Junior begins his next chapter with the following sentence: “A few days after I gave Penelope a homemade Valentine (and she said she forgot it was Valentine’s Day), my dad’s best friend, Eugene, was shot in the face in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven in Spokane.”
Unlike the long preface to Grandmother’s death, the news of Eugene’s death is shockingly upfront. The contrast between this bluntly stated, horrifying news and the much more trivial, juvenile problems that preoccupied Junior just days before highlights the extreme differences between Junior’s lives in Reardan and Wellpinit.
Eugene was shot by his good friend Bobby during a drunken argument, which the police think was over the last drink from a bottle of wine. Though Bobby does not at first realize what he has done, he is later so overcome with guilt that he hangs himself in his jail cell, before Eugene’s loved ones even have a chance to forgive him.
Eugene’s death turns out to be another violent, senseless result of alcohol abuse, and Bobby’s suicide compounds the tragedy. Junior implies that forgiving Bobby might have made things better by providing some closure for Eugene’s loved ones and some marginal relief for Bobby.
In grief, Junior’s Dad goes on a drinking binge, Mom goes to church every day, and Junior draws and draws cartoons that mock God and Jesus as he feels they are mocking him.
Recalling Junior’s earlier observation that we all have pain and try to make it go away, each member of Junior’s family has a different coping mechanism. Junior’s grief, unlike Dad’s drinking, finds its outlet through creativity. Angry though his cartoons may be, he’s still channeling his feelings into art, just as Coach told him to turn his pain and anger into a passion that could help him win at basketball.
From Gordy, Junior gets a book with what seems like a good definition of his grief: Euripides’ Medea, which includes the line, “What greater grief than the loss of one’s native land?” Junior feels this applies perfectly to Indians, who as a group have lost everything, and identifies with Medea’s sense that the world is completely joyless. Depressed, Junior worries that his departure from the reservation may have cursed his family.
Not only do Medea’s words apply to Indians as a group, but they also apply to Junior, who made a decision to leave his native land before Grandmother and Eugene died. Like death, exile means leaving behind the people and places you knew and loved, but unlike death you have to experience the loss yourself. Junior left voluntarily, which makes him feel personally responsible for the deaths, as if his loved ones are being taken away because he abandoned them.
After missing close to twenty days of school because of wakes, funerals, and his own and his parents’ depression, Junior goes back to class. His social studies teacher, Mrs. Jeremy, makes a mocking comment about his absences—shocking his classmates, who know what his family has been going through.
It’s probably more racism that leads Mrs. Jeremy to assume that Junior’s absences are the result of his own negligence, rather than circumstances beyond his control. In any case, her reaction shows a failure of forgiveness and compassion.
To show his support for Junior, Gordy stands and drops his textbook, leading the rest of the class to do the same. The white students then walk out—leaving Junior alone with Mrs. Jeremy. Junior laughs at the absurdity of being left behind.
Junior’s white classmates’ show of support demonstrates how fully they have accepted him—and yet they still act as a unit, leaving him behind. As usual, this element of humor undercuts the seriousness of the scene.
Junior tells Mrs. Jeremy that he used to think the world was broken down into tribes such as black, Indian, and white. Now, however, he knows that “the world is only broken into two tribes: The people who are assholes and the people who are not.” He walks out of the classroom feeling hope, and a little bit of joy.
Junior is basically saying that he now believes people are defined and grouped by the way they act, not by the way they’re born. This change in Junior’s point of view is part of his coming of age, and marks his transition to an understanding of identity that transcends race. Meanwhile, the feeling that he’s been accepted into his classmates’ “tribe” and that their support will outweigh the “assholes” gives him a sense of hope.
To make it through the many deaths and changes in his life, Junior makes a “grieving ceremony” out of writing lists of all the things that give him joy, as well as drawing the things that make him angry, over and over.
Again Junior chooses creative, forward-looking ways of dealing with his pain. The association between grief and creativity provides another connection between hope and loss.