I sat there on the cold concrete, stunned. Somewhere under the black expanse of sky stretched above, I could hear a dog barking. Some sad, flea-bitten Reservation dog no doubt lamenting it’s patch of dirt in this God-forsaken place. I hadn’t even understood what God-forsaken was till I got to the Rez. We had rolled up into my Grandfather’s driveway… all five of us stuffed into the cab of my dad’s ailing pickup. We were exhausted after a 700 mile trek to the corner of Montana, to the middle of nowhere. Nowhere, we found, would also be the place we had to seek solace once we got there. My Grandfather had snapped his curtain closed upon seeing his eldest son returning, with 4 children, no money, and no warning. Grandpa was busy with the second family he had started, no room left in his heart for the first of his first. Dad hadn’t wanted to eat humble pie anyway, and turned on his heel after his knock on the door went unanswered. We had stayed with one of Dad’s old buddies until the tribe could furnish us with our very own government house. Their kids didn’t know what to think of us, so they simply ignored us, solidifying in our minds that we were indeed transplants, misfits. Betrayed by our own speech inflection (or lack thereof), we knew. And they knew. I had to ask my dad why I had been called an apple. He choked a little and then told me in a few short words. “Red on the outside, white on the inside.” The house we got into was like most of the other government houses in Ft. Peck, complete with laminate flooring in every room. Noises were amplified as they invaded my thoughts. I hated the laminate, it was always cold, always looking and feeling unnatural. It was hard, and unforgiving.
Now, I sat there on my porch in the dry summer air, holding my smoldering ankle. My only friend on the whole Reservation had just stubbed her match out on the contoured line where my foot joined my leg. It hurt, that’s for sure, but I was stunned for an entirely different reason. Ismay had been a neighbor across the street, the only girl who had been friendly to me that summer. She came over every day, her arrival announced by a knock on the glass of my bedroom window. She wasn’t a pretty girl, but she wasn’t ugly either. Her black hair was long in the back and cropped on top. She sculpted the top into a 3 inch plateau and plastered into place with mousse every day. I had never seen anyone wear their hair like that, but it went along with her basketball shorts, black tennis shoes, and what seemed to be an unhealthy infatuation with Michael Jordan. She was rough. She cussed. She smoked. She drank. She knew how to fight. She could make her face hard, kill all the emotion. She was stoic. She was everything that I wanted to be, everything that I thought I needed to be. I was soft, easily hurt. I was reeling in the wake of my parent’s bitter divorce and sudden abandonment by my mother. I felt like a flower whose petals had been torn off to measure whether someone’s love was true. I was tired of being a “she loves me not” indicator and I wanted to be as savage as everyone off the rez had expected me to be. I wanted to show everyone that they had no idea who or what I was. The fact that I no longer had any idea of who or what I was stood directly in my way. I watched her every move, I knew I had a lot to learn before the school year started. My Uncle would cringe when he heard her knock on the window. Dad would allow such an improper summons to pull me from my room, afraid that his only daughter was actually being absorbed by the walls.
I hadn’t been ready when she leaned in close to me. I hadn’t known she was closing her eyes, inhaling, preparing to venture into a world where she hoped she would belong. I didn’t know that as I intended to use her, she intended to use me. She had wrapped her heart around me and fastened it up as a confirmation of who she was; a reservation teen lesbian with glass dreams desperately shattered, doomed to be scattered shards under the feet of everyone who knew her. She had fallen in love with me, her lean was an advance, she was trying to kiss me. And I was a stupid 15 year old girl trying to smoke a cigarette with a friend while some annoying dog heralded the night with sorrowful bales. When I realized what was happening, I jerked away. She just lit her cigarette, promptly mashed the burning match into my skin, and extinguished both of the flames she had been burning.
I sat still and fell backwards at the same time while I watched the glowing cherry of her cigarette fade into the darkness as she stalked away. I felt like I was watching my only chance of learning how to be Indian fade away as well.