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A Yellow Raft in Blue Water

Michael Dorris

Chapter 13

Chapter 12

Chapter 14

Summary: Chapter 13

Rayona gave me something to be, made me like other women with children. I was nobody’s regular daughter, nobody’s sister, usually nobody’s wife, but I was her mother full time.

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Christine and Rayona leave the reservation, and Christine takes her time driving home. They get back to Seattle on a Saturday night and Christine wants to go out but cannot find a babysitter. Undeterred, Christine takes Rayona along with her to the Silver Bullet, her usual bar. There, Christine sees Elgin with his arm around a fat woman. Christine catches Elgin’s eye, and he comes over to talk. They end up going home together, and Elgin stays for two weeks.

Elgin continues to disappear and reappear in Christine’s life, and she takes him back every time. She has other boyfriends, along with friends and jobs, but the only constant in her life is Rayona. Rayona is a very independent child and does things for herself whenever she can.

One day Aunt Ida calls to let Christine know that she is in town and will be staying over. Ida’s aunt, Clara, is sick and staying at Indian Health Services. Rayona does not remember Ida so Christine tries to describe her. When Ida arrives, Rayona acts shy for the first time in her life. Ida makes a point of commenting on Christine’s conspicuous lack of a husband but is kind to Rayona and even brings a doll for her. That Saturday Ida makes Christine and Rayona accompany her on the bus to Indian Health Services. When they arrive, Ida introduces Christine and Rayona—but especially Rayona—to all the elderly Indians who are waiting around. Clara is glad to see her family, especially Christine, but before long Ida decides it is time for them to leave. Though Christine promises Clara she will come back to the hospital for a longer visit, Clara dies before Christine gets a chance. Ida decides she wants to go back to the reservation, but Christine persuades her to stay for dinner. Ida insists on making most of the dinner herself. When Rayona calls Ida “Grandma,” Ida corrects her and tells her to call her “Aunt Ida.” Rayona is offended and leaves the kitchen.

Elgin shows up the next day, and promises to be there whenever Christine needs him. In raising Rayona, Christine tries to do a better job than Ida did with her, and for the most part she feels she accomplishes this goal. She gets very angry when Elgin disappoints Rayona by not being around. She loves Rayona but knows she will never have another child. She cannot have Rayona end up the way she did, forgotten because of Lee. She never feels the same as she had that day at Point Defiance, not with Elgin or anyone else.

Analysis: Chapter 13

As Christine realizes that being a wife and mother is not enough to solve her problems, she reverts to her old habits and begins to lose control of her life. She does not want anyone other than Elgin but cannot live with him for more than a few weeks at a time. This realization makes her steely and jaded, so she does “what it t[akes] to get by” by going out and meeting new boyfriends. She returns to the more volatile lifestyle she embraces when she first goes to Seattle. Even Rayona, who had anchored Christine to a stable life, becomes an accessory, a friend Christine can bring along to bars. Christine says that, in retrospect, at this point in her life she knew she was headed in the wrong direction but was too far out of control to see a solution. Indeed, we see her live such a fast-paced life that perspective is difficult for her to gain. The stability she experiences during her pregnancy is gone, as is anything resembling a committed marital relationship with Elgin, and her current instability is even worse than her experiences during her first few months in Seattle. Christine no longer seems to be searching for an identity, and views each new episode in her life as something to tide her over until her next encounter with Elgin.

Christine initially remembers very little about Clara, whom Ida has mentioned before, but never by name. When Christine and Rayona accompany Ida on her visit to the IHS, there is clearly some underlying tension between Ida and Clara, but Christine is unable to get at the root of the conflict. Clara is very glad to see Christine, but Ida cuts their interview short. We get the definite impression that Ida is somehow trying to keep Christine and Clara apart, and this moment foreshadows important revelations in Ida’s narrative.

Christine’s determination to do a better job raising Rayona than her own mother did raising her gives us a new perspective on what was missing in Christine’s childhood, but Christine is careful not to overstep her bounds and try to live an idealized life through Rayona. The fact that Christine is sure to note that she “answered Rayona’s questions” shows how much the secrecy pervading her own upbringing had bothered her. Christine does not want Rayona to feel forgotten the way she herself did. Christine’s desire to shape a different life for Rayona, however, does not mean that she intends to live vicariously through her. Christine even notes that she does not expect to relive her life through Rayona, not because she does not want to but because she does not think she can. While this remark is in some ways a sign that Christine is defeated, as if she feels too set in her ways to correct her mistakes, it is also an important acknowledgement on Christine’s part that Rayona is a separate and unique person. In trying to be a better mother than Ida, Christine hopes to help Rayona avoid derailing her own life.

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