It is on the way to town.
You take the paved road through what we call the Checkerboard. The Checkerboard exists at the edges of the Navajo Nation, and it is mainly lost sheep, scrub, rock, snake, coyote, cactus, goats, and drifting sand. It is where my people come from. Migrating sheep camps. Cow range. Anasazi ruins everywhere.
The Checkerboard and the surrounding terrain is populated with a vast moving mixture of Hispanic people, Navajo people, Pueblo people such as the Acoma, and the Zuni. To the east, there is the enormous Jicarilla Apache Reservation. It is a place of canyons, horses, reservations, cultures that cling precariously to existence, voices from the past, and, above all, languages.
Drums and flutes.
Old men who still play their classical Spanish guitars with the seductive, dark arrogance of the conquistador.
The Checkerboard is the enigma of the living desert, above which sits a sky as blue as my first lover's eyes. In New Mexico you can reach up, pull the sky down, and taste it.
We are only creatures who walk the surface of the earth (which is how the Navajo refer to themselves in their mythology).
There it is on the right. That tarpaper place with the beer cans everywhere. Whenever I went by I bit down on my teeth and tried my best not to look at it. The poverty was the poverty of the people who had brought me into the world. The people who live at the edges of existence. It is a defeated place. It was like slowing down when you come upon an accident. Some horrible thing has occurred here, and people are hurt forever.
When I didn't want to see it, I would take the long way into town. It was painful to look at.
All the dog shit in the mud. We call this kind of mud the Big Mud. It was a sea of mud. The mud and bright orange, plastic tricycles stuck in thickness. The remnants of disposable diapers torn and littered here and there. Can't you just please pick up the fucking diapers? The windows broken. The clothesline heavy with clothes left in the rain. The rusted hulks of cars. That chicken-scratch shack.
I hated it.
The coyote eyes looking out like prisoners.
I looked into the rearview mirror.
Yaaaaa. His eyes. They would haunt me in my dreams. I said no. They left.
I hoped forever. But the sun gods were not done with me.
I had moved back to the reservation one more time. I had left a woman I loved. I loved her more than anything, but I could not live with Tina. Not now. For the moment. We are so different. She was an urban person and functioned well in cities. Tina was happy there. She did good work there, and taught children no one wanted. The disposable ones. Children almost everyone had washed their hands of. I had been a kid like that. Children always balanced on the razor's edge that divides this world from the world of the institution. Tina is often their only hope. She was mine, too; I was just too self-involved to see it. I am in awe of her. I do not have half the brains this woman has. I am not urban, and I don't function well in cities.
They leave me confused and anxious. They overwhelm me especially with noise. I had every learning-disabled diagnosis in the book.
I was alone again, and sliding into some vacuum of suicidal blackness. There was a vacuum in my guts and it was eating me alive. I was without Tina and she is my rock.
I had asked her so many times to move with me back to the reservation.
But the reservation scares her. I do understand. It is so remote. From my front porch I can see three hundred miles north and not a single solitary house or soul. All of it mountains, desert, and jackrabbit. The nearest store is hours and hours away. Going to town is an expedition.
There are no jobs on the reservation. Not one. What woman is going to live here with me?
Excerpted from The Boy and the Dog Are Sleeping by Nasdijj Copyright© 2003 by Nasdijj. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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