Stella Lee '23
I close my eyes but don’t open them. I know that I’m not in my father’s body because the stinge of alcohol doesn’t bother my nose and I can’t feel his braids hanging heavily on my back. Instead, there is an emptiness that my seemingly short hair can’t fill– a gaping hole on my back and in my heart. I know I should open them, my eyes I mean, but I can’t bring myself to do anything right now. Instead, I focus on the enticing smell of polished marble, the cool, stale breeze of air conditioning. All around are voices of young and old and poor and wealthy. You can tell a lot by the way someone speaks, each is their own rhythm of life all intertwining with each other.
They aren’t a whole though, they could never be. Though there is soprano and bass, they will never be in harmony and dissonance rings off the walls where I stand.
I finally open my eyes, the eyes of my father, Jimmy, Gus–each pair of eyelids winces at the glare but is determined to stay open. The voices now have faces, they are different too. Some eyes blink restlessly, some move slowly, akin to those on a sunbathing lizard. These people hear different too and walk; the walk is the most intriguing of all. Where do you think you are rushing to? Will you ever slow down? I want to ask them so many questions, but, of course, they would have time for none of them. I used to be one of those, I think, feet as quick to jump into flight as Hermes’s. Though, magical shoes would have certainly helped me much more than the sketchers from my former foster family.
The last thing I notice is the skin. I can’t help but notice the colors first: a sea of different shades. Then, I notice the deformities: wrinkles, moles, and zits. Zits–I throw my hands to my face and feel the familiar, rocky terrain of red mountains. I take a deep breath– home sweet home, I guess. A part of me still feels detached, like I can die and I’ll respawn. I’ll bet I’d make a great video game character; the hero with the superpower to shoot out puss. Special edition me can do the ghost dance, but I don’t suppose God would have given me limited edition powers after I messed up the trial run.
I feel the guns in my pocket now, a terrible reminder of reality. I wonder if I put them down if I would float up like a balloon. No strings attached. Instead, I look towards the door and take a deep breath.. Outside, people bustle too and fro their jobs and errands in the pouring rain and I feel lost without a sense of importance and ambition. I let myself blend in to the rat race and the unison marching dress shoes on soaked cement as we make our way down 34th street. No one ousts me from our rankings, but the rain storm intensifies and my comrades peal away one by one.
I leave 34th, and my foot traffic army has dwindled down until it is just me again– a drenched teenager who still has no place to be. I try to disguise my walk, but I need to get out of the rain regardless. The guns go into a trash can, it doesn’t matter that only one delivers death. The first building, one with a green awning, pops into view and I take my chances.
Time seems to freeze as I rush in, drenched and frazzled. There is an overwhelming silence; it pushes against me, as if it could shove me back into the freezing rain. I take in the serenity that surrounds me, but I know that it could never envelop me. I’ll never find that peace for myself.
I slowly walk in and am greeted by a cheerful library intendant. I stare at her in wonder as she introduces herself. “Excuse me, sir? Did you hear what I said?”
I jolt back to the conversation I have no recollection of having with this woman; she blends in with the atmosphere of the library. Her words are nothing more than white noise against the soothing, beige background. “Yes,” I say even though I didn’t.
“Then can I help you?”
“I’m not sure,” I say. Could anyone really help me?
“Well, what are you looking for?” Her eyes probe mine, as if she cared. No one asked me that question before– not the fancy therapist in New York City, not the thousands of social workers who really believed they could fix me. What am I looking for? I don’t even know if I could answer that.
“I’m… not sure,” I respond. My face reddens, and, with the mountain range of zits, I must look like a tomato by now. Though I rationalize that no one could possibly care enough to look, it feels like the entire universe is watching this interaction. Everything everwhere–the books, the students–are asking me the same questions: What do you want? What are you looking for?
She looks back at me, with kindness in her eyes. “Well, I could give you some recommendations. We do have one of the largest collections in Seattle.” To her, I must just look like an unsure kid. She is in blissful ignorance that she doesn’t know I am a murderer, a betrayer. Afterall, who would ever offer help to whatever I am?
I find myself shuffling behind her. She leads me through softly carpeted hallways with towering bookshelves on either side. “So, what would you like to read about?”
I blurt out, “Native Americans. But, the real ones you know? Yeah. I want an Indian, a real Indian.”
“Really!” She exclaims it emphatically, as if happy to finally fish a semi-normal response from my reluctant self. Her pace quickens and she leads me through the labyrinth of books with a renewed confidence. She hands me a shiny, new book with a glossy cover. She all but shoves it into my unsure hands. “Let me know when you would like to check out,” she says with finality that shuts down any questions forming in my throat. I’m left alone in the silence and look down at the book clenched tightly in my hand–1491: the calligraphy and yellow-hue emanating wisdom. I make my way over to the quaint sofa near the window. In the gentle drizzle of the rain, I open the novel up. Instantly, a feeling of peace washes over me. It is good to know that my love of reading remains here. I have nothing left to me but my questions, and the books might not have answers. They do, however, have ideas untainted by overeducated therapists, welfare hungry foster men, or the internet.
Me, a part indian kid, sits in the Seattle library reading a book about indians before Tonto was just CGI on the History Channel. Real indians. I’m talking about sacrifice-your-brother’s-heart-warrior ones. Ones that figured out sanitation while England was still dumping buckets of poop on unsuspecting pedestrians below. Man, they had powers–real ones, not Zit-man. I know I’m not either. I might only be part-time indian. The world outside might still be dark and unforgiving. But, this book and the people in it are real. I touch them in words and they touch me in spirit. Maybe I can’t ghost dance, maybe my dad is still another statistic–the stereotype of a drunk indian, yet in here I still feel like I can fly.
The librarian comes back, and drops off the application for a library card. I hesitate before writing my name on the first line: a real indian name. Michael. Just, Michael.