A teenaged ThunderCloud, excommunicated from his Cherokee people, survives in a world full of strangers and learns to handle responsibility as a man. On his journey home to make amends, he gathers a renegade gaggle of odd experiences and people.
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Thundercloud's view of his familiar world on the Cherokee reservation was about to become a memory as he stood under the hot, direct light of an Oklahoma summer afternoon. He was on trial. He would be excommunicated, and that would be the start of his uncommon and, at times, magical journey to find his manhood.
Chapter One: TRIAL "A woman's highest calling is to lead a man to his soul so as to unite him with Source. A man's highest calling is to protect woman so she is free to walk the earth unharmed." — Cherokee proverb The elderly Grandfather Gawonii (Cherokee: “He is speaking”) was undecided if the newborn’s presence was a harbinger of stormy days to come or a gild-edged silver lining after those storms. He decided, therefore, right before he died, to name his new grandchild, “ThunderCloud!” Now seventeen and in serious trouble under a cloudless, blisteringly hot Oklahoma sky, ThunderCloud’s jumbled and confused thoughts irritated him: Am I good or am I evil? How can I be sure? He stood on trial before Tribal Elders, who, in the past, had spared him his childhood faults, but today could not overlook his recent egregiously irresponsible behavior. The scale of justice would pit the value of his character against damning evidence and the undeniably fatal consequences of a horrendous multiple-vehicle collision that he had caused. Half-naked, standing alone on a makeshift dirt mound and surrounded by accusers and witnesses, ThunderCloud was the Interested Party against whom close kin already had testified. One witness had recommended a punishment so harsh that it still pounded the teenager’s ears and reddened his sensitive skin. Those hard-spoken, bold, and unforgiving words left him cold inside. The red clay dust whipped up by swirling wind gusts, and the searing heat and sweltering humidity were exacting a price out of everyone in attendance. Still, the elements’ impact paled against how severe the sentence about to crash down upon him would be when declared. Although ThunderCloud’s earlier misdemeanors had brought him other discomforts, right now, his shame and disgrace in front of everyone dear to him were worse: He suffered humiliation and embarrassment in the plain view of every one of his clan’s members. Feeling barely alive, he felt his pulse weaken. Numbed emotionally, he was not suicidal, but he was dying to be somewhere else. His stoic sister Leotie (“Flower of the Prairie”) bore witness to the trial and his suffering in silence. She was his only living sibling. Although sad to see him in this situation, surrounded by other women, she was comforted. Oukonanaka (“White Owl”), ThunderCloud’s mentor and Leotie’s confidant, offered no solace to him, having spoken out against him. His testimony had prescribed a punishment unimaginable before the incident, which had brought everyone to this place and moment. He must think that this is all my own doing! There were other forces involved. Surely, he must know this! ThunderCloud had justified to himself. * * * In his early and pre-teen childhood years, selfish desires and prankish ideas mattered more to ThunderCloud than the welfare of the people around him. Aloof from caring because of a secret, inner turmoil, and disconnect that held him back—one that he never reconciled—he had felt forced to look out for only himself . Whatever he did or said, he had considered fair game upon others. What choice do I have? It’s not like I choose to be this way! He justified then, and now. Being one of the Principal People (Cherokee)—one of the betrayed and decimated “Five Civilized Tribes” of the earliest natural inhabitants of this continent — had filled his days and nights with an unexplained, crippling fear of impending loss and personal identity. By puberty, when expected to make more of himself, he had gained altitude among his peers; yet, until recent events, a constant feeling that time was running out for him, that he would not find an answer to his isolation and his fears, consumed his mind. Seeking answers to those emotions and that question still ruled his days and nights. ThunderCloud felt like he was serving a life-term prison sentence without any possibility of parole. He wondered all the time. Isn’t there more to living than these appalling conditions and apathy? He also wondered, Why have I never told anyone about this? Impaled on the sharpness of his sensitivity, he questioned his heritage, trying to descry the wisdom of his ancestors. Despite concluding that something had gone missing for his People, and aside from his present predicament, he vowed that nothing would ever change his mind about how much he loved and wanted to enjoy the Cherokee People. It was, in fact, likely that nothing ever could. The thought of that makes me feel better, he told himself as he once again looked around and found himself taking the brunt of harsh stares from witnesses to his trial. In many ways, ThunderCloud had represented “his kind” (as the White Man would put it) well: He had been his Elders’ favorite son; he had worked hard on his chores each day after attending traditional classes; had earned high academic marks, and had excelled at conventional sports and warrior skills. He had developed into his clan’s best traditional dancer, taking his cues from Oukonanaka, who had taught him everything. No unkind words ever had passed his lips when federal agents delivered rationed food stamps and welfare checks to the adult residents of the federally assigned Reservation. Watching other Principal People blow most of their subsidy incomes away on alcohol, he did not throw rocks or bottles at the agents, as his older, more bitter, and wilder peers had done from time to time. He never had spit on their government-issued vehicles, never had broken their headlamps in protest; not even in jest had he stolen their hubcaps. Now and then, however, he had played pranks on them: Stuffing potatoes into tailpipes and waiting for the loud ‘BANG!’ was fun for younger boys. Later, older and more curious, he had learned that he liked to try anything any time at least once, for which he paid small prices when caught making mischief. Yet, he stood in redress before his family and his People for something far worse on this day, something that he could not change and would never be able to repay in full. A White Man’s pregnant wife died in the terrible car crash that he had caused right at the intersection of the two main roads of the nearby off-reservation town. Laughing with his teenage friends, while driving, he let a split second of inattention put him into the path of another family vehicle. The resulting head-on collision—a horrific and bloody scene—resulted not only in two fatalities and several major and minor injuries but also a severe loss of reputation and severed public relations among most of the non-Native-American residents of the village and the Cherokee adults living on the Reservation but working in and around the town. If ThunderCloud could not remember most of the testimonials spoken against him this afternoon, his shortcoming was not born out of disrespect — he loved his mentors and his Elders. He respected their ancient ways based on common-sense and Mother Nature. But there were other reasons to forget—the rising heat, for one; several others had passed out under the hefty weight of their ceremonial garb. Also, the snail’s pace and length of these proceedings, no matter the list of charges or weather conditions, were not subject to change. And there was the growing numbness—the lack of feeling that ThunderCloud was beginning to realize he could not avoid: His sense of guilt was disappearing; in its place, hopelessness and grief were melding into the dull, gray mass of apathy. Banishment would be his sentence. As certain as the abandonment by the skulk of a fox exposed to human touch and scent, he would be forced to face this consequence alone. * * *