Oklahoma City


OK, so it’s been a while since I was in Ok., and so I sit up late at night again like I used to in ’93, smoking too much, and letting my cup of ice water get warm by my bed – and will I ever get back to it?

Driving those OK City streets far away from NY – empty 2am streets buzzing with caffeine and lovelovelove.

I’m so afraid of getting stuck here in the east, I want to go back west, though when I was there I dreamed too much for the woods.  Could I make the desert a home?

So, OKC circa 1991, back in school, shooting for the teaching certificate, although I needed so many credits that I just enrolled in the Master’s program.

As it happened, that particular Master’s program was also serving a fairly large group of Native American students from tribes and reservations all over the west.

The nights – autumn nights – outside smoking under the stars and class – Where is she tonight, boy?  Where   does   she   sit   tonight?  Where’s the left-handers desk?  I need to sit at the lefty desk so my prematurely aging back won’t ache.

And then after a couple of months – Oh boy, there it is – the Lefty desk – right next to her.

And I can’t concentrate for shit because I don’t want to concentrate for shit.  All I want is to drink her in right next to me, knowing somehow that she doesn’t mind and she doesn’t.

And she talks to me like no problem ’cause we’re right next to each other and it’s o.k. because    it    justhappened, man.

I did just what I do every other night and she just does her thing and – ya know what?  There we are sittin’ right down next to each other and little shy little class talk is nothin but so comfortable so comfortable like it could go on but maybe it can’t, and it definitely can’t ’cause we’re right in the middle of class but that’s alright ’cause time moves and the autumn goes.

And the autumn nights under the stars – smoking and “Can you see the satellite?” says Lester from Colville.  “That white kid from NY – he ain’t never seen the Milky Way.”

And so Lester shows me the satellite – you can see it moving up in the sky.  And outside smoking in the autumn night where we can’t talk to each other out there with everybody else ’cause you know they’ll knowtice, but everything works out and then we do get a chance.

As the air gets a little bit colder, as autumn moves on, and we each do our thing – and she has a boyfriend, but then, when does she not have a boyfriend?

And I see her in my dreams, and she dreams that we kiss in class, and I dream of her in tribal regalia playing tennis and of the class when I wear black and cream and she wears cream and black which really happens weeks later and weirdly deja vu and all that shit.

And this is after we’ve talked, after I stood outside shivering because just to hear her voice, and feel her gaze and engaged, and can’t move and don’t ever want to move – just stand out in the cold and listen to her talk and talk ’cause that’s all we do.  The two quiet ones – just talk and talk and talk.

And finals come through and we go out the last night to a bar near campus and I play love songs on the jukebox and Lennie her roommate (Lenora) makes fun of me for putting a love song on the juke (sugar babe, sugar babe, van morrison).

And then we go to the cowboy bar and hang out drinkin and smokin, and I see Lester playin pool, so I want to play pool with her, but I can’t just-ask-her, you know.  That ain’t right.  So I gotta ask John (Montana Cree),

“Hey, John, you wanna play some pool?”

‘Cause I really do want to play anyways.  But John don’t wanna play, dummy.  He’s busy talkin.

“Why don’t you ask Sharon if she wants to play?”

“Um, o.k.”

And she does, man.  And we play pool until the time melts away and there’s just the two of us in that cowboy bar, with the spirit of Jim Maddox who drives me to tell lame ass boasting jokes about how I used to be a champeen bull rider on that mechanical bull, man.

And we just play pool and it’s like nothing, but comfortable and comfortable and easy, man, and uneasy.  And it feels good, and then we’re off, into a big ass Oklahoma rainstorm and “I’ll take John to the bus, man.”  See him off – he’s goin back to Montana (Rocky Boy), and I’m goin back to NY for 10 days, anyway.  But I’ll wait, man.  I’ll wait till 2nd semester and see.

(Tappan Ferry, N.Y.  Summer 1995)

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Well, everybody’s gone now, and I come back to NY and get sucked into that shit and start the crazy spiral again.  But I find the book of Spider Woman’s Granddaughters and go up to the nature preserve – into the woods – and see the geese who mate for life.  And wonder what that may mean.

So then I come back and have to start working a different temp job – and it sucks bad.  Waiting for the second semester to start, I find the Talking Leaves stories, which I like better than Spider Woman’s but I remember the names from both.

We don’t have three classes together anymore – just the one, but I know they’ll be there on my way to math class Thursday night.

Back by myself again, but now I have friends.  And so I see her for the first time in a month.

Outside, winter now, but OKC winter  – not too cold, just my Dad’s army coat all winter.  Not too cold, man.

And there she is, and we have one class together.

And I watch the Super Bowl (Redskins and Bills) with John and Lester and I get pretty wasted, but John thinks I’m o.k!

He’s movin soon and says I should come by and see his new place.  And I’m almost too impatient and drive off after class, but I wait and then off we go.  And I don’t know if the women will be there, but they are.

But so there we are and her friend has to go, but Sharon stays.

And we’re talkin and “What am I reading?”

Ahem, good question, ’cause I’m in the middle of the Native stories right now, trying to have something to say to her, and so I do have something to say to her.  And I know the names of the ones I liked.

Carter Revard (Never Quite a Hollywood Star), Linda Hogan, Louise Erdrich, Joseph Bruchac, Joy Harjo, N. Scott Momaday

And I can give you a ride home, too.  And so maybe we’ll go out drinkin on Friday and Sharon can drive ’cause she’ll stay sober for us, man.  And so we do.

And John plays the traditional role of the matchmaker although I wonder how traditional it is for him to get me stoned out of my mind for the first time I go over to her place (but that ain’t my place to question).

And her roommate Lennie’s tellin me about her son who I remind her of – even though I’m from the Wahnnubeagh tribe.

And I’m stoned as shit, but I pull it together and we go out and it doesn’t make a bit of difference ’cause it’s still easy, man – just comfortable and talkin talkin talkin.

And she tells me there’s a powwow this weekend, y’know.

And if I want to go I should talk to John (’cause it all goes through John).

Well, him and Lester went off on their own and so I leave him a note on his door – all noncommittal and cool and all that, but a little more desperate cause I’m gettin close now, man, so close.

And so I leave him a note and he calls me back and we never talk about her, but he knows, man, he’s ain’t stupid man, he Knows.

But he says come by tomorrow, we’ll do somethin, maybe.  So I go shopping and find myself over by where John lives, and so I stop by and get high.  And maybe we’ll go see a movie or something.

Well, okeydokey, so I check out the papers, “Hey, call up Sharon and see if she wants to go,”  John yells at me as he walks into the bathroom, “her number’s right there hangin on the wall.”

And so I call her up all stoned thinking Hey! It’s me! And I’m callin you on the telephone.

Just like that – except it’s five months after most guys would do it.

But so anyways, I’m callin her on the phone, man, this is like a dream come true.  “Hey! I’m callin you on the phone!  I’m talkin to you on the phone!” and I cannot believe that this is real and sometimes wonder whether or not it really was.

“Hey, so anyways, let’s go see a movie.  Which one do you want to see?  Little Man Tate?”  “Naw.”  “Prince of Tides?”  “Naw.”  “Grand Canyon?”  “Weelll, o.k.”

“So let’s go see it, I’ll get John and we’ll come and pick you up.”

Wellll, John don’t wanna go anymore – he’s got work to do – “So maybe   You Guys   should just go and see it,” and so we do.

And it’s nervewracking but comfortable and I tell her about “Jernigan,” which I just read and how he washes down five Midols with homebrew gin, but then shoots himself in the hand with a .22 because he wants to “feel something.”

And I tell her about Diana, my kitty cat – how I dreamed I saw my kitty when I was home 2 months after she died and she’s got a ball of light for a head but it’s good to see her anyways.

And I take Sharon home and she invites me in, man.

Allll-by-ourselves, man – unbelievable.  And it’s late – like 11 o’clock – but sure “I’d love some coffee, that would be excellent.”

We talk, man and the caffeine chatter just goes on and on but it’s ok.

And we talk and talk and I leave around 2am but not before we laugh about random people and how crazy that shit is and how hard and you just never know but she tells me we should “get together” but I let it pass because things that only come up once won’t last – they have to keep coming back until it’s their time.

But – sittin at work the next day, I just sit there and think “She said we should Get-Together!”  And I know she didn’t mean it like that, but it sure is nice to hear.

And after that, my life is a whirlwind of activity – there IS NO STOPPING, no time to stop because this is the most important time in my short life of boozing and moronic idle philosophy.

My previous eight beer Einstein existence pales miserably before my time spent talking with Sharon.

My day starts at 6:30 and get to work by 8:00.  Temping at a local bank as a loan clerk, but they are woefully understaffed as is everyone in the early 90’s, but also because they’ve just been bought out.

But anyway, so its work from 8-5:00, then home quick for a change of clothes, then its off to school, three (Tues.-Wed.-Thurs.) nights a week, but Sharon and John and Lester and the rest are only in the Wednesday night class, but I still see her sometimes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and in fact go out of my way to hang around after class to see what’s goin on, maybe everybody’s goin out for coffee after class and would I like to come, shit I’ll tie myself to the bumper and drag along behind just to be within a mile of her shadow.

And so this late night coffee drinking and hanging out ends up being an every night affair so that I’m getting home at 1 and 2am and then back up at 6:30 to start the whole thing over again, and weekends are time to write and read and research papers and all that shit.  But we see each other almost every day, and talk and talk and talk on the damn phone for hours.

One Monday night when we don’t have class, I call her up around 6:30 just as my Dad is leaving with the one and only car not to return until 9:30-10:00.  So she asks if I want to do something, but I can’t ’cause we don’t have a car.

But shit woncha know,  9:30 rolls around and there we are still on the fucking phone, and Hey darlin’ my Dad is back do you wanna do something? you bet!

And so this is my life, strange as it may be to a white kid from suburban New York to be tooling around Ok. City with this beautiful Ojibwe woman Sharon Little Buffalo from Minneapolis, MN by way of Dartmouth and Cibecue, Az., but it is love and it is unbelievable.

(Tappan Ferry, N.Y.  Summer 1995)

But we have yet to touch each other physically.

She even offers me a hand up off the floor one night after watching TV for some hours, but I’m all prideful and self-conscious about my aches and prematurely creaking frame, so I stand on my own.

And it doesn’t occur to me until much much later how stupid I am, that she did that on purpose, and that I had the perfect excuse to hold her hand that night but didn’t.

But that’s just  me bein me with really not much else on the agenda.

You know, I can still see her face as she offers me her hand, with an expectant smile, and then mocking disbelief at how stupid I am to pass it up.

And so this is what leads up to the accident.  Yes, a car accident on a fog encrusted Oklahomey City road out by Lake Overholser where we had gone to drink wine and sit in the fog and look at the Lake and just drink each other in.

Yes, I will admit that after two or three weeks of this schedule, my batteries were burning a little low.  Love and caffeine can only keep a body (particularly my body) going on 3 and 4 hours of sleep a night for so long.

But, anyway, this time it is a TWO car accident, not the one car accident that has become my specialty.

And not only that, but the accident isn’t even my fault – this goddamn drunk redneck comes over the double yellow with a fence on my side so there’s nowhere to go, no way to avoid him and he clips the left front of my Dad’s car pretty good and we slide over to the left hand shoulder and shudder to a stop.

So I make sure Sharon’s OK and jump out running after the culprit.  His car is stalled so I get a good look at him and even sit in his car and talk to him a minute or two while he tries to get going again, at first to no avail.

Then I leave and go back to Sharon, but make sure to get his plate.  While I’m sitting there talking to her, he finally starts up his car and drives off.  Well, shit.

But anyway, I know there’s an emergency phone like 30 yards down the road, so we go there and call for the cops and a tow truck and tell them the make of the car and the plate and while we’re waiting and I’m bemoaning my bad luck and I can’t believe this is happening again, another goddamn car accident and all that she puts her arms around my waist and holds me tight – and I melt – and I am never the same again.

(Tappan Ferry, N.Y.  Summer 1995)

(I realize that this video is from Minnesota, but I classify it under Oklahoma, because that’s where I first saw pow wow dancing, singing and playing.)

Non-Fiction

Native American Testimony, Peter Nabokov, ed.

From the Heart, Lee Miller, ed.

In the Spirit of Crazy Horse; Indian Country by Peter Matthiessen

Fiction

Tracks; Four Souls; The Beet Queen; Love Medicine; The Bingo Palace; Tales of Burning Love; Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse by Louise Erdrich

Ceremony; Storyteller; Almanac of the Dead; Gardens in the Dunes by Leslie Marmon Silko

House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday

Dawn Land; Long River by Joseph Bruchac

Ghost Singer by Anna Lee Walters

Mean Spirit; Solar Storms by Linda Hogan

The Powwow Highway; Sweet Medicine by David Seals

Collections

Spiderwoman’s Granddaughters, Paula Gunn Allen, ed.

Talking Leaves, Craig Lesley, ed.

Neon Powwow, Anna Lee Walters, ed.

Blue Dawn, Red Earth; Earth Song, Sky Spirit, Clifford Trafzer, ed.

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