Posted: Fri Jan 25, 2008 1:11 pm Post subject: The Reptile Garden
The Reptile Garden
The New Yorker
In the fall of 1972, my parents drove me to the University of North Dakota for my freshman year. Everything I needed was packed in a brand-new royal-blue aluminum trunk: a crazy-quilt afghan that my mother had crocheted for my bed, thirty dollars’ worth of new clothes, my Berlitz French Self-Teacher, the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius (a gift from my father), a framed photograph of my grandfather Mooshum, and a beaded leather tobacco pouch that he had owned ever since I could remember, and which he had casually handed to me as I left, the way old men give presents.
Other freshmen were already moving into their dormitory rooms when we arrived, with their parents helping haul. I saw boxes of paperbacks, stereo equipment, Dylan albums and varnished acoustic guitars, home-knitted afghans, none as brilliant as mine, Janis posters, Bowie posters, Day-Glo bedsheets, hacky sacks, stuffed bears. But as we carried my trunk up two flights of stairs terror invaded me. Although I was studying French because I dreamed of going to Paris, I actually dreaded leaving home, and in the end my parents did not want me to leave, either. But this is how children are sacrificed into their futures: I had to go, and here I was. We walked back down the stairs. I was too numb to cry, but I watched my mother and father as they stood beside the car and waved. That moment is a still image; I can call it up as if it were a photograph. My father, so thin and athletic, looked almost frail with shock, while my mother, whose beauty was still remarkable, and who was known on the reservation for her silence and reserve, had left off her characteristic gravity. Her face and my father’s were naked with love. It wasn’t something that we talked about—love. But they allowed me this one clear look at it. It blazed from them. And then they left.
I think now that everything that was concentrated in that one look—the care they had taken in bringing me up, their patient lessons in every subject they knew how to teach, their wincing efforts to give me my freedom, the example they had set of fortitude in work—was what allowed me to survive.
The trunk was quickly emptied; my room was barely filled. Then, books to my chest, I curled up beneath the afghan and looked out the window. I understood right then that I would be spending most of my first semester in this position.
White girls at the time listened to Joni Mitchell, grew their hair long, smoked impatiently, frowned into their poetry notebooks, and pretended to ---
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