Excerpted: “Indian Education” by Sherman Alexie
I leaned through the basement window of the HUD house and kissed the white girl who would later be raped by her foster-parent father, who was also white. They both lived on the reservation, though, and when the headlines and stories filled the papers later, not one word was made of their color.
Just Indians being Indians, someone must have said somewhere and
they were wrong.
But on the day I leaned out through the basement window of the HUD house and kissed the white girl, I felt the good-byes I was saying to my entire tribe. I held my lips tight against her lips, a dry, clumsy, and ultimately stupid kiss.
But I was saying good-bye to my tribe, to all the Indian girls and women I might have loved, to all the Indian men who might have called me cousin, even brother,
I kissed that white girl and when I opened my eyes, I was gone from the reservation, living in a farm town where a beautiful white girl asked my name.
“Junior Polatkin,” I said, and she laughed.
After that, no one spoke to me for another five hundred years.
At the farm town junior high, in the boys’ bathroom, I could hear voices from
the girls’ bathroom, nervous whispers of anorexia and bulimia. I could hear the
white girls’ forced vomiting, a sound so familiar and natural to me after years
of listening to my father’s
“Give me your lunch if you’re just going to throw it up,” I said to one of those girls once.
I sat back and watched them grow skinny from self pity.
Back on the reservation, my mother stood in line to get us commodities. We carried them home, happy to have food, and opened the canned beef that even the dogs wouldn’t eat.
But we ate it day after day and grew skinny from self pity.
There is more than one way to starve.
At the farm town high school dance, after a basketball game in an overheated gym where I had scored twenty-seven points and pulled down thirteen rebounds, I passed out during a slow song.
As my white friends revived me and prepared to take me to the emergency room where doctors would later diagnose my diabetes, the Chicano teacher ran up to us.
“Hey,” he said. “What’s that boy been drinking? I know all about these Indian kids. They start drinking real young.”
Sharing dark skin doesn’t necessarily make two men brothers.
I passed the written test easily and nearly flunked the driving, but still received my Washington State driver’s license on the same day that Wally Jim killed himself by driving his car into a pine tree.
No traces of alcohol in his blood, good job, wife and two kids.
“Why’d he do it?” asked a white Washington State trooper.
All the Indians shrugged their shoulders, looked down at the ground.
“Don’t know,” we all said, but when we look in the mirror, see the history of our tribe in our eyes, taste failure in the tap water, and shake with old tears, we understand completely.
Believe me, everything looks like a noose if you stare at it long enough.