SOMETIMES WE’RE ALWAYS REAL SAME-SAME
He’s in the middle of nowhere, Alaska, because his Eskimo mother has moved home, and Cesar, a seventeen-year-old former gang banger, is convinced that he’s just biding his time ‘til he can get back to LA. His charmingly offbeat cousin, Go-boy, is equally convinced that Cesar will stay. And so they set a wager. If Cesar is still in Unalakleet in a year, he has to get a copy of Go-boy’s Eskimo Jesus tattoo.
Go-boy, who recently dropped out of college, believes wholeheartedly that he is part of a Good World conspiracy. At first Cesar considers Go-boy half crazy, but over time in this village, with his father absent and his brother in jail for murder, Cesar begins to see the beauty and hope Go-boy represents. The choice.
This is a novel about a different Alaska than many of us have read about in the past, about a different kind of wilderness and survival. As Cesar (who later assumes his Eskimo name, Atausiq) becomes connected to the community and to Go-boy, the imprint he bears isn’t Go-boy’s tattoo but the indelible mark of Go-boy’s heart and philosophy, a philosophy of hope that emphasizes our similarities to one another as well as a shared sense of community, regardless of place. As Go-boy says to Cesar, “Sometimes we’re always real same-same.”
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Go parks his car in the middle of the concrete bridge again. This time we are facing the village. “If you stay here longer than a year, you have to change your first name.”
“To your Eskimo name,” Go says.
“But I don’t want an Eskimo name.” I wonder if Eskimo names are the kind of thing that Go can just hand out without talking to anyone. It seems like something parents should decide, like something Mom should come up with. A name is such a permanent thing. A name makes the person almost as much as the person makes the name. And as we sit in Go’s car on the bridge, I think about how even though I don’t like the name Cesar, it was given to me by Pop, and so I accept it and can’t fathom changing it.
A work truck rolls onto the bridge, maybe heading out of town to the new jail. The guy looks like an engineer from Anchorage. He pulls alongside us, slow, trying to pass, then stops. There are just a few inches between our vehicles. The guy folds in his side mirror. He rolls down his window, and Go, seeing this, rolls down his.
“You got trouble?”
Go-boy says, “No, we’re just waiting.” The guy looks up and down the slough for signs of something to wait for. I look with him. He glances around the open fields in front of his truck, then he turns in his seat and looks back at the village. There is nothing happening anywhere. He asks, “For what?” I am wondering the same thing. Go stares through the windshield, straight down the road and back into town, maybe running through a list of possible names to give me, maybe not. A kid on a bike rolls across the gravel where it curves between two homes. Go turns back to the guy in his truck, says, “We’re waiting to find out.”