Erika T. Wurth
There are so many gorgeous photos of me. And I’m beautiful in every one of them; thin, perfect, frozen in time. And the drugs were lovely. They were like ice-skating with your best friend when you were eight, like falling in love, like living on cake. I was in New York for six years in a loft in the West Village when I first met Harry. Harry… that womanizing, shitty filmmaker of a man. I had a wonderful life; I lived with a ton of other artists, though I was the only Native American. That made me unique. When I wasn’t modeling, I was doing promotional work for clubs (that part was my favorite because they would have us dress up so crazy) but then sometimes I’d get a buckskin gig for a Native magazine and that would be wonderful. I would send a copy to mom, who would send a copy to grandma, and they would write me and tell me how beautiful I was but when was I going to settle down? I thought the answer to that was never. Because getting older wasn’t real, it wasn’t something I ever thought about, it didn’t even exist. I was in my early twenties, I was a model, I lived in New York.
I was dating a senator for a while there when I was twenty-two. A fucking senator. He was married. I had to keep it quiet. But the things he bought me. And we did so much blow. My friends loved him, because he would come to our apartment smelling of money and beauty and roll out the expensive drugs and take us all to dinner. And let me tell you how much he loved for me to put on the leather gear I’d gotten from some of those club gigs, and whip his white, white ass. I loved it too. I loved everything about that time. My life was so glamorous and trashy and lovely and I was drunk and high and I felt like a rock star, like I was living inside of a neon light, like I was a god. I was in my early twenties, I was a model, I lived in New York.
The first time I met Harry, I’d just come from a shoot in Paris. I remember walking around that golden city filled with such an intense feeling of euphoria it was sexual; thin, dressed in a Christian Dior suit, my dyed black hair down to my ass, the men in that city practically falling all over themselves for la belle amérindienne and me strutting past and laughing on my way to meet some actor and director friends at a hip new restaurant. I’d been given a bit part in a little film and it was premiering at Red Stick in Santa Fe and I was ecstatic. I was sure that I would make it into film. Much as I loved dressing up for my buckskin gigs, or for powwow or ceremony for that matter, I was happy to play anything. I could pass for a lot of ethnicities. I’d even dyed my hair blonde once. And this was my first part in a movie and it had been a long time in coming. I’d been auditioning for years. I’d told myself that struggle was part of it. That it was all about courage, about not giving up. When I’d audition, they’d get this really excited look when I’d come in. But when I’d read, that look would fade and I would leave feeling more and more defeated and depressed every time. I didn’t understand. I’d taken a ton of classes at the New School. I figured that modeling was a lot like acting. You had to act when you modeled, you had to have presence. And I did. Everyone said I looked like I was about to go through the camera and eat whoever was on the other side. But modeling had been easy to break into. I told myself that the acting world was more complicated, more competitive. That it was only a matter of time. I was in my early twenties, I was a model, I lived in New York.
I was at a party after the premier in Santa Fe when one of my friends elbowed me and pointed in the direction of a fat little Navajo guy. That’s Harry Brownhorse, she said. And? I said. He’s a director. I eyed him and he took it as some kind of cue to come up and start talking to me. I was irritated because I hate it when gross men think that they have the right to hit on me. He asked my name. I asked his, and he shook my hand with one of his wet little paws. He was quick to tell me that his film had premiered at Sundance. His friend Harlen was right behind him and after a while it was clear that those two went around together like a married couple. Later I found out that Harlen’s film had premiered at Sundance too. And that it did a lot better than Harry’s. Harlen stared at me all bug eyed and silent and drank the PBRs that he’d brought and Harry kept going on and on about how important he was until I became bored. But I knew that I had to play nice, so I acted flirtatious and like what he was saying was entertaining. Though I wanted to strangle his fat little neck when he said something about my friend Sheena being nothing but a pretty little cunt. I’m sure it was because she didn’t want to fuck him. He told me that I’d played a really good vampire and his little wife Harlen snorted drink out of his nose and took off towards the bathroom. Don’t mind him, Harry said and I nodded, though I disliked him even more. I did, however, let him have my phone number right before he left with Harlen as I knew he was a potentially important connection. Harlen had been whining, Can’t we goooo? in-between gulps of PBR like a six year old nearly all night. Harry texted me for hours. I just kept texting lol back. He seemed to like that. Then I went home with this beautiful Cree actor from Canada who was in another film that was premiering at Red Stick. I wondered the next day if I should have been nicer but after a couple of weeks it was like fuck that guy because after the first film, I got another bit part and then later another, both with low budget Native productions. For a while, I started to believe that things were really happening. But I was never given any lines – or very few. And it kept landing me right back at Red Stick. And Harry was always there. Always trying to fuck me. And I would nod and flirt and text him back and go home with someone beautiful. That’s the most humiliating part about it, that for years I brushed him away like he was an insect, like he was something I’d stepped on with one of my LaBoutin heels. Also, I’m Ojibwe and Cree. I practically dwarfed that fucker. And he must have thought I was a moron. I found out pretty quickly that he only did Navajo films, cast Navajo actors. But he liked to find women like me, mixed woman, tall women, and indicate that he might cast them, and then fuck them and move onto the next. Please. I’d been using people for years in New York. I knew what it looked like from both sides. If I was going to fuck someone, it was because I was either going to get something from them or because I really actually wanted to fuck them. I was in my early twenties, I was a model, I lived in New York.
One night in New York, after I’d been feeling unusually tired and had just had another audition that I’d obviously blown, I wanted to party. And just my luck, Sheena’s boyfriend, who was an executive for Starbucks, was in town and we were all invited to his loft in Manhattan. It was decorated like the inside of a cloud, white and silver. The carpet was thick and soft and bone white and the chandeliers were these strange, lovely things that looked more like sculptures than light fixtures. I was wearing something blue and silky and it was dripping off of me. I sat down on the couch and someone handed me a glass of Pinot and I leaned back, my tan arms looking like some sort of precious metal against the white, Italian leather of the couch. People were laughing, and I recognized an actor who I’d just seen in Woody Allen’s latest. I took a snort of coke and sipped at the wine and it felt magical, the music coming from the stereo like a dream. I felt invincible, like I was inside of one the chandeliers, like I was pure light. Like I was pure pure. I began to float. I don’t remember falling towards the glass table in front of me, my wine glass smashing against it, my nose gushing blood. I don’t remember Sheena calling 911 or the ride in the ambulance to the hospital, where I died, twice. I remember waking up in the hospital, talking to the doctor about all of the drugs, the booze, the late nights. I remember mom flying in from Minneapolis and crying and crying over my bed, my thin, warm white sheets making me feel like a ghost. I couldn’t understand it. I was in my early twenties, I was a model, I lived in New York.
Six months later, after mom had taken me home, after months in a room I hadn’t seen for years, after a suicide attempt, after counseling, after several hysterical breakdowns on the part of my mom, I was back at Red Stick, at a party at one of Sheena’s friend’s houses. He was a buckskin actor. He had been bragging all night about the latest Western he had been in, his long black braids glistening in the light, a joint squeezed in-between the fingers of his left hand. My friend Sheena was flirting with crazy crazy Kes Woodi because she was on shrooms, I was about half a bottle of white wine in, and there was Harry on the other side of the room, a glass of Patrón in his little hand. He didn’t recognize me at first. And then when he did, he smiled. I smiled back. My room in New York had been taken over by another model. She was Jamaican. She was eighteen. I had just turned twenty-five. But some friends of mine had hired me to do PR for a documentary and at least I was out of my mother’s house. Harry came over and told me I looked hot and I snorted and asked him to refill my wine glass. He did. I drank. I thought about all of the stuff mom had been filling my head with for the last six months in between feeding and feeding me, about how I wasn’t getting any younger, and did I want a baby, and that my modeling days were behind me, and if I got married how I needed to find an enrolled Native because I was just under half and if I had a kid, that kid wouldn’t be enrolled unless I did, and that whoever it was better not be a bum like the people I’d lived with in New York. Where’s Harlen? I asked and it was Harry’s turn to snort. I didn’t ask. I drank more wine. And he asked me about my life and told me about his latest film, how it was about Indian boarding schools and I told him that my grandma had been to one and about what had happened to her there and then we ended up in a back bedroom and afterwards, I cried and though he pet my arm awkwardly I could feel how desperately he wished he wasn’t there. After about an hour in the dark, my eyes wide open, Harry got up, and quietly put his clothes on. For a moment I thought he might be pausing to see if my eyes were open or shut but he was only struggling to put on one of his shoes. After I heard the front door close, I got up, and wrapped the long, blue sheet around my body and walked through the now deserted living room and opened the front door. I stood at the door for a while, watching his car disappear down the road, into the desert, into the dark. It smelled like rain and I felt sick and twisted inside like a dark, dark, dying gangrenous thing. I closed the door and walked over to the kitchen and pulled a bottle of tequila out of the mess of bottles. There was blood on the counter where a dancer who Harry was going to throw me over for at another party in two weeks had taken the cork out of a wine bottle without a corkscrew and had ended up breaking the bottle and cutting her hand deeply. She had laughed and the men had rushed over to help. I went back over to the couch and sat down with the tequila and drank, hard. I lit up a cigarette and tried to push away the deep, wide darkness that was beginning to fill me. I stared at the empty white walls. There was nothing. My God, six months ago, I was in my early twenties, I was a model, I lived in New York.
About The Writer
Erika T. Wurth’s novel, Crazyhorse’s Girlfriend, has been accepted for publication by Curbside Splendor. A writer of both fiction and poetry, she teaches creative writing at Western Illinois University and has been a guest writer at the Institute of American Indian Arts. She’s Apache/Chickasaw/Cherokee and was raised outside of Denver.