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Becoming You
By Jewel Blackfeather

You were born of parents who loved one another so much they wanted something flesh and bone to represent their bond. For six years, your mother and father did their lust-magic, trying to bring you into the world. Sometimes, your mother's cycles skipped, and they held onto hope and each other's hands until she bled again. Her blood was dense and clotted with grief and loss.

When they visited your father's relatives on the reservation ("Rez" to those who'd lived there long enough to think of dogs as not only companions, but possible dining options), your father's dark mother and sisters scanned your mother's golden face for evidence of you. Clicking their tongues and shaking their heads, the women whispered in the Old Tongue that your mother was too white to properly produce their kind of babies, babies with cop car-jumping legs, prison records, love medicine, animal affinity, and defenselessness against the bottle. Your mother understood by the judgment in their tones what they meant and pretended not to understand. She gave your father's female kin gifts of china dolls, apple-scented shampoo (they preferred rainwater), seashell necklaces, and bricks of cheese.

Everyone waited for your arrival, but you took your time, little star. Nothing worth having was ever had easily. Calendar pages turned days into years, causing your mother to whisper of fertility doctors, something unheard of during those times. Your father had other plans. He would will you into being. When that didn't work, he took a Bowie knife to his forearms and gave his blood to the earth each night in offering. More blood, this blood his. He did not beg, but his desperation was clear: give me a son and I'll give you my life. Both of your parents were bleeding and weeping. They pressed their torsos together feverishly and licked the tears from one another's eyes. Your mother's pelvis almost snapped like a wishbone. The skin across her hips stretched thin with bruises. She relished the hurt, thinking it might bring you with it.

Then, your father had a dream about you. "We'll go to the doctor in a month if you aren't pregnant by then," he said, so quiet she had to touch his lips to hear him. He'd given up on love medicine and had relegated himself to Western doctors with their stethoscopes and cold, medicinal-smelling hands. "A boy," your father chanted and prayed. That was the error of his way. You were never meant to be a boy. Your mother sheared a shimmering lock of her painted pony-colored hair and made a secret wish. It was the first secret she ever kept from your father. She wished for a girl.

It was the right wish.

A month later, the news came. Your mother was pregnant. Your father flashed his wolf-smile -- long teeth and lifted lip -- and thought he could will anything he wanted into happening. Your mother curved her hand around her belly, felt you kick like a young horse, and hoped you would be healthy. You were happy in your mother's sea.

You were a girl, waiting to be.

When it was time for your entrance, you fought to stay inside the womb. In the womb, everything was red, dim, and wet, like heaven underground. Outside the womb, there was no sinking beauty. Everything was sharp, noisy, and easy to overturn. The world was too large and heavy with gravity. You slipped free of your mother's body like a tiny fish. The doctor proclaimed you the only healthy baby in the maternity ward, and your mother was glad. When your father heard you were a girl, he was disappointed. Still, he hobbled to the hospital to see you -- with both feet broken from an earlier rugby game. He didn't know quite what to do with you. He cupped you in his long, tree branch hands and insisted on carrying you to the car -- plaster cast toes, crutches, his cumbersome gait, and all.

Your parents gave you many names that dangled like turquoise and bone charms from the threads of your life. You had legal names that attached you to the Bureau of Indian Affairs and a social security number, names that would identify you with birth and death certificates and school records. Your full-blooded grandmother would refuse to ever use them, just as she would deny English, despite her near-perfect command of it. You were given a soul-name that would change as you grew older, a name that would create a chrysalis and emerge on luminous gypsy moth wings when you became a teenager. "Pale Toes," a namer susurrated, shaking a hawk feather fan over your pink, raw face. You were too young to realize the hidden insult in naming a Blackfoot girl Pale Toes; you wore this name like a strand of beaver teeth around your throat. You were Dutch, Swiss, Cherokee, and Norwegian in little slices, but you would always be Blackfoot the most.

In you, your mother saw evidence of how all races should relate to one another: with perfect love and trust. If all races mixed, she reasoned, the world would be filled with all races made one like a great root. She never knew the controversy you would cause; you would be oblivious to it until you were much older. Your father's relatives said you were too light to be dark; your mother's family said you were too dark to be light. All you wanted was just to be.

"You should have been born a boy," your father informed you when you were six. You spent many more years trying to be that boy as you leaped, caught frogs, raced dune buggies, and went fishing for bluegill and rainbow trout. He was your greatest enemy and most-loved. Your father could do everything, from making stray dogs his friends to leading troops of men in battle. He could also control the ocean, you learned when you were seven.

You were scared of manta rays, and your parents took you to Florida to see the ocean and forget about life for a while. You bundled into a tiny boat to watch the sea-flowers move beneath the waves, and the animals swim in whitecaps. Your father's shoulders were broad as he leaned over the side of the boat. He rolled his faded chambray shirt around his forearms. His skin was so brown, contrasting with your mother's skin, as he fed her curls of fried shrimp from a paper cone. He was the bravest, strongest man you'd ever known when he kneeled in shallow water and summoned rays from the depths by feeding them bait he pressed between two fingers and let float just above his hand. The gentle giants treated your father like he was Neptune. Their slender bodies flowed through the water around your father on that day of melted strawberry ice cream on the docks and sliced cheese sandwiches on the sand. You were never afraid of the rays again because of your father.

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