Lola BigBear, Love and the Net

When my best friend told me she finally met her man I had to forgive a lot. I forgave her for not calling me for four and a half months. I forgave her for forgetting or ignoring my graduation. And I forgave her for the very questionable circumstances under which she met that man. You see, Lola BigBear and I grew up like sisters and the way I see it, sisters are supposed find the good in each other. So while she filled up her kitchen with cigarette smoke, Patsy Cline's music and his email love messages I sat and drank my beers with her like best friends do. And I did my best to convince both of us that this was actually good news even though I knew that it wasn't. I did feel something close to good for her at the time but I think it was because I just missed talking to her. We were also drinking, and under those circumstances, lying always comes easy. But more than anything I wanted to be happy because Lola was owed love and I knew it.

Some people thought that Lola was unlucky in love because of the way she looked. This was not true at all. But for as long as I knew Lola, no matter which way you looked at her you saw roughness. Her shirts showed stress around her man shoulders and her nose was flattened into a bumpy mass. She grew up in a house full of boys and had both the fighting expertise and love of lipstick and nail polish to show for it. She had crooked white teeth and a full mouth that she spent her adult life lining and painting. She worked hard on her face, she said, because that was all she was given. But there were problems even with that. Lola had eyebrows that were thick, straight and relentless. They refused to be domesticated by her mother's razor blade or a beauty professional's tweezers. She had other problems as well, beauty marks gone wrong, short eyelashes and unforgivably big hands for a woman. All this taken together made Lola seem to be a big, mannish and rough, with a prettiness that had to be pencilled and coloured. Even though I knew Lola was nice looking, people still thought she was rough because she looked mad all the time. I suppose this made it hard for her man to see her.

But I knew Lola and I knew that the eyebrows, the lip liner and man tailored shirts were underwritten by softness. In her flowed special stuff, a substance made of principle, of smarts and sweetness. This was a sweetness that rendered her unintelligible to a lot of the hard asses that we knew. People just couldn't process her -- they didn't come equipped with the program to read her right. Lola had magic in her, I was sure, and it was a magic that banged her brother's heads together like cymbals when they beat the shit out of retarded Joey. It was magic that directed her into the depths of her mothers darkness and yanked that woman out, bit by bit until she was whole again. And it was a magic that navigated her through the agonies of school with me. Lola was special because she could step outside of herself and into other people. She was extraordinary for not really caring much for herself besides what Revlon lip colour would work on her this season. She knew what right from wrong was and how and when the people around her needed her most. But Lola was painfully alone and she never talked about it. This silence was cause for some speculation from some around her. Some thought it was because she was big, others because she rarely smiled. I knew that there was no guy so far that was good enough for her and figured Lola knew the same. So I reminded myself that I treasured her and forgave her for forgetting or ignoring the most important day of my life. I tried to find the happiness in me for Lola and her new man.

I would have picked up another case of American beer, toasted to her and even broke my own rules and smoked American cigarettes if I could have been properly happy for her. But something here was terribly wrong. And there was simply too much that she stood to lose by not realizing this. Her forgetfulness was making our friendship contingent on me lying to her and pretending like this was the best news I heard all year. So I sat and drank the taste of aluminum around my tongue and listened to her tell me how she met the man of her dreams in a chat room full of freaks, wannabe's and Indian lovers. I listened to Lola tell me, with a straight face, that he was a Cherokee Indian born and raised in Nebraska and that he was doing further research into his "ancestral history." Lola knew full well that no Indian that we grew up with ever had to do research to know who they were. This should have been a clear warning to her. She should have pulled out right then and there, she should have told him good luck with the research and with his future lives. But she continued without skipping a beat and said that this summer he was going on a vision quest in New Mexico. I sat, swallowing beer and bile while Lola put reason into relief and gave her self up to a blinking cursor that spewed lies from her computer screen.

Her researching cyber Cherokee was the man that she would marry, she said. He cared for her, he sent her things and no man ever did that before. She showed me books and beaded chokers he sent her and when she saw the look of horror on my face she explained away his whiteness as bad taste. She said, "you know I would never read Jamake Highwater or wear a Janet Jackson choker (no Lola, you would not read this crap or wear such crap because you actually are Indian) -- but he is from the States, I guess they are funny like that down there." I sipped away and tried to keep my mouth shut. I nodded while waiting and wondering when I could fall off my own wagon and start smoking for Lola, when I would wear a maid of honour dress and feel right about it. I bit my tongue to keep my comments in check, got her nail polish remover and worked on my nails until the sun came in through her kitchen window. I kept on painting and drinking. I put myself in charge of the cd's so we wouldn't be listening to her music all night and waited for her to talk herself to sleep. She was finally poised to fall off her chair at sunrise. "Lola," I said, "go to bed!" and she did. She left the mess of manicure offal, beer and ash on her kitchen table and disappeared into her bedroom.

I got up and I did what the best-friend-in-supporting-roles do in such situations. I threw up the suds in my stomach, brushed my teeth with Lola's toothbrush and started cleaning her kitchen. I put off all of the noise in her house and wiped the table down. I soaked her ashtrays in a bucket, washed her week's worth of dishes and started sweeping. I swept and mopped and thought about what I haven't told you thus far. I thought about what Lola has to lose, about why the stakes are so high with her romance with the "brother from another planet." You see, Lola and I are like sisters and it is not just because she grew up in a house full of boys and I had colouring books for friends for the first 10 years of my life. We were cut from the same cloth and were cut in funny ways. Half Indian, we formed a pair of mismatched socks from the start. We used to joke that together we made one whole Indian until we started to like ourselves better and had nightshirts printed one Christmas that read "Halfer's are Smarter." When we discovered her mother's booze we would pass a bottle of peach liqueur between us and allow ourselves the luxury and pain of imagining what our lives would have been like if her father and my mother had married each other.

It was during that time, the time of possibility and promise offered to girls before they become women, that Lola and I swore to each other that we would never, ever marry out. We swore that we would do whatever we could to find a man who was nice, who was smart, who would treat us right and most importantly, a man who was Indian. We named the men we could love to each other out loud, and let those names hang in the air to guide us like compasses. With such men as fathers for our children, being Indian would not be a choice or even worse, a matter of research -- it would be a clear, unambiguous and seamless inheritance. Lola and I were born into a situation that was not of our making and this made us painfully, and obsessively aware of the terrific meaning that is attached to individual choice and decision-making in Indian country. This is because we had to live by the decisions that our parents made. So we not only lived by those decisions, we in fact lived those decisions. We kept our promises to each other. We followed the compasses that we set before each other so many years before and we looked for our man. I went away to school, Lola stayed behind. And while I wrote fancy papers and messed around with white guys, Lola stayed home and painted her lips a different shade for every season.

Then Lola swore that she found her man on the internet. And that brings us back to this morning and the mess in her kitchen that we made while she lived the shared consequences of our making through her stories of him and his email love messages to her. He made Lola smile and made her eyes sparkle. He gave her the love that was owed to her for a long time now. And he made my best friend forget my graduation. I can forgive her for that. But I know I can't expect much from Lola these days because for once, I don't matter much. For the first time in her life Lola BigBear has found some love. I thought about putting the radio on and then decided against it. The floors were still wet and I didn't want to walk on them. Instead I propped my feet up on a kitchen chair and put my elbows to rest on the clean table. I pulled an American cigarette from the pack in front of me and broke a rule for Lola. I smoked to her happiness.

Audra Simpson
March 1997