used to watch your father and mother hold hands -- her fingers golden
and his dark -- and it was like watching the sun and the moon face
each other for the first time. It wasn't until someone shouted,
"Don't you know red and white don't mix?" that you sensed
that your parents loving each other might be wrong. Your mother's
smooth, soft cheeks went red. Her green eyes turned dark with pupil
and fear. Your father looked from you to the men yelling taunts.
A wild animal rose behind the taut muscles of his shoulders and
arms. You looked scared and cried out, "Don't leave me, Daddy!"
He stepped back to your side. He made his choice: you. You earned
a new name for your dancing eyes: Laughs-with-Her-Eyes. You laughed
every room you entered brighter.
you learned that being what you were could endanger you, you started
telling lies at school, saying your father was Greek. Everyone found
out the truth eventually; you had an unmistakably Native last name.
Friends' parents stopped inviting you over when they saw your father
pick you up from school. "That's your father?" they asked,
making you point him out as if fingering a suspect in a police lineup.
Another time, a friend's mother lost her diamond ring. She snarled
in the other room, "She did it. You know how those Indians
are, always drinking or stealing things." Your father pretended
it was a joke when you cried about it on his shoulder later that
night. "We're not from India, kiddo," he laughed, but
you could see how angry-hurt it made him. Later, your friend's mom
found the ring, but she never apologized for accusing you.
started walking like you were carrying herds of buffalo on your
back. Your father and mother no longer strolled around holding hands
and feeding each other with worship. They took turns hurting each
other and you. They hit you with their voices and their fists. Your
house was made of matchsticks that were waiting to ignite and turn
everything red. You broke like a young cherry tree. Five brothers
followed in your footsteps. Your father had all the sons he wanted
now, so you turned into the invisible girl.
sewing scissors, you cut your hair for the first time and dyed pink
streaks in case anyone had any doubt about your intentions of being
the daughter of chaos. Gone were the waist-length Palomino pony
braids of your childhood. Painting your strawberry lips and lining
your chokecherry eyes, you learned to sneak in and out of windows
in the middle of the night and how to break hearts faster than you
changed your underwear. You developed a smoking habit and cursed
in several languages -- none of them the language that gave you
many names at your birth. Your eyes did not laugh anymore.
parents forgot how much they'd wanted to have you. You forgot the
Blackfoot part of your heritage. People wondered why your eyes were
the blue side of black and how you could look tan even in the winter,
but you kept those secrets for yourself. Your grandmother's face
went gray and deep with worry. You no longer danced in deerskin
moccasins at powwows and were thankful that your Native self was
not as visible as your white self to strangers. You spent years
pretending to be a street-punk Ophelia and forgetting you were ever
born of your parents.
life decided to bite you a little to show you that you still could
bleed. You got a telephone call that your father was very sick.
When you called him, your hands looked so little and terrified against
the hard black telephone receiver. "I'm sick," he told
you, and you forgot all the years you'd spent apart and how you'd
tried to forget the truest part of yourself by forgetting your family.
You took the colored streaks out of your hair, wore the medicine
bag made from the baby snapping turtle shell, and took a plane straight
home. No one said much of anything to you when they saw you, but
you could tell your family was pleased to have you near. Your mother
drove you to the hospital herself, her hair in a disarray and mascara
pooling around her eyes -- the first time you ever recalled her
looking like this. "He has missed you," she told you,
showing you his room and promptly disappearing.
were so young and old, hopeful and brave as you stood next to your
father's hospital bed. At first, he would not speak to you, thinking
you were a morphine blue faery hallucination. Then, you pulled your
chair next to his bed and held a glass of water to his cracked lips.
He drank, thanking you and looking you right in the eye. You spoke
for hours, and it was as if you'd never become the hardened creature
that turned to violence when your world fell apart. He told you
your new name: Lynx-talker, and nodded that you were a woman now
and that he was glad you were still a bit of girl beneath the woman.
You could tell he was happy you hadn't been born a boy, this father
left, but you kept returning because returning to your mother and
father was like returning to yourself. It was all part of the process
of becoming you.
cute little dad, as the years passed, called to say, "I miss
you, daughter. I want you to come home soon." His voice was
an uncharted island in the ocean separating you. This voice used
to be thunder-sky, a voice he turned into a weapon, the way some
people train dogs to carry out their missions of hate. He used to
cut you with that voice. Freckles in the shapes of stars grew where
the wounds healed. Supernova skin on a lynx-tongued girl. Now, he
called to ask you home, and you smiled because you worked so hard
to stand shoulder-to-shoulder on your fields of war and wheat. You
battled together, instead of against one another. The world didn't
know what to do with your united strength and the similar habit
you had of baring your teeth when you were impassioned or frustrated.
Hard-shell teeth, purple-vein fury.
father of yours sent you presents of the things he found: a pressed
aspen leaf beneath a sheet of glass, blue sea glass, coin pearls,
bear claws strung on elk sinew, a Swiss army knife, Leatherman repair
tool, and a necklace of seashells as transparent and pink as sunlight
through a child's ears. "The lady who made the necklace lives
in Puerto Rico and she picks them up in her backyard and makes them
into jewelry," he offered. He wrote letters of flea markets,
a Civil War belt buckle with a bullet embedded in it, the sleeping
habits of his dogs, and the way the cattails leaned into the wind
to show that it was going to be a harsh summer. "The moon is
a large onion most nights. It's going to be hard," he predicted.
He swore the cornfields near his house were crawling with ghosts.
You believed him unquestioningly.
father, your former enemy, your cute little dad. You were the only
one who dared call this sturdy oak of a man cute or little; he was
over six feet tall and imposing at that. You fought tooth and tongue
with him. You earned the right with your cat's claw tears and face
of the Magdalene. When you talked, you did not think about the years
you spent wounding one another, or the heavy stones of his hands
on your face and spine, or how his dark eyes flashed with firestorms
when he was angry. You only thought that you were so grateful to
know him and that you'd come so far. "I'll always be your little
girl," you told him tonight. "You always were," he
said. That's all you ever wanted to be, and as he revealed this,
you thought, "I get to be your daughter for the rest of my
life," and you knew it was good.
was it like, becoming you?" he questioned this night.
thought about it long and hard and wrote this story to tell him
how it began, and how you came to be.
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