There There

by Tommy Orange

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Part III, Blue–Thomas Frank

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Blue is the biological daughter of Jacquie Red Feather and was adopted by white people as an infant. Her husband Paul gave her the Cheyenne name Ota’tavo’ome, which translates as Blue Vapor of Life. Since she can’t pronounce the Cheyenne name, she simply goes by Blue.

Blue grew up with money, a pool, and an overbearing mother. Her mother told her about her Cheyenne birth mother when she turned eighteen, and for years she didn’t really do anything with the information. Eventually she took a job at the Indian Center to feel like she belonged somewhere. She applied for a job as a youth services coordinator in Oklahoma, where her tribe was located, and much to her surprise, she got the job. Paul was her boss, and they moved in together within a month. Blue spent weekends with Paul and his father, praying for the whole world. When Paul’s father died, Paul began beating Blue. She applied for a job back in Oakland, and since they knew her, she was hired.

Tired of being abused, Blue has come up with a plan to leave Paul. She needs to get to the Greyhound station. Blue starts walking and is picked up by Geraldine, a coworker. Geraldine tells her that it’s dangerous to be walking alone; Blue notices Hector, Geraldine’s brother, passed out in the backseat from a combination of alcohol and drugs. Geraldine shares with Blue the tragedies that women find themselves stuck in, unable to leave abusive situations because of children, a lack of money, or the lack of another place to go.

Blue falls asleep and wakes up to a struggle. Hector was woken up and is reaching around Geraldine, trying to control the wheel. Blue starts hitting him in the head, but the car crashes into a parked truck in a lot. Dazed, Blue notices that she’s within sight of the Greyhound station when Paul starts calling her. He somehow knows where she is, and he is on the way to get her. Geraldine figures out that Hector must have filled Paul in and takes off to find her brother. She tells Blue to go hide in the restroom until it’s time for her bus to leave. Blue follows directions, crouching on a toilet as Paul begins calling and texting; he’s reached the Greyhound station. She takes a moment to use the restroom, and an older woman enters the restroom just before Paul’s voice calls out for her. The older woman tells Paul that he isn’t welcome in a ladies’ restroom, and Blue tells her that Paul is after her. The woman promises to wait in the restroom with her until it is time for her bus to leave and then walks with Blue, arm-in-arm, all the way to the bus.

Thomas Frank

Written in second person, this chapter focuses on Thomas Frank. He was born with rhythm, tapping out beats everywhere as a young child. He’s been invited to drum at the Big Oakland Powwow with his drum group, Southern Moon, which meets for practices every Tuesday night. Thomas walks with a limp, just like his father, and he thinks that maybe this is his way of swaying just to the right of opposition. His father is “one thousand percent Indian”; he learned English as a second language, grew up on a reservation, and is both a recovering alcoholic and a medicine man. He grew up picking cotton for ten cents a day, and his own great-grandmother once split a tornado in two with a prayer. The one story his father told most when Thomas was...

(This entire section contains 911 words.)

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growing up was that of the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864. Thomas’s mother is white, and he thus feels that he is “from a people who took . . . and from a people taken.” He is “both and neither.”

Thomas suffers from skin problems that the doctors label as eczema and want to treat with steroid creams; Thomas finds that he can treat the issue more to his liking with alcohol. If he drinks enough, he doesn’t scratch through the night and wind up with blood covering his sheets.

One night, Thomas drinks a fifth of Jim Beam and then heads in to his janitorial job the next morning, thinking he is fine. He eats breakfast enchiladas, and his boss calls him in to ask him to get rid of a bat that has perched near the conference room. Even though he approaches the bat slowly, it flies into the conference room when Thomas gets close. The bat then circles him before landing on his neck and digging either its claws or teeth into the back of his neck. Thomas grabs the bat and crushes it with his hands. The group looks at him with disgust.

Thomas ends up back in his boss’s office. Between crushing the bat and reeking of alcohol, he is fired. On the train, he thinks of the family he never sees anymore, including DeLonna, his older sister who smoked too much PCP when she was younger and ended up on the floor, foaming at the mouth, as his mother called for an emergency prayer circle.

Thomas gets off the train at Coliseum Station and finds Bobby Big Medicine. Thomas grabs his drumstick and waits with the stick poised to play “Grand Entry Song.” Finally Bobby raises his stick. The dancers are coming. It is time.


Part III, Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield–Daniel Gonzales


Part IV, Orvil Red Feather–Edwin Black