were born of parents who loved one another so much they wanted something
flesh and bone to represent their bond. For six years, your mother
and father did their lust-magic, trying to bring you into the world.
Sometimes, your mother's cycles skipped, and they held onto hope
and each other's hands until she bled again. Her blood was dense
and clotted with grief and loss.
they visited your father's relatives on the reservation ("Rez"
to those who'd lived there long enough to think of dogs as not only
companions, but possible dining options), your father's dark mother
and sisters scanned your mother's golden face for evidence of you.
Clicking their tongues and shaking their heads, the women whispered
in the Old Tongue that your mother was too white to properly produce
their kind of babies, babies with cop car-jumping legs, prison records,
love medicine, animal affinity, and defenselessness against the
bottle. Your mother understood by the judgment in their tones what
they meant and pretended not to understand. She gave your father's
female kin gifts of china dolls, apple-scented shampoo (they preferred
rainwater), seashell necklaces, and bricks of cheese.
waited for your arrival, but you took your time, little star. Nothing
worth having was ever had easily. Calendar pages turned days into
years, causing your mother to whisper of fertility doctors, something
unheard of during those times. Your father had other plans. He would
will you into being. When that didn't work, he took a Bowie knife
to his forearms and gave his blood to the earth each night in offering.
More blood, this blood his. He did not beg, but his desperation
was clear: give me a son and I'll give you my life. Both
of your parents were bleeding and weeping. They pressed their torsos
together feverishly and licked the tears from one another's eyes.
Your mother's pelvis almost snapped like a wishbone. The skin across
her hips stretched thin with bruises. She relished the hurt, thinking
it might bring you with it.
your father had a dream about you. "We'll go to the doctor
in a month if you aren't pregnant by then," he said, so quiet
she had to touch his lips to hear him. He'd given up on love medicine
and had relegated himself to Western doctors with their stethoscopes
and cold, medicinal-smelling hands. "A boy," your father
chanted and prayed. That was the error of his way. You were never
meant to be a boy. Your mother sheared a shimmering lock of her
painted pony-colored hair and made a secret wish. It was the first
secret she ever kept from your father. She wished for a girl.
was the right wish.
later, the news came. Your mother was pregnant. Your father flashed
his wolf-smile -- long teeth and lifted lip -- and thought he could
will anything he wanted into happening. Your mother curved her hand
around her belly, felt you kick like a young horse, and hoped you
would be healthy. You were happy in your mother's sea.
were a girl, waiting to be.
it was time for your entrance, you fought to stay inside the womb.
In the womb, everything was red, dim, and wet, like heaven underground.
Outside the womb, there was no sinking beauty. Everything was sharp,
noisy, and easy to overturn. The world was too large and heavy with
gravity. You slipped free of your mother's body like a tiny fish.
The doctor proclaimed you the only healthy baby in the maternity
ward, and your mother was glad. When your father heard you were
a girl, he was disappointed. Still, he hobbled to the hospital to
see you -- with both feet broken from an earlier rugby game. He
didn't know quite what to do with you. He cupped you in his long,
tree branch hands and insisted on carrying you to the car -- plaster
cast toes, crutches, his cumbersome gait, and all.
parents gave you many names that dangled like turquoise and bone
charms from the threads of your life. You had legal names that attached
you to the Bureau of Indian Affairs and a social security number,
names that would identify you with birth and death certificates
and school records. Your full-blooded grandmother would refuse to
ever use them, just as she would deny English, despite her near-perfect
command of it. You were given a soul-name that would change as you
grew older, a name that would create a chrysalis and emerge on luminous
gypsy moth wings when you became a teenager. "Pale Toes,"
a namer susurrated, shaking a hawk feather fan over your pink, raw
face. You were too young to realize the hidden insult in naming
a Blackfoot girl Pale Toes; you wore this name like a strand of
beaver teeth around your throat. You were Dutch, Swiss, Cherokee,
and Norwegian in little slices, but you would always be Blackfoot
you, your mother saw evidence of how all races should relate to
one another: with perfect love and trust. If all races mixed, she
reasoned, the world would be filled with all races made one like
a great root. She never knew the controversy you would cause; you
would be oblivious to it until you were much older. Your father's
relatives said you were too light to be dark; your mother's family
said you were too dark to be light. All you wanted was just to be.
should have been born a boy," your father informed you when
you were six. You spent many more years trying to be that boy as
you leaped, caught frogs, raced dune buggies, and went fishing for
bluegill and rainbow trout. He was your greatest enemy and most-loved.
Your father could do everything, from making stray dogs his friends
to leading troops of men in battle. He could also control the ocean,
you learned when you were seven.
were scared of manta rays, and your parents took you to Florida
to see the ocean and forget about life for a while. You bundled
into a tiny boat to watch the sea-flowers move beneath the waves,
and the animals swim in whitecaps. Your father's shoulders were
broad as he leaned over the side of the boat. He rolled his faded
chambray shirt around his forearms. His skin was so brown, contrasting
with your mother's skin, as he fed her curls of fried shrimp from
a paper cone. He was the bravest, strongest man you'd ever known
when he kneeled in shallow water and summoned rays from the depths
by feeding them bait he pressed between two fingers and let float
just above his hand. The gentle giants treated your father like
he was Neptune. Their slender bodies flowed through the water around
your father on that day of melted strawberry ice cream on the docks
and sliced cheese sandwiches on the sand. You were never afraid
of the rays again because of your father.
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