“One night as I raced down the sidewalk at Indian school to a dance at the canteen, I accidentally ran smack into an older Cherokee student and fell. He helped me hobble over to the porch of the boys’ dorm. He was on his way to party with the over-twenty-ones. There were several older students at the school in the postgraduate program. He had that easy and familiar humor of Oklahoma Indians. I felt at home in his voice and with his teasing.
“ 'Cat got your tongue?' he said.
“I kept my head down, and my hair was a curtain covering half my face. My knees were just scraped.
“ 'Looks like you’ll live,' he said, laughing.
“He helped me up and ditched his party to go with me to the dance. We discovered that we were both James Brown freaks, and when we danced, we got off the dance floor only for him to take a smoke break. We talked about our plans to be artists, about our families. He was Cherokee and familiar like my relatives and neighbors.
“ 'My father is Creek,' I told him as he cupped his hand around a match to steady the flame before lighting up. I built my father up as a descendant of warriors, when he was running around somewhere south of Okmulgee with a different woman every night.
“His parents were both Cherokee. His father was mixed with German. His mother was full-blooded and had been adopted by another full-blood family in Tahlequah when her parents died not long after she was born. Many of our people died young of tuberculosis and other diseases that took root from loss. We discovered that our mothers were probably distantly related on the Cherokee side.
“His first memory, he told me that night as we continued to talk under a night sky rich with falling stars, was of a boy with burned skin being brought to his grandfather for a healing. The skin was flayed over the boy’s face in waves. He watched as his grandfather sang and prayed, then took water in his mouth and spat on the burn. He did this many times. The boy and the boy’s father returned two weeks later with some bags of groceries and a wood carving in gratitude for the healing. There was no sign or mark of the burn on the boy’s body.
“ 'My story is like a falling star,' I said as we watched a small universe blaze and fall from the sky. 'That star was a person. It was a being of fire that laughed and cried. Someone is missing that star in the sky. The star’s lover is bereft, calling its name.'
“As I spoke, I realized that I did not want to be alone beneath the eternal sweep of the sky. His eyes told me, neither did he. He took my hand and pulled me close against him. I liked his earthy smell, his muscular definition. We became lovers. I was sixteen.”