I am a white woman (except for the tiny bit of Native blood from a grandmother generations ago), and I am a product of my unearned privilege that constantly collides with my bad decision making skills, but I passionately teach and read American Indian literature and scholarship as often as possible. I also enjoy writing from that perspective even though I am not a "real" native. I grew up in Oklahoma, near Anadarko, with admiration and love for the tribal people and their intense and beautiful contribution to the world, so I hope my little short story doesn't insult anyone or cause anyone to think I'm trying to take anything away. I only want to add something, a bit of what it's like to live on the fringes of such a lively and complex network of tribes and people as a neighbor and sometime participant of their complicated world. The short story below is fiction.
Something about Jax
Taking long walks is an American Indian tradition. Our home, a typical bungalow, stood on A Street in Anadarko, Oklahoma, and from that place we plotted new adventures miles from town, sometimes just to buy a big can of beer and a pack of cigarettes. It was the summer of my eighteenth year, and we drank and fished on the banks of the Washita River. As boredom settled in, and the fish refused to bite, we decided to try our luck further downstream but no path existed along the heavily wooded bank. We entered the middle of the current around the edge of an abandoned car with only moonlight as a guide; the blood red waters of the Washita swirled up into our clothes weighing us down as we lurched ahead into the gloom.
We carried our beer in a heavy cooler and our fishing rods and bait in the other hand. Laughing, we stumbled into holes in the river's bottom and sometimes the water would swirl up around our necks. Not exactly in tune with the native rules pertaining to the natural world, townspeople would dump tires, old cars, appliances, and trash of every description into the murky waters of the Washita; the snakes would slip by silently rippling the surface, and I looked away; I had no shoes.
A Day of Prayer
Sitting on the steps of my grandmother's house near the small town of Apache, I laced the moccasins she gave me. The leather felt soft, with fringe tied with beads of yellow, crimson, and orange. The morning felt cool, and the clouds were few, with birds singing and flying all around Jax and me. Jax loved to walk, and he wagged his short little white tail in anticipation. I thought of the donation box carved from sacred wood mounted on a red rock in front of the little Church of the Wichitas; the walk would take several hours.
My feet hit the dry, red, Oklahoma earth, and the wispy puffs of dust swirled around my ankles and straight into my little dog's eyes as he trailed behind me. He decided to trot ahead, and as I watched him, I thought of all of the pain he helped me process. At midmorning, we rested along the banks of a small stream, and we drank from a clean pool inside a sandbar created from the artful current. Jax splayed into the mud playfully, spread eagle, and panted from the afternoon heat. I studied his face for his doggy smile, but he only looked stressed instead. I looked away.
The sky forsake its brilliant blue and replaced it with a white hot dome of indifference. Jax fell behind and waited for me to carry him. So many walkers had traveled the path to the sacred mountain circle their footsteps were worn into the red rock hillside; up we went into the hot afternoon with the crows mocking us from the placid sky. I felt my grandmother's strong hand guiding me into the shady path under the blackjack trees, and I felt loved. Jax seemed to fall further behind, but when I turned around to look at him, he would greet me with a brave wag of his little tail.
Finally, we passed by the donation box, and Jax stopped in its meager shade and stretched out. I could feel my great grandmother urging me along, so I went into the vestibule and prayed for the well-being and safety for all of those who traveled within our world. I understood my place in a strange mingling of ancient native tradition and white colonialism; a feeling of sadness overwhelmed me. My own physiology, the blood in my veins, is an echo to the confusion of this sacred place.
After my prayers and time of solitude, I went back to the wooden donation box where the tourists put their little envelopes with checks, and I found Jax dead in its shadow. My heart broke for my simple-minded little dog that loved me so much. I had walked him to death in the hot Oklahoma sun. His loyalty to me never wavered; he was my friend, something I could never replace. I knelt beside him sobbing, and I waited for peace. An owl called out to me from the woods as evening approached. I pulled Jax against me and cuddled him under the stars. Together we listened to the night and waited for grandmother's wisdom to guide us into the future. I wish Jax was still on the path to the sacred circle. I wish he hadn't been called away. I felt alone.