|Jan/Feb 2017 Fiction|
© 2016 Elizabeth P. Glixman
Why must a port-wine stain typically be found in the middle of one's face? In my case, it was just below my eye, covering most of my right cheek. I'm sure when adults saw me as a child, they would whisper, "How unfortunate," or, "He would be so cute if not for that." Indeed, that's exactly what I thought every time I looked in the mirror.
The discoloration of a small patch of skin was not my only perceived problem as I entered ninth grade at Shidler High School in 1986. The various red hues of my port-wine stain were also symbolic of the identity crisis I felt as a half-breed Indian in a town of 400 in the middle of the northern Oklahoma plains. In this part of the state, one might encounter people from tribes such as Otoe, Ponca, Osage, or Pawnee. My father's tribe, the Kaw, were located just 11 miles away across Kaw Lake, in Kaw City. My mother, a white woman, was in and out of my life like an Oklahoma wind blowing across the prairie. Sometimes, the wind was heavy and generated a tornado, and sometimes it was just a light breeze—but I always felt its presence.
I recall when I first entered sixth grade—my mother and father were still together then—and my mother applied some cheap cover-up makeup to my face. She gently covered my stain, and I stood there and stared into her bright blue eyes, thanking her in my mind for caring so much.
"This will make you feel better about yourself," she said.
"What if the other kids notice?" I replied.
She smiled. "Just tell them it's medicine. They don't know what's wrong with your face. Just tell them you can't have that part of your face in the sun, and be sure to say it with confidence."
I looked in the mirror with uneasiness, as she stood behind me admiring her work. I didn't want to tell her I looked like a clown. At that moment, she thought I was handsome, and I really enjoyed feeling her warm hands on my shoulders. So I smiled and thanked her.
That was three years ago, but it seems like a lot longer. Just a year later she would come into my room and tell me she was leaving for a while, but that she would be back soon. She mentioned words like "life essence" and "journey" and "healing," but none of it really mattered. I knew she would be leaving for good and that I would stay with my father. By that point, I had gotten used to the dismal silence encompassing our two-bedroom Indian house built by the government in the '50s. Our house looked just like all the others in my neighborhood, and by the time it was empty of my mother, and when my father began to occupy the living room recliner on a nightly basis with a bottle of whiskey... well, then the household resembled all the others, too.
As ninth grade began, I had upgraded my cosmetic arsenal and had a solid understanding of the different shades and hues of bases, primers, concealers, and foundations. I had certain shades for different seasons and even various types of makeup for rainy days. I liked the rainy days because my stain would sometimes fade to a point where one could barely see it. I became adept at positioning myself in relation to the lighting. In fact, I always made sure to choose a desk or chair at the very far right side of the room, so everybody would always see my good side. My father never questioned me about the Avon packages that arrived at our house addressed to me.
I had gotten used to life with my father. He was a full-blood Kaw Indian, but he didn't participate in pow wows or any other tribal activities. He kept to himself and had a couple of friends he hung out with. He mostly worked—full-time at a factory and part-time for the Kaw Nation police. He was a very quiet man who, despite his drunken state nearly every night, was peaceful and comforting to me. He knew I was a good kid. I made straight "A's" and never got in trouble. The only time I would ever see my father slightly angry was when my mother would stride back into town and want to visit with me. She was always with a different man and sometimes a group of people. She would take me to get a cheeseburger and then tell me she loved me. Sometimes she would reach across the table and smooth out parts of my makeup with her finger. She would always follow that action with, "You're so cute, Richard." That was about it.
After an hour, she would take me back to my austere home and drive away into the sunset. My father, Dwight, would give me a one or two sentence summary of my mother, Moira, that usually went something like, "Your mom lives in a dream world of unreality. Or else she won't admit reality."
The first I heard of the beach was in fifth hour in Ms. Herron's freshman English class. Brady Avery told me about it. Brady was a year older than me and had a car. He had flunked ninth grade and was back for another try. Just a few days after school started, he had gotten suspended for two weeks. On the Friday he came back from suspension, I quizzed him about his suspended life as if he had just come back from prison.
I tapped him on the shoulder and said, "What did you do while you were gone?"
"Not much," he replied.
Brady was twice my size, and I couldn't help but notice how his fake black leather jacket was at least two sizes too small for him. I was sure he had gotten it at the Goodwill.
"Yeah, I figured. There's nothing to do in this town. I guess if I got suspended, I would probably just sit around and watch TV."
Brady turned completely around and looked directly at me. I wondered if he was staring at my face. I had an immediate urge to run to the mirror and check my makeup. I was sure he knew I was wearing it. I breathed in heavily, waiting for him to say something mean to me for which I knew I would have no reply.
"I actually spent my entire two weeks at the beach," he said with a grin.
"Really? You left Oklahoma? Or did you just go over to Kaw Lake?"
"You really want to know? You want to know about the beach?"
"I guess," I said. I tried to look interested for fear he might want to beat my ass, but whatever he was saying was not really that interesting to me. Ms. Herron had just passed out novels to the class and stared us back into silence from her desk. We were starting a unit on Lord of the Flies on Monday, so I was thumbing through it, wondering if I should go ahead and read the entire novel over the weekend.
Brady looked at his copy of the novel and tossed it under his desk.
"You're probably going to read that this weekend, huh, smart guy?" he whispered.
"No way, man. I'm not a nerd," I replied indignantly.
Brady wasn't buying it.
"Whatever, dude. You're the smartest kid in school and you're only in ninth grade. That's cool, though." Brady reached into his pocket and showed me the cigarettes he had hidden. My only thoughts were that he was a bad-ass and I definitely wanted to be on his good side.
"Tell you what, Richard. Maybe you could help me out on the tests a little bit this year. What do you think?"
"Yeah, yeah," I said nervously. "Of course."
For the next 30 minutes, Brady sat at his desk dutifully sketching while I skimmed through the novel. William Golding, 12 chapters, 12 days of reading, quizzes, essays, and journal prompts—what a boring bunch of crap. We were supposed to be working on a grammar assignment, but I became thoroughly engrossed with the novel. I began chapter two with five minutes left in class. When I came to page 27, I could not believe what I read. I read it again—"and one side of his face was blotted out by a mulberry-colored birthmark." When I read that passage, I immediately felt like I wanted to throw up.
No, no, no, please no, I thought to myself.
Until this point, during my entire adolescence, I had never had to acknowledge my port-wine stain in public. It had never been pointed out by anybody, and I had never had to talk about it. It was always there, and I had learned to live with it. But this—this book—could not be happening to me. Ms. Herron had told us we would read the book aloud in class each day—a chapter a day. I knew when we got to that dreaded page 27, the entire class would immediately think of me. Maybe somebody would say something like, "His birthmark is like Richard's." Or worse yet—what if I was the one who inevitably read that passage? What would I do? Could I read it? Would that boy with the birthmark be such an integral character in the novel that he was mentioned over and over? I was consumed with tension and distress.
The bell rang, and everybody began to leave as I sat in my chair wondering how I could get out of reading this novel.
"Richard," said Brady as he stood over me holding his backpack on one shoulder.
I looked up at him and he held out his copy of the novel.
"Take this. I won't need it. I'll just look off of your paper for the quizzes. Right?"
I took Brady's novel and replied sheepishly, "Sure, man. No problem."
I spent the entire weekend in my room agonizing over reading the novel. I could not figure out any way to get out of it. I was desperate for any type of reprieve. I took solace in my music. When my mother had left, my father had bought himself a new stereo and he gave me his old one. My Pioneer stereo system with a 24-band equalizer, dual cassette deck, and Technique turntable was my prize possession. Of course nobody ever saw it but me since I had no friends and nobody ever came over. Regardless, I would sit up in my bed and listen to all of my favorite alternative bands: Depeche Mode, New Order, and The Cure. As I read my latest issue of Rolling Stone, dreaming of being in a band like The Cure, I thought to myself, Robert Smith wears makeup, too, but then again, he's not trying to cover anything up. In the living room I could hear my father's response to my music as I could discern 38 Special, Tom Petty, and Loverboy blaring through the walls. It was an interesting existence. Despite having no life, no money, and no prospects, my father and I still had our music.
By Monday morning, I still had no plan for escaping the unit on Lord of the Flies, but as I walked into the building, a buzz was moving through the halls that would soon form the basis of my reprieve.
Brady Avery had been killed in a car crash over the weekend. Barely 16, he had been drinking with friends, and in the late hours of Saturday night, he had veered into the oncoming lane and collided with a semi-truck. Our small, rural school of 70 students was jilted to the core. We didn't even go to first hour. We were herded to the gym for an impromptu assembly. Some people were crying and some were in shock, but I was already formulating my plan.
My school wasn't very adept at handling a crisis. The principal spoke for a few minutes about the tragic end of Brady's life. Some local pastors said prayers, and our counselor spoke to us about the need for us to come together as a student body. The rest of the morning was incredibly boring. Most teachers just showed movies or let the kids sit in class and talk about Brady. Many rumors were going around about how drunk Brady was, and he was slowly becoming a legend, even if most of it wasn't true.
By the time I walked into fifth hour, my stride was quick and my posture upright and confident. I sat down behind Brady's empty chair and listened to Ms. Herron tell us how we would begin the novel tomorrow and that we should all take the time today to write an essay about how we felt about Brady. When she finished her speech and my classmates began working on the essay, I walked up to her desk and asked if I could speak with her in the hall.
I was surprised at how brilliant my plan was and how easily it worked. I told Ms. Herron that Brady and I were very close friends. I said I couldn't bear to sit behind his empty desk and be reminded of him. Ms. Herron hugged me and told me she would move his desk and that I would now be in the front row.
"Is there anything else I can do to help you get through this, Richard?" she asked quietly.
I acted as if I was about to cry and then feigned pulling myself together.
"Yes, ma'am. Would it be too much trouble for me to take a break from class while you read Lord of the Flies? Maybe I could pick another novel and work on it in the library. I am already in the library during sixth hour for Mr. McDowell's history class. I'm doing an independent study on the Vietnam War for the next two weeks, and maybe you wouldn't mind if I just worked in the library during fifth hour so I can work through my feelings about Brady."
I looked up to see if I had sold the lie.
Ms. Herron smiled and patted me on the shoulder.
"Of course, Richard. You can pick out a book from my bookshelf and read it in the library while we are working on Lord of the Flies. You are such a good student, and I know that you need time to mourn Brady. I had no idea that you two were such good friends."
"Yes, ma'am. We were very good friends."
As I strolled back into the classroom, I felt a jubilant feeling of release that made me want to scream out loud, but I held it back in order to continue my façade of deep mourning. If I had learned one thing from my mother, it was how to say one thing but feel something inside that was radically different. Or put more simply—she had taught me how to lie. I walked over to Ms. Herron's bookshelf to find a book. It needed to be a good one if I was going to sit in the library reading it for two weeks. I didn't recognize any of the books. Most of them looked like science fiction titles, which was quite odd because Ms. Herron didn't seem like the type to read that genre. I pulled a couple out and looked at their covers hoping to find inspiration. I felt Ms. Herron's hand on my shoulder.
"These are my late husband's books. He loved science fiction. Do you like science fiction, Richard?"
"Oh, yes ma'am. Definitely." Another lie.
I had found the cover that was most enticing. I had no idea what it was about, but I didn't care. At least I wasn't going to have to read Lord of the Flies.
"I didn't know your husband was dead, ma'am," I said, trying to maintain the emotional moment we were having.
"Yes, he died a couple of years ago."
"I'm sorry. My mom died a couple of years ago, too."
I had no idea why I had just said that. But I rolled with it.
"Oh, Richard. I had no idea. I am so sorry."
She gave me a big hug, and I showed her the book I had chosen.
"On the Beach. That's a great book. It's about how human beings react to a tragedy. It might be a little bit above your grade level, but I think you can handle it."
What she didn't know is that I had chosen the book because it had the word "beach" in the title, and that reminded me of the beach Brady had mentioned. So it had a cool cover and was a tribute to Brady. Whatever.
As my fellow classmates grieved or pretended to grieve, I sat at my desk contemplating my existence in the library for the last two hours of the day during the next two weeks. As I opened my backpack to put away On the Beach, I noticed that I had two copies of Lord of the Flies—one mine and the other Brady's. Since I no longer needed either of them, I pulled each of them out so I could give them back to Ms. Herron. I noticed a slip of paper in Brady's copy and pulled it out. It was the sketch he had been working on Friday. Maybe it was the last thing that he had ever drawn. I gazed at it with intense curiosity. It was a map. The map showed our high school and a path heading toward what I figured was Salt Creek, just a mile and a half away. On one small section of the creek was an arrow pointing to what was labeled "The Beach."
On Tuesday, instead of going to fifth hour, I went straight to the library. The librarian knew me as a good kid who never bothered anybody. She had never even asked to see my hall pass. I was the only student in Mr. McDowell's sixth hour who had signed up for the independent research project and now I was also in here for fifth hour. Since lunch was after fourth hour, I now had three hours a day—my entire afternoon—to myself, and I was only a freshman. This was glorious. Thank you, Mr. McDowell and Ms. Herron, I thought to myself. I almost thanked Brady, but I let that morbid thought pass.
Jennifer Campbell was the library aide for the entire afternoon. She was a senior, and her mother and my mother had once been friends, so she was always nice to me.
"Hey Richard. Are you in the library fifth hour now, too?" she said as she hovered over me at one of the tables.
"Yeah, I'm doing another independent study."
"Interesting. I guess you really are a smart kid," she said.
I shrugged my shoulders. I wondered if she noticed my makeup. Any time I interacted with a girl, that was inevitably my only thought.
"I have a proposition for you. How would you like the rest of the afternoon off for however long you are in the library?"
"What do you mean?"
"Listen. My car is in the shop, and it's going to be for a while. I used to drive home at lunch every day and let my dog out, but now I can't do that without a car. I know you ride your bike. So if you can ride your bike to my house every day at lunch, I'll cover for you if anybody asks where you are. Nobody will ever ask anyway, because you're basically invisible. What do you think?"
I did the calculations in my head. My fourth hour algebra class ended at 11:55. All I had to do was ride my bike over to Jennifer's house and let out her dog, and then I had the rest of the afternoon off. I could just go straight home and watch TV or listen to music. At some point, I would have to do some work on my two projects, but I wasn't worried.
"Sure, I'll do it," I replied.
My life was now set. I had free afternoons from school for two weeks. This was a big plus for me since I no longer had to sneak into the bathroom after lunch to re-apply my makeup. I could just smear it off with my hand as I rode my bike from Jennifer's house and then to my freedom.
It only took me ten minutes to ride to her house and five minutes to let her dog do his business. As I was about to ride home, I thought of Brady's map. I realized I was not far from the path that led to the beach, and I was curious as to whether or not it existed. I had been to the muddy beaches of Kaw Lake many times with my father, but I had never ventured over to Salt Creek. I pulled out the map from my backpack and easily found the entrance to the path where the "No trespassing" sign was posted. I rode down the path until I got to the edge of the creek. The creek was nothing special—it was just a creek. I was scared the owner of the ranch I was trespassing on might catch me and my freedom ride would collapse before it even started. Brady had noted a broken fence crossing the creek, and when I found it, I knew I was close.
The September Oklahoma heat was blistering, and I was already sweating. I was worried about my makeup running down my face and tried to gently pad my cheek to fix it. I crossed the creek at a low point where all I had to do was hop across the rocks, and then I picked up the rest of the path that moved parallel down the other side. The brush was thick, and I worried about chiggers, mosquitos, and snakes. I walked about 50 yards and came to a stop when I heard the voices, but they had heard me before I heard them.
"Who goes there?" a deep voice called out.
I was nervous, and my heart was pounding.
"Come on out. We aren't going to bite," said a female voice.
I breathed in heavily and exhaled. I parted the low hanging branches in front of me and came out into a clearing along the creek. It was not a beach in most respects, but there was a large deposit of sand along the bank of the creek. The creek was clear and running quickly in this spot, and the trees surrounding the clearing provided a perfect dome of shade. I felt a breeze on my face and a rush of adrenaline as I realized I had indeed reached my destination.
Before me on the beach were four people. I recognized all four of them. Anne was a year older than me and was supposed to have been home-schooled for the past two years. She was a Ponca.
Jack was an Osage kid who worked on his father's ranch. I had never seen him go to school and assumed he was home-schooled, too. His father had lost the ranch recently, and I thought the family had moved away in shame, but there he stood before me.
Roger was Kaw. He was a mean kid who had been expelled from school for fighting the year before. I was immediately scared of him and worried what he might do to me for stumbling upon their beach.
And finally, there was scrawny Carl. His dad sometimes fished with my dad. He was a year younger than me. He was half Kaw and half Otoe, and I had no idea why he wasn't in school.
"Richard!" exclaimed Carl. "What are you doing here?"
Anne smiled, but Jack and Roger frowned at me.
"I followed a map." It was all I could think of to say.
"A map," said Jack. "Who gave it to you? Brady?"
I paused as the entire group stared at me.
"Uh, yeah. He did."
There was a long silence.
"I'm just devastated about him," said Anne.
The distance in her voice made it sound as if she had been living in this place in the woods and hadn't ventured back into Shidler for a while. I had never thought of Shidler as civilization—the outside world.
Within five minutes I was sitting around a circle of rocks that looked perfect for a campfire, but that nobody would dare light in this heat. Everybody was talking to me as if I was an outsider, and I gradually found out the story behind the beach.
Brady had been friends with Roger, Jack, and Carl. They all ran around together stealing, vandalizing, and generally causing trouble. Anne had been Brady's girlfriend the previous year, but then they broke up and now Jack was seeing Anne. Jack's family had moved to Ponca City and left Jack behind to stay at Brady's house. Jack was supposed to be in school, but he didn't go. Roger had told Jack and Brady about this spot because his father had a small patch of marijuana plants growing just a few hundred yards away. None of the kids knew exactly who owned the land, but when Roger's dad went to prison, he took the opportunity to show his friends where the weed was. They had spent most of the summer out here smoking weed, skinny dipping in the creek, and getting drunk. As the fall semester had started, only Brady was responsible enough to attempt school, and that hadn't worked out well.
Now I was here, an outsider and somebody who was still in school. Jack and Roger made it crystal clear to me that I was to tell no one about the beach. I wasn't to mention anybody's name to any adults.
"No grownups!" said Roger in his inarticulate manner.
By the end of the afternoon, I had taken two hits from a pipe and had drank a warm 24-ounce can of malt liquor. I had also fallen in love with Anne.
Anne was the quintessential 1980s alternative girl. She had a bleach-blonde pixie haircut and wore all black. She was gothic before gothic even existed. She reminded me of all the women in Rolling Stone magazine that I lusted after—Natalie Merchant, Debbie Harry, Sheena Easton. I was smitten.
When I got home that evening, I felt alive and exhilarated. My lies had begun to pile up, and I found them coming easily now. I had told the group at the beach I had gotten suspended for two weeks for getting in a fight. I worried they would find out it wasn't true if they talked to their friends, but then I remembered that Jennifer had called me invisible and I realized they probably didn't even care. My father had to work that night, and I did something I had never thought to do before—I stole liquor from his cabinet. He had so many partially filled bottles of whiskey, I knew he wouldn't notice.
And so it began. Each day after I had checked on Jennifer's dog, I rode my bike to the beach and got drunk and high. My father was an alcoholic, and I had once overheard my grandmother talking to one of my uncles about my mother being in and out of rehab. So I was now embracing my genetic destiny.
We didn't do much at the beach. Roger was mostly an intimidating jerk who bogarted the pipe with impunity. Jack always acted as if he was the leader of this raggedy group of delinquents sitting on the edge of a creek doing nothing productive. Within an hour of my arrival each day, everybody was high and there wasn't much talking. It seemed the only time anybody would talk was when they held the pipe—as if the pipe itself provided not only the marijuana, but the inspiration for saying something profound—which nobody ever did.
Every once in a while, Jack and Anne would make out, but I sensed she had mixed emotions about him. Carl just sat there on a log reminiscing about how he used to go fishing with his brothers before they both had been murdered over a bad debt a few months earlier.
By the end of the week, I was knee deep in the debauchery. Anne had brought a portable radio, and we began to dance in the afternoons while we drank and smoked. I felt like I was part of a tribe. It was a tenuous relationship, because Jack and Roger made me uneasy, but I was always happy as long as I got to look at Anne. I had pretty much forgotten about my makeup and the little boy with the port-wine stain in that stupid novel. I wondered whatever happened to him in that story that I never intended to read. Hopefully he got lost and nobody ever talked about him again.
On Monday of my second week of freedom, our behavior at the beach was becoming more decadent. Carl, in his attempt to impress everybody, brought some fireworks. Roger vomited after downing the rest of the 100-proof grain alcohol I had brought. Anne snuck off into the bushes to have sex with Jack, which, in my intoxicated state, made me incredibly jealous. Afterword, Anne managed to institute some form of decorum when she chastised Roger for peeing into the unlit fire pit.
"Go into the trees. We may be Indian kids, but we aren't savages!"
On Tuesday, I didn't even go to school. I didn't bother to tell my dad I was sick. I called in for myself and did my best impression of "Richard's father" and then immediately headed to the beach. It was only when I arrived that I remembered that I would have to leave at noon to check on Jennifer's dog. Nobody was there when I arrived except for Anne.
"Where are the guys?" I said as I sat down next to her on the edge of the creek.
"Who knows. Probably stealing something." She was smoking a cigarette and paused to exhale. As she stared off into the distance, I was mesmerized by her. "I think Carl is gone," she added.
"Gone? Like gone from Shidler?" I asked.
"Yeah, he just took off last night to go live with his cousin in Blackwell. He said childhood protective services was looking for him, so he left."
We sat in silence for a few minutes. Then Anne turned toward me.
"Why are you out here, Richard? Why aren't you in school?"
"I ditched today. Screw it."
Anne's gaze intensified and she grasped my arm.
"Don't do that. You are too smart to be out here with us. You have a future. We are just a bunch of stoners."
I couldn't believe Anne felt any type of emotion toward me. I was grateful she cared, but then I started to think about the makeup on my cheek. I wondered if she was looking at my face. I wondered if she knew.
"Anne, can I ask you a question?" I said.
"Do you love Jack?"
She smiled and held my arm even tighter.
"No. He's nice to me sometimes, but I don't love him."
I was overcome with curiosity and wanted to know more.
"Do you have sex with him a lot?"
She laughed. "Not a lot, but yeah, we have sex sometimes." She had to know I was thinking about yesterday.
"Did you have sex with Brady?"
She let go of my arm. "Why are you asking me this?"
I was embarrassed and looked down.
She took another drag of the cigarette.
"It's okay, Richard. I lost my virginity to Brady. He was a good guy, but he drank way too much—a lot more than Jack."
I said nothing and continued to look down at the swirling waters of the creek.
"Are you still a virgin?" she said.
"Yeah," I said meekly.
"Have you ever kissed a girl?" she asked.
"Of course I have," I exclaimed and glared at her.
She smiled and then laughed.
"Richard, you are such a liar. You haven't kissed a girl. I can tell."
I wanted to rebuke her, but I went with the most immediate thought in my head.
"Can I kiss you?" I said.
She looked around as if to see if anybody was watching. Then she took my chin and moved my face toward hers and kissed me. I wanted to open my mouth, but I was scared to do it. After a few seconds, she stopped. "You can open your mouth. It's okay."
I then proceeded to make out with Anne for what seemed like an eternity. I was thoroughly engrossed in her passion and forgot about my port-wine stain, my report on the Vietnam War, and my shitty, desolate life. From that day forward, I was always aroused when I kissed a woman with cigarette breath.
The piercing crack of an explosion was the first thing I heard, followed by another explosion of expletives coming from Jack's mouth. Roger had been watching from across the creek and held one of Carl's fireworks—a Roman candle. As soon as Jack arrived and saw Anne and I embraced in a kiss, Roger lit the Roman candle and shot it right at us. It exploded next to the creek bank just a few feet away. I saw Jack running across the creek straight at me, and I knew he was going to kill me. As the second and third volleys from Roger hit the beach, I noticed the sparks catch a piece of brush on fire. All of the vegetation along the beach was dry as a bone and bushes began to light up in quick succession, and by Roger's tenth and final shot, the fire was quickly spreading into the trees. As Jack reached me, Anne got between us and told him it was her fault. Jack threw her down and punched me right in the jaw. I crumpled in a heap.
"Get up, half breed. I'm gonna kick your ass," he yelled.
Just then Roger appeared behind him, and his presence reinforced the fact that I was about to receive the beating of my life. Anne once again accosted Jack, and in the distraction I got up and burst into the trees. Roger had his eye on me but just stood there as the entire forest began to light up in flames. I hid behind a large tree, but they knew exactly where I was. I waited for their next move as all three of them stood on the beach arguing. Then I saw Roger pull out a knife and start to head toward me. Jack pushed Anne away and followed Roger. Then I ran.
I ran deeper into the thicket and was rebuffed by the smoke. I backtracked and almost ran right into them. Jack and Roger were cursing me as the flames were bursting and the torrid heat of the fire was intensifying around me. We played cat and mouse for ten frantic minutes until I found an opening to a path and quickly darted onto it. I could barely see through the smoke, and just when I thought I was safe, Roger tackled me from behind and we tumbled to the ground. I felt a quick pinch in my abdomen during the brief struggle. As I kicked dirt into his face and escaped his grasp, I ran back the way I had come. I knew Jack was close, so I stood still in a thicket of the only trees that weren't on fire yet. It was then that I noticed the small circle of blood seeping through my shirt.
Unbeknownst to me, the sensational events that had already transpired at the beach that morning also coincided with the collapse of my avalanche of lies at home and at school—and my mother was the catalyst.
Moira had taken it upon herself to surprise me at school that day by taking me out to lunch. When she arrived at school, she was told I was at home sick. Upon calling my father, my first major lie was discovered. When my mother and father entered my empty room, my mother snooped around looking for clues as to my whereabouts. In my nightstand she found the journal in which I had been writing about my secret life on the beach, and of course, I had used the map as a bookmark in the journal. As my mother read my exploits aloud to my father for the next five minutes, he was acutely aware of how poorly this reflected upon him.
My mother's phone call set off another chain of events at the school. Mr. McDowell and Ms. Herron were quizzed by the principal, which inevitably led to Jennifer Campbell and her cover-up of my truancy, that was now as transparent as the cover-up I wore on my face. Jennifer had now become collateral damage, because the principal and a social worker drove Jennifer to her home where it was exposed that she had been living alone for many weeks because her mother had gone to jail for meth and her father had been absent for weeks. Jennifer's car wasn't in the shop—she had sold it to pay the bills. So as I ran through the spectacular fire enveloping the many acres of empty ranch land on Salt Creek, Jennifer was sitting in the backseat of a Department of Human Services vehicle with a scrawny kid named Carl, who had already been picked up that morning.
Finally, my lungs could no longer handle the thick, black smoke, and I bounded back onto the trail. I ran past my bike, knowing I didn't have time to get on it as Jack and Roger were already in hot pursuit. The smoke billowed out of the trees, and as I ran, I wondered where Anne was and if she was okay. I could see the road and knew if I could make it to the hot asphalt, I would be safe, but I tripped and fell. As I wiped the dirt from my eyes, I waited for the impending attack. Then I looked up and saw a man in a uniform. It was my father, and he stood there in shock with the county sheriff, the chief of the tribal police, and my mother. I heard sirens blaring and saw two firemen run past me into the woods. I looked back and saw Jack and Roger standing ten feet behind me in silence.
The sheriff spoke. "I would think a pack of Indian boys would behave better than this."
My mother ran to me and embraced me tightly as I sat up in the dirt. I finally felt safe in her arms, and despite my cascade of lies collapsing into an inferno like the forest behind me, I was now being held again by a woman for the second time that morning. I strained to keep my eyes open as my abdomen continued to bleed into my shirt now black from soot.
My father said nothing as he looked at me with disgust. I thought about Anne, and I thought about Brady. Then the tears began to flow, and the sobs shook me. Shuddering spasms of grief wrenched my whole body. As the black smoke rose from the trees behind me, I could see my father was embarrassed by my filthy body and most likely the makeup running down my face—which my mother was already gently smearing back into place. As I contemplated my impending loss of consciousness, my thoughts drifted to the little kid in the book with the port-wine stain and again to the look of disappointment on my father's face. Then he turned away to give me time to pull myself together as his eyes rested on the police cruiser in the distance.