After Oscar’s death, Junior wants to disappear, but his best friend Rowdy talks him out of it, claiming, “It’s not like anybody’s going to notice if you go away … so you might as well gut it out.”
Rowdy’s characteristic tough love shows his deep-but-deeply-buried love for Junior, and foreshadows the moment when Junior really does go away, and Rowdy really notices. Rowdy, even more than Junior, sees both of their lives as worthless because of their race and poverty, but he also thinks having nothing to lose is reason enough to keep fighting.
Rowdy often comes to Junior’s house to avoid his abusive father, who is “drinking hard and throwing hard punches.” When Rowdy invites Junior to go to the annual Spokane powwow—a celebration with ancient and modern traditions including singing, war dancing, storytelling, food, and “plenty of alcoholic brawling”—Junior declines, fearing he’ll get beat up by drunken revelers, but Rowdy promises to protect him as he has always done.
More connections between poverty, alcohol, and violence on the reservation appear here. Rowdy’s alcoholic father beats him, and Junior is afraid of being attacked by drunks. The alcoholic brawling at the powwow also shows how violence and alcoholism have been absorbed into Spokane culture. Meanwhile, Rowdy’s protection of Junior is one of the most important dynamics of their friendship.
On the way back from the powwow, Rowdy trips and stumbles in a funny way and Junior laughs at him. Rowdy gets furious, but smashes a sack of bottles and the windows of a nearby car in lieu of taking out his anger on Junior.
This exchange shows Rowdy’s capacity for revenge, as the smallest breach of trust in his friendship with Junior can have violent consequences. At the same time, his fury at that breach of trust—and most importantly, his refusal to hit Junior—demonstrates how much Rowdy still cares about Junior and his opinion.
“That was a mistake,” Junior says about laughing at Rowdy. Although Junior knows Rowdy would never hurt him, the violent display scares him—as does the possibility of being jailed for vandalism if he and Rowdy are caught—and so he runs away. Again, “That was a mistake”: Junior runs right into the camp of the Andruss brothers, “the cruelest triplets in the history of the world,” who like to bully Junior even though they are thirty years old.
Junior’s repetition of “That was a mistake” shows he feels a sense of personal responsibility for the bad things that happen to him. He’s internalized bullying just as he’s internalized poverty. His choice to run away is also an example of how Junior acts before he matures and learns to defend himself.
Because Junior is alone, the drunken Andruss brothers make fun of his brain disorder, knock him down, and knee him in the crotch. After Rowdy finds the beaten-up Junior, the two boys hide out near where the Andruss brothers are camping, and when they are passed out Rowdy gets revenge by shaving their eyebrows and cutting off their braids—a great insult and injury to an Indian man.
The Andruss brothers’ drunkenness is key to this scene: it’s what makes them cruel, and also what makes them vulnerable to Rowdy’s revenge. For his part, Rowdy gets revenge by attacking the brothers’ Indian identity. Rowdy will go to great lengths to protect Junior, but he is also sometimes the person Junior needs protection from.
Though this episode illustrates Rowdy’s toughness, Junior knows Rowdy also has a softer side: Rowdy loves old comics, and Junior’s cartoons always make him laugh. Junior says he draws cartoons for Rowdy “to make him happy, to give him new worlds to live inside. I draw his dreams.”
Rowdy’s softer side is something only Junior knows about. This secret identity is not so different from a dream, since it’s a better version of himself that Rowdy doesn’t get to be in everyday life. Junior and his cartoons make it possible for Rowdy to express both his dreams and his kinder self, just as they also expressed the dreams Junior’s parents didn’t get to fulfill.
Junior and Rowdy don’t talk about their dreams with anyone else but each other. Junior calculates that they’ve spent 40,880 hours together in their fourteen years of friendship, which makes them the most important people in each other’s lives.
Junior and Rowdy’s sharing of dreams is confessional in a way—a mark of trust, with a secrecy that also implies such hopes are somehow shameful. The boys’ identities are very closely tied to each other, with Junior as the weak one and Rowdy as the strong one. Coming of age will require both of them to strike out on their own and learn to define themselves on their own terms.