Sheep’s ClothingSasha LaPointe
He said he wanted to just touch you
star bellied boy different from the rest
you’re so different from the rest
prove you’re different from the rest
you’re no fucking different from the rest
— “Star Bellied Boy,” Bikini Kill
I used to think that the boys who skateboarded in the parking lot behind the Skagit Valley Albertson’s were safe. Safe in the way that their hair hung down over one side of their face, the way they wore their clothes baggy and loose, hiding themselves. They made mix tapes and skipped class. They knew about Sonic Youth and Kurt Cobain. I used to think that their bodies were different than the lumbering bodies of the smalltown quarterbacks and basketball players that stalked the halls of my rural Washington highschool. They made themselves less male, more vulnerable. They made themselves seem small. Drawn to them, we would post up on the curb or the loading dock and watch as the boys did tricks. We smoked cigarettes, popped gum pink in our mouths, and waited for kickflips and pop shove-its. We waited for them to approach us, to bum a smoke and sit with us. They’d offer us beer, their Walkman and ask, Have you heard this band? We always took the beer and we always wished we had heard this band.
The curb became a basement. The tricks became smoke pluming from liquored lips. We were fifteen, both wearing blue lipstick and yours was smudged, turning your mouth into a glittering bruise. Here. One boy handed me a glass of water and two small pills. Is it safe? A smile. A piece of his yellow hair in his eyes. I put the pills onto my tongue and took a swallow of vodka. I don’t remember the narrow hallway, or how my fingertips might have grazed the textured wall. I don’t remember my eyes falling heavy, or how the stained carpet must have blurred like a dream. I remember the smell of smoke, a nearby ashtray, a Nine Inch Nails poster staring down at me. Broken skate decks, stacks of CD’s, a carton of Marlboro Reds. The mattress was small, something a boy would sleep on, a child. A clumsy mouth fell over mine like it was lost and hungry. I felt the ache in my pelvis. Then blood pooling. Then I felt something else, something not mine, but his. I heard his stereo. I heard his music, an angry white man yelling about something angry and white. And I felt his erection pushing against my body. This felt like an attack, like war, but quiet, and friendly. Like settlers when they arrived on the shores of the Columbia. From their boats they brought gold. They brought whiskey and they brought Smallpox. When my ancestors greeted these settlers they welcomed them, traded with them, because they didn’t have a reason not to.
My ancestor, a Chinook woman called Comptia Koholowish was nine years old when she watched her tribe come down with a strange sickness. She watched as her family began to change. It started with their mouths. She watched it bloom and blister across their fevered bodies. Then they died. It happened quickly, and Comptia Koholowish fled, her village a pale ghost in the shadow of the Hudson Bay Trading Company.
The boy on top of me on the dingy mattress was trying to take something from me, trying to erase me. As I came to I pushed against the weight of him. It was an act of revolt, a fight I didn’t even know I had in me. My body bleeding, the deep red seeping. He pulled back in revulsion and I reacted quickly. A reflex, a survival written so deeply neither of us saw it coming. I didn’t look back at the boy or the stain on his sheets.
My red blood would not let him make a ghost of me.
You rushed out pulling clothes on, your mouth still a wound. We pulled our backpacks over our shoulders and ran out of the room into the northwest night. We caught the bus back to the reservation, the rain in our hair like medicine.
The Smallpox disease was spread by the handing out of blankets to the tribes. This was a gift, a comfort, something to keep them warm. When my ancestors first greeted the settlers on the banks of the Columbia they didn’t question them, because why would they?
It would take me years to understand that the boy with mixtapes and the skateboard tucked under his arm was not my friend. It would be an even longer time before I realized the complexity of his brand of predator. Years later, you got a tattoo on your arm, the words KNOW YOUR ENEMY. I admire its simple instruction. Because as simple as it sounds, or inherently should be, our enemies are not always the monsters we want or need them to be. They’re not always snarling or baring their teeth. Sometimes they are offering safety, or shelter, or treaties. Sometimes they bring gifts of blankets and whiskey.
Sometimes they bring mixtapes.
Originally published in Moss: Volume Five.
How Rivers Meet Cliffs, J.A. Dela Cruz-Smith
Kind of Man, Zachary Schomburg