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[3 of 5] "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" (2007) by Sherman Alexie Illustrations by Ellen Forney, Chapters 13 - 20 (pages 99-149)

Author: Sherman Alexie, Illustrations by Ellen Forney

Alexie, Sherman. “Chapters 13-20.” The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, illustrated by Ellen Forney, Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY, 2007, pp. 99–149.

My Sister Sends Me an E-mail

—–Original Message—
From: Mary
Sent: Thursday, November 16, 2006 4:41 PM
To: Junior Subject: Hi!

Dear Junior:

I love it here in Montana. It’s beautiful. Yesterday, I rode a horse for the first time. Indians still ride horses in Montana. I’m still looking for a job. I’ve sent applications to all the restaurants on the reservation. Yep, the Flathead Rez has about twenty restaurants. It’s weird. They have six or seven towns, too. Can you believe that? That’s a lot of towns for one rez! And you know what’s really weird? Some of the towns on the rez are filled with white people. I don’t know how thathappened. But the people who live in those white towns don’t always like Indians much. One of those towns, called Poison, tried to secede (that means quit, I looked it up) from the rez. Really. It was like the Civil War. Even though the town is in the middle of the rez, the white folks in that town decided they didn’t want to be a part of the rez. Crazy. But most of the people here are nice. The whites and Indians. And you know the best part? There’s this really great hotel where hubby and I had our honeymoon. It’s on Flathead Lake and we had a suite, a hotel room with its own separate bedroom! And there was a phone in the bathroom! Really! I could have called you from the bathroom. But that’s not even the most crazy part. We decide to order room service, to have the food delivered to our room, and guess what they had on the menu? Indian fry bread! Yep. For five dollars, you could get fry bread. Crazy! So I ordered up two pieces. I didn’t think it would be any good, especially not as good as grandma’s. But let me tell you. It was great. Almost as good as grandma’s. And they had the fry bread on this fancy plate and so I ate it with this fancy fork and knife. And I just kept imagining there was some Flathead Indian grandma in the kitchen, just making fry bread for all the room-service people. It was a dream come true! I love my life! I love my husband! I love Montana!

I love you!
Your sis, Mary

Thanksgiving

It was a snowless Thanksgiving.

We had a turkey, and Mom cooked it perfectly.

We also had mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, corn, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. It was a feast.

I always think it’s funny when Indians celebrate Thanksgiving. I mean, sure, the Indians and Pilgrims were best friends during that first Thanksgiving, but a few years later, the Pilgrims were shooting Indians.

So I’m never quite sure why we eat turkey like everybody else.

“Hey, Dad,” I said. “What do Indians have to be so thankful for?”

“We should give thanks that they didn’t kill all of us.”

We laughed like crazy. It was a good day. Dad was sober. Mom was getting ready to nap. Grandma was already napping.

But I missed Rowdy. I kept looking at the door. For the last ten years, he’d always come over to the house to have a pumpkin-pie eating contest with me.

I missed him.

So I drew a cartoon of Rowdy and me like we used to be:

Art by Ellen Forney

Then I put on my coat and shoes, walked over to Rowdy’s house, and knocked on the door.

Rowdy’s dad, drunk as usual, opened the door.

“Junior,” he said. “What do you want?”

“Is Rowdy home?”

“Nope.”

“Oh, well, I drew this for him. Can you give it to him?”

Rowdy’s dad took the cartoon and stared at it for a while. Then he smirked.

“You’re kind of gay, aren’t you?” he asked.

Yeah, that was the guy who was raising Rowdy. Jesus, no wonder my best friend was always so angry.

“Can you just give it to him?” I asked.

“Yeah, I’ll give it to him. Even if it’s a little gay.”

I wanted to cuss at him. I wanted to tell him that I thought I was being courageous, and that I was trying to fix my broken friendship with Rowdy, and that I missed him, and if that was gay, then okay, I was the gayest dude in the world. But I didn’t say any of that.

“Okay, thank you,” I said instead. “And Happy Thanksgiving.”

Rowdy’s dad closed the door on me. I walked away. But I slopped at the end of the driveway and looked back. I could see Rowdy in the window of his upstairs bedroom. He was holding my cartoon. He was watching me walk away. And I could see the sadness in his face. I just knew he missed me, too.

I waved at him. He gave me the finger.

“Hey, Rowdy!” I shouted. “Thanks a lot!”

He stepped away from the window. And I felt sad for a moment. But then I realized that Rowdy may have flipped me off, but he hadn’t torn up my cartoon. As much as he hated me, he probably should have ripped it to pieces. That would have hurt my feelings more than just about anything I can think of. But Rowdy still respected my cartoons. And so maybe he still respected me a little bit.

Hunger Pains

Our history teacher, Mr. Sheridan, was trying to teach us something about the Civil War. But he was so boring and monotonous that he was only teaching us how to sleep with our eyes open.

I had to get out of there, so I raised my hand.

“What is it, Arnold?” the teacher asked.

“I have to go the bathroom.”

“Hold it.”

“I can’t.”

I put on my best If-I-Don’t-Go-Now-I’m-Going-To-Explode face.

“Do you really have to?” the teacher asked.

I didn’t have to go at first, but then I realized that yes, I did have to go.

“I have to go really bad,” I said.

“All right, all right, go, go.”

I headed over to the library bathrooms because they’re usually a lot cleaner than the ones by the lunchroom.

So, okay, I’m going number two, and I’m sitting on the toilet, and I’m concentrating. I’m in my Zen mode, trying to lake this whole thing a spiritual experience. I read once that Gandhi was way into his own number two. I don’t know if he I old fortunes or anything. But I guess he thought the condition and quality of his number two revealed the condition and quality of his life.

Yeah, I know, I probably read too many books.

And probably WAY too many books about number two.

But it’s all important, okay? So I finish, flush, wash my lands, and then stare in the mirror and start popping zits. I’m all quiet and concentrating when I hear this weird noise coming from the other side of the wall.

That’s the girls’ bathroom.

And I hear that weird noise again.

Do you want to know what it sounds like?

It sounds like this:
ARGGHHHHHHHHSSSSSPPPPPPGGGHHHHHHHAAAAAARGHHHHHHHHHHAGGGGHH!

It sounds like somebody is vomiting.

Nope.

It sounds like a 747 is landing on a runway of vomit.

I’m planning on heading back to the classroom for more scintillating lessons from the history teacher. But then I hear that noise again.

ARGGGHHHHHHHHSGHHSLLLSKSSSHHSDKFDJSABCDEFGHIJKLMUVWXYZ!

Okay, so somebody might have the flu or something. Maybe they’re having, like, kidney failure in there. I can’t walk away.

So I knock on the door. The girls’ bathroom door.

“Hey,” I say. “Are you okay in there?”

“Go away!”

It’s a girl, which makes sense, since it is the girls’ bathroom

“Do you want me to get a teacher or something?” I ask through the bathroom door.

“I said, GO AWAY!”

I’m not dumb. I can pick up on subtle clues.

So I walk away, but something pulls me back. I don’t know what it is. If you’re romantic, you might think it was destiny.

So destiny and me lean against the wall and wait.

The vomiter will eventually have to come out of the bathroom, and then I’ll know that she’s okay.

And pretty soon, she does come out.

And it is the lovely Penelope, and she’s chomping hard on cinnamon gum. She’d obviously tried to cover the smell of vomit with the biggest piece of cinnamon gum in the world. But it doesn’t work. She just smells like somebody vomited on a big old cinnamon tree.

“What are you looking at?” she asks me.

“I’m looking at an anorexic,” I say.

A really HOT anorexic, I want to add, but I don’t.

“I’m not anorexic,” she says. “I’m bulimic.”

She says it with her nose and chin in the air. She gets all arrogant. And then I remember there are a bunch of anorexics who are PROUD to be skinny and starved freaks.

They think being anorexic makes them special, makes them better than everybody else. They have their own fricking Web sites where they give advice on the best laxatives and stuff.

“What’s the difference between bulimics and anorexics?” I ask.

“Anorexics are anorexics all the time,” she says. “I’m only bulimic when I’m throwing up.”

Wow.

SHE SOUNDS JUST LIKE MY DAD!

Art by Ellen Forney

There are all kinds of addicts, I guess. We all have pain. And we all look for ways to make the pain go away.

Penelope gorges on her pain and then throws it up and flushes it away. My dad drinks his pain away.

So I say to Penelope what I always say to Dad when drunk and depressed and ready to give up on the world, “Hey, Penelope,” I say. “Don’t give up.”

Okay, so it’s not the wisest advice in the world. It’s actually kind of obvious and corny.

But Penelope starts crying, talking about how lonely she is, and how everybody thinks her life is perfect because she’s pretty and smart and popular, but that he’s scared all the time, but nobody will let her be scared because she’s pretty and smart and popular.

You notice that she mentioned her beauty, intelligence and popularity twice in one sentence?

The girl has an ego.

But that’s sexy, too.

Art by Ellen Forney

How is it that a bulimic girl with vomit on her breath can suddenly be so sexy? Love and lust can make you go crazy.

I suddenly understand how my big sister, Mary, could have met a guy and married him five minutes later. I’m not so mad at her for leaving us and moving to Montana.

Over the next few weeks, Penelope and I become the hot item at Reardan High School.

Well, okay, we’re not exactly a romantic couple. We’re more like friends with potential. But that’s still cool.

Everybody is absolutely shocked that Penelope chose me to be her new friend. I’m not some ugly, mutated beast. But I am an absolute stranger at the school.

And I am an Indian.

And Penelope’s father, Earl, is a racist.

The first time I meet him, he said, “Kid, you better keep your hands out of my daughter’s panties. She’s only dating you because she knows it will piss me off. So I ain’t going to get pissed. And if I ain’t pissed then she’ll stop dating you. In the meantime, you just keep your trouser snake in your trousers and I won’t have to punch you in the stomach.”

And then you know what he said to me after that?

“Kid, if you get my daughter pregnant, if you make some charcoal babies, I’m going to disown her. I’m going to kick her out of my house and you’ll have to bring her home to your mommy and daddy. You hearing me straight, kid? This is all on you now.”

Art by Ellen Forney

Yep, Earl was a real winner.

Okay, so Penelope and I became the hot topic because we were defying the great and powerful Earl.

And, yeah, you’re probably thinking that Penelope was dating me ONLY because I was the worst possible choice for her.

She was probably dating me ONLY because I was an Indian boy.

And, okay, so she was only semi-dating me. We held hands once in a while and we kissed once or twice, but that was it. I don’t know what I meant to her.

I think she was bored of being the prettiest, smartest, and most popular girl in the world.

She wanted to get a little crazy, you know? She wanted to get a little smudged.

And I was the smudge.

But, hey, I was kind of using her, too.

After all, I suddenly became popular.

Because Penelope had publicly declared that I was cute enough to ALMOST date, all of the other girls in school decided that I was cute, too.

Because I got to hold hands with Penelope, and kiss her good-bye when she jumped on the school bus to go home, all of the other boys in school decided that I was a major stud. Even the teachers started paying more attention to me.

I was mysterious.

How did I, the dorky Indian guy, win a tiny piece of Penelope’s heart?

What was my secret?

I looked and talked and dreamed and walked differently than everybody else.

I was new.

If you want to get all biological, then you’d have to say that I was an exciting addition to the Reardan gene pool.

So, okay, those are all the obvious reasons why Penelope I were friends. All the shallow reasons. But what about the bigger and better reasons?

“Arnold,” she said one day after school, “I hate this little town. It’s so small, too small. Everything about it is small. The people here have small ideas. Small dreams. They all want to marry each other and live here forever.”

“What do you want to do?” I asked.

“I want to leave as soon as I can. I think I was born with a suitcase.”

Yeah, she talked like that. All big and goofy and dramatic. I wanted to make fun of her, but she was so earnest.

“Where do you want to go?” I asked.

“Everywhere. I want to walk on the Great Wall of China. I want to walk to the top of pyramids in Egypt. I want to swim in every ocean. I want to climb Mount Everest. I want to go on an African safari. I want to ride a dogsled in Antarctica. I want nil of it. Every single piece of everything.”

Her eyes got this strange faraway look, like she’d been hypnotized.

I laughed.

“Don’t laugh at me,” she said.

“I’m not laughing at you,” I said. “I’m laughing at your eyes.”

“That’s the whole problem,” she said. “Nobody takes me seriously.”

“Well, come on, it’s kind of hard to take you seriously when you’re talking about the Great Wall of China and Egypt and stuff. Those are just big goofy dreams. They’re not real.”

“They’re real to me,” she said.

“Why don’t you quit talking in dreams and tell me what you really want to do with your life,” I said. “Make it simple.”
“I want to go to Stanford and study architecture.”

“Wow, that’s cool,” I said. “But why architecture?”

“Because I want to build something beautiful. Because I want to be remembered.”

And I couldn’t make fun of her for that dream. It was my dream, too. And Indian boys weren’t supposed to dream like that. And white girls from small towns weren’t supposed to dream big, either.

We were supposed to be happy with our limitations. But there was no way Penelope and I were going to sit still. Nope, we both wanted to fly:

Art by Ellen Forney

“You know,” I said. “I think it’s way cool that you want to travel the world. But you won’t even make it halfway if you don’t eat enough.”

She was in pain and I loved her, sort of loved her, I guess, so I kind of had to love her pain, too.

Mostly I loved to look at her. I guess that’s what boys do, light? And men. We look at girls and women. We stare at them. And this is what I saw when I stared at Penelope:

Art by Ellen Forney

Was it wrong to stare so much? Was it romantic at all? I don’t know. But I couldn’t help myself.

Maybe I don’t know anything about romance, but I know a little bit about beauty.

And, man, Penelope was crazy beautiful.

Can you blame me for staring at her all day long?

Rowdy Gives Me Advice About Love

Have you ever watched a beautiful woman play volleyball?

Yesterday, during a game, Penelope was serving the ball and I watched her like she was a work of art.

She was wearing a white shirt and white shorts, and I could see the outlines of her white bra and white panties.

Her skin was pale white. Milky white. Cloud white.

So she was all white on white on white, like the most perfect kind of vanilla dessert cake you’ve ever seen.

I wanted to be her chocolate topping.

She was serving against the mean girls from Davenport Lady Gorillas. Yeah, you read that correctly. They willingly called themselves the Lady Gorillas.

And they played like superstrong primates, too. Penelope and her teammates were getting killed. The score was like 12 to 0 in the first set.

But I didn’t care.

I just wanted to watch the sweaty Penelope sweat her perfect sweat on that perfectly sweaty day.

She stood at the service line, bounced the volleyball a few lines to get her rhythm, then tossed it into the air above her head.

She tracked the ball with her blue eyes. Just watched it intensely. Like that volleyball mattered more than anything else in the world. I got jealous of that ball. I wished I were that ball.

As the ball floated in the air, Penelope twisted her hips id back and swung her right arm back over her shoulder, coiling like a really pretty snake. Her leg muscles were stretched and taut.

I almost fainted when she served. Using all of that twisting id flexing and concentration, she smashed the ball and aced the Lady Gorillas.

And then Penelope clenched a fist and shouted, “Yes!”

Absolutely gorgeous.

Even though I didn’t think I’d ever hear back, I wanted to know what to do with my feelings, so I walked over to the computer lab and e-mailed Rowdy. He’s had the same address for five years.

“Hey, Rowdy,” I wrote. “I’m in love with a white girl. What should I do?”

A few minutes later, Rowdy wrote back.

“Hey, Asshole,” Rowdy wrote back. “I’m sick of Indian guys who treat white women like bowling trophies. Get a life.”

Well, that didn’t do me any good. So I asked Gordy what I should do about Penelope.

“I’m an Indian boy,” I said. “How can I get a white girl to love me?”

“Let me do some research on that,” Gordy said.

A few days later, he gave me a brief report.

“Hey, Arnold,” he said. “I looked up ‘in love with a white girl’ on Google and found an article about that white girl named Cynthia who disappeared in Mexico last summer. You remember how her face was all over the papers and everybody said it was such a sad thing?”

“I kinda remember,” I said.

“Well, this article said that over two hundred Mexican girls have disappeared in the last three years in that same part of the country. And nobody says much about that. And that’s racist. The guy who wrote the article says people care more about beautiful white girls than they do about everybody else on the planet. White girls are privileged. They’re damsels in distress.”

“So what does that mean?” I asked.

“I think it means you’re just a racist asshole like everybody else.”

Wow.

In his own way, Gordy the bookworm was just as tough as Rowdy.

Dance, Dance, Dance

Traveling between Reardan and Wellpinit, between the little white town and the reservation, I always felt like a stranger.

I was half Indian in one place and half white in the other.

It was like being Indian was my job, but it was only a part-time job. And it didn’t pay well at all.

The only person who made me feel great all the time was Penelope.

Well, I shouldn’t say that.

I mean, my mother and father were working hard for me, too. They were constantly scraping together enough money to pay for gas, to get me lunch money, to buy me a new pair of jeans and a few new shirts.

My parents gave me just enough money so that I could pretend to have more money than I did.

I lied about how poor I was.

Everybody in Reardan assumed we Spokanes made lots of money because we had a casino. But that casino, mismanaged and too far away from major highways, was a money-losing business. In order to make money from the casino, you had to work at the casino.

And white people everywhere have always believed that the government just gives money to Indians.

And since the kids and parents at Reardan thought I had a lot of money, I did nothing to change their minds. I figured it wouldn’t do me any good if they knew I was dirt poor.

What would they think of me if they knew I sometimes had to hitchhike to school?

Yeah, so I pretended to have a little money. I pretended to be middle class. I pretended I belonged.

Nobody knew the truth.

Of course, you can’t lie forever. Lies have short shelf lives. Lies go bad. Lies rot and stink up the joint.

In December, I took Penelope to the Winter Formal. The thing is, I only had five dollars, not nearly enough to pay for anything—not for photos, not for food, not for gas, not for a hot dog and soda pop. If it had been any other dance, a regular dance, I would have stayed home with an imaginary illness. But I couldn’t skip Winter Formal. And if I didn’t take Penelope then she would have certainly gone with somebody else.

Art by Ellen Forney

Because I didn’t have money for gas, and because I couldn’t have driven the car if I wanted to, and because I didn’t want to double date, I told Penelope I’d meet her at the gym for the dance. She wasn’t too happy about that.

But the worst thing is that I had to wear one of Dad’s old suits:

Art by Ellen Forney

I was worried that people would make fun of me, right? And they probably would have if Penelope hadn’t immediately squealed with delight when she first saw me walk into the gym.

“Oh, my, God!” she yelled for everybody to hear. “That suit is so beautiful. It’s so retroactive. It’s so retroactive that it’s radioactive!”

And every dude in the joint immediately wished he’d worn his father’s lame polyester suit.

And I imagined that every girl was immediately breathless and horny at the sight of my bell-bottom slacks.

So, drunk with my sudden power, I pulled off some lame disco dance moves that sent the place into hysterics.

Even Roger, the huge dude I’d punched in the face, was suddenly my buddy.

Penelope and I were so happy to be alive, and so happy to be alive TOGETHER, even if we were only a semi-hot item, and we danced every single dance. Nineteen dances; nineteen songs.

Twelve fast songs; seven slow ones.

Eleven country hits; five rock songs; three hip-hop tunes.

It was the best night of my life.

Of course, I was a sweaty mess inside that hot polyester suit.

But it didn’t matter. Penelope thought I was beautiful and so I felt beautiful.

And then the dance was over.

The lights flicked on.

And Penelope suddenly realized we’d forgotten to get our picture taken by the professional dude.

“Oh, my God!” she yelled. “We forgot to get our picture taken! That sucks!”

She was sad for a moment, but then she realized that she’d had so much fun that a photograph of the evening was completely beside the point. A photograph would be just a lame souvenir.

I was completely relieved that we’d forgotten. I wouldn’t have been able to pay for the photographs. I knew that. And I’d rehearsed a speech about losing my wallet.

I’d made it through the evening without revealing my poverty.

I figured I’d walk Penelope out to the parking lot, where her dad was waiting in his car. I’d give her a sweet little kiss on the cheek (because her dad would have shot me if I’d given her the tongue while he watched). And then I’d wave good-bye as they drove away. And then I’d wait in the parking lot until everybody was gone. And then I’d start the walk home in the dark. It was a Saturday, so I knew some reservation family would be returning home from Spokane. And I knew they’d see me and pick me up.

That was the plan.

But things changed. As things always change.

Roger and a few of the other dudes, the popular guys, decided they were going to drive into Spokane and have pancakes at some twenty-four-hour diner. It was suddenly the coolest idea in the world.

It was all seniors and juniors, upperclassmen, who were going together.

But Penelope was so popular, especially for a freshman, and I was popular by association, even as a freshman, too, that Roger invited us to come along.

Penelope was ecstatic about the idea.

I was sick to my stomach.

I had five bucks in my pocket. What could I buy with that? Maybe one plate
of pancakes. Maybe.

I was doomed.

Art by Ellen Forney

“What do you say, Arnie?” Roger asked. “You want to come carbo-load with us?”

“What do you want to do, Penelope?” I asked.

“Oh, I want to go, I want to go,” she said. “Let me go ask Daddy.”

Oh, man, I saw my only escape. I could only hope that Earl wouldn’t let her go. Only Earl could save me now.

I was counting on Earl! That’s how bad my life was at that particular moment!

Penelope skipped over toward her father’s car.

“Hey, Penultimate,” Roger said. “I’ll go with you. I’ll tell Earl you guys are riding with me. And I’ll drive you guys home.”

Roger’s nickname for Penelope was Penultimate. It was maybe the biggest word he knew. I hated that he had a nickname for her. And as they walked together toward Earl, I realized that Roger and Penelope looked good together. They looked natural. They looked like they should be a couple.

And after they all found out I was a poor-ass Indian, I knew they would be a couple.

Come on, Earl! Come on, Earl! Break your daughter’s heart!

But Earl loved Roger. Every dad loved Roger. He was the best football player they’d ever seen. Of course, they loved him. It would have been un-American not to love the best football player.

I imagined that Earl said his daughter could go only if Roger got his hands into her panties instead of me.

I was angry and jealous and absolutely terrified.

“I can go! I can go!” Penelope said, ran back to me, and hugged me hard.

An hour later, about twenty of us were sitting in a Denny’s in Spokane.

Everybody ordered pancakes.

I ordered pancakes for Penelope and me. I ordered orange juice and coffee and a side order of toast and hot chocolate and French fries, too, even though I knew I wouldn’t be able to pay for any of it.

I figured it was my last meal before my execution, and I was going to have a feast. Halfway through our meal, I went to the bathroom.

I thought maybe I was going to throw up, so I kneeled at the toilet. But I only retched a bit.

Roger came into the bathroom and heard me.

“Hey, Arnie,” he said. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I’m just tired.”

“All right, man,” he said. “I’m happy you guys came tonight. You and Penultimate are a great couple, man.”

“You think so?”

“Yeah, have you done her yet?”

“I don’t really want to talk about that stuff.”

“Yeah, you’re right, dude. It’s none of my business. Hey, man, are you going to try out for basketball?”

I knew that practice started in a week. I’d planned on playing. But I didn’t know if the Coach liked Indians or not.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Are you any good?”

“I’m okay.”

“You think you’re good enough to play varsity?” Roger asked.

“No way,” I said. “I’m junior varsity all the way.”

“All right,” Roger said. “It will be good to have you out there. We need some new blood.”

“Thanks, man,” I said.

I couldn’t believe he was so nice. He was, well, he was POLITE! How many great football players are polite? And kind? And generous like that?

It was amazing.

“Hey, listen,” I said. “The reason I was getting sick in there is—”

I thought about telling him the whole truth, but I just couldn’t.

“I bet you’re just sick with love,” Roger said.

“No, well, yeah, maybe,” I said. “But the thing is, my stomach is all messed up because I, er, forgot my wallet. I left my money at home, man.”

“Dude!” Roger said. “Man, don’t sweat it. You should have said something earlier. I got you covered.”
He opened his wallet and handed me forty bucks.

Holy, holy.

What kind of kid can just hand over forty bucks like that?

“I’ll pay you back, man,” I said.

“Whenever, man, just have a good time, all right?”

He slapped me on the back again. He was always slapping me on the back.

We walked back to the table together, finished our food, and Roger drove me back to the school. I told them my dad was going to pick me up outside the gym.

“Dude,” Roger said. “It’s three in the morning.”

“It’s okay,” I said. “My dad works the swing shift. He’s coming here straight from work.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, everything is cool.”

“I’ll bring Penultimate home safely, man.”

“Cool.”

So Penelope and I got out of the car so we could have a private good-bye. She had laser eyes.

“Roger told me he lent you some money,” she said.

“Yeah,” I said. “I forgot my wallet.”

Her laser eyes grew hotter.

“Arnold?”

“Yeah?”

“Can I ask you something big?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“Are you poor?”

I couldn’t lie to her anymore.

“Yes,” I said. “I’m poor.”

I figured she was going to march out of my life right then. But she didn’t. Instead she kissed me. On the cheek. I guess poor guys don’t get kissed on the lips. I was going to yell at her for being shallow. But then I realized that she was being my friend. Being a really good friend, in fact. She was concerned about me. I’d been thinking about her breasts and she’d been thinking about my whole life. I was the shallow one.

“Roger was the one who guessed you were poor,” she said.

“Oh, great, now he’s going to tell everybody.”

“He’s not going to tell anybody. Roger likes you. He’s a great guy. He’s like my big brother. He can be your friend, too.”

That sounded pretty good to me. I needed friends more than I needed my lust-filled dreams.

“Is your Dad really coming to pick you up?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said.
“Are you telling the truth?”

“No,” I said.

“How will you get home?” she asked.

“Most nights, I walk home. I hitchhike. Somebody usually picks me up. I’ve only had to walk the whole way a few times.”

She started to cry.

FOR ME!

Who knew that tears of sympathy could be so sexy?

“Oh, my God, Arnold, you can’t do that,” she said. “I won’t let you do that. You’ll freeze.
Roger will drive you home. He’ll be happy to drive you home.”

I tried to stop her, but Penelope ran over to Roger’s car and told him the truth.

And Roger, being of kind heart and generous pocket, and a little bit racist, drove me
home that night.

And he drove me home plenty of other nights, too.

If you let people into your life a little bit, they can be pretty damn amazing.

Don’t Trust Your Computer

Today at school, I was really missing Rowdy, so I walked over to the computer lab, took a digital photo of my smiling face, and e-mailed it to him.

A few minutes later, he e-mailed me a digital photo of his bare ass. I don’t know when he snapped that pic.

It made me laugh.

And it made me depressed, too.

Rowdy could be so crazy-funny-disgusting. The Reardan kids were so worried about grades and sports and THEIR FUTURES that they sometimes acted like repressed middle-aged business dudes with cell phones stuck in their small intestines.

Rowdy was the opposite of repressed. He was exactly the kind of kid who would e-mail his bare ass (and bare everything else) to the world.

“Hey,” Gordy said. “Is that somebody’s posterior?”

Posterior! Did he just say “posterior”?

“Gordy, my man,” I said. “That is most definitely NOT a posterior. That is a stinky ass. You can smell the thing, even though the computer.”

“Whose butt is that?” he asked.

“Ah, it’s my best friend, Rowdy. Well, he used to be my best friend. He hates me now.”

“How come he hates you?” he asked.

“Because I left the rez,” I said.

“But you still live there, don’t you? You’re just going to school here.”

“I know, I know, but some Indians think you have to act white to make your life better. Some Indians think you become white if you try to make your life better, if you become successful.”

“If that were true, then wouldn’t all white people be successful?”

Man, Gordy was smart. I wished I could take him to the rez and let him educate Rowdy. Of course, Rowdy would probably punch Gordy until he was brain-dead. Or maybe Rowdy, Gordy, and I could become a superhero trio, fighting for truth, justice, and the Native American way. Well, okay, Gordy was white, but anybody can start to act like an Indian if he hangs around us long enough.

“The people at home,” I said. “A lot of them call me an apple.”

“Do they think you’re a fruit or something?” he asked.

“No, no,” I said. “They call me an apple because they think I’m red on the outside and white on the inside.”

“Ah, so they think you’re a traitor.”

“Yep.”

“Well, life is a constant struggle between being an individual and being a member of the community.”

Can you believe there is a kid who talks like that? Like he’s already a college professor impressed with the sound of his own voice?

“Gordy,” I said. “I don’t understand what you’re trying to say to me.”

“Well, in the early days of humans, the community was our only protection against predators, and against starvation. We survived because we trusted one another.”

“So?”

“So, back in the day, weird people threatened the strength of the tribe. If you weren’t good for making food, shelter, or babies, then you were tossed out on your own.”

“But we’re not primitive like that anymore.”

“Oh, yes, we are. Weird people still get banished.” “You mean weird people like me,” I said.

“And me,” Gordy said.

“All right, then,” I said. “So we have a tribe of two.”

I had the sudden urge to hug Gordy, and he had the sudden urge to prevent me from hugging him.

“Don’t get sentimental,” he said.

Yep, even the weird boys are afraid of their emotions.

My Sister Sends Me a Letter

Dear Junior, I am still looking for a job. They keep telling me I don’t have enough experience. But how can I get enough experience if they don’t give me a chance to get experience? Oh, well. I have a lot of free time, so I have started to write my life story. Really! Isn’t that crazy? I think I’m going to call it HOW TO RUN AWAY FROM YOUR HOUSE AND FIND YOUR HOME.

What do you think?

Tell everybody I love them and miss them!

Love,
your Big Sis!

P.S.
And we moved into a new house. It’s the most gorgeous place in the
world!

Art by Ellen Forney

Reindeer Games

I almost didn’t try out for the Reardan basketball team. I just figured I wasn’t going to be good enough to make even the C squad. And I didn’t want to get cut from the team. I didn’t think I could live through that humiliation.

But my dad changed my mind.

“Do you know about the first time I met your mother?” he asked.

“You’re both from the rez,” I said. “So it was on the rez. Big duh.”

“But I only moved to this rez when I was five years old.” “So.”

“So your mother is eight years older than me.”

“And there’s a partridge in the pear tree. Get to the point, Dad.”

“Your mother was thirteen and I was five when we first met. And guess how we first met?”

“How?”

“She helped me get a drink from a water fountain.”

“Well, that just seems sort of gross,” I said.

“I was tiny,” Dad said. “And she boosted me up so I could I get a drink. And imagine, all these years later and we’re married and have two kids.”

“What does this have to do with basketball?”

“You have to dream big to get big.”

“That’s pretty dang optimistic for you, Dad.”

“Well, you know, your mother helped me get a drink from the water fountain last night, if you know what I mean.”

And all I could say to my father was, “Ewwwww-wwwww.”

That’s one more thing people don’t know about Indians: we love to talk dirty.

Anyway, I signed up for basketball.

On the first day of practice, I stepped onto the court and felt short, skinny, and slow.

All of the white boys were good. Some were great.

I mean, there were some guys who were 6 foot 6 and 6 foot 7.

Roger the Giant was strong and fast and could dunk.

I tried to stay out of way. I figured I’d die if he ran me over. But he just smiled all the time, played hard, and slapped me hard on the back.

We all shot basketballs for a while. And then Coach stepped onto the court.

Art by Ellen Forney

Forty kids IMMEDIATELY stopped bouncing and shooting and talking. We were silent, SNAP, just like that.

“I want to thank you all for coming out today,” Coach said. “There are forty of you. But we only have room for twelve on the varsity and twelve on the junior varsity.”

I knew I wouldn’t make those teams. I was C squad material, for sure.

“In other years, we’ve also had a twelve-man C squad,” Coach said. “But we don’t have the budget for it this year. That means I’m going to have to cut sixteen players today.”

Twenty boys puffed up their chests. They knew they were good enough to make either the varsity or the junior varsity

The other twenty shook their heads. We knew we were cuttable.

“I really hate to do this,” Coach said. “If it were up to me, I’d keep everybody. But it’s not up to me. So we’re just going to have to do our best here, okay? You play with dignity and respect, and I’ll treat you with dignity and respect, no matter what happens, okay?”

We all agreed to that.

“Okay, let’s get started,” Coach said.

The first drill was a marathon. Well, not exactly a marathon. We had to run one hundred laps around the gym. So forty of us ran.

And thirty-six of us finished.

After fifty laps, one guy quit, and since quitting is contagious, three other boys caught the disease and walked off the court, too.

Art by Ellen Forney

I didn’t understand. Why would you try out for a basketball team if you didn’t want to run?

I didn’t mind. After all, that meant only twelve more guys mil to be cut. I only had to be better than twelve other guys.

Well, we were good and tired after that run.

And then Coach immediately had us playing full-court one-on-one.

That’s right.

FULL-COURT ONE-ON-ONE.

That was torture.

Coach didn’t break it down by position. So quick guards had to guard power forwards, and vice versa. Seniors had to guard freshmen, and vice versa. All-stars had to guard losers like me, and vice versa.

Coach threw me the ball and said, “Go.”

So I turned and dribbled straight down the court.

A mistake.

Roger easily poked the ball away and raced down toward his basket.

Ashamed, I was frozen.

“What are you waiting for?” Coach asked me. “Play some D.”

Awake, I ran after Roger, but he dunked it before I was even close.

“Go again,” Coach said.

This time, Roger tried to dribble down the court. And I splayed defense. I crouched down low, spread my arms and legs high and wide, and gritted my teeth.

And then Roger ran me over. Just sent me sprawling.

He raced down and dunked it again while I lay still on the floor.

Coach walked over and looked down at me.

“What’s your name, kid?” he asked.

“Arnold,” I said.

“You’re from the reservation?”

“Yes.”

“Did you play basketball up there?”

“Yes. For the eighth-grade team.”
Coach studied my face.
“I remember you,” he said. “You were a good shooter.”
“Yeah,” I said.
Coach studied my face some more, as if he were searching for something.

“Roger is a big kid,” he said.

“He’s huge,” I said.

“You want to take him on again? Or do you need a break?”

Ninety percent of me wanted to take the break. But I knew if I took that break I would never make the team.

“I’ll take him on again,” I said.

Coach smiled.

“All right, Roger,” he said. “Line up again.”

I stood up again. Coach threw me the ball. And Roger came for me. He screamed and laughed like a crazy man. He was having a great time. And he was trying to intimidate me.
He did intimidate me.

I dribbled with my right hand toward Roger, knowing that he was going to try to steal the ball.

If he stayed in front of me and reached for the ball with his left hand, then there was no way I could get past him. He was too big and strong, too immovable. But he reached for the ball with his right hand, and that put him a little off balance, so I spun-dribbled around him, did a 360, and raced down the court.
He was right behind me. I thought I could outrun him, but he caught up to me and just blasted me. Just me skidding across the floor again. The ball went bouncing into the stands.

I should have stayed down.

But I didn’t.

Instead, I jumped up, ran into the stands, grabbed the loose ball, and raced toward Roger standing beneath the basket.

I didn’t even dribble.

I just ran like a fullback.

Roger crouched, ready to tackle me like he was a middle linebacker.

He screamed; I screamed.

And then I stopped short, about fifteen feet from the hoop, and made a pretty little jump shot.

Everybody in the gym yelled and clapped and stomped their feet.

Roger was mad at first, but then he smiled, grabbed the ball, and dribbled toward his hoop.

He spun left, right, but I stayed with him.

He bumped me, pushed me, and elbowed me, but I stayed with him. He went up for a layup and I fouled him. But I’d learned there are NO FOULS CALLED IN FULL-COURT ONE- ON-ONE, so I grabbed the loose ball and raced for my end again.

But Coach blew the whistle.

“All right, all right, Arnold, Roger,” Coach said. “That’s good, that’s good. Next two, next two.”

I took my place at the back of the line and Roger stood next to me.

“Good job,” he said and offered his fist.

I bumped his fist with mine. I was a warrior!

Art by Ellen Forney

And that’s when I knew I was going to make the team.

Heck, I ended up on the varsity. As a freshman. Coach said I was the best shooter who’d ever played for him. And I was going to be his secret weapon. I was going to be his Weapon of Mass Destruction.

Coach sure loved those military metaphors.

Two weeks later, we traveled up the road for our first game of the season. And our first game was against Wellpinit High School.

Yep.

It was like something out of Shakespeare.

The morning of the game, I’d woken up in my rez house, so my dad could drive me the twenty-two miles to Reardan, so I could get on the team bus for the ride back to the reservation.

Crazy.

Do I have to tell you that I was absolutely sick with fear?

I vomited four times that day.

When our bus pulled into the high school parking lot, we were greeted by some rabid elementary school kids. Some of I those little dudes and dudettes were my cousins.

They pelted our bus with snowballs. And some of those snowballs were filled with rocks.

As we got off the bus and walked toward the gym, I could hear the crowd going crazy inside.

They were chanting something.

I couldn’t make it out.
And then I could.

The rez basketball fans were chanting, “Ar-nold sucks! Ar-lold sucks! Ar-nold sucks!”

They weren’t calling me by my rez name, Junior. Nope, they were calling me by my Reardan name. I stopped.

Coach looked back at me.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“No,” I said.

“You don’t have to play this one,” he said.

“Yes, I do,” I said.

Still, I probably would have turned around if I hadn’t seen my mom and dad and grandma waiting at the front door.

I know they’d been pitched just as much crap as I was. And there they were, ready to catch more crap for me. Ready to walk through the crap with me.

Two tribal cops were also there.

I guess they were for security. For whose security, I don’t know. But they walked with our team, too.

So we walked through the front and into the loud gym.

Which immediately went silent.

Absolutely quiet.

My fellow tribal members saw me and they all stopped cheering, talking, and moving.

I think they stopped breathing.

And, then, as one, they all turned their backs on me.

It was a fricking awesome display of contempt.

I was impressed. So were my teammates.

Especially Roger.

He just looked at me and whistled.

I was mad.

If these dang Indians had been this organized when I went to school here, maybe I would have had more reasons to stay.

That thought made me laugh.

So I laughed.

And my laughter was the only sound in the gym.

And then I noticed that the only Indian who hadn’t turned his back on me was Rowdy. He was standing on the other end of the court. He passed a basketball around his back, around his back, around his back, like a clock. And he glared at me.

He wanted to play.

He didn’t want to turn his back on me.

He wanted to kill me, face-to-face.

That made me laugh some more.

And then Coach started laughing with me.

And so did my teammates.

And we kept laughing as we walked into the locker room to get ready for the game.

Once inside the locker room, I almost passed out. I slumped against a locker. I felt dizzy and weak. And then I cried and felt ashamed of my tears.

But Coach knew exactly what to say.

“It’s okay,” Coach said to me, but he was talking to the whole team. “If you care about something enough, it’s going to make you cry. But you have to use it. Use your tears. Use your pain. Use your fear. Get mad, Arnold, get mad.”

And so I got mad.

And I was still mad and crying when we ran out for warm-ups. And I was still mad when the game started. I was on the bench. I didn’t think I was going to play much. I was only a freshman.

But halfway through the first quarter, with the score tied at 10, Coach sent me in.

And as I ran onto the court, somebody in the crowd threw a quarter at me. AND HIT ME IN THE FRICKING FOREHEAD!

They drew blood.

I was bleeding. So I couldn’t play.

Bleeding and angry, I glared at the crowd.

They taunted me as I walked into the locker room.

I bled alone, until Eugene, my dad’s best friend, walked in. He had just become an EMT for the tribal clinic.

“Let me look at that,” he said, and poked at my wound.

“You still got your motorcycle?” I asked.

“Nah, I wrecked that thing,” he said, and dabbed antiseptic on my cut. “How does this feel?”

“It hurts.”

“Ah, it’s nothing,” he said. “Maybe three stitches. I’ll drive you to Spokane to get it fixed up.”

“Do you hate me, too?” I asked Eugene.

“No, man, you’re cool,” he said.

“Good,” I said.

“It’s too bad you didn’t get to play,” Eugene said. “Your dad says you’re getting pretty good.”

“Not as good as you,” I said.

Eugene was a legend. People say he could have played in college, but people also say Eugene couldn’t read.

You can’t read, you can’t ball.

“You’ll get them next time,” Eugene said.

“You stitch me up,” I said.

“What?”

“You stitch me up. I want to play tonight.”

“I can’t do that, man. It’s your face. I might leave a scar or something.”

“Then I’ll look tougher,” I said. “Come on, man.”

So Eugene did it. He gave me three stitches in my forehead and it hurt like crazy, but I was ready to play the second half.

We were down by five points.

Rowdy had been an absolute terror, scoring twenty points, grabbing ten rebounds, and stealing the ball seven times. “That kid is good,” Coach said.

“He’s my best friend,” I said. “Well, he used to be my best friend.”

“What is he now?”

“I don’t know.”

We scored the first five points of the third quarter, and then Coach sent me into the game.

I immediately stole a pass and drove for a layup.

Rowdy was right behind me.

I jumped into the air, heard the curses of two hundred Spokanes, and then saw only a bright light as Rowdy smashed his elbow into my head and knocked me unconscious.

Okay, I don’t remember anything else from that night. So everything I tell you now is secondhand information.

After Rowdy knocked me out, both of our teams got into a series of shoving matches and push-fights.

The tribal cops had to pull twenty or thirty adult Spokanes off the court before any of them assaulted a teenage white kid.

Rowdy was given a technical foul.

So we shot two free throws for that.

I didn’t shoot them, of course, because I was already in Eugene’s ambulance, with my mother and father, on the way to Spokane.

After we shot the technical free throws, the two referees huddled. They were two white dudes from Spokane who were absolutely terrified of the wild Indians in the crowd and were willing to do ANYTHING to make them happy. So they called technical fouls on four of our players for leaving the bench and on Coach for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Yep, five technicals. Ten free throws.

After Rowdy hit the first six free throws, Coach cursed and screamed, and was thrown out of the game.

Wellpinit ended up winning by thirty points.

I ended up with a minor concussion.

Yep, three stitches and a bruised brain.

My mother was just beside herself. She thought I’d been murdered.

“I’m okay,” I said. “Just a little dizzy.”

“But your hydrocephalus,” she said. “Your brain is already damaged enough.”

“Gee, thanks, Mom,” I said.

Of course, I was worried that I’d further damaged my already damaged brain; the doctors said I was fine.

Mostly fine.

Later that night, Coach talked his way past the nurses and into my room. My mother and father and grandma were asleep in their chairs, but I was awake.

“Hey, kid,” Coach said, keeping his voice low so he wouldn’t wake my family.

“Hey, Coach,” I said.

“Sorry about that game,” he said.

“It’s not your fault.”

“I shouldn’t have played you. I should have canceled the whole game. It’s my fault.”

“I wanted to play. I wanted to win.”

“It’s just a game,” he said. “It’s not worth all this.”

But he was lying. He was just saying what he thought he was supposed to say. Of course, it was not just a game. Every game is important. Every game is serious.

“Coach,” I said. “I would walk out of this hospital and walk all the way back to Wellpinit to play them right now if I could.”

Coach smiled.

“Vince Lombardi used to say something I like,” he said.

“It’s not whether you win or lose,” I said. “It’s how you play the game.”

“No, but I like that one,” Coach said. “But Lombardi didn’t mean it. Of course, it’s better to win.”

We laughed.

“No, I like this other one more,” Coach said. “The quality of a man’s life is in direct proportion to his commitment to excellence, regardless of his chosen field of endeavor.”

“That’s a good one.”

“It’s perfect for you. I’ve never met anybody as committed as you.”

“Thanks, Coach.”

“You’re welcome. Okay, kid, you take care of your head. I’m going to get out of here, so you can sleep.”

“Oh, I’m not supposed to sleep. They want to keep me awake to monitor my head. Make sure I don’t have some hidden damage or something.”

“Oh, okay,” Coach said. “Well, how about I stay and keep you company, then?”

“Wow, that would be great.”

So Coach and I sat awake all night.

We told each other many stories.

But I never repeat those stories.

That night belongs to just me and my coach.

DMU Timestamp: February 21, 2023 13:31