Authors: Sherman Alexie
Tags: #Social Issues, #Juvenile Fiction, #United States, #People & Places, #Native American, #Adolescence
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian
by Sherman Alexie
art by Ellen Forney
LITTLE, BROWN AND COMPANY
Copyright © 2007 by Sherman Alexie
Illustrations copyright © 2007 by Ellen Forney
Interview © 2009 by Hachette Book Group, Inc.
Discussion guide prepared by Beverly Slapin, Oyate
Design by Kirk Benshoff
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission the publisher.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian
The Black-Eye-of-the-Month Club
I was born with water on the brain.
Okay, so that's not exactly true. I was actually born with too much cerebral spinal fluid inside my skull. But cerebral spinal fluid is just the doctors' fancy way of saying brain grease.
And brain grease works inside the lobes like car grease works inside an engine. It keeps things running smooth and fast. But weirdo me, I was born with too much grease inside my skull, and it got all thick and muddy and disgusting, and it only mucked up the works. My thinking and breathing and living engine slowed down and flooded.
My brain was drowning in grease.
But that makes the whole thing sound weirdo and funny, like my brain was a giant
French fry, so it seems more serious and poetic and accurate to say, "I was born with water on the brain."
Okay, so maybe that's not a very serious way to say it, either. Maybe the whole thing is weird and funny.
But jeez, did my mother and father and big sister and grandma and cousins and aunts and uncles think it was funny when the doctors cut open my little skull and sucked out all that extra water with some tiny vacuum?
I was only six months old and I was supposed to croak during the surgery. And even if I somehow survived the mini-Hoover, I was supposed to suffer serious brain damage during the procedure and live the rest of my life as a vegetable.
Well, I obviously survived the surgery. I wouldn't be writing this if I didn't, but I have all sorts of physical problems that are directly the result of my brain damage.
First of all, I ended up having forty-two teeth. The typical human has thirty-two, right?
But I had forty-two.
Ten more than usual.
Ten more than normal.
Ten teeth past human.
My teeth got so crowded that I could barely close my mouth. I went to Indian Health
Service to get some teeth pulled so I could eat normally, not like some slobbering vulture. But the Indian Health Service funded major dental work only once a year, so I had to have all ten extra teeth pulled
in one day
And what's more, our white dentist believed that Indians only fell half as much pain as white people did, so he only gave us half the Novocain.
What a bastard, huh?
Indian Health Service also funded eyeglass purchases only once a year and offered one
style: those ugly, thick, black plastic ones.
My brain damage left me nearsighted in one eye and farsighted in the other, so my ugly
glasses were all lopsided because my eyes were so lopsided.
I get headaches because my eyes are, like, enemies, you know, like they used to be
married to each other but now hate each other's guts.
And I started wearing glasses when I was three, so I ran around the rez looking like a
And, oh, I was skinny. I'd turn sideways and
But my hands and feet were huge. My feet were a size eleven in third grade! With my big feet and pencil body, I looked like a capital
walking down the road.
And my skull was enormous.
My head was so big that little Indian skulls orbited around it. Some of the kids called me Orbit. And other kids just called me Globe. The bullies would pick me up, spin me in circles, put their finger down on my skull, and say, "I want to go there."
So obviously, I looked goofy on the outside, but it was the
stuff that was the worst.
First of all, I had seizures. At least two a week. So I was damaging my brain on a regular basis. But the thing is, I was having those seizures because I
had brain damage, so I was reopening wounds each time I seized.
Yep, whenever I had a seizure, I was
damaging my damage
I haven't had a seizure in seven years, but the doctors tell me that I am "susceptible to seizure activity."
Susceptible to seizure activity.
Doesn't that just roll off the tongue like poetry?
I also had a stutter and a lisp. Or maybe I should say I had a st-st-st-st-stutter and a lissssssssththththp.
You wouldn't think there is anything life threatening about speech impediments, but let me tell you, there is nothing more dangerous than being a kid with a stutter and a lisp.
A five-year-old is cute when he lisps and stutters. Heck, most of the big-time kid actors stuttered and lisped their way to stardom.
And jeez, you're still fairly cute when you're a stuttering and lisping six-, seven-, and eight-year-old, but it's all over when you turn nine and ten.
After that, your stutter and lisp turn you into a retard.
And if you're fourteen years old, like me, and you're still stuttering and lisping, then you become the biggest retard in the world.
Everybody on the rez calls me a retard about twice a day. They call me retard when they are pantsing me or stuffing my head in the toilet or just smacking me upside the head.
I'm not even writing down this story the way I actually talk, because I'd have to fill it with stutters and lisps, and then you'd be wondering why you're reading a story written by
Do you know what happens to retards on the rez?
We get beat up.
At least once a month.
Yep, I belong to the Black-Eye-of-the-Month Club.
Sure I want to go outside. Every kid wants to go outside. But it's safer to stay at home. So I mostly hang out alone in my bedroom and read books and draw cartoons.
Here's one of me:
I draw all the time.
I draw cartoons of my mother and father; my sister and grandmother; my best friend,
Rowdy; and everybody else on the rez.
I draw because words are too unpredictable.
I draw because words are too limited.
If you speak and write in English, or Spanish, or Chinese, or any other language, then
only a certain percentage of human beings will get your meaning.
But when you draw a picture, everybody can understand it.
If I draw a cartoon of a flower, then every man, woman, and child in the world can look at it and say, "That's a flower."
So I draw because I want to talk to the world. And I want the world to pay attention to me.
I feel important with a pen in my hand. I feel like I might grow up to be somebody
important. An artist. Maybe a famous artist. Maybe a rich artist.
That's the only way I can become rich and famous.
Just take a look at the world. Almost all of the rich and famous brown people are artists.
They're singers and actors and writers and dancers and directors and poets.
So I draw because I feel like it might be my only real chance to escape the reservation.
I think the world is a series of broken dams and floods, and my cartoons are tiny little lifeboats.
Why Chicken Means So Much to Me
Okay, so now you know that I'm a cartoonist. And I think I'm pretty good at it, too. But no matter how good I am, my cartoons will never take the place of food or money. I wish I could draw a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or a fist full of twenty dollar bills, and perform some magic trick and make it real. But I can't do that. Nobody can do that, not even the hungriest magician in the world.
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 you've 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 haven't eaten for (approximately) eighteen-and-a-half hours. And believe me, a good piece of chicken can make anybody believe in the existence of God.
So hunger is not the worst thing about being poor.
And now I'm sure you're asking, "Okay, okay, Mr. Hunger Artist, Mr. Mouth-Full-of-
Words, Mr. Woe-Is-Me, Mr. Secret Recipe, what is the worst thing about being poor?"
So, okay, I'll 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 didn't 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 Ids skin.
I figured he'd 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.