I wish I were magical, but I am really just a poor-ass reservation kid living with his poor-ass family on the poor-ass Spokane Indian Reservation.
Do you know the worst thing about being poor? Oh, maybe youve done the math in your head and you figure:
Poverty = empty refrigerator + empty stomach
And sure, sometimes my family misses a meal, and sleep is the only thing we have for dinner, but I know that, sooner or later, my parents will come bursting through the door with a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken.
And hey, in a weird way, being hungry makes food taste better. There is nothing better than a chicken leg when you havent eaten for (approximately) eighteen-and-a-half hours. And believe me, a good piece of chicken can make anybody believe in God.
So hunger is not the worst thing about being poor.
And now Im sure youre asking, Okay, okay, Mr. HungerArtist, Mr. Mouth-Full-of-Words, Mr. Woe-is-Me, Mr. SecretRecipe, what is the worst thing about being poor?
So, okay, Ill tell you the worst thing.
Last week, my best friend, Oscar, got really sick.
At first, I thought he just had heat exhaustion or something. I mean, it was a crazy-hot July day (102 degrees with 90 percent humidity), and plenty of people were falling over from heat exhaustion, so why not a little dog wearing a fur coat?
I tried to give him some water, but he didnt want any of that.
He was lying on his bed with red, watery, snotty eyes. He whimpered in pain. When I touched him, he yelped like crazy.
It was like his nerves were poking out three inches from his skin.
I figured hed be okay with some rest, but then he started vomiting, and diarrhea blasted out of him, and he had these seizures where his little legs just kicked and kicked and kicked.
And sure, Oscar was only an adopted stray mutt, but he was the only living thing that I could depend on. He was more dependable than my parents, grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins, and big sister. He taught me more than any teachers ever did.
Honestly, Oscar was a better person than any human I had ever known.
Mom, I said. We got to take Oscar to the vet.
Hell be all right, she said.
But she was lying. Her eyes always got darker in the middle when she lied. She was a Spokane Indian and a bad liar, which didnt make any sense. We Indians really should be better liars, considering how often weve been lied to.
Hes really sick, Mom, I said. Hes going to die if we dont take him to the doctor.
She looked hard at me. And her eyes werent dark anymore, so I knew that she was going to tell me the truth. And trust me, there are times when the last thing you want to hear is the truth.
Honey, Mom said. Im sorry, but we dont have no money for Oscar.
Ill pay you back, I said. I promise.
Honey, itll cost hundreds of dollars, maybe a thousand.
Ill pay back the doctor. Ill get a job.
Mom smiled all sad and hugged me hard.
Jeez, how stupid was I? What kind of job can a reservation Indian boy get?
I was too young to deal blackjack at the casino; there were only about fifteen green grass lawns on the reservation (and none of their owners outsourced the mowing jobs), and the only paper route was owned by a tribal elder named Wally. And he had to deliver only fifty papers, so his job was more like a hobby.
There was nothing I could do to save Oscar.
Excerpted from The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian © Copyright 2007 by Sherman Alexie. Reprinted with permission by Little, Brown for Young Readers, Inc. All rights reserved.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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