by Catherine J.S. Lee

So here I am, the June before my senior year, and we've got it all mapped out, Scooter Marantz and Bimbo Dexter and I, ready to run my practically-antique '66 VW microbus up and down the coast from Ventura to Oceanside, almost three months of seeking that perfect wave. It's going to be a totally bitchin summer, the last one before the real world crashes in, and we are going to live every second of it.

Or so I think, until the parents tell me they're going to Italy to celebrate their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. I can't hang with my tech-head big bro, Kurt, because he's off to Hawaii, the lucky dog, to upgrade some tourist bureau's web servers, and he absolutely will not take me with him. What I'd give to ride that big Hawaiian surf! So all of a sudden my plans are in ashes, cold as yesterday's barbeque, and I'm this close to being packed off to the farmstands and orange groves of Bakersfield when Gram Nesbitt breaks her hip.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not glad Gram broke her hip. But things do start looking up again when my Harlow grandparents in Boston agree to take me to their summer place on a Maine island called East Haven. I hear that Maine has, like, twenty-five hundred miles of coastline, so excuse me for thinking there must be surfable waves there somewhere.

* * *

Buddy Dexter, Bimbo's dad, is the one who taught us to surf. We were twelve then, wound-up little grommets, but Buddy always had that Zen thing going, patient as Buddha himself. When he was young and first rode a longboard, the concept of soul surfing didn't exist. Being one with the wave was how everyone used to look at it.

Scooter and Bimbo dissed Buddy behind his back for his clean devotion to the waves. They wanted to be Kelly Slater, loved dreaming about money and babes and video games with their own names on them. I just wanted to be like Buddy Dexter, in a pure zone, feeling that ocean magic.

Four years later, Buddy is diagnosed with MS and has to hang up his wettie. I inherit his Hobie longboard, and don't think it doesn't immediately become my prized possession. Scooter and Bimbo are hotdogging with the shortboard riders, getting air like the skate-punks do, but for me, surfing is still a dance with several tons of peaking water. Carving a line across the face of the wave, catching the lightning.

* * *

Nonnie and Papa meet my flight from LAX, and even though they never do that my-haven't-you-grown-up schtick, we still have to give each other the once over. I'm always afraid, since I usually only see them at Christmas, that they'll have gotten old on me, but they haven't yet. Papa's still got a head full of wavy silver hair and the only pencil-thin mustache I've ever seen in real life. Nonnie has that debutante thing going even though she's crowding seventy, perfect posture and tinted blonde hair and a whole wristful of gold chains and diamond tennis bracelets. My carrot-red mane is down to my shoulders, and Nonnie pushes it back from my face to kiss my cheek.

I stow my suitcases in the trunk of their red Saab convertible and stretch out in the backseat. As we wind on up the coast, the towns get smaller and smaller, poorer and poorer. I get more and more alarmed because there isn't a real beach in sight. Plenty of rocky shores and looming, jutting ledges, so many pebbles they must've rained down from Heaven, but not one decent beach with sugar sand.

Finally, two steps from forever, we turn off the main highway. Before long, spanning a stretch of choppy green water is the old-fashioned iron bridge to East Haven. I can't get over how far out the tide goes here, like someone pulled a bathtub plug in the freaking ocean. When all this water comes rushing back in, then we should have some surf.

I say, "How cold's the ocean?"

Papa glances at me over his shoulder. "About fifty-two degrees in the summer. And no surf, if that's what you're asking."

In two days the freight people will be arriving with my board, and there's no surf. I scope out East Haven's main drag, five blocks of red brick three-stories, the street hugging the shore. Then I see two dudes with skateboards under their arms, and I think, Sometimes, you have to ride 'em like you find 'em. Kurt doesn't leave for Hawaii for another week, so I make a mental note to have him overnight me the old skateboard that was everything to me before Buddy Dexter taught me to surf.

Past downtown, we come into a neighborhood of grand late-Victorian summer cottages. Papa turns into one built in the shingle style – I know this because I'm planning to be an architect – all gables and dormers and deep verandahs. Out the back door, the wide yard goes right down to the ocean. Tall, white-blooming hedges run down both sides, and everywhere are flower beds blooming in white and complementary peaches and purples. My room's huge and airy with a view of the bay, and I tell myself I've definitely seen worse digs despite the lack of surf.

* * *

Next morning, while Nonnie and Papa are doing their geezer version of tai chi among the flower gardens, I ambulate on downtown. I'm starting to think that even in Bakersfield I'd've had my microbus and could've made it to the beach at least a few times. I check out a pocket-sized park with a brick path through the middle and stairs with grindable iron railings leading down to the pink granite seawall. Then I see the sign: "No skateboards, skates, or scooters allowed."

I'm on my way home when I meet a kid carrying a board. He's thirteen, fourteen max, trying way too hard with stick-on tattoos and hair twisted into stiff points all over his head. He tells me the scene's in Gleason, a bitch for all the skate-rats too young to drive.

I ask if it's any good, and he tells me not bad, a nice fast half-pipe and a couple of ramps, not fancy but better than nothing.

When I get back to Nonnie and Papa's, I ask where Gleason is.

"North near the turnoff to Moose Island." Papa picks up a stamp with a pair of tweezers, looks at it through a magnifying glass, and adds it to one of the piles in front of him. Maybe that's the kind of hobby to have. I mean, what are the chances I'll still be able to surf fifty years from now?

I explain about the skate park, and ask if I can borrow the Saab, but Papa says no.

Nonnie says, "He could take the beach wagon."

The beach wagon. That sounds intriguing.

Papa examines another stamp. "If he promises not to speed."

"It doesn't go fast anyway," Nonnie says with a little flip of her hand, and I have one of those oh-oh moments, because, as any dude can tell you, by your wheels you are known.

* * *

The beach wagon's actually pretty tubular, a robin's-egg blue 1953 Ford station wagon, which Nonnie and Papa bought with the house and use for tailgate picnics and rides on summer evenings. It's cherry, 4,723 actual miles, and I just know it'll go faster than they think it will.

After Fed Ex delivers my skateboard, I follow Papa's directions for the ten or so miles to Gleason. Just before the turn to Moose Island, I see the half-pipe and a couple of ramps, surrounded on three sides by evergreens.

Two girls sit on the hood of a rusted-out Camaro, and even though they hide it when I park a dozen feet away, I'm pretty sure they're smoking a joint. One girl is small, with pulled-back hair dyed even redder than mine naturally is, and a tank top that enhances the kind of chestal area my buddy Bimbo admires. The other is tall, slender but strong-looking, with thick, purple-streaked black hair past her waist.

"Ain't seen you around here before," says the redhead when I walk by, "or your funky car, either." The tall girl just looks at me, and I eyeball her from behind my ultra-dark shades.

"I'm visiting. Just got here a couple days ago."

"You gonna do some tricks for us?"

I don't answer, I just saunter over to the half-pipe. It's got a good, fast pitch, and I fly back and forth a few times, then nosestall, hanging on the pipe's lip. As long as I keep it simple, I probably won't embarrass myself too badly, so I roll up the other side and get enough air for a three-sixty with a frontside grab. It's all coming back to me now, my old moves still there in muscle memory, and I pull off my entire repertoire of spins, stalls, flips, and grabs. The girls are looking at me as though I just beamed in from Planet Zork.

The redhead shouts, "Come here," so I walk over to the car. She's taking a joint out of an Altoids tin, and well, I don't mind if I do, because I haven't had any doobage since I left California.

The girls move apart and I sit between them, all of us leaning back against the windshield. The redhead's Lainie, the quiet one, Kat. The breeze is just strong enough to make it hard to light the joint, but at last Lainie gets it going and passes it to me. I take a hit and hand it to Kat. Our fingers brush, and as I look into her eyes, big and deep and grey as the ocean on a cloudy day, I'm immediately caught in the undertow.

"Is Kat short for Kathleen?" I say.

"No." She reaches across me and gives the joint to her friend. "Lainie's the only one calls me Kat. My name's Kateri. Kateri Dellis."

"That's a great name," I say. "Different. With rhythm."

"It's Passamaquoddy," Lainie says. She looks at me as though she's waiting for a reaction. Kateri studies the sky.

I'm confused. "Passa. . . what? What's that?"

"Pas-sa-ma-quod-dy," Lainie says. "Native American. Indian."

"Don't say Indian," Kateri tells her.

"Kat wants to learn to skateboard," Lainie says. "None of the bozos around here will teach a girl."

"Why don't you say it the way they say it?" There's enough vinegar in Kateri's voice for a vat of sour pickles. "They won't teach a squawgirl."

Lainie lets this pass, so I do, too. "You need sneakers," I tell her.

"I'll go barefoot. Please?" She's already untying her lace-up boots.

I set the board down. She stands on it goofy-footed, right foot forward, but I don't try to correct her. Everyone has a natural stance. Arms out at her sides, she starts off easy, rolling down the ramp, barely wobbling. When she feels comfortable with that, she wants to try the half-pipe. I'm dubious, but she shoves off anyway, rolling back and forth a little higher each time, looking pretty steady.

"Hey," she says from two-thirds up one side, "this is really great," and that momentary break in concentration is all it takes. It's a hard wipeout, and she sits with her eyes closed and her teeth clamped over her bottom lip. Lainie runs to her, and so do I. Tears are dripping off Kateri's chin onto her purple lace top, but she doesn't make a sound.

There's a map of ramp rash down the side of her left leg from shorts to ankle. After carefully straightening out her knee, she wipes her cheeks with a handful of hair. We help her up, and she limps to the Camaro. Lainie tells me to follow them, so I do, driving across a string of tiny islands and short causeways to Moose Island, a fishing village with an air of general decrepitude, very different from East Haven.

We end up at Lainie's, a small house nowhere near the ocean. No one's home. In the bathroom, Kateri pours a quarter-bottle of peroxide over her leg, while I admire her perfect toes with their accent of pale blue nail polish. Lainie gets tweezers and tries to pick splinters out of Kateri's palm without much success. "Let Zach try," Kateri says, and I'm determined to do a good job. Otherwise the hand-holding part will be over way too soon.

* * *

Scooter's the one who gets the girls. Bimbo's immature and not too bright, isn't above saying, "Nice lungs," or some other dumb anatomical comment. Scooter's da man, a smooth talker, has that tanned blonde surfer-dude thing down pat, turns on the charm and they're his until he moves on, which he does whenever he thinks one's getting serious. Bimbo's there to pick up the leftovers, and I'm always on the sidelines, the philosopher rumored to be celibate, but that's not by choice, it's because I couldn't get laid even at a swinger's convention. The beach chicks just don't dig me – I'm too tall, too skinny, I have bright red hair and the ghost complexion that goes with it. And I'm a soul surfer, which is so far from cool it's not even on the map.

Just once, Scooter tried to hook me up. He didn't like to hurt anyone's feelings, so he'd always introduce his about-to-be-cast-off girls to Bimbo. I don't remember one ever refusing the switch – until Ramona, who rolled her eyes and said, "I've had some of that, and it wasn't so great."

Bimbo was speechless. Scooter, intent on hooking up with Julie, nudged Ramona in my direction and said, "This is Zen-master Zach. Why don't you take him for a ride?"

I guess Ramona figured there was no need to be coy. She peeled off my baggies right there in the back of the microbus and gave me my first handjob. I managed to keep it together for that, but I was so excited about finally getting to do the wild thing that I came just before I entered the golden gates. Let me tell you, a girl puts max effort into the prelim and then doesn't get the main event, unhappy doesn't even begin to describe her. As for a guy's reputation with the ladies, well, let's just say word travels that network like a chaparral brushfire.

* * *

Thursday, two days later, I'm up early doing tai chi with Nonnie and Papa in the backyard. There's nothing here to stay up late for, no movie theater, no parties, so I'm getting in the groove of going to bed at midnight and waking up at seven. The tai chi thing is good, not like surfing, but I like the discipline of it all, the paradox of controlled movements that free the mind.

So I'm following Nonnie and Papa's moves, breathing in the smell of ocean and old-fashioned roses and French lilacs, the sun climbing over the angled roofs of the house, sunrise peach and amethyst already bleached from the powder-blue sky. Spirea, bridal wreath – Nonnie's teaching me about gardens, says an architect needs to make the acquaintance of green and growing things – has turned the hedges to six-foot-high summer snowdrifts, making this yard so private that only boaters or Moose Islanders with telescopes could ever see us.

Wind chimes – big bamboo temple ones, small tinkly brass ones, and all sizes and pitches in between – swing from the branches of the two old oaks, the purple and white lilacs, the white flowering crabs. If I close my eyes and get in that meditative state, the smells and sounds and the cool breeze could almost convince me I'm in some secret Zen garden. It's the closest I've felt to nirvana since my last ride on Buddy Dexter's longboard, now over a week ago.

I'm totally in the zone when I hear a voice say, "Zach?" I open my eyes, and standing there on the path that comes down the north side of the house are Kateri and Lainie. I can't tell if the slightly-pinched look on Kateri's face is embarrassment or nervousness, but she lets Lainie lead the way into the backyard. The three of us stand there, suddenly clueless about what to say to each other. Nonnie and Papa watch, and I know Nonnie would be over here in a second if Papa wasn't holding her elbow.

I do the introductions, and when I introduce Kateri, I want in the worst way to take her hand, touch her shoulder, do something to show Nonnie and Papa that we already have a connection. But I don't.

Kateri pulls off her space-age shades, and as she and Nonnie look at each other, it's obvious they're connecting, incredible as that sounds. "Let me get some lemonade," Nonnie says, and Kateri says, "I'll help you," and they climb the back porch steps together. Papa keeps eye contact with me as we chat with Lainie, which I figure is his way of not looking at the perky nipples pushing through her tight suntop.

Over lemonade, Kateri tells Nonnie how much she likes the house, and the yard, and the view, and the antique wicker furniture on the back verandah, and the old glass lemonade pitcher, and the chewy macaroons on blue-and-white clipper-ship plates. The girl I think I'm getting to know would never notice or talk about stuff like this, but Kateri's studying everything, like a traveler from another time or a parallel universe.

"You met Zach at that skate park?" Papa asks, and Kateri and Lainie nod.

"Zach's going to teach me," Kateri tells him. "Aren't you, Zach?" My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth, and all I can do is nod.

* * *

When we leave the house in Lainie's car, we drive half an hour north to the big salvage store in Calais, where Kateri buys a way cool pair of purple suede Airwalks. Then we hit the park, and man, what she lacks in skill she more than makes up for in guts. No matter how many times she bails and gets bumped, banged, and bruised, the warrior girl gets right back up to do it again.

For two weeks we meet at the park to ride and hang out. At first, Lainie's right there with us every minute, but one day Kateri's alone, and after that we see Lainie less and less.

Nonnie and Papa invite Kateri to lunch, and it's scary how well they all get along, as though she's a proper Boston preppie instead of a purple-haired dudette. For me, there's quite a disconnect between Kateri's punked-up appearance and everything else I know about her, the special school she goes to for gifted science students, her plans to be a geneticist, her love of early Bob Dylan and J.D. Salinger and ice hockey. Some people might say Kateri's a poseur, like a hodad aping the surfer look and cool but never going near the ocean. I don't think this is anywhere near that simple.

The one thing I can't figure out is what's up with her family. She never mentions them, and she never lets me pick her up at her house, always meeting me at the park or at Lainie's. I know she lives on the reservation on the road to Moose Island, and I'm curious what it's like there, trying to figure out how to invite myself over without being a total jerk. If Lainie hadn't told me that first day, I wouldn't even know Kateri was anything other than an exotic-looking downeast girl dreaming of her small-town escape.

I've known Kateri about a month when, one rainy day while we sit in my room playing chess and stopping to make out every time one of us loses a man, she says, "My parents have invited you to dinner tomorrow night." Which is great, though I would've liked it better if she'd invited me herself.

* * *

More nervous than I expected, I turn the beach wagon off the road to Moose Island into Champlain Point Reservation, called by the tribe "Sipayik." I wind my way towards the water, where the Dellises live in a house surrounded by evergreens on a ledge above a pebbly beach. All I know about Kateri's parents is that her father is the tribe's lieutenant governor and her mother teaches sixth grade at the reservation school.

The front door opens while I'm parking the car and Kateri comes out, followed by her ten-year-old sister, Anna. We stand there looking at each other, suddenly shy, until Anna grabs our hands and says, "Come on. Moose steaks on the barbeque," and pulls us towards the house. There's a sweet, resinous smell inside, green and spicy, and just breathing it in puts me at ease. In the living room, the walls are covered in birchbark and hung with both black-and-white and colored photographs of people in tribal dress. Ancestors and elders, Anna tells me, who guide the family and the tribe. Kateri stares out the window while I look at the photos.

Kateri's mother is hulling strawberries in the kitchen, humming as she works. She's tall and serious-looking, the front of her long straight hair held back from her narrow face with an elaborate beaded clip.

"Mom, this is Zachary," Kateri says.

Her mother bows her head and says, "Welcome, Zachary," and almost smiles, but not quite. Her porcupine-quill earrings swing back and forth.

I can't think of a single intelligent sentence, so I dip my head like she did and say, "Thank you."

"Daddy's outdoors," Anna says. I can tell from her tone that she's her father's girl.

We walk across the deck that overlooks the ocean, which tonight is flat-calm to the not-so-distant Canadian shore. Kateri's father is at the grill, spraying a squirt water bottle to cool the coals. His hair's almost as long as Kateri's, onyx-black, pulled back and woven into narrow braids. One of the braids wraps the rest into a bundle as thick as my wrist.

Anna says, "Daddy. The boyfriend's here."

As he turns, I see a profile that should be on money: hooded eyes, a proud nose, cheekbones so sharp they could cut paper. "Welcome, Zachary," he says in a deep, slow voice. Like his wife, he does not look me in the eye, which is fine because Kateri has already told me that this is the Native way. Eye contact is a challenge, it shows lack of respect. "You like musuwok?" he asks. "Moose meat?"

"I've never had it."

"A new experience, then." He spears a steak and flips it over. "Daughters, show our guest where his people first landed."

Anna takes us across the yard and down a footpath between two walls of ledge. Over small beach pebbles worn smooth as eggs, we crunch towards a point that curves out into the ocean, bordered by evergreens and topped by a grassy clearing. Anna says, "Champlain landed here. In 1604, before they went upriver to Saint Croix Island, they spent a week right where our house is. History books don't mention it, but it's been handed down."

History's big with the Dellis family, with everyone but Kateri. Before the evening's over, I've been introduced to all the pictured ancestors, seen hundred-year-old beaded moccasins and birchbark bracelets and ancient baskets made of ash and sweetgrass. I've marveled at history kept for centuries in spite of no written-down language until forty or fifty years ago. I've learned how it was before the Europeans, who took the land from the People of the Dawn and forced them onto the reservation named after the first white man here, condemned to poverty and hopelessness until the 1970's land claims settlement with the state of Maine. History in school was always just a set of facts and dates, but this is different, and I'm already attracted to the Passamaquoddy philosophy: Take care of the earth and respect all beings above, on, and below it.

At some point during this presentation, I look up from a scrapbook kept by one of Kateri's grandmothers, and realize that Kateri's vanished. I look around the room, puzzled, and Anna says, "She's on the phone. She doesn't like this stuff."

"She doesn't?"

"No," Anna says, and then leans close and whispers to me like we're conspirators. "She doesn't want to be Native. She wants to go somewhere where people will think she's Euro, like you."

Later, Kateri and I walk on the beach and kiss under the stars. I like her better than any other girl I've ever met, but now it's not just her. It's the different world she lives in, a world I can't wait to explore, even though I know she has no interest in it.

* * *

The first time I successfully caught a wave, I felt like I'd been handed the keys to the universe. That day, as usual, we'd paddled out, Buddy and Scooter and Bimbo and I, and sat, rocking on the ocean swells with our boards pointed towards shore, Buddy looking back over his shoulder, gauging the waves. We'd all farmed it more times than I could count, though sometimes we did get a few feet's ride before the wave showed us who was boss out there. But this one morning a set built up and Buddy said, "Try this one, Zach," and I paddled hard and then was on my feet, slicing across the face of the wave.

For the first time, I wasn't thinking about whether or not I could do it. Everything was suddenly perfect, everything I'd been taught fitting together smoothly, my feet adjusting themselves almost instinctively as the wave collapsed behind me. All I could think was to do it again. And again and again and again, because I wasn't going to get any closer to Heaven in this life, and nothing would ever be the same again.

* * *

By the end of July, Kateri's got the skateboard basics down, ollies and manuals and flips and grabs. She's coordinated and athletic, but still hasn't gotten big air off the half-pipe and pulled a combo. I'm wishing we had more elements here, a bowl, maybe, not so high as the half-pipe, or a rail or two to grind, boxes to ollie over. Then one day we meet a dude who tells us there's an awesome park with more elements in Machias, an hour to the south. It lightbulbs on me that Kateri could practice some slightly more advanced stuff there before she's ready for the half-pipe.

The night before we plan to scope it out, she calls and says she can't make it. "There's a thing going on in Saint Andrews, up in Canada. I can't get out of it."

"What kind of thing?"

"Oh, some Native thing," she says. "I don't know, exactly. Something that happened a long time ago. I wish everyone would just get over it."

"What do you mean?"

"Everyone's so caught up in ancient history. The Euros stole our land, and our culture, put us on the reservation, all that stuff. I say, forget what you can't change. Get an education and get out of here, live a normal life, and then none of this will matter any more. Otherwise it just drags you down."

Okay, so she doesn't have that activist instinct. It's nothing against her. "We can go to Machias some other time," I tell her. "It's cool, it's okay. No worries."

"Do you like what you are?" she asks, and for a moment, I don't say anything, just thinking. She says, "Did you ever wish you were someone else?"

"Not really," I tell her. Bimbo went through a rapper phase a year or so ago, baggy clothes and a do-rag and flashy bling, a regular hiphop hodad trying to be a brother, but I never felt anything like that.

"Well, you're lucky. But you don't get put down for being a white guy, do you? No one calls you nasty names and says all your people are a bunch of lazy sneaking drunks and thinks you deserve to live on a crappy reservation instead of in a regular town like everyone else."

She sounds angry, and that's new. I blunder into the minefield by saying, "People who say stuff like that are ignorant. Look, in LA, you hear it, too, just substitute the projects or the barrio for the reservation. Not to say it's the same thing."

"You don't get it," she says. "You just don't get it."

"I'm trying," I tell her, but she says, "I have to go," and hangs up. I stand there looking at the phone and wondering if we've just had our first fight.

* * *

Half an hour later the phone rings, and I race down the hall, hoping it's Kateri. The caller ID says it's her number, but what I hear is her father's deep, slow voice. "Would you be interested in spending tomorrow with us?" he says.

"Well, sure," I say. "What's going on, anyway?"

"Qonasqamkuk," he says. "Our capital and sacred burial ground before the English stole it and forced us out. Tomorrow, we go and protest, reclaim for a day what is ours."

"There are Passamaquoddies in Canada, too?"

"The land on both sides of the river and the bay was skijn once," he says. "We were free to roam. Then we were forced into settlement camps, pushed farther and farther until Sipayik is all we have left. The English did not sign a treaty with us, did not pay us for our land. Now they want to put up condominiums, violate the ground where our ancestors rest. Join us, Zachary, and see these things for yourself."

"Even though I'm not Passamaquoddy?"

"Many Euro friends come to support us. Maybe they and you will be heard where we will not be," he tells me, so I agree to go.

* * *

St. Andrews looks as if it had been teleported to New Brunswick straight from the coast of England. Every house has big flower gardens, and quaint little shop after quaint little shop lines a main street that eventually loops into a big flat open space overlooking the bay: Qonasqamkuk. Kinap, Kateri's little cousin, runs off as soon as we get out of the van, and I see by the back of his jacket that he belongs to a children's drumming group.

There must be a hundred or so Natives milling about at this camper park, plus the tourists whose Winnebagos and Airstreams are parked at some of the hookups. I'm just taking in the scene when Kateri says, "Look," and points past the picnic area. I see a skate park, well-equipped. A couple half-pipes, some quarter pipes, verts, rails, ramps, pools, bowls, and boxes. "Let's go," she says.

We don't have my board, but I can see that's not going to matter. I start to follow her, then stop and look back. The tribe's gathering in a circle for some kind of ceremony, and much as I want to be with Kateri, I want to be part of that, too. She runs ahead, and I'm standing there trying to figure out what to do when I see her father walking towards me.

"Where's Kateri?" he asks, and I swing my arm towards the skate park. He watches for a moment, nodding slowly, as a dude in a neon-blue shirt airs off the half-pipe in a three-sixty. "This is what you do?" he says. "What you are teaching my daughter?"

I nod. "But not today. Today's different."

"Not to my daughter," he says softly, and even though his dark eyes are shuttered, his face a mask, I have a pretty good idea what he's feeling right now. "She will escape us, her family, her tribe," he says. "She will make her own way."

"You want me to go get her?"

He puts his hand on my shoulder and looks at the ground. "Let her be. Her spirit is not at this gathering. You join our circle or join Kateri. It is completely your choice."

This is not how I planned on today going. Beyond the picnic tables, Kateri's talking to a couple of dudes, the one in the blue shirt and another as tall and skinny as I am. The guy in the blue shirt hands over his board and she manuals, then kickflips and ollies over a box. Like all that matters is the board under her feet and the obstacle ahead of her, not this gathering, not her family, not me.

I walk back to the circle with Kateri's father, and Anna and her mother unclasp their hands and take us in.

* * *

At the welcome ceremony, there's drumming by Kinap's group. Kateri's mother tells me the drum is sacred, a living object that sends messages to the spirit world. Concentrating on the voices of those drums, I feel the vibrations in my blood more than I hear them in my head. A smudging ceremony follows, sage burned in an abalone-shell bowl, the smoke fanned with an eagle feather over each participant. I recognize that strong, resinous scent from Kateri's house, and I feel calm and open as the sage smoke drifts over me. After a couple of elders speak about the old ways, good and bad, some of the Natives from Maine and New Brunswick talk about how to work together to reclaim their land, while others spread out and share information about the tribe and Qonasqamcook with the tourists and local gawkers.

I'm having a great time, the sun on my face, the sea breeze refreshing, everyone accepting me. "People will see you here with us," Kateri's uncle told me during the drive, "you and our other Euro friends, and they will see this is not a race issue. Good, thoughtful members of their own society are standing with us for justice."

When Kateri comes back, I'm listening to a couple of elders tell stories about the old days while we eat lunch, burgers cooked on the barbeques some tribe members brought, potato salad, corn on the cob, lemonade and iced tea. Kateri's carrying a board, and after she helps herself to food and sits down beside me, I say, "Where'd you get that?"

"Some hardware store up in town. Glenn and Dickie picked it out. Only forty dollars U.S."

Sweet. Glenn and Dickie, friends already. I examine the board. It's actually pretty good for an off-the-shelf model, and she'll probably never get to the level where she needs a custom job anyway.

"I did a one-eighty off the half-pipe," she says.

"Well," I say. "Great. Congratulations."

"I can't believe you'd rather stay here." She picks at her potato salad. "This is so boring. If my mother had grown up on the rez, she wouldn't be so caught up in all this stuff. I mean, you want to change things, then do something. Don't just dance around smelling smoke and beating a drum. It's so pointless and passive. No wonder the Euros stole our land."

"I don't think it's boring," I say.

"All I know is, I'm going to get off the rez," she says, "get out of the whole state of Maine, have a normal life. I'm going to accomplish things, not waste my time worrying about how unfair I've been treated because I'm Native." Kateri spins a wheel on her new board. "No one will ever call me 'squawgirl' again, or ask me if I live in a tepee, or tell me it's not fair we get land claims checks every year. Because no one will know I'm any different from them."

I suppose I could spout any number of sermonly chichés, but there's no point. "I want you to be happy," I say.

"I want you to be happy, too." Her smile is warm, and we sit there for a while, staring across the dry grass and pebbly beach to the dark, flat, surfless ocean and the American mainland bulked against the horizon. I think about boundaries, what keeps us in, what keeps us out. How Kateri's ancestors and family are completely different from mine. How Scooter and Bimbo look down on my kind of surfing, and Buddy Dexter and I shake our heads over theirs. But that's just too much heaviosity, so I let it all go.

Anna comes to tell us it's time for the pipe ceremony. Kateri says, "I ignored you today, didn't I? I can stay with you for the pipe, if you want."

"I do," I say, and she sits beside me as a pipe carrier from the Owl clan performs the ceremony of assembling the pipe. It passes from hand to hand, and when it comes to me I suck in just a taste, the sacred tobacco rough and pungent against my tongue, not at all like the cigarette I once tried that made me green with nausea.

On the hour-long drive home, Kateri leans quietly against my side, her head on my shoulder, her new board between her knees. I try to imagine what it's like to want to deny and escape everything you've ever known, but I can't get to that place at all.

The van pulls up in front of my grandparents' house. I smooch Kateri good night, slide open the door, and get out. "Zachary," her father says as I start up the walk. I turn back. "I watched you today," he says, leaning out the window. "For the government, being Native is about percentages. But for us, it's not about the Blood, it's about the Way. You adopt our path, you can be one of us." He nods and smiles his slow smile, and almost meets my eyes.

I nod and smile too, and go up the walk to the house.

* * *

Nonnie and Papa want to know all about the day, and I try to tell them, but getting the nuances right is like trying to grasp a handful of water. How can I explain how I felt when the abalone bowl of burning sage and the feather were put into my hands and I smudged myself with the sweet, tangy smoke, felt purified, swept clean, fanned by the wings of an eagle? How can I describe the way the drums spoke to my heart, my blood? It's easer to just describe the ceremonies, so I do that, and when I'm done, Nonnie says they'd like to meet the rest of Kateri's family, they'd like to invite them to dinner.

My grandparents have always known how to throw a party – we spend Christmas with them on Beacon Hill, and let me tell you, that's a scene straight out of Charles Dickens. So I'm not surprised when things kick into high gear, and pretty soon a couple of girls from Moose Island come to clean the house top to bottom. The day before the dinner party, Nantucket baskets filled with dried flower arrangements appear, and a humongous glass-topped wicker table is brought down from the attic, put on the back verandah, and set with straw placemats and colorful Fiestaware.

I'm so glad this isn't the formal dining room, crystal and china and three sterling forks. Don't think I underestimate Nonnie and Papa's sensitivity, because I don't; I know they'd never play those see-what-we-have or can-we-intimidate-you games. Still, when the van pulls into the driveway, I'm a little bit wound up about how it's all going to go. Actually, I'm less concerned with what my grandparents will think of the Dellises, than I am of what the Dellises will think of us.

But once we settle in on the front verandah, Anna and her father and Nonnie on the chain-swing glider, and Papa and Kateri's mother in the white porch rockers, it's as though they've all been friends forever. As I lay on the verandah floor with my head in Kateri's lap, shadows lengthen on the broad lawn and sunset turns the sky peach and rose and every color in between.

The adults find common ground quickly in, of all places, the Ivy League. Nonnie and Papa are Radcliffe and Harvard, and I find out Kateri's parents met at Dartmouth, which still has a mission to educate the Natives. Her mother was raised not on the reservation, but in Connecticut. Kateri's grandfather, like many Natives, had left the reservation for a good job building airplane engines at Pratt and Whitney, and never returned. I see Kateri's desire to escape in a whole new light, now that I know one set of her grandparents also left to live like Euros.

After a while, we go through the house to the back verandah. A first course of crisp Caesar salad and garlic bread is followed by one of Nonnie's specialties, fresh tuna steaks broiled and then topped with tomatoes and green and red peppers and onions and black olives and capers and parsley, all sautéed together in olive oil, and accompanied by perfect risotto. Dessert is Key lime pie and hazelnut coffee. Everything's so different from the simple food Kateri's family served, but I let that thought run out of my brain just as quick as it ran in. I don't want to think about what divides anymore, I don't want to compare.

* * *

The second Friday in August starts Native American Days, a three-day celebration with activities and exhibits and a big fireworks finale. I want to experience everything, the sunrise ceremonies, the sweat lodge, canoe races, storytelling, intertribal drumming and dancing and singing. I'm honored when one of the sweat lodges invites me to be the sacred runner, the one person who can travel the path to the fire and carry the hot stones. It's exhausting but exhilarating, and it makes me feel that I really do in some small way belong. Kateri goes shopping for school clothes with Lainie that day. She says if I'm getting caught up in this stuff, she'd rather not see it.

On Sunday, the last night of the celebration, everyone goes to the fish pier to watch the fireworks and ground displays. Kateri and I walk instead to the end of that crescent of land where the first Euros landed, and lie on a blanket on the soft, grassy ground next to the beach. The fireworks explode above us, colorful blossoms of light drifting down, extinguished in the sea. Hard to believe it's almost the middle of August, summer going fast and already a little chill in the night air. Everything is starting to feel like good-bye.

In nine days, I'll be heading home to California. I've been thinking about it a lot lately, wondering if this has been a summer romance, or if Kateri and I can manage a long-distance relationship. Not that I'm going to have anything else going. But Kateri will be heading back up north to the Maine School of Science and Mathematics with gifted kids from all over the state. I can see her showing up with her skateboard and guys who never noticed her before – if that's possible – suddenly finding her fascinating. It would totally bite to have to say final good-byes to her and to her family and to this summer world.

We pull the blanket around us and cuddle close. "It's almost over," she says.

I nod, my cheek against her hair. "I know."

"Senior year," she says. "College applications, all that. It'll be busy."

Does she mean too busy to stay in touch? I can't ask that, though. Instead I say, "Do you know where you're going?"

"I always planned to go to MIT. I really love Boston." She looks up at me as a big bright blast of fireworks lights up the sky. "But I've been thinking maybe I should look at other places, too. Maybe Caltech. Or Stanford."

"Or you might want to stick with MIT," I say. "Harlow men have been going to Harvard since 1712, and I couldn't escape it if I wanted to."

She opens my aloha shirt and runs her hands over my skin. "Would you like to make love to me?" she asks, and it's so right but so unexpected that I don't know what to say. For a moment or two, I remember the Ramona fiasco, and I promise myself that's not going to happen again.

We fumble around at first, but then we find our rhythm, heart to heart. When I come this time, I'm where I want to be, where Kateri wants me to be.

Afterwards, we lie together warm and naked, wrapped in our blanket. I think about the future, another summer, then us together in Cambridge, and who knows what after that. Kateri will leave the reservation for good, and the world will open up for us, and whether she wants to or not, she'll carry the memory of what she left behind. And I will always wonder what's been lost.

But right now we lie here, breathing in the tang of tidal salt and balsam and sweetgrass, holding each other easy and close. In the east, over the surfless ocean, the moon is rising, not quite full yet, silver and shadow, shining across all the borders of our worlds.

© 2007 by Catherine J.S. Lee



About the Author

Catherine J.S. Lee has lived most of her life within sight of the ocean and a couple of miles from one of Maine's Passamaquoddy reservations. She has worked as a journalist, wedding photographer, seamstress, bartender, chef, clinical laboratory technologist/ microbiologist, writing teacher, and librarian, and currently teaches in the special education program at her local high school. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The MacGuffin, juked, Cezanne's Carrot, The Rose & Thorn, Amarillo Bay, and The Binnacle, among others. She recently completed, and is seeking a publisher for, her first story collection, Gone Like Sea Smoke: Stories From the Gulf of Maine, which explores the lives of characters caught between traditional ways of life and the gentrification of Maine's working coast.


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