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Summer Stories: ‘The Incredible Shrinking (Lakota) Woman’ by Tiffany Midge

UPDATED: Mon., Aug. 9, 2021

By Tiffany Midge For The Spokesman-Review</p><p>

We waited in line at the tribal casino for our COVID-19 shots. Well, just me, that is. Jon tagged along so I could get my shot. He wasn’t eligible on account of being a white dude.

He pointed out the National Guardsmen lining the entrances and exits. It was decidedly dystopian, post-apocalyptic. Indians know all too well the shapes and economics of disaster, the apocalypses and pandemics. We observe them within our communities like bank holidays. Like Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

I filled out my little card, and they called my name. Jon waited near the entrance as I was led through the casino auditorium where cordoned-off canopies edged up against the walls.

The butterfly designs in the carpet seemed to rise up in 3D, a trick of the eye.

Butterflies.

Somewhere I read that the Nimiipuu refer to their rez, the community of Lapwai, as “land of butterflies.” And that “lapwai” derives from the Nimiipuu word “thlap-thlap.” I knew the sound. In the Before Times, I visited a butterfly sanctuary in Kansas and was transfixed with the newly born monarchs thlapp-thlapping their wings. The sound of transformation.

I rolled up my sleeve and waited for the health care worker to administer my shot. It was quick. Painless. The Indian Health Service and tribes across the country were the first to carry out vaccinations. Before anyone in the “regular, civilian population.” Efficiency. But COVID-19 fatalities among Natives were the highest of any other ethnic group. Nearly double the per-capita of COVID-19 deaths for white Americans.

“Will I have any side effects?” I asked the health care worker. He was a short, balding white guy with round glasses.

“Nothing to worry about. It shouldn’t be too bad. You can take Excedrin if your arm bothers you,” he said.

A few hours later, my arm was sore, and I felt a little wonky, but mostly just cranky.

“You should take aspirin and maybe go to bed,” Jon said. The tone in his voice noted my crankiness.

“You want to get rid of me, then?” I said, kidding, not kidding.

My dreams that night were fitful and chaotic. Teeth cracked and fell out of my mouth. Keys refused to work in locks and crumbled to dust. I tried screaming to warn the imperiled people in my dream, but I couldn’t emit any sound. What was the signage posted on roller coasters in Japan? Please scream inside your heart.

The next morning, I took a shower and as I was getting dressed. I noticed my pants were really loose and baggy.

“Hey, this is weird.” I told Jon. “My pants are really loose.”

“That’s great, good for you!” Jon said a little too enthused at the suggestion that maybe I’d lost weight.

“No, that’s not it! I wore these pants yesterday. Look at me!” I said. The pants, wide-legged, cotton khakis, were useless, clown-sized pants in need of suspenders. The legs pooled around my ankles. “This is ridiculous. I’m ridiculous!”

It wasn’t until noon that I made another disturbing discovery. My shoes didn’t fit. My feet shuffled around inside them like my stepdaughter Chelsea trying on Jon’s clodhoppers. I tried one pair after another from my closet, but nothing would work. I finally threw on a pair of cheap flip-flops so I could make my appointment. Jon didn’t seem particularly concerned, one way or another. He’d been distant and distracted for months now. The pair of us stuck in our small apartment, quarantined, working remotely. The sense of distance operated as a coping mechanism. Are humans really meant to be glued at the hip around the clock?

That night, Jon was looming over me in bed. “What the hell, Crystal!”

“What?! What’s your problem? You woke me up! Jesus,” I said.

Jon switched on the light. “What’s my problem? Oh, honey, oh God, look at yourself!”

“What are you talking – what the hell!”

“See? See? Yeah, what the hell, Crystal! Where’d you go? Look how tiny your feet are!”

“Do something, Jon,” I said.

“What did you do to yourself?” Jon asked as if I was responsible for my shockingly diminutive state.

“Really, Jon? Really? You want to play the blame game now? I didn’t do anything.” It occurred to me that my shrinking might have had something to do with the vaccination. Had other people shrunk?

“You’re so … little,” Jon said. “Hey, you think I should take a picture?”

I rolled over to the edge of the bed, but when I looked at how far down the floor was, I got dizzy. I was the size of a football. Or maybe Jon’s Big Mouth Billy Bass – the one mounted in the dining room that sings “Take Me to the River.”

Jon carried me into the bathroom and helped me pee, and then he got me a drink of water – a small pill bottle sufficed as a cup. If Chelsea hadn’t left some of her doll things in the apartment for when she visited before quarantine, I wouldn’t have had anything to wear. Jon dressed me in a red jumper and some kind of yellow pants. He tucked me into bed between two pillows so I wouldn’t roll out in the night and crack my head open. I was exhausted, and I dropped off to sleep immediately.

In my dream, I waited at the tribal casino for my shot. Jon asked me what a CDIB was. I told him my certificate of degree of Indian blood was like the Golden Ticket from Willy Wonka proving how much percentage Oompa Loompa I was. But it didn’t matter anymore because I was disappearing. Just like the monarch butterflies. Just like the murder hornets at the start of the pandemic. Just like the cicadas a year later – the cicadas, which hibernated underground for 17 years and after their resurrection filled the air with nonstop, ear-splitting screaming. For sex.

And then, they were all gone.

Co-habitation with Jon during the pandemic became easier after I moved into Chelsea’s dollhouse. Every day, I shrunk more and more, little by little, until it didn’t make sense for me to attempt navigating all the potential hazards or inevitable disasters in our small apartment. It was an adjustment, for sure. I won’t deny that. The silver lining, though? Along with avoiding the potential hazards, we also managed to squash a lot of our yearslong, accumulated resentments. It turned out a lot of crap gets forgiven when you sleep on cotton batting inside an old cigar box. Compromises get made. Truces made.

“Just face it,” I told Jon one night about two months earlier. “You’re more comfortable with me being the size of a highlighter.” He finally admitted it. He said he was worried that one day I might completely disappear, but honestly? I think he’d be OK with that, too. Resigned, maybe.

The day after I moved into Chelsea’s dollhouse, Jon was out for a walk and found a pair of little shoes in the parking lot at the aquatic center. They were perfect little men’s shoes. Black oxfords. He brought them home and surprised me with them. It had been so long since I had anything new, so naturally I was excited. They were almost a perfect fit.

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