FRESH YARN presents:

Becoming You
By Jewel Blackfeather

You 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.

When 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.

Everyone 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.

Then, 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.

It was the right wish.

A month 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.

You were a girl, waiting to be.

When 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.

Your 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 the most.

In 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.

"You 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.

You 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.

You 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.

Once 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.

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.

Using 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.

Your 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.

Then, 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.

You 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 of yours.

You 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.

Your 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.

This 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.

Your 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.

"What was it like, becoming you?" he questioned this night.

You 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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