Sunday, April 10, 2011

Chasing Normal

I was running. Running fast.

I was faster than everyone at my old school. They never could catch me.

In my old school, worlds away in New Jersey, I ran with fear. I ran to keep from being caught.
But I was fastest and they never could catch me.

Because my name sounded Indian,
Because I was quiet; different,
Because I was put in a reading group with the Big Kids,
Simply because they could,
They teased, they taunted, they chased. But they never could catch me.

I was smiling.
Smiling because I was running in a group on the playground at recess.
In a group.
Part of a group.
The kids at my new school in Kentucky didn't know they were supposed to tease me.

I was smiling to feel the wind in my face, my long hair streaming out behind me. Smiling to have children all around me, all running, all doing something together. No longer apart. No longer chased.

I looked around me at the others, these new friends of mine...
This group that, in their ignorance, thought of me as one of their own.

But they were not smiling. They were scowling. They were yelling.
They were teasing, taunting... chasing.

Why were we chasing? Who were we chasing?

I looked forward. Saw a black-haired boy, fast as the wind, running 10 paces ahead of the others.
He was being chased.

I heard the group of children
my group of children
yell out ....Indian!

Indian? Indian! The boy, 10 paces ahead, fast as the wind, Indian?

No doubt we were chasing him because we wanted to talk to him, to bow down in worship and admire him. Indians were my whole life. I read every book I could find on them. Every birthday I wanted a bow and arrow set and an Indian headdress. In my play and in my dreams and in my soul I was an Indian. A hunter, a warrior, a brave, I was the legendary Hiawatha...

From his lodge went Hiawatha, Dressed for travel, armed for hunting; Dressed in deer-skin shirt and leggings, Richly wrought with quills and wampum; On his head his eagle-feathers, Round his waist his belt of wampum, In his hand his bow of ash-wood, Strung with sinews of the reindeer; In his quiver oaken arrows, Tipped with jasper, winged with feathers; With his mittens, Minjekahwun, With his moccasins enchanted.

I lived, breathed and dreamed Indians. And now there was one right here in my school! Was he in my class? I had so many things I wanted to ask him!

But we were chasing him.

We were chasing him. I was part of this group.

Not chasing to talk, to worship. Chasing to taunt, to tease, to chase.

And suddenly my head was swirling with thoughts, emotions, options.

Should I shout out for everyone to stop? Explain to them how miraculous it was to have someone like this at our school? Make them understand the beauty and the richness of the Indian heritage?

Should I run to his aid?

Should I simply drop out of the mob?

I did not know what to do. The only thing I knew for certain was that, no matter what, I could not switch sides. I could not become the chased again.

So I stayed with the mob.
Chasing acceptance.
Chasing normalcy.
Chasing the sense of belonging.

No longer smiling.
Overwhelmed. Knowing what was right, what was wrong, but the cost to correct things, so high...

In my confusion my legs started churning faster. I was moving to the front of the pack.

To catch up to the boy? To help him?
To get away from the others?
I didn't know.

I broke away from the pack.
I was fastest.
I was close to the boy.
Would I run with him?
My head was spinning with uncertainty and confusion.

And then, pain.
Pain in my gut from where the boy, so close, had reached back to swiftly kick me.

Grass scratching at my face as I stared up at the clouds, as I struggled to take in some air.

Shame consuming me.

Shame that I had not acted according to what I knew was right.

Shame in that moment. Shame for the weeks and months ahead. Shame decades later.

My shame welcomed the pain, embraced it, wanted to hide beneath it.

But, fast as I was, I could not run from the shame, could not escape it.

The others had been chasing the Indian boy.
I had been chasing normalcy, chasing acceptance.

But all I had caught was a lifetime of shame.

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