Because I’m famous because I’m rich because I grew up poor on a reservation and that’s what no one understands even though I have been telling the same story, over and over for years, to anyone who would listen. Because I was an alcoholic because I deserve to get what I want because I do get what I want because I work harder than everyone else. Because I know how to shake like I’m laughing, my long, angry body turned away from the faces floating in front of me. Because I know how to fake it. Because there is a way I’m not faking it. Because I do love my life my wife my children and that’s what makes me a good person. I’m happy. Because I’m very happy.
Because people are after me, after all. They are and they always have been and they always will be. And no one understands. No matter how many times I tell the story, I like telling the story, you’d think I’d be sick of my own story, but I’m not. I have to tell it and when I do, I will look at the faces floating in front of me like they are a great big breast, and I am desperate for milk.
And when one of the men who lives inside of me does things, that man who is really who I am but quiet I don’t talk about that it is OK because that man needs to eat. He’s hungry, he’s hungrier than I am and if he doesn’t eat, he will kill me. Because there are ways in which I’m already dead, not from the things I experienced as a child because everyone has hope when they are young don’t they but because of the things I cannot help but do. I said that I do these things so that he won’t kill me but I also said that I have been dead for years, which I have, I have, I have, I should be happy.
I tell myself that I feel love but people like me don’t feel things like love. Do they? When I look at my boys my eyes fill with tears sometimes but it is because I see myself and I feel sorry for myself, so sorry for myself I feel like punching myself or someone I almost love as hard as I’ve ever punched anything like when I used to drink and even the trees made me rage and cry and when I would wake up in the hospital or my friend’s house or my house or a strange house or did that happen or have I made up another story so that I can create food for him to eat and eat and eat.
Because because because I am an artist I am an Indian I am a man because I am sick because I’m smarter than most people because she was a slut and that’s what they want, with their little blue skirts and their little blue shoes. God why can’t they feel shame? Because underneath all of this and above it and inside it I am a good person. In fact I am the best, because I hate myself.
One of the men inside me believes that the women are all white, but they aren’t. I know that they’re not but when on the rare occasion I let myself talk to myself, to the one who lives on top of the other one that’s most on top, I can see through his cold black eyes all of their brown or yellow-brown hands, their look of love, their faces their fucking, fucking faces. They’re anyone who loves me, even just a little, even for the wrong reasons because all of the reasons are wrong, are right. Because I am always right.
Sometimes I tell myself, or the man who might eat me, that they’re all the same woman, white or brown, whichever hips are in my long hands late at night after the words have been vomited up, one by one, the faces like a nightmare I tell myself that I will never wake from even though it is a dream come true, true, true, I’m very happy, he says, the knife so close to my throat.
Sometimes I tell the faces floating in front of me that I want to love other men so that they will never see the truth, which is that everything I touch I burn, I burn for, I burn up. But then again, I tell the faces so many things. After all, they need to eat too. The truth is that it is not even about my father, perhaps it is about my mother, I stopped wanting to really know a long time ago. Fire is only a metaphor for me now.
I make a lot of jokes about my death and dying to show how unafraid I am but that is another lie the men inside me make rise up, everyone will get a Pendleton. They call all of the boys that will come after me young guns but these are boys who maybe have never held a gun. Neither have I but when I lie about it, I am filled with rage, the hate choking me up, the sadness, I need to sleep, he’s made me so tired, they all have.
There are times when I laugh with my wife over a small thing, and for a moment I let one of the men out while the knife twists hard in my gut. Maybe he doesn’t love her, but he pities her, or maybe he can at least say he understands her and wants her to be happy, remembers the hope he felt when he was let out long enough to rope her in before the blood came out. And then the one with the knife comes and the one who is let out only for strangers and small, good moments is pushed down. He is so small. I pity him. He thinks he’s more real than the rest of us, but he has to think that or he will die.
In the end there is the tunnel where the wind blows, and it is clean; the rage is there and the need, and my entire collection of knives, and they are beautiful, shining in the long, silver tunnel that whistles with the loneliness of love. And there is the rope that I used to bring my wife to me, and though I hang the both of us with it, over and over because of what happened, but not because of what happened, I am like a dying animal gone mad from the smell of itself, somehow the knives that are there to remind me that I could die at any time are also the knives that free us both from that animal that has been waiting to tear me apart since I was born.
All the littlest man wants is to be pulled away from the rest of the men, the rage, the women, the wife, the boys, the faces floating under the lights, the words I write with the man underneath who lives with his knife at my throat. He wants something beautiful, pure. He wants the tunnel to collapse but the tunnel is a bad good, it’s a place where the men run free, where I keep the knives, where the rage is so clean and pure and like fire that no matter how hot it burns it can’t burn me up, I can’t escape it. It is like the den of that dying animal, and it has been abused all of its life and is only alive long enough to hate more. Getting away would be like death, a clean, lovely thing, like when I was young and I could look around at the reservation, the people I had come not to trust at a distance, but they were beautiful anyway, my mother somewhere waiting to put me in her arms. But I am pulled back. By the rope, by the women, the knives, into the tunnel. By the blood. I do not understand what purgatory means.
Sometimes I comfort myself with the little things, and then I talk about them, and then I tell people who I could never be close to how much I love them, and they sigh, and the man with the knife at my throat likes this, he likes it a lot because it makes me feel like I’m still alive and breathing and maybe have all kinds of love to give and to get and to hold. I do. Have all kinds of love. At least one of the men inside me does. He told me so once, in a dream.
When I am about to go to sleep is when it’s the worst. I think this is when it’s the worst for everyone, when we jerk awake and feel a kind of deep pain that seems like truth but is probably fear. The kind of fear that we felt before words came into our lives, the kind of fear that we had when we were young, when we were babies. When we’re in that moment of almost sleep, our limbs hurt and we have to work hard to push all of the men away because it’s then that we understand that they are all holding knives, and we are too.
There are times when people laugh at the words and I hate them for it, I make that clear by staring at the floating faces until they are silent. But I can’t stand their silence either. But I made them laugh, I know it, I made the food, I made the man, I gave him the knife, long ago, in a dream I had as a child. It was my favorite dream, because it gave me power.
What makes me angriest is when people dare to take my truth away, like they know it, like they have a man at their throats, like they’ve seen the blood that I’ve seen, I’m very happy. I have the truth. No one knows it like I do, like the men do, I’ve worked very hard, harder than anyone else, and I have taken a shovel to stiff, hard ground for years and after years and years of my back breaking, breaking in half I have uncovered something. It is my face.
What still surprises me is when people try to push at the men. They’re always going to be stronger, because I can wander the streets at night while my wife sleeps and my boys sleep and love everyone I see from a distance because I’m very smart. That’s what the man tells me, and I believe him, because though I now know that I was born with him with his knife at my throat he has never pushed in, I’m a survivor.
I’m growing, I think, still, the men inside me are louder, I know that and I think it’s a good thing, because when they finally take over I can stop trying, I can stop being in pain, I’m sure of that, the little white and yellow and pink pills they’re everywhere, Oh God I’m so tired please let the knife push in. What scares me so much isn’t death anymore it’s that maybe I can’t die, I’m a survivor. That word is very important to me.
What the littlest man doesn’t seem to remember is that he was the one in control when I was a baby, doesn’t he remember how weak we were back then? When everyone had fists on us, everyone had their knives at our throats, that’s when the men I was born with first came out, they taught me so much but I still wonder if the littlest man will get out because sometimes I can feel him staring at something I want to love through my eyes and I think God no,, I’m very happy. And then the words come out again, and it is OK. But I’m scared that the littlest man will get out. I don’t even know if he has a knife. Dear God, what does he have? What will he eat?
And when I think about my wife all I really think about is guilt, about what she sits in the place of because she doesn’t really exist, none of us do, or at least that’s what I told myself when all I wanted was for the blood to stop coming out of her, not because she was real, but because the man with the knife was whispering, look, there’s another man that is another you that could be pure coming out of that thing, that thing, that thing that is just all of the other stupid things that love me, for the right or wrong reasons.
The man with the knife likes me to laugh, it’s because then he knows I’m nervous and honestly I’m nervous all the time but I’m very happy, so it’s OK. I laugh when the hate is in my throat, when someone has tried to take the truth away, and one of the men has punished them for it. It’s funniest when they don’t even know it’s coming. But they deserve it, and even if they didn’t, the man with the knife must eat. It’s me or them. Somebody has to be punished for their sins, for mine. It’s me or them, and I’m a survivor, I’m very happy, happy, happy, survivor.
O God the world is so full of color and that’s why I must think in black and white, why I must tell everyone about how dangerous and complicated the words are when I know they make people feel such simple things but my God it’s not my fault first of all it’s the floating face’s fault, the women’s fault, they make me feel so much rage and I tell myself that I’m the littlest man feeling for everyone else but even the littlest man inside of all of the men, the one all of the men push down, he feels, he feels so much, but only for himself. This is the difference between empathy and sensitivity. Do you understand now? No one understands, which is why the man with the knife is always so busy punishing them, don’t they understand that it’s me or them? How many times do I have to tell my story?
Excerpted from Buckskin Cocaine by Erika T. Wurth. Published by Astrophil Press.
Copyright © 2017 by Erika T. Wurth. All rights reserved.
A version of this story previously appeared in Eleven Eleven 21.