neighborhood, from the way they kept their heads on a swivel, but they weren’t afraid of me. It was like they thought I wasn’t gonna do some shit because of how I look. Like I’m too slow to do some shit.

“You got snow?” the one as tall as me in the Kangol hat asked.

I wanted to laugh. It was so fucking white for him to use the word snow for coke.

“I can get it,” I said, even though I wasn’t sure if I could. “Come back here in a week, same time.” I would ask Carlos.

Carlos is hella flaky. The night he was supposed to get it, he called me and told me he couldn’t make it, and that I’d have to go to Octavio’s to get it myself.

I rode my bike over from the Coliseum BART Station. Octavio’s house was in Deep East Oakland, off Seventy-Third, across from where the Eastmont Mall used to be until things got so bad there they turned it into a police station.

When I got there, people were pouring out of the house into the street like there’d been a fight. I sat back on my bike from a block away for a while,watched the drunks move around under the glow of the streetlights, all stupid like moths drunk on light.

When I found Octavio, he was all kinds of fucked up. It always makes me think of my mom when I see people like that. I wondered what she was like drunk when I was in her. Did she like it? Did I?

Octavio was pretty clear headed, though, even through the heavy slur. He put his arm around me and took me to his backyard, where he had a bench press setup under a tree. I watched him do sets with a bar without weights on it. It didn’t seem like he realized there were no weights. I waited to see when he would ask the question about my face. But he didn’t. I listened to him talk about his grandma, about how she saved his life after his family was gone. He said she’d lifted a curse from him with badger fur, and that she called anyone not Mexican or Indian gachu pins, which is a disease the Spanish brought to the Natives when they came—she used to tell him that the Spanish were the disease that they brought. He told me he never meant to become what he’d become, and I wasn’t sure what that was, a drunk, or a drug dealer, or both, or something else.

“I’d give away my own heart’s blood for her,” Octavio said. His own heart’s blood. That’s the way I felt about Maxine. He told me he didn’t mean to soundall sensitive and shit, but that nobody else ever really listened to him. I knew it was because he was fucked up. And that he probably wouldn’t remember shit.But after that I went straight to Octavio for everything.

It turned out those goofy white boys from the hills had friends. We made good money for a summer. Then one day when I was picking up, Octavio asked me in, told me to sit down.

“You’re Native, right?” he said.

“Yeah,” I said, and wondered how he knew. “Cheyenne.”

“Tell me what a powwow is,” he said.


“Just tell me.”

Maxine had been taking me to powwows all around the Bay since I was young. I don’t anymore, but I used to dance.

“We dress up Indian, with feathers and beads and shit. We dance. Sing and beat this big drum, buy and sell Indian shit like jewelry and clothes and art,” I said.

“Yeah, but what do you do it for?” Octavio said.

“Money,” I said.

“No, but really why do they do it?”

“I don’t know.”

“Whatchyoumean you don’t know?”

“To make money motherfucker,” I said.

Octavio looked at me with his head sideways, like: Remember who you’re talking to.

“That’s why we’re gonna be at that powwow too,” Octavio said.

“The one they’re having over at the coliseum?”


“To make money?” Octavio nodded, then turned around and picked up what I couldn’t tell at first was a gun. It was small and all white.

“What the fuck is that?” I said.

“Plastic,” Octavio said.

“It works?”

“It’s 3-D printed. You wanna see?” he said.

“See?” I said. Out in the backyard, I aimed the gun at a can of Pepsi on a string, with two hands, my tongue out and one eye closed.

“You ever fired a gun before?” he said.

“No,” I said.

“Shit’ll make your ears ring.”

“Can I?” I said, and before I got an answer I felt my finger squeeze and then the boom go through me. There was a moment when I didn’t know what was happening. The squeeze brought the sound of the boom and my whole body became a boom and a drop. I ducked without meaning to. There was a ringing,inside and out, a single tone drifting far off, or deep inside. I looked up at Octavio and saw that he was saying something. I said What, but couldn’t even hear myself say it.

“This is how we’re gonna rob that powwow,” I finally heard Octavio say.

I remembered there were metal detectors at the entrance to the coliseum. Maxine’s walker, the one she used after she broke her hip, it set one of them off. Me and Maxine went on a Wednesday night—dollar night—to see the A’splay the Texas Rangers, which was the team Maxine grew up rooting for in Oklahoma because Oklahoma didn’t have a team.

On the way out, Octavio handed me a flyer for the powwow that listed the prize money in each dance category. Four for five thousand. Three for ten.

“That’s good money,” I said.

“I wouldn’t be getting into some shit like this, but I owe somebody,” Octavio said.


“Mind your business,” Octavio said.

“We good?” I said.

“Go home,” Octavio said.

The night before the powwow, Octavio called me and told me I was gonna have to be the one to hide the bullets.

“In the bushes, for real?” I said.


“I’m supposed to throw bullets into the bushes at the entrance?”

“Put ’em in a sock.”

“Put bullets in a sock and throw them in the bushes?”

“What I say?”

“It just seems—”



“You got it?”

“Where do I get bullets, what kind?”

“Walmart, .22s.”

“Can’t you just print them?”

“They can’t do that yet.”

“All right.”

“There’s one more thing,” Octavio said.


“You still got some Indian shit to put on?”

“Whatchyoumean Indian shit?”

“I don’t know, what they put on, feathers and shit.”

“I got it.”

“You’re gonna wear it.”

“It won’t even barely fit.”

“But will it?”


“Wear it to the powwow.”

“All right,” I said, and hung up. I pulled my regalia out and put it on. I went out into the living room and stood in front of the TV. It was the only place in the house I could see my whole body. I shook and lifted a foot. I watched the feathers flutter on the screen. I put my arms out and dipped my shoulders down, then I walked up to the TV. I tightened my chin strap. I looked at my face. The Drome. I didn’t see it there. I saw an Indian. I saw a dancer.

Dene Oxendene

DENE OXENDENE TAKES the dead escalator two steps at a time at the Fruitvale Station. When he makes it up to the platform, the train he thought he was missing comes to a stop on the opposite side. A single drop of sweat drips down the side of his face from out of his beanie. Dene wipes the sweat with his finger, then pulls the beanie off and shakes it out, mad like the sweat came from it and not his head. He looks down the tracks and breathes out a breath he watches rise then disappear. He smells cigarette smoke, which makes him want one, except that they tire him out. He wants a cigarette that invigorates. He wants a drug that works. He refuses to drink. Smokes too much weed. Nothing works.

Dene looks across the tracks at graffiti scrawled on the wall in that little crawl space underneath the platform. He’d been seeing it for years all over Oakland. He’d thought of the name in middle school but had never really done anything with it: Lens.

The first time Dene saw someone tag, he was on the bus. It was raining. The kid was in the back. Dene saw that the kid saw that Dene looked back at him. One of the first things Dene learned when he first started taking the bus in Oakland was that you don’t stare, you don’t even glance, but you don’t totally not look either. Out of respect you acknowledge.

You look and don’t look.Anything to avoid the question: Whatchyoulookingat? There is no good answer for this question. Being asked this question means you already fucked up. Dene waited for his moment, watched the kid tag in the condensation on the bus window three letters: emt. He understood right away that it meant “empty.” And he liked the idea that the kid was writing it in the condensation on the window,in the empty space between drops, and also because it wouldn’t last, just like tagging and graffiti don’t.

The head of the train and then its body appear, wind around the bend toward the station. Self-loathing hits you fast sometimes. He doesn’t know for a second if he might jump, get down there on the tracks, wait for that fast weight to come get rid of him. He’d probably jump late, bounce off the side of the train, and just fuck up his face.

On the train he thinks of the looming panel of judges. He keeps picturing them twenty feet up staring down at him, with long wild faces in the style of Ralph Steadman, old white men, all noses and robes. They’ll know everything about him. Hate him intimately, with all the possible knowledge about his life available to them. They’ll see immediately how unqualified he is. They’ll think he’s white—which is only half true—and so ineligible for a cultural arts grant.Dene is not recognizably Native. He is ambiguously nonwhite. Over the year she’d been assumed Mexican plenty, been asked if he was Chinese, Korean,Japanese, Salvadoran once, but mostly the question came like this: What are you?

Everyone on the train is looking at their phones. Into them. He smells pissand at first thinks it’s him. He’s always feared he’ll find out that he’s smelled like piss and shit his whole life without knowing it, that everyone’s been afraid to tell him, like Kevin Farley from the fifth grade who ended up killing himself the summer of their junior year in high school when he found out. He looks to his left and sees an old man slumped down in his seat. The old guy comes to and sits up straight, then moves his arms around like he’s checking to make sure all his stuff is still with him, even though there’s nothing there. Dene walks to the next train car. He stands at the doors and looks out the window. The train floats alongside the freeway next to cars. Each of their speeds is different: The speed of the cars is short, disconnected, sporadic. Dene and the train slither along the tracks as one movement and speed. There’s something cinematic about their variable speeds, like a moment in a movie that makes you feel something for reasons you can’t explain. Something too big to feel, underneath,and inside, too familiar to recognize, right there in front of you at all times.Dene puts his headphones on, shuffles the music on his phone, skips several songs and stays on “There There,” by Radiohead. The hook is “Just ’cause you feel it doesn’t mean it’s there.” Before going underground between the Fruitvale and Lake Merritt Stations, Dene looks over and sees the word, that name again,Lens, there on the wall right before he goes under.

That tickle in his stomach, that mix of fear and fun.That involuntary burst of midair laughter.

“Where has he been?” Dene said to his mom while setting the table. Normadidn’t answer. Then at the table Dene asked his uncle where he’d been and Norma answered for him.

“He’s been busy making movies,” she said, then looked at Dene with raised eyebrows and finished with “apparently.”

They had their usual: hamburger meat, mashed potatoes, and green beans from the can.

“I don’t know if it’s apparent that I’ve been busy making movies, but it’s apparent your mom thinks I’ve been lying to her all this time,” Lucas said.

“I’m sorry, Dene, if I gave the impression that my brother is less than an honest Injun,” Norma said.

“Dene,” Lucas said, “do you wanna hear about a movie I’m working on?”

“By working on, Dene, he means in his head, he means he’s been thinking about a movie, just so you know,” Norma said.

“I wanna hear,” Dene said, looking at his uncle.

“It’ll be in the near future. I’m gonna have an alien technology colonize America. We’ll think we made it up. Like it’s ours. Over time we’ll merge with the technology, we’ll become like androids, and we’ll lose the ability to recognize each other. The way we used to look. Our old ways. We won’t even really consider ourselves half-breeds, half aliens, because we’ll think it’s our technology. Then I’m gonna have a half-breed hero rise up, inspire what’s left of the humans to move back to nature. Get away from technology, get our old way of life back. Become human again like we used to be. It’s gonna end in a reverse Kubrick 2001 human-bashing-a-bone sequence in slow motion. Have you seen 2001?”

“No,” Dene said.

“Full Metal Jacket?”


“I’ll bring you all my Kubrick next time I come up.”

“What happens at the end?”

“What, in the movie? The alien colonizers win of course. We’ll only think we won by getting back to nature, back to the Stone Age. Anyway, I stopped‘thinking about it,’” he said, and put up air quotes, looking toward the kitchen,where Norma had gone when he started in about his movie.

“But have you ever really made any movies?” Dene said.

“I make movies in that I think of them, and sometimes write them down. Or where do you think movies come from? But no, I don’t make movies, Nephew.I’ll probably never make one. What I do is, I help people with little parts of TV shows and movies, I hold a boom mic above the shot, long and steady. Look at these forearms.” Lucas lifted an arm and bent his wrist, looking at his forearm himself. “I don’t keep track of what sets I’m on when I’m working. I don’t remember a lot. I drink too much. D’your mom tell you that?” Lucas said.

Dene didn’t respond except by eating the rest of what was on his plate, then looking back to his uncle for him to say something else.

“I’m actually working on something right now that hardly takes any money tomake. Last summer I was up here doing interviews. I was able to edit some of them, and I’m up here again to try to get a few more.

It’s about Indians coming to Oakland. Living in Oakland. I just asked these Indian people I met through a friend of mine who knows a lot of Indians, she’s kind of your auntie, I think, Indian way. I’m not sure if you’ve met her though. Do you know Opal, the Bear Shields?”

“Maybe,” Dene said.

“Anyway, I asked some Indian people who’ve lived in Oakland for a while and some that just got here not too long ago a two-part question, actually it’s not a question, I tried to get them to tell me a story. I asked them to tell me a story about how they ended up in Oakland, or if they were born here, then I asked what it’s been like living in Oakland. I told them the question is meant to be answered in story form, whatever that means to them is okay, then I left the room. I decided to do it confessional style so it’s almost like they’re telling the story to themselves, or to anyone and everyone behind the lens. I don’t wanna get in the way in there. I can do all the editing myself. I just need the budget to pay my own salary, which is basically nothing.”

After Lucas said this he took a big breath in and sort of coughed, cleared his throat, then pulled from a flask he got out of the inner pocket of his jacket. He looked off, out the living-room window, across the street, or farther, off to where the sun had set, or past that, back at his life maybe, and then he got this look in his eyes, it was something Dene had seen in his mom’s eyes, something that looked like remembering and dreading at once. Lucas got up and walked out to the front porch for a cigarette, and on the way said, “Better get to yourhomework, Nephew. Me and your mom have some stuff to talk about.”

Dene only realizes he’s been stuck underground between stations for ten minutes after ten minutes of being stuck underground between stations. He breaks a sweat at the top of his forehead thinking about being late or missing the panel. He didn’t submit a sample work. So he would have to waste the little time he does have to explain why. How it was originally his uncle’s idea, how it’s really his project, and how a lot of what he’s proposing is based on what his uncle told him in the short time they had together. And then the weirdest part, the part he can’t present, because he doesn’t totally understand it, is that each of the interviews, the interviews his uncle actually conducted, came with scripts.Not transcriptions but scripts. So had his uncle written the scripts to be performed? Or had he transcribed actual interviews and then turned them into script form? Or had he interviewed someone, and then based on the interview,made a script that he would rework, and then had someone else perform there worked script? There was no way to know. The train starts up, moves for a beat, then stops again. A staticky voice from above drones incomprehensibly.

Back at school Dene wrote Lens everywhere he could. Each place he tagged would be like a place he could look out from, imagine people looking at his tag;he could see them seeing, above their lockers, on the back of the bathroom stall doors, on the tops of desks. In the bathroom stall tagging the back of the door,Dene thought about how sad it was to want everyone to see a name that wasn’t his, a name written to no one, to everyone, and to imagine them looking into it like it was a camera lens. It was no wonder he hadn’t made a single friend in middle school yet.

When he got home, his uncle wasn’t there. His mom was in the kitchen.

“Where’s Lucas?” Dene said.

“They’re keeping him overnight.”

“Keeping him where overnight?”

“The hospital.”

“For what?”

“Your uncle’s dying.”


“I’m sorry, honey. I wanted to tell you. I didn’t think it would happen like this. I thought it could be a nice visit, and then he’d go and—”

“Dying of what?”

“He’s been drinking too much for too long. His body, his liver’s going.”

“Going? But he just got here,” Dene said, and he saw that this made his mom cry, but only for a second. She wiped her eyes with the back of her arm and said, “There’s nothing we can do at this point, honey.”

“But why wasn’t something done when it could have been done?”

“There are some things we can’t control, some people we can’t help.”

“He’s your brother.”

“What was I supposed to do, Dene? There was nothing I could have done. He’s been doing this most of his life.”


“I don’t know.”


“I don’t know. I don’t fucking know. Please,” Norma said. She lost hold ofthe plate she’d been drying. They both stared at the pieces of it on the floor between them.

At the Twelfth Street Station Dene runs up the stairs but then looks at his phone and sees that he’s not actually gonna be late. When he gets to street level, he slows to a walk. He looks up and sees the Tribune Tower. It’s a faded pink glow that seems like it should be red but lost its steam somewhere along the way. Aside from the plain, average-height, checkered twin buildings that are the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building complex just before I-980 on the way into West Oakland, the Oakland skyline lacks distinction, and is unevenly scattered,so that even when the newspaper moved down to Nineteenth, and even though the paper doesn’t exist anymore, they keep the Tribune light aglow.

Dene crosses the street, toward city hall. He passes through a cloud of weed smoke from a gathering of men behind the bus stop on Fourteenth and Broadway. He’s never liked the smell except for when he’s smoking it himself.He shouldn’t have smoked last night. He’s sharper when he doesn’t. It’s just that if he has it around, he’s gonna smoke it. And he keeps on buying it from the guy across the hall. So there it is. — When Dene came home from school the next day, he found his uncle there on the couch again. Dene sat down and leaned forward with his elbows on his knees and stared at the ground waiting for his uncle to say something. “You must think I’m pretty despicable, what with me turning into a zombie out here on the couch, killing myself with the drink, is that what she told you?” Lucas said.

“She hasn’t told me hardly anything. I mean, I know why you’re sick.”

“I’m not sick. I’m dying.”

“Yeah, but you’re sick.”

“I’m sick from dying.”

“How much time—”

“We don’t have time, Nephew, time has us. It holds us in its mouth like an owl holds a field mouse. We shiver. We struggle for release, and then it pecks out our eyes and intestines for sustenance and we die the death of field mice.”

Dene swallowed some spit and felt his heart beat fast like he was in an argument, though it didn’t have the tone or feel of an argument.

“Jesus, Uncle,” Dene said.

It was the first time he’d ever called his uncle “Uncle.” He hadn’t thought about doing it, it just came out. Lucas didn’t react.

“How long you known?” Dene said.

Lucas turned on the lamp between the two of them, and Dene felt a sick sad feeling in his stomach when he saw that where his uncle’s eyes should have been white they were yellow. Then he felt another pang when he saw his uncle get his flask out and take a pull from it.

“I’m sorry you gotta see it, Nephew, it’s the only thing that’s gonna make me feel better. I been drinking for a long time. It helps. Some people take pills to feel okay. Pills will kill you too over time. Some medicine is poison.”

“I guess,” Dene said, and got that feeling in his stomach like when his uncle used to throw him up in the air.

“I’ll still be around for a while. Don’t worry. This stuff takes years to kill you.Listen, I’m gonna get some sleep now, but tomorrow when you get home from school, let’s you and me talk about making a movie together. I got a camera with a grip like a gun.” Lucas makes a gun with his hand and points it at Dene.“ We’ll come up with a simple concept. Something we can knock out in a few days.”

“Sure, but, will you be feeling okay enough by tomorrow? Mom said—”

“I’ll be okay,” Lucas said, and put his hand out flat and swept it across his chest.

When Dene gets in the building, he checks the schedule on his phone and see she has ten minutes. He takes off his undershirt without taking off his top layer in order to use it as a kind of rag to wipe what sweat he can before he goes in front of the panel. There’s a guy standing outside the door to the room he was told to go to. Dene hates who he thinks the guy is. Who he has to be. He’s the kind of bald that requires a daily shave. He wants it to look like he’s in control of his hair, like being bald is his personal choice, but the faintest hint of hair appears on the sides and not a trace at the crown. He’s got a sizable but neat light brown beard, which is clearly compensation for the lack of hair up there,plus a trend now, white hipsters everywhere trying to come off as confident, all the while hiding their entire faces behind big bushy beards and thick black rimmed glasses. Dene wonders whether you have to be a person of color to get the grant. The guy’s probably working with kids on a garbage-art project. Dene pulls out his phone in an attempt to avoid conversation.

“You going for the grant?” the guy says to Dene.

Dene nods and sticks his hand out for a shake. “Dene,” he says.

“Rob,” the guy says.

“Where you from?” Dene says.

“Actually I don’t have a place right now, but next month me and some friends are getting a place in West Oakland. It’s dirt cheap over there,” Rob says.

Dene clenches his jaw and blinks a slow blink at this: dirt cheap.

“D’you grow up here?” Dene says.

“I mean, no one’s really from here, right?” Rob says.


“You know what I mean.”

“I do know what you mean,” Dene says.

“You know what Gertrude Stein said about Oakland?” Rob says.

Dene shakes his head no but actually knows, actually googled quotes about Oakland when researching for his project.

He knows exactly what the guy is about to say.

“There is no there there,” he says in a kind of whisper, with this goofy open-mouthed smile Dene wants to punch. Dene wants to tell him he’d looked up the quote in its original context, in her Everybody’s Autobiography, and found that she was talking about how the place where she’d grown up in Oakland had changed so much, that so much development had happened there,that the there of her childhood, the there there, was gone, there was no there there anymore. Dene wants to tell him it’s what happened to Native people, he wants to explain that they’re not the same, that Dene is Native, born and raised in Oakland, from Oakland. Rob probably didn’t look any further into the quote because he’d gotten what he wanted from it. He probably used the quote at dinner parties and made other people like him feel good about taking over neighborhoods they wouldn’t have had the guts to drive through ten years ago.

The quote is important to Dene. This there there. He hadn’t read Gertrude Stein beyond the quote. But for Native people in this country, all over the Americas, it’s been developed over, buried ancestral land, glass and concrete and wire and steel, unreturnable covered memory. There is no there there. The guy says it’s his time and goes in. Dene wipes his head with his undershirt one more time and puts it in his backpack.

The panel of judges turns out to be a square of four tables. As he sits down he realizes they’re in the middle of talking about his project. Dene has no idea what he said he was going to do. His mind is a mess of misfires. They mention the lack of sample work. None of them looks at him. Are they forbidden to look at him? The makeup of the group is all over the place. Old white lady.Two middle-aged black guys. Two middle-aged white ladies. A youngish Hispanic guy. An Indian—from India—woman who could be twenty-five or thirty-five or forty-five, and an older guy who’s definitely Native, with long hair and turquoise-and-silver feather earrings in both ears. They turn their heads toward Dene. He has three minutes to say whatever he thinks they should know that wasn’t included in the application. A final moment to convince them that his project is worth funding.

“Hello. My name is Dene Oxendene. I’m an enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma. Good morning and thank you for your time and consideration. Sorry ahead of time if I ramble. I’m grateful for this opportunity. I know our time is limited, so I’ll just move into it if that’s okay. This all started for me when I was thirteen. My uncle died and, sort of, I inherited the work he started. What he did, what I want to do, is to document Indian stories in Oakland. I want to put a camera in front of them, video, audio,I’ll transcribe it while they talk if they want, let them write, every kind of story I can collect, let them tell their stories with no one else there, with no direction or manipulation or agenda. I want them to be able to say what they want. Let the content direct the vision. There are so many stories here. I know this means alot of editing, a lot of watching, and a lot of listening, but that’s just what our community needs considering how long it’s been ignored, has remained invisible.

I’m gonna set up a room down at the Indian Center. What I want to do is to pay the storytellers for their stories. Stories are invaluable, but to pay is to appreciate. And this is not just qualitative data collection. I want to bring something new to the vision of the Native experience as it’s seen on the screen.We haven’t seen the Urban Indian story. What we’ve seen is full of the kinds of stereotypes that are the reason no one is interested in the Native story in general, it’s too sad, so sad it can’t even be entertaining, but more importantly because of the way it’s been portrayed, it looks pathetic, and we perpetuate that,but no, fuck that, excuse my language, but it makes me mad, because the whole picture is not pathetic, and the individual people and stories that you come across are not pathetic or weak or in need of pity, and there is real passion there, and rage, and that’s part of what I’m bringing to the project, because I feel that way too, I will bring that same energy to it, I mean if it gets approved and everything, and I can raise more money, it won’t take that much really,maybe even just this grant, and I’ll be doing most of the work. Sorry if I went over my time. Thank you.”

Dene takes a deep breath and holds it. The judges don’t look up at all. He lets out his breath, regrets everything he said. They stare at their laptops and typelike stenographers. This is the time allotted for questions. Not questions forDene. This is when they ask each other questions. Discuss the viability of the project. Fuck. He doesn’t even know what he just said. The Native guy taps the stack of papers that is Dene’s application and clears his throat.

“It’s an interesting idea. But I’m having trouble seeing exactly what the applicant has in mind, and I’m wondering, and please correct me if I missed something, I’m wondering if there’s a real vision here, or if he’s just gonna sort of make it up as he goes along. I mean, he doesn’t even have a work sample,”the Native guy says.

Dene knew it would be the Native guy. He probably doesn’t even think Dene is Native. Fuck. The work sample. Dene can’t say anything. He’s supposed to be a fly on the wall. But the guy just swatted at him. Someone say something else.Someone say anything else. The older of the two black guys, the more nicely dressed, with a white beard and glasses, says, “I think it’s interesting, if he’s doing what I think he’s saying he’s going to do, which is, essentially, to put aside the pretension of documentation. He’s moving out of the way, so to speak. If he does it right, it will seem as if he isn’t even the one behind the camera, it will almost seem like there isn’t a cameraperson there at all. My main question is whether or not he’ll be able to get people to come and tell their stories and to trust him with them. If he does, I think this could be important regardless of whether he turns it into something his own, something tangible, and with vision, or not. Sometimes we risk putting too much of the director’s vision on stories. I like that he’s going to allow the content to direct the vision. However it goes,these are important stories to document, period.”

Dene sees the Native guy shift uncomfortably in his chair, tap Dene’s application in a neat stack, then put it behind a bigger stack. The older white woman who looks like Tilda Swinton says, “If he can raise the money and come out with a film that says something new, I think that’s great, and I don’t know how much more there is to say about it. We’ve got twenty or so more applicants to review, and I’m sure there will be at least a few that will require serious scrutiny and discussion.”

Back on BART, headed home, Dene sees his face in the dark reflection of the train window. He’s beaming. He wipes the grin from his face when he sees it.He got it. It was pretty clear that he would get it. Five thousand dollars. He’s never had that much money before, not once in his life. He thinks of his uncle and his eyes well up. He clenches them shut and keeps them closed, leans his head back, thinks of nothing, lets the train take him home.

When Dene came home to an empty house, there was an old-looking camera on the coffee table in front of the couch. He picked it up and sat down with it. It was the gun camera his uncle had mentioned. With a pistol grip. He sat there with the camera in his lap and waited for his mom to come back alone with the news.

When she walked in, the look on her face said everything. She didn’t have to tell him. As if he hadn’t been expecting it, Dene stood up, camera in hand, he ran past his mom out the front door. He kept running, down their hill to Dimond Park. There was a tunnel that went below the park. About ten feet high, it stretched some two hundred yards, and in the middle, for about fifty of those yards, if you were in there, you couldn’t see a thing. His mom told him there was an underground waterway that went all the way out into the bay. He didn’t know why he came, or why he brought the camera. He didn’t even know how to use it. Wind howled in the tunnel. At him. It seemed to breathe. It was a mouth and a throat. He tried but failed to turn the camera on, then pointed it at the tunnel anyway. He wondered if he’d ever end up like his uncle. Then he thought about his mom back at home. She hadn’t done anything wrong. There was noone to be mad at. Dene thought he heard footsteps coming from inside the tunnel. He scrambled up the side of the creek and was about to run back up the hill, back home, but something stopped him. He found a switch on the side of the camera next to the words Bolex Paillard. He pointed the camera at the streetlamp, up the street. He walked over and pointed it at the mouth of the tunnel. He let it run the whole walk home. He wanted to believe that when he turned on the camera, his uncle was with him, seeing through it. As he approached the house, he saw his mom in the doorway waiting for him. She was crying. Dene moved behind a telephone pole. He thought about what it might have meant to her, losing her brother.

How wrong it’d been that he’d left, like it was his loss alone. Norma crouched down and put her face in her hands. The camera was still running. He lifted it, pistol-gripped, pointed it at her, and looked away.

Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield

ME AND MY SISTER, Jacquie, were doing our homework in the living room with the TV on when our mom came home with the news that we’d be moving to Alcatraz.

“Pack your things. We’re going over there. Today,” our mom said. And we knew what she meant. We’d been over there to celebrate not celebrating Thanksgiving.

Back then we lived in East Oakland, in a yellow house. It was the brightest but smallest house on the block. A two-bedroom with a tiny kitchen that couldn’t even fit a table. I didn’t love it there, the carpets were too thin and smelled like dirt and smoke. We didn’t have a couch or TV at first, but it was definitely better than where we were before.

One morning our mom woke us up in a hurry, her face was beat up. She had a brown leather jacket way too big for her draped over her shoulders. Both her top and bottom lips were swollen. Seeing those big lips messed me up. She couldn’t talk right. She told us to pack our things then too.

Jacquie’s last name is Red Feather, and mine is Bear Shield. Both our dads had left our mom. That morning our mom came home beat up, we took the busto a new house, the yellow house. I don’t know how she got us a house. On the bus I moved closer to my mom and put a hand into her jacket pocket.

“Why do we got names like we do?” I said.

“They come from old Indian names. We had our own way of naming before white people came over and spread all those dad names around in order to keep the power with the dads.”

I didn’t understand this explanation about dads. And I didn’t know if Bear Shield meant shields that bears used to protect themselves, or shields people used to protect themselves against bears, or were the shields themselves made out of bears? Either way it was all pretty hard to explain in school, how I was a Bear Shield, and that wasn’t even the worst part. The worst part was my first name, which was two: Opal Viola. That makes me Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield. Victoria was our mom’s name, even though she went by Vicky, andOpal Viola came from our grandma who we never met. Our mom told us she was a medicine woman and renowned singer of spiritual songs, so I was supposed to carry that big old name around with honor. The good thing was, the kids didn’t have to do anything to my name to make fun of me, no rhymes or variations. They just said the whole thing and it was funny.

We got on a bus on a cold gray morning in late January 1970. Me and Jacquie had matching beat-up old red duffel bags that didn’t hold much, but we didn’t have much. I packed two outfits and tucked my teddy bear, Two Shoes, under my arm. The name Two Shoes came from my sister, because her childhood teddy bear only had one shoe the way they got it. Her bear wasn’t named OneShoe, but maybe I should have considered myself lucky to have a bear with two shoes and not just one. But then bears don’t wear shoes, so maybe I wasn’t lucky either but something else.

Out on the sidewalk, our mom turned to face the house. “Say goodbye to it, girls.”

I’d gotten used to keeping an eye on the front door. I’d seen more than a few eviction notices. And sure enough, one was right there. Our mom always kept them up so she could claim she never saw them, in order to buy time.

Me and Jacquie looked up at the house. It’d been okay, the yellow house. For what it was. The first one we’d been in without either of the dads, so it’d been quiet, and even sweet, like the banana cream pie our mom made the first night we spent there, when the gas worked but the electricity hadn’t been turned onyet, and we ate standing up in the kitchen, in candlelight.

We were still thinking of what to say when our mom yelled “Bus!” and we had to scamper after her, dragging our matching red duffel bags behind us.

It was the middle of the day, so hardly anyone was on the bus. Jacquie sat a few seats back like she didn’t know us, like she was riding alone. I wanted to ask my mom more about the island, but I knew she didn’t like to talk on the bus. She turned like Jacquie. Like we all didn’t know each other.

“Why should we speak our business around people we don’t even know?” she’d say.

After a while, I couldn’t take it anymore. “Mom,” I said. “What are we doing?”

“We’re going to be with our relatives. Indians of All Tribes. We’re going over to where they built that prison. Gonna start from the inside of the cell, which is where we are now, Indian people, that’s where they got us, even though they don’t make it seem like they got us there. We’re gonna work our way out from the inside with a spoon. Here, look at this.”

She handed me a laminated card from her purse the size of a playing card. It was that picture you see everywhere, the sad-Indian-on-a-horse silhouette, andon the other side it said Crazy Horse’s Prophecy. I read it:

Upon suffering beyond suffering; the Red Nation shall rise again and it shall be a blessing for a sick world. A world filled with broken promises, selfishness and separations. A world longing for light again. I see a time of seven generations, when all the colors of mankind will gather under the sacred Tree of Life and the whole Earth will become one circle again.

I didn’t know what she was trying to tell me with that card, or about the spoon. But our mom was like that. Speaking in her own private language. I asked her if there would be monkeys. I thought for some reason that all islands had monkeys. She didn’t answer my question, she just smiled and watched the long gray Oakland streets stream by the bus window like it was an old movie she liked but had seen too many times to notice anymore.

A speedboat took us to the island. I kept my head in my mom’s lap the whole time. The guys who brought us over were dressed in military uniforms. I didn’t know what we were getting into.

We ate watery beef stew out of Styrofoam bowls around a bonfire some of the younger men kept pretty big and hot with chunks of wood pallets. Our mom smoked cigarettes farther out from the fire with two big old Indian women with loud laughs.

There were stacks of Wonder Bread and butter on tables with pots of stew. When the fire got too hot, we moved back and sat down.

“I don’t know about you,” I said to Jacquie, my mouth full of bread and butter, “but I could live like this.”

We laughed and Jacquie leaned into me. We accidentally knocked heads,which made us laugh more. It got late, and I was dozing when our mom came back over to us.

“Everyone’s sleeping in cells. It’s warmer,” she told us. Me and Jacquie slept in the cell across from our mom. She’d always been crazy, in and out of work,moving us all over Oakland, in and out of our dads’ lives, in and out of different schools, in and out of shelters, but this was different, we’d always ended up in a house, in a room, in a bed at least. Me and Jacquie slept close, on Indian blankets, in that old jail cell across from our mom.

Everything that made a sound in those cells echoed a hundred times over. Our mom sang the Cheyenne lullaby she used to sing to put us to sleep. I hadn’t heard it in so long I’d almost forgotten it, and even though it echoed like crazy all over the walls, it was the echo of our mom’s voice. We fell asleep quickly and slept soundly.

Jacquie got on a lot better than me. She fell in with a group of teenagers that ran all over the island. The adults were so busy there was no way for them to keep track. I hung by my mom’s side. We went around talking to people,attending official meetings where everyone tried to agree on what to do, what to ask for, what our demands would be. The more important-seeming Indianstended to get mad more easily. These were the men. And the women weren’t listened to as much as our mom would have liked. Those first days went by like weeks. It felt like we were gonna stay out there for good, get the feds to build usa school and medical facility, a cultural center.

At some point, though, my mom told me to go out and see what Jacquie was up to. I didn’t want to go out there alone. But eventually I got bored enough and went out to see what I could find. I took Two Shoes with me. I know I’m too old to have him. I’m almost twelve. But I took him anyway. I went down to the other side of the lighthouse, where it seemed like you weren’t supposed to go.

I found them by the shore closest to the Golden Gate. They were all over the rocks, pointing at each other and laughing in that wild, cruel way teenagers have about them. I told Two Shoes it probably wasn’t such a good idea and that we should just go back.

“Sister, you don’t have to worry. All these people, even these young ones overhere, they’re all our relatives. So don’t be scared. Plus, if anyone comes after you, I’ll jump down and bite their ankles, they would never expect that. I’ll use my sacred bear medicine on them, it’ll put them to sleep. It’ll be like instantaneous hibernation. That’s what I’ll do, Sister, so don’t worry. Creator made me strong to protect you,” Two Shoes said.

I told Two Shoes to stop talking like an Indian.

“I don’t know what you mean by talking like an Indian,” he said.

“You’re not an Indian, TS. You’re a teddy bear.”

“You know, we’re not so different. Both of us got our names from pig-brained men.”


“Men with pigs for brains.”

“Oh. Meaning?”

“Columbus called you Indians, for us it was Teddy Roosevelt’s fault.”


“He was hunting bear one time, but then found this real scraggly old hungry bear, and he refused to shoot it. Then in the newspapers, there was a comic about that hunting story that made it seem like Mr. Roosevelt was merciful, areal nature lover, that kinda thing. Then they made the little stuffed bear and named it Teddy’s Bear. Teddy’s Bear became teddy bear. What they didn’t say was that he slit that old bear’s throat. It’s that kind of mercy they don’t want you to know about.”

“And how do you know about any of this?”

“You gotta know about the history of your people. How you got to be here,that’s all based on what people done to get you here. Us bears, you Indians, we been through a lot. They tried to kill us. But then when you hear them tell it,they make history seem like one big heroic adventure across an empty forest.There were bears and Indians all over the place. Sister, they slit all our throats.”

“Why do I feel like Mom told us all this already?” I said.

“Roosevelt said, ‘I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians aredead Indians, but I believe nine out of every ten are, and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth.’”

“Damn, TS. That’s messed up. I only heard the one about the big stick.”

“That big stick is the lie about mercy. Speak softly and carry a big stick,that’s what he said about foreign policy. That’s what they used on us, bears and Indians both. Foreigners on our own land. And with their big sticks they marched us so far west we almost disappeared.”

Then Two Shoes went quiet. That’s the way it was with him. He either had something to say or he didn’t. I could tell by what kind of shine I saw in the black of his eyes which one it was. I put Two Shoes behind some rocks and headed down to my sister.

They were all gathered on a small wet sandy beach filled with rocks that thinned out or were covered where the water got deeper. The closer I got to them the more I noticed Jacquie was acting weird—all loud and crooked looking. She was nice to me. Too nice.

She called me over, hugged me too hard, then introduced me to the group as her baby sister in a too-loud voice. I lied and told everyone I was twelve, but they didn’t even hear me. I saw that they were passing a bottle around. It’d just gotten to Jacquie. She drank long and hard from it.

“This is Harvey,” Jacquie said to me as she knocked the bottle into his arm.Harvey took the bottle and didn’t seem to notice Jacquie had said anything. I walked away from them and saw that there was a boy standing apart from everyone else who looked like he could have been closer to my age. He was throwing rocks. I asked him what he was doing.

“What does it look like?” he said.

“Like you’re trying to get rid of the island one rock at a time,” I said.

“I wish I could throw this stupid island into the ocean.”

“It’s already in the ocean.”

“I meant down to the bottom,” he said.

“Why’s that?” I said.

“’Cuz my dad’s making me and my brother be over here,” he said. “Pulled us outta school. No TV, no good food, everyone running around, drinking, talking about how everything’s gonna be different. It’s different all right. And it was better when we were home.”

“Don’t you think it’s good we’re standing up for something? Trying to make things right for what they done to us all these hundreds of years, since they came?”

“Yeah, yeah, it’s all my dad ever talks about. What they done to us. The U.S. government. I don’t know nothing about all that, I just wanna go home.”

“I don’t think we even have our house anymore.”

“What’s so good about taking over some stupid place no one wants to be, a place where people been trying to escape from since they made it.”

“I don’t know. It might help. You never know.”

“Yeah,” he said, then he threw a pretty big rock over by where the older kids were. It splashed them and they yelled curse words at us I didn’t recognize.

“What’s your name?” I said.

“Rocky,” he said.

“So Rocky throwing rocks then?” I said.

“Shut up. What’s your name?”

I regretted having drawn attention to names, and tried to think of something else to ask or say, but nothing came.

“Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield,” I said as fast as I could.

Rocky just threw another rock. I didn’t know if he wasn’t listening or if he didn’t find it funny like most kids did. I didn’t get to find out either because just then a boat came roaring up from outta nowhere.

Some of the older kids had stolen it from somewhere else on the island. Everyone walked toward the boat as it approached. Me and Rocky followed.

“You gonna go?” I said to Rocky.

“Yeah, I’ll probably go,” he said.

I went to Jacquie to ask if she was going.

“Fuuuuck yeah!” she said, completely drunk, which was when I knew I had to go.

The water got choppy right away. Rocky asked me if he could hold my hand.The question made my heart beat even faster than it was already beating from being on that boat and going so fast with all those older kids who had probably never driven a boat before in their whole lives. I grabbed Rocky’s hand when we went up high off of the crest of a wave, and we kept our hands held like that until we saw another boat coming toward us, at which point we broke our holdas if catching us holding hands was why the boat was coming. At first I thought it was the police, but soon I realized it was just a couple of the older men who ran another boat back and forth between the island and the mainland for supplies. They were screaming something at us. The men forced our boat to the front of the island.

It was only when they docked that I could really hear the screaming. We were being yelled at. All the older kids were pretty drunk. Jacquie and Harvey took off running, which inspired everyone else to do the same. Me and Rocky stayed on the boat, watched the older guys scramble to do something about everyone falling and running and laughing that stupid drunk laugh about nothing. When the two men realized they weren’t gonna catch anyone, and that no one was gonna listen, they left, either because they gave up or to get help. The sun was setting and a cold wind came in. Rocky stepped off the boat and tied it up. I wondered where he learned how to do something like that. I stepped off too and felt the boat rock as I left it. Fog was coming in low, slow to the point of creeping, up past our knees. I watched the fog for what felt like minutes, then I came up from behind Rocky and grabbed his hand. He kept his back to me, but he let me hold his hand like that.

“I’m still afraid of the dark,” he said. And it was like he was telling me something else. But before I could figure out what that was, I heard screaming.It was Jacquie. I let go of Rocky’s hand and went toward the screaming. I caught the words fucking asshole, then stopped and looked back at Rocky like: What are you waiting for? Rocky turned around and headed back toward the boat.

When I found them, Jacquie was walking away from Harvey, every few steps picking up rocks and throwing them at him. Harvey was on the ground with a bottle in his lap, his head swaying—top heavy. That was when I saw the resemblance. And I didn’t know how I hadn’t noticed before. Harvey was Rocky’s older brother.

“C’mon,” Jacquie said to me. “Piece of shit,” she said, and spit on the ground toward Harvey. We made our way up the incline that led to the stairs to the prison’s entrance.

“What happened?” I said.


“What did he do?” I said.

“I told him not to. Then he did. I told him to stop.” Jacquie rubbed at one of her eyes hard. “It doesn’t fucking matter. C’mon,” she said, then started to walk faster.

I let Jacquie go ahead. I stopped and held the rail at the top of the stairs, next to the lighthouse. I thought to look back, to find Rocky, then heard my sister yell for me to catch up.

When we got back to our cell block, our mom was there sleeping. Something felt wrong about the way she was lying. She was on her back but she always slept on her stomach. Her sleep seemed too deep. She was positioned like she hadn’t meant to fall asleep the way she had. And she was snoring. Jacquie went to sleep in the cell across from us and I slid under the blankets with my mom.

The wind had picked up outside. I was afraid and unsure about everything that had just happened. What were we still even doing on the island? But I fell asleep almost as soon as I closed my eyes.

I woke up with Jacquie right next to me. At some point Jacquie had taken our mom’s place. The sun came in on us, making bar-shaped shadows across our bodies.

After that we did nothing every day but find out what the meals were and when they would be served. We stayed on the island because there was no other choice. There was no house or life to go back to, no hope that maybe we would get what we were asking for, that the government would have mercy on us,spare our throats by sending boats of food and electricians, builders, and contractors to fix the place up. The days just passed, and nothing happened.The boats came and went with fewer and fewer supplies. There was a fire at some point, and I saw people pulling copper wire out of the walls of the buildings, carrying the bundles down to the boats. The men looked more tired and more drunk more often, and there were fewer and fewer women and children around.

“We’re gonna get outta here. Don’t you two worry,” our mom said to us one night from across the cell. But I no longer trusted her. I was unsure of whose side she was on, or if there were even sides anymore. Maybe there were only sides like there were sides on the rocks at the edge of the island.

On one of our last days on the island, me and my mom went up to the lighthouse. She told me she wanted to look at the city. Said she had something to tell me. There were people running around like they did in those last days,like the world was ending, but me and my mom sat there on the grass like nothing at all was happening.

“Opal Viola, baby girl,” my mom said, and moved some hair behind my ear. She’d never, not once, called me baby girl.

“You have to know what’s going on here,” she said. “You’re old enough to know now, and I’m sorry I haven’t told you before.

Opal, you have to know that we should never not tell our stories, and that no one is too young to hear. We’re all here because of a lie. They been lying to us since they came. They’re lying to us now!”

The way she said “They’re lying to us now” scared me. Like it had two different meanings and I didn’t know what either one was. I asked my mom what the lie was, but she just stared off toward the sun, her whole face becamea squint. I didn’t know what to do except to sit there and wait to see what she would say. A cold wind laid into our faces, made us close our eyes to it. With my eyes closed, I asked my mom what we were gonna do. She told me we could only do what we could do, and that the monster that was the machine that was the government had no intention of slowing itself down for long enough to truly look back to see what happened. To make it right. And so what we could dohad everything to do with being able to understand where we came from, what happened to our people, and how to honor them by living right, by telling our stories. She told me the world was made of stories, nothing else, just stories,and stories about stories. And then, as if all of it was leading up to what she was gonna say next, my mom paused a long pause, looked off toward the city, and told me that she had cancer. The whole island disappeared then. Everything. I stood up and walked away without knowing where to. I remembered I left Two Shoes over by those rocks all that time before.

When I got to Two Shoes he was on his side and in bad shape, like something had chewed on him, or like the wind and salt had dimmed him down. I picked him up and looked at his face. I couldn’t see the shine in his eyes anymore. I put him back down like he’d been. Left him like that.

When we got back to the mainland, on a sunny day months after we’d first left for the island, we got on a bus and went back over near where we lived before we moved to the yellow house. Just outside downtown Oakland, on Telegraph.We stayed with our mom’s adopted brother Ronald, who we first met the day we got to his house to live with him. Me and Jacquie didn’t like him one bit.But Mom said he was the real deal. A medicine man. Mom didn’t want to do what the doctors recommended. For a while we went up north all the time,where Ronald would run sweats. It was too hot in there for me, but Jacquie went in with Mom. Me and Jacquie both told her she should do what the doctors said to do too. She told us she couldn’t, that she could only go the way she’d been going. And that was the way she went. Slowly receding into the pastlike all those sacred and beautiful and forever-lost things. One day she justholed up there on the couch in Ronald’s living room. She got smaller and smaller.

After Alcatraz, after our mom died, I kept my head down. I focused on school.Our mom had always told us the most important thing we could do was to geteducated, and that people won’t listen to you otherwise. We didn’t end up staying at Ronald’s all that long. Things went real bad real fast.

But that’s a story for another time. When she was there, and even after she died, for a while he left us to ourselves. Me and Jacquie spent all our time together when we weren’t at school. We went to see Mom’s grave as often as we could. One day on the way home from the cemetery, Jacquie stopped and turned to me.

“What are we doing?” she said.

“Going home,” I said.

“What home?” Jacquie said.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“What are we gonna do?”

“I don’t know.”

“You usually have some smart-ass answer.”

“Just keep going, I guess—”

“I’m pregnant,” Jacquie said.


“Fucking piece of shit Harvey, remember?”


“It doesn’t matter. I can just get rid of it.”

“No. You cannot just get rid of—”

“I know someone, my friend Adriana’s brother knows someone in West Oakland.”

“Jacquie, you can’t—”

“Then what? We raise the baby together, with Ronald? No,” Jacquie said,then started to cry. Like she hadn’t cried at the funeral. She stopped, put her hand on top of a parking meter, and looked away from me. She wiped her arm across her face once, hard, then kept walking. We walked like that for sometime, the sun behind us, our shadows slanted, stretched ahead of us.

“One of the last things Mom said to me when we were over there, she saidwe shouldn’t ever not tell our stories,” I said.

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”

“I mean having the baby.”

“It’s not a story, Opal, this is real.”

“It could be both.”

“Life doesn’t work out the way stories do. Mom’s dead, she’s not coming back, and we’re alone, living with a guy we don’t even know who we’re supposed to call uncle. What kind of a fucked-up story is that?”

“Yeah, Mom’s dead, I know. We’re alone, but we’re not dead. It’s not over. We can’t just give up, Jacquie. Right?”

Jacquie didn’t respond at first. We kept walking, passing all the storefronts on Piedmont Avenue. We listened to the constant lapping sounds of cars passing by, like the sound of waves against the rocks on the shore of our uncertain futures, in an Oakland that would never be the same as it was, before our mom up and left on a jagged wind.

We came to a red light. When it turned green, Jacquie reached down and took my hand. And when we got to the other side of the street, she didn’t let it go.

Edwin Black

I’M ON THE TOILET. But nothing is happening. I’m here. You have to try. You have to intend, and not only tell yourself but really sit there believing. It’s been six days since my last movement.

One of the bullet-point symptoms on WebMD was this: the sense that everything didn’t come out. This feels true about my life in ways I can’t articulate yet. Or like the name of a short-story collection I’ll write one day, when it all finally does come out.

The trouble with believing is you have to believe that believing will work, you have to believe in belief. I’ve scraped out the little bowl of faith I keep by the open window my mind has become ever since the internet got inside it, mademe a part of it. I’m not joking. I feel as if I am going through withdrawal. I’ve read about residential internet rehab facilities in Pennsylvania. They have digital-detox retreats and underground desert compounds in Arizona. My problem hasn’t just been with gaming. Or gambling. Or incessantly scrolling down and refreshing my social media pages. Or the endless search to find good new music. It’s all of it. I was really into Second Life for a while. I think I logged two whole years there. And as I was growing, getting fatter in real life,the Edwin Black I had in there, on there, I made him thinner, and as I did less, he did more. The Edwin Black in there had a job and a girlfriend and his mom had died tragically during childbirth. That Edwin Black was raised on the reservation with his dad. The Edwin Black of my Second Life was proud. He had hope.

This Edwin Black, me here on the toilet, can’t get there, on the internet,because yesterday I dropped my phone in the toilet, and my computer froze,same fucking day it just stopped, not even the mouse cursor moved, no spinning wheels of promised load. No reboot after unplug, just a sudden and mute black screen—my face reflected in it, staring first in horror at the computer dying,then at my face reacting to seeing my face react to the computer dying. A little part of me died then, seeing my face, thinking about this sick addiction, all this time I’ve spent doing almost nothing. Four years of sitting, staring into my computer at the internet. I guess if you don’t count sleep, it’s three, if you don’t count the dreaming, but I dream of the internet, of keyword search phrases that make complete sense in the dream, are the key to the dream’s meaning, but which make no sense in the morning, like all the dreams I’ve ever had.

I once dreamed I’d become a writer. Which is to say I graduated with my master’s in comparative literature with a focus on Native American literature. It certainly must have looked like I was on my way toward something. With my degree in hand in the last picture I’d posted to Facebook. The picture is of me in my cap and gown, a hundred pounds lighter, my mom with a too-wide smile,looking at me with untethered adoration when she should have been looking atBill, her boyfriend, who I’d told her not to bring, and who insisted on taking pictures of us when I asked him not to. I did end up liking that picture. I’ve looked at it more than I have any other picture of myself. It stayed as my profile pic until recently, because a few months, even a year, was fine, not abnormal, but after four years it was the socially unacceptable kind of sad.

When I moved back in with my mom, the door to my old room, to my old life in that room, it opened up like a mouth and swallowed me.

Now I don’t have any dreams, or if I dream, I dream of dark geometric shapes drifting noiselessly across a pink, black, and purple pixelated colorscape.Screen-saver dreams.

I have to give up. Nothing’s coming. I stand up, pull my pants up, and walk out of the bathroom defeated. My stomach is a bowling ball. I don’t believe it at first. I do a double take.

My computer. I almost jump at the sight of it coming back to life. I almost clap. I’m embarrassed at my excitement. I thought for sure it was a virus. I’d clicked a link to download The Lone Ranger. Everyone agreed on how bad it was, in so many ways. But I was excited to see it. There’s something about seeing Johnny Depp fail so badly that gives me strength.

I sit down and wait for my computer to come all the way on. I find that I’m rubbing my hands together and stop myself, put my hands in my lap. I look up at a picture I have taped on my wall. It’s Homer Simpson in front of a microwave wondering: Could Jesus microwave a burrito so hot he himself couldn’t eat it? I think about the irresistible-force paradox. How there cannot be both an irresistible force and an immovable object in existence at once. But what is happening in my blocked, coiled, possibly knotted bowels? Could it bethe working out of an ancient paradox? If shitting mysteriously stopped, then couldn’t seeing, hearing, breathing, do so in turn? No. It’s all the shitty food.Paradoxes don’t work out. They cancel out. I’m overthinking it. I want it too much.

Sometimes the internet can think with you, or even for you, lead you in mysterious ways to information you need and would never have thought to think of or research on your own. This is how I found out about bezoars. A bezoar isa mass found trapped in the gastrointestinal system, but when you search bezoar you’re led to The Picatrix. The Picatrix is a book of magic and astrology from the twelfth century originally written in Arabic and titled Ghāyat al-Ḥakīm, meaning “The Goal of the Wise.” Bezoars have all kinds of uses in The Picatrix, one of which is to make talismans that aid in certain kinds of magic. Iwas able to find a PDF of the English translation of The Picatrix. When I scrolled down to an arbitrary place in the document, the word laxative caught my eye, and I read the following passage: “The Indians indicate that when the moon is at this position, they travel and use laxative medicines. Thus, you may use this as a principle in making a talisman for a traveler and his safety. Also,when the moon is at this position, a talisman can be made to create discord and animosity between spouses.” If I even remotely believed in any kind magic aside from the kind that led me to this very entry, and if I could somehow surgically remove the bezoar, I would make it into a talisman—granted the moon was in the corresponding position—and take care of my constipation while also possibly destroying my mom and Bill’s relationship.

Bill’s not an asshole. If anything he goes out of his way to be nice, to make conversation with me. It’s the forced nature of it. That I have to decide whether to treat him well or not. This stranger. My mom and Bill met at a bar in downtown Oakland. My mom brought him home, let him return, again and again for the past two years, and I was forced to have to think about how or if I should like or not like the guy, get to know him or try to get rid of him. But then I struggle with resisting Bill because I don’t want to be some creepy manbaby jealous of my mom’s boyfriend because I want her all to myself. Bill’s a Lakota guy who grew up in Oakland. He’s over almost every night. Whenever he’s over I stay in my room. And I can neither shit nor not shit. So I hoard food and stay in my room, read about what I can do about this possible new phase of constipation, what I just found out on a constipation forum thread might be obstipation, which is severe, or complete, constipation. The end.

Forum member DefeKate Moss said that not shitting could kill you, and thatshe once had to have a tube stuck down her nose to have it sucked out. She said if you start feeling nauseous and have abdominal pain, you should go to theemergency room. I feel nauseous thinking about the idea of shitting out of mynose through a tube.

I type “the brain and constipation” and hit Enter. I click on several links,scroll through several pages. I read a lot and come away with nothing. This is how time skips. Links just lead to links that can lead you all the way back to the twelfth century. This is how it can all of a sudden be six in the morning, with my mom knocking on the door before she goes to work at the Indian Center—where she keeps trying to get me to apply for a job.

“I know you’re still awake,” she says. “I can hear you clicking in there.”

Lately I’ve become a little obsessed with the brain. With trying to find explanations for everything as it relates to the brain and its parts. There’s almost too much information out there. The internet is like a brain trying to figure out a brain. I depend on the internet for recall now. There’s no reason to remember when it’s always just right there, like the way everyone used to know phone numbers by heart and now can’t even remember their own. Remembering itself is becoming old-fashioned.

The hippocampus is the part of the brain connected to memory, but I can’t remember exactly what that means. Is memory stored there, or is the hippocampus like the limbs of memory that reach into other parts of the brain, where it’s actually stored in little nodes or folds or pockets? And isn’t it always reaching? Bringing up memories, the past, without being asked? Typing in the search bar before I can even think to do it. Before I can think I am thinking with it.

I find out that the same neurotransmitter related to happiness and well-being supposedly has to do with your gastrointestinal system. There’s something wrong with my serotonin levels. I read about selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which are antidepressants. Would I have to take antidepressants? Or would I have to reuptake them?

I stand up and back away from the computer, put my head all the way back to stretch my neck. I try to calculate how long I’ve been at the computer, but when I shove a two-day-old piece of pizza in my mouth, my thoughts move toward what is happening to me in my brain while I eat. I chew and click another link. I read that the brain stem is the basis of consciousness, and that the tongue correlates with the brain stem almost directly, and so eating is the most direct path to getting the feeling that you’re alive. This feeling or thought is interrupted by a craving for Pepsi.

While I pour Pepsi into my mouth straight from the bottle, I look at myself in the mirror my mom put on the front of the fridge. Had she done it in order to make me see myself before going into the fridge? Was she saying, by putting that mirror there, “Look at yourself, Ed, look at what you’ve become, you’re a monster.” But it’s true. I’m swollen. I see my cheeks at all times, like a big nosed person always sort of sees their nose.

I spit the Pepsi out into the sink behind me. I touch my cheeks with both hands. I touch the reflection of my cheeks with both hands, then suck my cheeks in, bite them to preview what it might look like if I lost thirty pounds.

I hadn’t grown up fat. Not overweight. Not obese, or plus-size, or whatever you can call it now without sounding politically incorrect, or insensitive, or unscientific. But I always felt fat. Did that somehow mean I was destined to one day be fat, or did my obsession with being fat even when I wasn’t lead to me eventually being fat? Does what we try most to avoid come after us because we paid too much attention to it with our worry?

I hear the Facebook pop-ding sound from my computer and go back in my room. I know what it could mean. I’m still logged in to my mom’s Facebook account.

All my mom remembered about my dad was his first name, Harvey, that he lived in Phoenix, and that he was a Native American Indian. I’ve always hated when she says “Native American Indian,” this weird politically correct catchall you only hear from white people who’ve never known a real Native person. And it reminds me of how removed I am because of her. Not only because she is white, and me therefore half white, but because of how she never did a single thing to try to connect me with my dad.

I use Native, that’s what other Native people on Facebook use. I have 660 friends. Tons of Native friends in my feed. Most of my friends, though, are people I don’t know, who’d happily friended me upon request.

After getting permission from my mom, I personal messaged ten different Harveys from her profile who seemed “obviously” Native and lived in Phoenix. “You may not remember me,” I wrote. “We had a special night together some years ago. I can’t shake the memory of it. There were none like you before or since. I’m in Oakland, California, now. Are you still in Phoenix? Can we talk, meet up sometime maybe? Will you be out here? I could come to you.” I’ll never fully recover from the feeling of trying to write, as my own mother, in an alluring way to my possible father.

But here it is. A message from my possible dad.

Hey there, Karen, I do remember that wild night, I read with horror, hoping there will be zero details about what made the night wild. I’m coming out to Oakland in a couple months, for the Big Oakland Powwow. I’m the powwow emcee, the message reads.

Heart racing, a sick, falling feeling in my stomach, I type back, I’m so sorry to have done this. Like this. I think I’m your son.

I wait. Tap my foot, stare at the screen, clear my throat pointlessly. I imagine how he must be feeling. To go from hooking up with an old fling to having a son out of nowhere. I shouldn’t have done it like that. I should have had my mom meet him. I could have had her take a picture.

What? pops up in the chat window.

This isn’t Karen.

I don’t understand.

I’m Karen’s son.



You’re telling me I have a son, and it’s you?


Are you sure?

My mom said it’s more than likely. Like 99 percent.

No other guys during that same time period then?

I don’t know.

Sorry. She around?


You look Indian?

My skin is brown. Ish.

Is this about money?


You don’t have a profile pic.

Neither do you.

I see a paper-clip icon with a JPEG extension. I double-click it. He’s standing there with a microphone in his hand, powwow dancers in the background. I see myself in the man’s face. He’s bigger than me, both taller and fatter, with long hair, wearing a baseball cap, but there’s no mistaking it. It’s my dad.

You look like me, I type.

Send me a picture.

I don’t have one.

Take one.

Fine. Hold on, I type, then take a selfie with my computer’s camera and send it to him.

Well shit, Harvey writes.

Well shit, I think.

What tribe are you/we? I write.

Cheyenne. Southern. Out of Oklahoma. Enrolled with the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma. We’re not Arapahos.

Thanks! I type, and then, Gotta go! As if I do. All of it is suddenly too much for me.

I log off of Facebook and go to the living room to watch TV and wait for my mom to come home. I forget to turn the TV on. I stare at the blank black flatscreen, think about our conversation.

For how many years had I been dying to find out what the other half of mewas? How many tribes had I made up when asked in the meantime? I’d gotten through four years as a Native American studies major. Dissecting tribal histories, looking for signs, something that might resemble me, something that felt familiar. I’d made it through two years of grad school, studying comparative literature with an emphasis on Native American literature. I wrote my thesis on the inevitable influence of blood quantum policies on modern Native identity,and the literature written by mixed-blood Native authors that influenced identity in Native cultures. All without knowing my tribe. Always defending myself. Like I’m not Native enough. I’m as Native as Obama is black. It’s different though. For Natives. I know.

I don’t know how to be. Every possible way I think that it might look for me to say I’m Native seems wrong.

“Hey, Ed, what are you doing out here?” my mom says as she walks through thefront door. “I thought you’d merged with the machines by now,” she says, and puts up her hands, sort of twiddling her fingers in a mocking way as she says“merged with the machines.”

I’d recently made the mistake of telling her about singularity. About how it was an eventuality, an inevitability, that we’d end up merging with artificial intelligence. Once we saw that it was superior, once it asserted itself as superior,we would need to adapt, to merge so as to not be swallowed, taken over.

“Well, that’s a pretty convenient theory for someone who spends twenty hours a day leaning into their computer like they’re waiting for a kiss,” she’d said.

She throws her keys on the table, keeps the front door open, lights a cigarette,and smokes there in the doorway, pointing her mouth and the smoke out the door.

“Come over here for a second. I wanna talk.”

“Mom,” I say, in a tone I know is a whine.

“Edwin,” she says, mocking my tone. “We talked about this. I want updates.You agreed to updates. Otherwise another four years are gonna go by, and I’m gonna have to ask Bill to knock down a wall for you back there.”

“Fuck Bill,” I say. “I told you I don’t wanna hear anything from you about my weight. I’m aware of it. You think I don’t know about it? I’m aware of the fact that I’m huge. I walk around with it, it knocks things over, I can’t fit into most of my clothes. What I can fit into makes me look ridiculous.” Without my meaning to, my arms are waving in the air like I’m trying to fit them into one of my shirts that don’t fit anymore. I bring them down, shove my hands into my pockets. “I haven’t shit in six days. Do you know what that feels like for anal ready big person? Being big, you think about it all the time. You feel it. All those years, dieting all the time, you don’t think that fucked me up? We’re all always thinking about our weight. Are we too fat? Well, what I have going on comes with an easy answer, and even more so when I see my reflection in the mirror on the front of the fridge, which, by the way, I know you put there for my benefit. You know, when you try to make jokes about it, it makes me want to get fatter, blow up, keep eating until I get stuck somewhere, die somewhere,just this huge dead mass. They’ll have to get a crane to get me out, and everyone will be saying to you ‘What happened?’ and ‘Poor thing’ and ‘How could you have let this happen?,’ and you’ll be there desperately smoking a cigarette, dumbfounded, Bill behind you, rubbing your shoulders, and you’ll remember all the times you made fun of me, and you won’t know what to tell the neighbors,who’ll be staring in horror at my mass, the crane just shuddering, doing its best.” I simulate a shuddering crane with my hand for her.

“Jesus, Ed. That’s enough. Come talk to me for a second.”

I pick up a green apple from the fruit basket and pour myself a glass of water.

“See?” I almost shout, holding up the apple for her to see. “I’m trying. Here’s a live update for you, I’m live streaming it to you right now, look, I’m trying to eat better. I just spit out some Pepsi in the sink. This is a glass of water.”

“I wish you would calm down,” my mom says.

“You’re gonna have a heart attack. Just relax. Treat me like I’m your mother, like I care about you, like Ilove you, treat me like I went through twenty-six hours of labor for you, twentysix hours and then a cesarean section to top it off. They had to slice me open,Ed, you didn’t wanna come out, you were two weeks late, did I ever tell youthat? You wanna talk about feeling full.”

“I wish you would stop throwing it in my face, how many hours of labor you went through to get me here. I didn’t ask to come.”

“Throwing it in your face? You think I throw it in your face? Why you ungrateful little—”

She runs over to me and tickles me behind the neck. To my horror, I can’t help but laugh. “Stop. Okay. Okay. Just, you calm down yourself. What do you wanna hear?” I say, and pull my shirt down over my belly. “I don’t have updates.There’s not much out there for someone with virtually no work experience, with an MA in comp lit. I look. I scour. I get frustrated, and sure, I get distracted.There’s so much to look up, and then when you think of something new, when you discover something new, it’s like you’re thinking with another mind, like you have access to a bigger, collective brain. We’re on the edge of something here,” I say, knowing how it must sound to her.

“You’re on the edge of something all right. Collective brain? Scour? You make it sound like you’re doing a lot more than clicking links and reading. Butokay, so like what kind of job are you looking for? I mean, what categories do you look under?”

“I look under writing gigs, and that’s almost always some kind of scam designed for naïve aspiring writers looking to work for free or to win a contest.I look under arts organizations. Then I get lost in the nonprofit morass. Grantwriting stuff and, you know, most places require experience or—”

“Grant writing? You could do that, couldn’t you?”

“I know nothing about grant writing.”

“You could learn. Research. There’s probably YouTube tutorials or something, right?”

“Those are my updates,” I say, and feel a pull from a limb gone loose. While I was talking something in me reached back to remember all that I’d once hoped I’d be, and placed it next to the feeling of being who I am now. “I’m sorry I’m such a fuckup,” I say. And I don’t want to but I really mean it.

“Don’t talk like that. You’re not a loser, Ed.”

“I didn’t say I was a loser. Bill says that. That’s Bill’s word for me,” I say, and whatever true sadness I felt is gone. I turn to go back to my room.

“Just…wait. Don’t go back to your room. Please. Wait a second. Sit down. Let’s talk, this isn’t talking.”

“I’ve been sitting down all day.”

“And whose fault is that?” she says, and I start to walk toward my room.

“Okay, stand, but stay. We don’t have to talk about Bill. How are your stories coming along then, sweetie?”

“My stories? Come on, Mom.”


“Whenever we talk about my writing, I feel like you’re trying to make mefeel better about the fact that I’m even doing it.”

“Ed, we can all use encouragement. All of us.”

“That’s true, that’s true, Mom, you could use some too, but do you hear me telling you that you need to stop smoking and drinking so much, that you should find healthy alternatives to passing out in front of the TV every night, especially given your job, I think even your title is substance abuse counselor. No. I don’t.Because it’s not helpful. Now can I go?”

“You know, you still act like you’re fourteen, like you can’t wait to get backto your video games. I’m not always gonna be here, Ed. One day you’re gonnaturn around and I’ll be gone, and you’ll wish you had appreciated these times we have together.”

“Oh my God.”

“I’m just saying. The internet has a lot to offer, but they’ll never make a website that can take the place of your mother’s company.”

“So can I go?”

“One more thing.”


“I heard about a position.”

“At the Indian Center.”


“Fine, what is it?”

“It’s a paid internship. You’d basically be helping with anything related to the pow wow.”

“An internship?”


“Send me the information.”


“Now can I go?”


Then I come up from behind my mom and give her a kiss on the cheek.

Back in my room I put my earphones in. Put on A Tribe Called Red. They’re a group of First Nations DJs and producers based out of Ottawa. They make electronic music with samples from pow wow drum groups. It’s the most modern, or most postmodern, form of Indigenous music I’ve heard that’s both traditional and new-sounding. The problem with Indigenous art in general is that it’s stuck in the past. The catch, or the double bind, about the whole thing is this: If it isn’t pulling from tradition, how is it Indigenous? And if it is stuck in tradition, in the past, how can it be relevant to other Indigenous people living now, how can it be modern? So to get close to but keep enough distance from tradition, in order to be recognizably Native and modern-sounding, is a small kind of miracle these three First Nations producers made happen on a particularly accessible self-titled album, which they, in the spirit of the age of the mixtape, gave away for free online.

I settle myself on the floor and weakly attempt some push-ups. I roll over and try a sit-up. My top half won’t budge. I think about my college days. About how long ago that was and how hopeful I’d been. How impossible my current life would have seemed to me then.

I’m not used to pushing my body to do anything. Maybe it’s too late to comeback from what I’ve done to myself. No. Being finished looks like sitting back down at the computer. I’m not finished. I am a Cheyenne Indian. A warrior.No. That’s super corny. Fuck. I get mad at that thought, that I even thought it. I use the anger to push, to do a sit-up. I push my hardest and rise, I get all the way up. But with the exhilaration of completing my first sit-up comes an explosion, a wet smelly lump of relief in the seat of my sweatpants. I’m out of breath, sweating, sitting in my own shit. I lie back down, put both of my arms out flat, palms up. I find myself saying “Thank you” out loud, to no one in particular. I feel something not unlike hope.

DMU Timestamp: April 02, 2022 15:38