The Long Walk Back Home, Chapter Ten

“Well, you always did know how to get yourself into a world of trouble and then back out of it!”  Sonny Russinko shook his head in admiration as Chris told him what had happened in the week since he had last seen him.  The two friends were sitting in the sand at La Jolla Shores, their backs against a concrete seawall that protected somebody’s beachfront home from the occasional extreme high tide.  A road leading to the beach was no more than twenty feet from Chris’ left elbow, and two blocks up that road was a convenience store from which they could replenish their supplies if they ran out of beer.

It was a cool morning for San Diego at that time of the year.  The ‘June Gloom’ of thick fog that would frequently keep the city wreathed in a wet grayness usually began in April and ended by the coming of July.  This year the pattern came and went at random, and on this particular morning the air was thick and wet.  Chris and Sonny had on only light jackets, so they had lit a fire with driftwood scrounged off of the beach.

“It’s not something that I went looking for” Chris replied.  “I just wanted to have dinner with a friend.  I didn’t know that just being an Indian could get people to want to kick your ass.”

Sonny took a swig of beer and stared into the fire for a minute.  Then said “Yeah, if you’re different from the crowd, life can be rough.”  Chris looked at him quizzically, and then Sonny continued.  “I know a little bit about those things.  My folks came here from Poland a couple of years before I was born.  Dad was a weird combination of poet and mathematician.  He said that the two things were a natural match, but I never really figured out how that could be.

Anyway, he got out of Poland a couple of years after the end of World War II.  I don’t know how the heck he did it but he did, and he got his family out too.  Poets were a dime a dozen back then, but the ‘New Socialist Society’ needed its mathematicians.  He never spoke much about that, but he got out and made it to America.  He settled in Cleveland, and that is where I remember living before we came here.

We didn’t live in a Polish neighborhood.  Dad said that we had left Poland behind and he wanted to make a clean break of it.  He still loves his home country and he’s proud of being Polish, and he had a lot of friends in the Polish community, but we lived in the general mix of Cleveland.  Sometimes it could be hard to be a Pollock kid there.”

“I have a hard time seeing you getting picked on” Chris stated.  Sonny was a big man; even larger than Calvin.

“I wasn’t always this big” Sonny continued.  “I was short and sort of pudgy, really.  I heard a lot of Pollock jokes, took a lot of teasing and bullying at school, and learned the hard way that it wasn’t safe to go to the local playground and mix with the other kids.  It would be alright for a while, but sooner or later some kid that I knew from school, or maybe one that I didn’t even know at all, would come along and yank my shorts down, or spit on me, or just punch me out.

“Shit, man.  You never said anything about this before.”

“A guy likes to forget that sort of thing.  Or at least tries to store it away so that you don’t have to look at it all the time.”

“And they did this just because your parents were Polish?”

“Uh huh.”  Sonny took another drink from his beer and looked out across the ocean.

“And this is why your family moved to San Diego?”

“No, not directly.  About the beginning of the eighth grade I began to grow up.  I was just over six feet tall by the end of that year and the fat turned into muscle.  I begged Dad to get me some weights.  He did, and I worked out every day.  By the end of the ninth grade I’d evened a lot of scores.

About that time Dad got an offer to come and teach at the UCSD campus and he thought that sounded like a good deal.  He didn’t like the way that things were going with me and he was tired of the winters in Cleveland too, so out we came.”

“Man, I didn’t know any of that.  You and Calvin might have a lot to talk about”

“Yeah, maybe.  Hey, look out there.  What’s that?”  Sonny was pointing towards two black dots in the water about two hundred feet from the surf line.  The dots appeared to be moving towards the beach.  Soon another dot appeared, and then two more. “That’s divers” he said.  “They’re coming out of the water.”

And indeed, a party of six divers in black wet suits and with snorkels stepped out of the surf and began to walk towards Chris and Sonny.  One of the figures was walking clumsily, with two others helping him along.  The figures walked up to Chris and Sonny and asked “Can we borrow your fire?  Chuck here has some hypothermia going on.”

“Sure” Sonny replied.  “Here, sit on this blanket.”

“I’ll be glad to borrow your blanket” the man said.  “But it would be better used to wrap around our friend.”

“Sonny gave him his blanket while Chris threw more wood on the fire.  “I’ll go and get some hot coffee for you” Chris offered, and the shivering man agreed eagerly.  Two of the divers left to return to their cars and pick up the rest of their party.  Chris and Sonny meanwhile walked up to the store and bought four cups of coffee.  They continued their conversation while they accomplished that task.

“So, me and Calvin are going to drive out to the Rez and pick up his truck this weekend.  You want to come with us?”

“Huh, I’ve never been out there.  Yeah, I’m not doing anything in particular.  I thought you said that his truck doesn’t run.”

“It doesn’t.  Calvin’s mother has a friend with a truck that we can use.  He’ll rent a tow bar and pull it to my place.  My dad’s offered to check it out and see what it needs.  He’s really gotten into working on cars while I’ve been gone.”

They bought the coffees and then returned to the beach.  The two divers that had left had not returned yet.  The three divers who had remained with their cold friend were surprised when they received coffees too.  They offered to pay for them as soon as their departed friends returned with their belongings, but Chris and Sonny declined.  “It’s nothing.  Don’t worry about it.  We’re going to be taking off now anyway.”

The cold diver began to remove the borrowed blanket but Sonny told him not to.  “It’s Army surplus” he explained.  “I can get another one for two or three bucks.  You go ahead and keep it.”  Chris and Sonny were thanked profusely, and then they took their cooler with its remaining beers and drove away.

“So, you’ve patched things up with Jackie?” Sonny asked as Chris navigated through La Jolla, towards Pacific Beach and the freeway on ramp at the end of Grand Ave.

“Yeah, sorta” Chris replied.  “At least she’s not swinging at me.  She got really busted up over Tom’s death.  They were engaged; did I tell you that?”  Sonny shook his head in the negative.  “It’s a fact.  Her little sister, Pam, told me.  You remember her?”

“Yeah, just a little.  I didn’t see her around much back when we were in high school, but I knew that Jackie had a sister.”

“Well, she’s a pretty smart kid, and she’s helped a lot to work things out between us.”

“You always had the hots for Jackie.  You thinking about picking that up again?”

“No, definitely not.  It’s pretty clear that she still doesn’t like me much.  In fact, I didn’t know until recently how much she didn’t like me back in the old days.  I’m mostly into this for Tom’s sake, although – – -.”

Chris paused at that point, thinking about what to say next.  Sonny didn’t feel like waiting too long to hear what was on Chris’ mind though.  “Although what?”

“Uh, well, I think I’m kinda attracted to Pam.”

“Really!  So, if you can’t have one Olsen girl you’ll take the other?”

Chris punched Sonny in the shoulder and said “No, man.  It’s not like that.  She really is a cute girl, and a smart kid too.  I guess I should stop calling her a kid.  But she’s really trying to help her sister, and she seems like a sweet person.”

Sonny began to hum and pretend to be playing a violin, which drew another punch in the shoulder.  “Screw you” Chris growled.  “Just because no girl that doesn’t have calluses on her knuckles would look at you!”  Now it was Sonny’s turn to punch Chris in the shoulder.  “Hey, watch it man.  I’m driving!”

“Chris merged onto Interstate 8 and began the drive to East San Diego.  Sonny spoke again about the plan to retrieve Calvin’s truck.  “So, are you worried about being hassled by anyone if you go back into the east county?”

“I’m not too worried.  It could happen, but probably won’t.  I talked with Calvin yesterday and he said that his uncle asked around.  One of the punks who jumped us is Hunter Carlson.  He’s the son of the guy that owns a big turkey ranch on Dehesa Road.  He’s rich as shit, so his kid likes to lord it over a lot of people.  It turns out that most people don’t like him, so nobody wants to back him up.  Calvin’s uncle doesn’t know who the other two were, but thinks that nobody really likes them either.  Unless we run right into them, I don’t think that there’ll be trouble.

“That’s good.  I’d hate to see your pretty face take on any more black and blue.  Of course, maybe that would make Pam want to nurse you back to health.”

Sonny lurched against the passenger door and deflected an incoming punch aimed at the shoulder.  Chris blushed a little but also laughed.  “I’m going to have to take you to the zoo and get you a girl friend if I’m going to have any peace.”

Sonny laughed and then once again picked up the conversation.  “So, you said that you guys were going to have some kind of meeting?”

“Yeah.  We’re going to meet at The Spear’s Point next Saturday.”  Sonny’s blank look told Chris that he had no idea what the Spear’s Point was.  “It’s a kind of a student hangout right next to the State campus.  Pam says it’s where the smart kids go.  I guess the jocks and the frat rats go somewhere else.  She says the staff will enforce at least some kind of behavior rules there.”

“Sounds like a stone drag to me.”

“Yeah, well, some people have an IQ higher than room temperature.”  It was Chris’ turn to lurch away from a punch, and in doing so he pulled the steering wheel to the left causing the car to swerve in its lane.  “Come on man.  You wanna get us in a wreck?”

“Whah, whah, whah.  Shut up and continue.”

“OK.  Well, this place is usually quiet and Pam says – – -.”

“Pam says, Pam says – – -” Sonny said in a sing-song voice.

Chris sighed and continued.  “Pam says that it’s not going to be real crowded in the summer and it will be a good place to talk, or at least Pam says that Jackie says that.  We’re going to talk about Tom and try to help Jackie get a grip on his death.  Calvin knew Tom well over in The Nam and he can fill in a lot of what his last months were like.  I don’t know how that’ll help, really, but I’m going to give it a try.  Shoot, I’d invite you to come along but Jackie and Pam usually speak with words containing more than one syllable.”

“Yeah, that leaves me out” Sonny said.  “But say ‘Hi’ to her for me.  Jackie was always nice to me and I wasn’t used to that, coming from a smart and beautiful girl.  She was pretty special.”

“Yeah, I’ll tell her.”

“So when are you towing Calvin’s truck back to town?”

“Sunday.  After church we’ll drive out and hitch it up.”

“Church?  You done gone and got ‘lidgin?”

“No” Chris said with a chuckle.  “Calvin goes to church and hey, he’s a pretty cool guy, so I guess he can do what he wants.”

“Just as long as he doesn’t go throwing holy water on me.  I’m a vampire you know.”

“So what’re you doing in the sunlight?”

“I’m a hybrid.  Even vampires in San Diego need to get a good tan to have any social status.  Hey, you got any other plans for today?”

“Nope.  I’m just sort of laying low and staying out of the sun.”

Sonny looked out the window at the sullen, gray sky and said “I don’t know what sun you’re talking about.  But anyway, why don’t we drive up to the Reservation where the truck is?  You can show me where all of this shit went down.”

“What, are you crazy?  My last trip up there wasn’t exactly a church picnic.  I said that the chances of running into those clowns was small, but it’s still a chance.  I don’t know if I want to take it.”

“Come on man.  Nobody’s going to be looking for you.  Heck, the last place that they would expect to find you is right where they live.”

‘Aw, I don’t know.  I’m glad that I got out of there alive.”

“Well, if you really don’t want to do it, that’s cool.  No pressure.  So, what else do you want to do today?”

Chris thought about Sonny’s suggestion, and also thought about the fact that he had absolutely nothing else to do on this day.  Sonny actually did make sense when he said that they wouldn’t expect for him to go right back to where the trouble happened.  In fact, Chris had wanted to go and retrieve his belongings from the Jacumba Hotel, and this might be his best chance to do so.

“OK, maybe you’re right” he said.  I left some stuff at the hotel up there.  Maybe we can go and get that.  I’ll swing by the house and get a long sleeve shirt and a hat.  The doctor said that the antibiotics that I’m on could make my skin susceptible to a bad burn, and I don’t need any more pain just now.”

“Sounds fine to me” Sonny replied.  They exited the freeway at 43rd Street and drive the short distance to the Pierce house.  Chris got his shirt and Chuck’s straw hat and soon they were pointed east on the Interstate.  An hour later they were at the hotel.  His clothes had been stuffed into his suitcase, which had not yet been mailed to the address listed on his registration.

“OK” the clerk said as she recognized Chris.  “We didn’t expect you to come back, or at least not so soon.  The suitcase is in the office.  Wait here a minute.”

Chris fidgeted as he waited for the clerk to reappear with his property.  Was she calling the police?  Was she calling Hunter Carlson?  Heck, for all he knew she was engaged to Hunter Carlson or one of his flunky friends.  After a minute Chris turned to Sonny and was about to say “This was a stupid idea.  Let’s get out of here,” but before he could speak the clerk emerged from the office with his suitcase.  “Thank you” Chris mumbled as he turned to leave.

“Mr. Pierce” the clerk said as he turned, and he looked back and faced her.  “Mr. Pierce, we heard about what happened at Sadie’s last Friday, and we guessed that you were involved.  I just want to tell you that a lot of people feel like Hunter had it coming, and his friends did too.  I want you to know that not everyone out here is a jerk like them.  All the same, I would keep looking over your shoulder while you’re here.  Hunter got it worse than the others and, I don’t know, well, the story was that, uh, well, that one of you peed on him.”  The clerk blushed as she said that, and then continued.  “Well if that’s true, I don’t know anyone out here who deserves it more than he does.”

Chris didn’t know what to say, so he just nodded to her and left.  He and Sonny returned to his car, fired up the engine and pulled out of the parking lot and onto old U.S. 80.  “You pissed on him?”  Sonny asked.

“Well, I might have gotten a little carried away” Chris replied.

“Holy shit!  That’s cold, man.  I mean, it sounds to me like he deserved it.  You probably should have taken a dump on him too.  But phew!  He’s going to be looking for a little paybacks for that one, I’d guess.  You’d probably better be looking over your shoulder while you’re in town, too.”

They drove past Sadie’s and Sonny asked “You wanna go in for a little lunch?”

“Shit!  No way!” Chris replied.  “This is crazy enough as it is. There ain’t no way in hell that I’m poking that bear again.”

“For all you know you could be a hometown hero, man.  They might even buy you a round and give you a free lunch.  Might give me one too.”

“They might give us a knuckle sandwich and boot in the teeth.  Uh-uh.  Nope.  Not happening.”

“Ok, ok.  Don’t get your undies all bunched up, you wuss.  Just show me where the truck is.

A short distance past Sadie’s Chris recognized the turnoff to the road that led into the Campo Reservation.  He saw the brown, bullet-riddled sign that he had seen in his headlights four days earlier announcing his entrance to the Rez.  Chris drove up the two lane road, remembering that he did not turn off of that road until they had arrived at the driveway of Calvin’s uncle’s single wide.  He drove slowly, looking to the left for the trailer and it’s driveway.

Along the road they looked at the poverty and despair that was so evident on the Rez in the light of day.  Decomposing trailers, shacks that looked ready to fall over, and stucco houses that seemed to be returning to the elements from which they were constructed seemed to be the norm.

“Shit, man.  This is depressing” Sonny said as they crept along.

“Yeah, Calvin told me that the people here had their hearts torn out by what they’ve lost over the last two hundred years.”

“Yeah, that’s a bad story, for sure.  But shit, man.  How can you live like this?”

“Calvin says that this is all that they have left.  His people look at the nice farms and ranches around the county and remember that they are on land that was once theirs.  They’ve been left with the most marginal of land and been told to provide for themselves using what they’ve got.  They mostly make it on what the government will give them, which isn’t much, and the only way out is to quit being an Indian and move to the cities.”

“Well shit.  Then I’d quit being Indian if it came to this.”

“Did your father quit being Polish?”  Chris asked.  “I’m not trying to argue with you but really, did your father give up being Polish just to get along?”

Sonny thought about that for a while, and then replied “No.  Dad never quit being Polish.  He wanted to be American, but he was never ashamed of being Polish.  And I’m not ashamed of being Polish either.”

“Well, then, I guess it’s something like that.  These folks seem to be satisfied, determined or resigned to being Indians, even if it means living like this.  Heck, maybe it’s a combination of the three; I don’t know.  But you know what?  I think that maybe I admire them for that.  Even Calvin’s uncle, who hates the ground that I walk on.”

“Hmm” Sonny mumbled thoughtfully as he looked out the window at the ramshackle houses and trailers that they passed.  At last they passed a wood frame house on the right and a scruffy, tan dog raced out and chased them down the road.  Chris remembered that a dog had erupted out of the night and then merging back into it just before he and Calvin had arrived at his uncle’s driveway.  He slowed down even more and looked intently to the left.  In another minute he saw the single wide and the old, weathered garage that housed Calvin’s two vehicles.

“There” he pointed with his chin.  “There it is.”

 

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The Long Walk Back Home, Chapter Nine

Chris left the Olsen house and drove straight to Mercy Hospital.  The doctor at the hospital’s Emergency Room mercifully numbed Chris’ head as soon as he saw the red and ragged tear stitched together with fishing line.  “You sat in a chair while a guy sewed you up with this?

“Yes sir.  It was the best of a couple of bad options.”

“Well, you’ve got huevos, my friend.  I’m a Korean War vet, but this is something that I’ve never seen before.”

He removed the fishing line and pulled the edges of the laceration together as neatly as he could after irrigating it thoroughly.  The thin silk sutures were a welcome substitute for the much thicker fishing line that now lay in bloody pieces on a stainless steel tray.

“This will leave a pretty vivid scar” the doctor told him, “but you can think of it as an interest feature.”

“I won’t think about it at all if I can help it” Chris replied.  “I’ll start trying to forget this as soon as I can.”

“Well, just remember to take that Doxycycline for the next five days.  That jury-rigged job was just about to explode on you as it is.  And here.”  He handed a second piece of paper over to Chris.  “You’ll probably want to take this too.  It’s for Darvon.  You may want to stud this thing out, but if you don’t like pain this is the stuff you want.  And keep out of the sun until you’re through with the antibiotics, or you could get a nasty burn.”

Chris thanked the doctor, took his two prescription slips and drove to the White Cross pharmacy on University.  He waited for about fifteen minutes while the pharmacist filled his order, looking at the cheap western and romance novels at the book counter, and then thumbing through a Popular Mechanics magazine until his prescriptions were ready.  Chris paid for the medicines and then drove home, had a beer with his brother who was happy to take a break from his studies, took two Darvon capsules and crawled into a warm and comfortable bed.

He fell instantly asleep, partly because of the Darvon but mostly because of exhaustion from the exertions of the last two days.  He had learned to fall asleep quickly in Vietnam, finding that the fifteen or twenty minutes of sleep that you got during a lull in the walking or a lull in the fighting were all that you could expect to get for – – nobody knew how long.  Chris did so tonight, and in the dark, still hours of the night he found himself once again in the jungles of Vietnam.

The scene was not familiar; he didn’t know which particular valley he sat in, resting under a tree.  And he didn’t know the names or numbers of the hills surrounded the valley, or if they even had names at all.  They all looked the same.  But he knew when the bullets began to rip into his platoon that it was going to be bad.

Men began to drop everywhere around him.  A soldier that he did not recognize standing about five feet away from him, was hit in the head.  His head exploded like a watermelon, spraying Chris and the jungle with brains and blood.  Chris dug in behind the sandbag bunker that hadn’t been there a moment ago and began to return fire, aiming at nothing in particular but instead spraying the whole jungle which seemed to have come alive and was trying to kill him.

 

Chris’ rage built as the volume of fire increased, and he was almost too enveloped with fury to hear the sound of a piano which began to cut through the cacophony of gunfire and explosions.  He did hear it, however, and when he turned in the direction from which it was coming he saw Tom in a clean, starched uniform, without weapon, helmet, or flak jacket, grinning and playing some kind of classical-sounding music.

“Get down!” he screamed.  “Get down, dammit!  What the hell’s wrong with you?”

Tom seemed to be unaware of the danger.  He finished the piece that he was playing, arose from the piano bench and raised the seat, seemingly looking through books and sheets of music for something else to play.  “Get down!” Chris screamed again.  He wanted to run to Tom and tackle him but his legs didn’t work; all they allowed him to do was to stand up, which made him a perfect target.

Chris’ battle fury now turned into terror.  Men were dying all around him with heads blown off, entrails strewn among the jungle bushes, crying and groaning for help, for their mother, their wife, or God to help them.  Chris knew that in an instant he would see Tom die and there was not one thing that he could do to prevent it.  That helplessness and terror caused Chris to do what he had never done before; he got up and ran from a fight.

He wasn’t going to be able to save Tom, but he wasn’t going to stay and watch him die.  Chris rose from behind the sandbags, threw down his rifle and began to run from the fight.  The fight, however, would have none of that.  The faster Chris ran, the louder and closer the battle sounded, until at last it sounded like the footsteps of a gigantic robot firing a thousand machine guns at the same time.

Chris looked back and saw that the footsteps belonged to the three punks that had jumped him and Calvin at Sadie’s Cafe.  He knew that it was them, but they were much larger now.  Their eyes glowed red and were set in dark circles.  Their lips were black, and framed bloody red teeth that were set in grimaces of rage.

The three figures’ arms were large, long and hairy, and ended with hands that were abnormally, cartoonishly large.  Those hands would open, showing triangular, pointed fingernails that seemed to be made of steel, and then close into fists that resembled the mallets that were used in carnivals to slam down on a platform and hopefully project a metal striker upwards to hit a bell.  Chris knew that those ghoulish pursuers intended to use their nails to rip the flesh from his bones and then pound the bones into dust with their sledge-like fists, and he ran for his life.

Ahead of him he saw a gate that stretched across a road.  Fences ran from either side of the gate into infinity, and he knew that safety could be found on the other side.  He hit the gate and saw that it could be opened from the other side, and that Calvin was standing there.  “Open the gate!” he cried, but Calvin did not seem to hear him.  “Open the gate!” he repeated, with hysteria overtaking him.  The three monstrous figures had to be nearly upon him by now but Calvin still did not seem to hear.  Chris continued to scream at Calvin while swinging his right arm behind him, hoping that somehow this action would ward off the attackers that he was too terrified to turn his head and look at.

“Calvin!  Calvin!”

“Chris.  Chris”  Come on, wake up.”

Chris heard the voice and felt the feathery touch of a hand on his ankle.  At last he turned to fight his pursuers to the death.  He spun and struck out, striking only air.  The bright sunshine of the jungle scene switched instantly to dim light.  Chris took another wild swing and then bolted upright  into a sitting position in his bed.

“Chris, you OK buddy?  Wake up.  It’s Chuck.”

Chris sat silently on the bed, his heart racing madly and every nerve alive and tingling.  He looked at the figure, softly outlined by the dim light, that was standing a short distance from his feet.  “Chris” the figure said again.  “It’s all right.  It was a dream.”

The reality that he had just awoken from a nightmare flooded into Chris’ consciousness and, with a moan that escaped involuntarily from his lips, he collapsed back onto his pillow.

“Chris” his brother said once again.  “It’s OK buddy.  It was just a bad dream.  You’re here at home.  It’s all right.”

Chris had by this time returned to his senses and sought to reassure his brother.  “Yeah Chuck.  I’m all right.  That was just one hell of a bad dream.  Thanks for waking me up.  I didn’t hit you, did I?”

“No, I was ready for that.  My friend Vic Durousier’s dad was in the war.  He had to wake him up a few times, and got clipped the first time.  I remembered him telling me that.”

“Good” Chris replied, and then he heard footsteps in the hall.  The door opened and Chris’ father, with Mrs. Pierson behind him, asked if everything was all right.

“It’s OK” Chuck told them.  “Chris had a bad dream.  We’ve got it covered in here.”  Mr. Pierson asked if there was anything he could do and Chris assured them that nothing was needed, so they shuffled back to their bedroom.  Chuck then stepped forward and placed a hand on Chris’ shoulder.  “I can stay up for awhile with you if you need it” he said.

“Thanks man” Chris replied.  “I’m cool.  I think maybe that Darvon did a number on me.”

“Maybe” Chuck replied.

“Naw.  It’s cool.  Thanks for waking me up.”

“No problem.  You looked like you needed it.”

“Yeah, you’re right about that.  I’ll see you in the morning.”

It took Chris a little more than twenty minutes to go back to sleep.  He could feel a low, constant throb in the side of his head, so he got up and took two more Darvon capsules.  “I’ll take my chances on another nightmare” he thought.  Soon, he was fast asleep again and his dreams, if he had any more that night, were of an unspectacular nature.

The next morning he was up early in spite of his interrupted sleep, and having coffee with his father.  Vernon Pierson did not work on Sunday but it was his habit to be up early and he saw no reason to change that on a weekend.  They sat at the table and Chris told his father in more detail what had happened out in the county.  His father grew angry about the attack, and felt like Chris should be  going to law enforcement and filing a complaint instead of running from it.

“But Dad.  Calvin says that it would do no good.  He says that the deck is stacked against Indians out there, and that it would be assumed by the police and by any jury that he and I had started the whole thing.”

“That’s nonsense.  People can’t just jump on you for no reason.  We have laws in this country.”

“Yeah, but there was a restaurant full of people who didn’t look like they appreciated us being there.  We waited a lot longer than anyone else in that place to get served, and Calvin was careful to inspect his food for spit before he ate it.  Calvin says that those laws don’t seem to apply the same to Indians as they do to other people.  Calvin’s lived that stuff long enough to know that it’s real, and I saw it too.”

“Well, I think that your friend might be over-sensitive.  Those are good people out there; people like from where I came from.  They can be rough, but they’re fair.  I can’t believe that they would support people who attacked you simply because your friend is an Indian.  We have laws in this country and they apply to everyone.”

Chris thought about his father’s words for a few moments and then decided that the conversation did not need to continue in that direction any longer.  They finished their coffee and talked about other things.  At length, Mr. Pierson said that he had projects outside to get busy with and left the table.

He stayed at the table and tried to decide what to do with himself.  It was now seven o’clock  and he could expect his mother and brother to be getting up at any moment.  He would have his breakfast with them, which would take him to nearly eight thirty.  And then what?

Chris was tired of explaining his damaged face, and the doctor had warned him to stay out of the sun for a few days because the antibiotics made him susceptible to sunburn.  Well, that didn’t mean he had to stay indoors; it only meant don’t linger in the sun.  So, he could go outdoors if he chose as long as he was careful.

And do what?  Chris felt restless and agitated, and while part of it was due to the need to lay low and heal, the majority of his unease arose from the different views that his father held on what Chris had experienced at that roadside cafe.  Calvin had told him about the world as he saw it and Chris had paid little attention to him; in the same way as his father had just discounted Chris’ story.

He had seen the waitress dragging her feet before serving them, had heard the comments by the three men and seen the sideways glances of some of the other customers.  He had also felt the impact of a fist against his head and still saw and felt the results of later blows.  His father’s arguments couldn’t explain those away.

His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of shuffling feet coming down the hallway, and Mrs. Pierson quickly appeared through the doorway into the kitchen.  She came up to her son and peered into his face and said that he looked better already, then asked what he would like for breakfast.  He thanked her for the lie about his face and replied that he would love to have her biscuits and gravy.  She hurried to begin work on what would soon resemble a king’s breakfast.

After the meal Chris volunteered to help with the clean-up.  Mr. Pierson returned to a project of some sort in the garage and Chuck left to join friends at the Windansea Beach for some surfing.  “Windansea my ass” Chris had said.  “You’re going to Black’s Beach for sure.”

“Yeah, Black’s has better scenery, but it’s too long of a walk while carrying a board.”  Black’s Beach was the nude beach that was accessed only with difficulty down a long road that was usually closed to motor vehicle traffic, or down winding paths that criss-crossed the crumbling cliffs that towered over the beach.  Mrs. Pierson pretended to not know anything about what her kids were discussing.

When it was just the two of them though, with Chris washing and his mother drying dishes, he took up the conversation that he had held with his father earlier.  “What do you think Mom?  Do you believe that my friend would get a fair shake if he went to the law about what happened?  Or me for that matter?”

His mother didn’t hesitate to answer.  “No, I don’t suppose that he would.  He probably has a lot of experience behind his opinion.  I think that I would respect that experience.”

“Well, Dad doesn’t see it that way.”

“I guess your father has had different experiences than has your friend.  Or me, as far as that goes.  His parents came to Kansas from Illinois and they settled far from any reservations.  My family moved to Kansas from South Dakota, where there was plenty of exposure to reservations and the Indians who lived on or around them.  Most white people had the same view of Indians that you ran into the other night.  Others were aware of how wrong that view was, but they were in a pretty small minority.  My parents were in that minority.

They came to Kansas hoping that it would be a little warmer and a little wetter than South Dakota, but it was neither.  I met your father and we got married there, and then when the Dust Bowl hit us we packed up whatever we could carry and came out here to escape it, and we did pretty good for ourselves.  I still remember the way that the Indians were treated in South Dakota though, and I can see why your friend would believe that the law would not be his friend in this case.”

“That stinks, Mom.  There’s no way a person should be treated like that”  Chris said with some heat.

“No, they shouldn’t, but it happens.  That’s just how it is.  If you want to go to the law I would support you, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it backfires on you.

They finished the dishes and Chris was left to decide what he would do that day.  He sat in a chair in the living room and stared at the blank television, and then out a window.  After a while he decided to call Calvin.  He went to the telephone at the end of the hall and dialed Calvin’s mother’s number and after eight rings hung up.

He sat in the chair facing the mirror that hung over the half-table upon which the black rotary telephone rested.  Chris examined his face in that mirror and decided that his mother may have been right.  The swelling around his eye had noticeably receded and the much more professional job of stitchwork in the gash was a definate improvement over Calvin’s improvisation.  “I think that Pam would – – -.”

“Pam!  Oh, crap!” Chris thought.  “I promised to call Pam and report on my visit to the emergency room!”  He dug through the papers in the waste can under the table, looking for the scrap of paper with Pam’s number.  The can was small and he found it right away.  After writing her number into the address book on the table he dialed it.  Eight rings and no answer.  He was putting the receiver down when he heard a voice on the other end.

“Hello.”  It was a male voice.

“Hello.  Is this Mr. Olsen?”  Chris asked.

“Yes it is.  And who is calling?”

“My name’s Chris Pierson.  I was at your house yesterday afternoon to see Pam and Jackie.”

“Oh, yes.  Of course.  I’m guessing that you would like to speak with Jackie?”

“Uh, actually I promised to call Pam.  I was supposed to call her last night but I – – -.”  Chris hesitated to say that he had forgotten to call, so her improvised.  “I got home late and just went straight to bed.  I was hoping to catch up with her today.”

“Ah, yes.  The girls were discussing your injuries after you left.  I have to tell you, young man, that I’ve never in my life heard of a wound sewn with fishing line.  I think that I would have forgotten to call too if I had been in your shoes.  How are you this morning, son?”

“Much better, sir.  Thank you”  Chris said, and he chuckled when he caught Mr. Olsen’s sly suggestion that he had guessed about Chris’ forgetting to call.  “Is Pam available to talk then?”

“I’m sorry, but no.  The family is at church.  I’ve got a bit of a cold and don’t feel like sharing it.  I expect them to be home after twelve though.  We usually get home about then.  Would you like to leave a message?”

“Yes, please.  Just tell her that I feel fine today, and that I think things are beginning to heal up a little.  And also that I’ll call sometime after twelve thirty, if that’s OK.”

“We usually have lunch when we get home, so maybe you should make it closer to one.  I know that she wants to hear from you, so I’m sure that you shouldn’t have to wait much later than that.”

“OK sir.  That would be great.  Thank you.”

Chris hung up the phone and then realized that Calvin was probably in church too.  He wanted to speak to his friend about a possible meeting with the girls before he spoke to Pam, but he found the thought of waiting until after making contact with him to call Pam to unpalatable to accept.  So with three hours to go until one o’clock and nothing to do, Chris decided to go into the garage and see if he could help his father with whatever he was doing.

The Long Walk Back Home, Chapter Eight

Pam’s face turned pale when she opened the door.  “Oh my god!  Chris!  What happened to you?

“It’s a long story” Chris answered.  “The simple truth is that I was at the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“Does it hurt?” Pam asked

“Yes, actually, it does hurt.  It’s OK though.  I’ll have the worst of it fixed pretty soon.  Where’s Jackie?”

“Oh” Pam said.  “I’m sorry.  I’ve been thrown a little off base by this.  Come in Chris.  Please.”

Chris stepped into the house.  Nobody else was in the front room, a fact for which Chris was grateful.  “Have a seat” Pam said, and Chris chose a chair closer to the door than where he had been seated the last time he saw Jackie.  “She’s in the bedroom.  I’ll tell her you’re here.”

Chris sat and began to wonder what would come next.  In fact, the side of his head had begun to throb.  He rose from his chair and looked at the gash in a mirror that was hanging on the wall.  It was beginning to turn a little more red than pink.  “Oh crap” he thought as he examined it in the mirror.  “I may have to go to an emergency room after all.”  Chris was wondering how much such a visit would cost when Jackie and Pam emerged from the hall.

Chris turned toward them immediately, and Jackie said “Sit down, Chris.  Please.”  He did as he was asked while Jackie stood and stared.  She then sat down on the sofa and Pam sat next to her.  Both of the young women continued to stare at Chris’ face, and it was Pam who finally broke the silence.  “Well, you can’t walk in here like this and not tell us the story.”

Chris gave a short version.  “Me and a friend got jumped and had to fight to get away.”  Jackie looked skeptical and Chris was  bothered by that, so he filled in some more details.  “My friend Calvin is an Indian.  He was a friend of Tom’s, too.  Over in Vietnam.  We went into a restaurant last night and three guys who came in later didn’t seem to like Indians.  They attacked us when we left and we had to fight to keep from getting beaten to a bloody pulp.  Calvin had to improvise,” Chris pointed to his stitches, “or I would still be bleeding.  Really, we were just having dinner.  Those guys jumped on us for absolutely no good reason.”

“Good lord!” Pam said.  “And your friend sewed you up with – what is that stuff?”

“Fishing line.”

Pam shuddered.  “And you had to just sit there while he sewed you?”

Chris decided to not mention the pint of rum.  “Yep” he admitted.  “What else could I do?  Otherwise I would have bled all over his house.”

“Where does this Calvin live?” asked Jackie.  It was her first participation in the conversation, and Chris welcomed it.

“On the Campo Reservation.”  Chris could tell by the blank look on Jackie’s face that this information meant nothing to her.  “It’s the Indian Reservation near Campo, about fifty or sixty miles east of here.  His uncle owns a mobile home and Calvin lived there.”

“Lived there?” Jackie asked.  “Doesn’t he live there any more?”

Chris hesitated again, then finally said “It’s complicated.”

Silence once again fell on the group, and once again it was Pam who broke it.  “Well, we’re glad that you were willing to come over here tonight.  Now that we know what you just went through, we appreciate you coming here even more.  Jackie,” and she turned toward her sister, “has a few things she’d like to say, and a few things she would like to ask you about.”  Pam placed her hand tenderly on Jackie’s arm.  “Don’t you Jackie?”

Jackie waited another moment then she began to speak.  “Yes, I do.  But first I want to apologize for my behavior the last time that I saw you.  You didn’t deserve that.  I do not like you, Chris Pierson.  I never have.  Your brash, insolent, self – – -.  Well,” she took a deep breath and let it out in a long sigh,  “there I go again.  I apologize for my outburst several weeks ago and I apologize for what I just said.  I know better than to do that.

But it’s true that your personality has always been such that I don’t like you.  I could not for the life of me see why Tom was such a follower of yours.  He was smart, talented, kind, polite – – -.  He had no business chasing after you, getting into the things that you two did, and even going into the Army with you.  Tom had no business being in the Army or being in a war.  He wasn’t a soldier.

Now I’ve asked for you to come here so that I can express my regret for the slap that I gave you and the harsh words that I said to you, and to ask you to forgive me for that.  But – – -.”  Jackie choked on that ‘but’ and tears began to flow down her face.  She put her head down, and Pam put her arm around her sister’s shoulders.  After a long and painfully silent minute, punctuated only by Jackie’s soft sobs, she regained something resembling control.

“But seeing you come in with your face cut and bruised, and with – with fishing line holding together the side of your head!  You’ve just gone out and got into the same stuff you used to, and it brings back how angry I have always been with you.”

Jackie took another opportunity to get her breath and her emotions under control.  Chris sat stone silent, expressionless, wondering where this would end.  He hadn’t had a chance to express his own feelings a few weeks earlier.  His grief at the death of his best friend was as real as Jackie’s but he hadn’t been able to speak of his own pain.   Now he felt like he might once be held mute, and the throb that was beginning to return to the jagged cut on his face was starting to become of more interest to him than sitting in this room and taking another verbal beat-down from Jackie.  At last she began to speak again.”

“So, somebody smart once said something like ‘being angry at someone or wanting revenge is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.’  I think that’s probably right, so I want you to know that I want to not be angry with you any more.  I’m not doing that very well at the moment, but it will be my constant intention to work on it until it comes easily to me.  And I ask again for you to forgive me for my hard words and actions.”

Chris sat looking at Jackie, surprised at what she had shared with him.  The annoyance that had been growing within him drained out when she asked him to forgive her.  He hadn’t expected anything like that.  “Of course I forgive you” he said.  “It’s myself that I’ve been having trouble forgiving.  But, well, now there’s some things that I would like to tell you.  I don’t know if they’ll make a difference, or even if you want to hear them, but I’d like to take a chance if you’ll let me.”

Jackie nodded her assent.

“Well, I want you to know that Tom wasn’t a follower; not of me and not of anyone else.  Tom and I were friends – best friends – and respect ran both ways.  I was glad to go through basic training with my best friend, but he was there by his own decision and for his own reasons.  He had no interest in going to a college that his father selected and paid for, and the Army was his way out.

And I have to disagree with you about the soldier comment.  Tom was every bit a soldier.  He wasn’t infantry, but the Army runs on more than just that.  Everything that Tom did, he did well.  He was stationed with the generals and the colonels because he was good at what he did and they knew it.  And Tom was in Vietnam because he asked to be there.  He told me that when I visited him.  I did what I did and others did what they did and Tom did what he did because the Army asked us to do it.  He was every bit the soldier than any of us was.

Also I would like to say one more thing  about this.”  Chris pointed to his face.  “I got this because a friend of mine, and a friend to Tom’s too, for that matter, was attacked because some punks did not like the fact that he is an Indian and that we were eating in a place where they didn’t think he belonged.  This wasn’t because I was playing some sort of game, like I was a teenager again.  I didn’t set out that night to get into a fight and get my face sewed up with fishing line, but that fight came to me anyway, just like the fight came to Tom.  Neither Calvin nor I wanted trouble but, like my friend says, ‘when trouble wants to take you, it just comes and takes you wherever your are.’  Well, trouble wanted us that night, just like trouble wanted Tom.  And it came and took him.  It would have found him wherever he happened to be.”

The three young people sat silent, facing each other.  Chris was filled with swirling emotions and assumed that the others were too.  He was not sure that there was anything else to gain from continuing this interview wanted it to be over.  He was about to excuse himself and leave when Jackie spoke again.

“Thank you for saying that.”

“Saying what?” Chris asked.  “I just said a lot of things.”

“Thank you for all of it, and especially the part about Tom being a soldier.  I never thought about him that way.  I thought about him in a lot of other ways.  Good ways!  But I never thought of him as a soldier.  I didn’t catch on to that part of him.  I guess I tried to keep him my quiet, bookish piano player, and wouldn’t let him grow up.  I think that he would have wanted for me to know that about him, so thank you.  And it looks like I have to apologize to you again.  I didn’t really know anything about how you got injured, and I assumed the worse.  I’m sorry.”

Chris sat silently and thought about what to say next.  Jackie had apologized and he had accepted her apology.  She had asked for him to forgive her and he had done so.  Now, he was not sure if there was anything left that needed to be said or done.  The pain near his left temple was becoming more pressing on his attention.  There was still something to say but he wasn’t sure what it was, so he decided to end this conversation now and think upon it more when he had the leisure to do so.

“Jackie – – -“ he said.

“Chris – – -“ Pam said at the same moment.

All three laughed a little at that and Chris, playing the gentleman, waved at Pam to continue her thought.

“Well,” she began.  “I know that I’m on the sidelines in this, but I was thinking about this guy you know on the Reservation.  What is it you said his name was?  Calvin?”  Chris nodded that it was.  “OK.  Calvin knew Tom well in Vietnam and could fill in a lot of blank spaces for Jackie, and you look like you stepped into a meat grinder to help him; I’m sorry Chris, but that’s how it looks.  So he must be a good guy.  Tom liked him, and – – -“ Pam blushed a little and then continued.  “And you’re an all right guy too, and you like him.”

It was Chris’ turn to blush, although the color change was difficult to see amidst the reds and purples that dominated much of his face.  “Oh, I’m not – – -.”

“I wasn’t done, Chris” Pam said, and Chris sat back quietly and continued to listen.  “I said that you seem to be a nice guy.  I remember you being a little wild and a little crazy when you were a kid, and I shared my sister’s opinion of you.”  Jackie looked startled by that and Pam looked straight at her and said “We’re being honest here, and that’s what I’m doing now,” and then turned back to Chris.  “But when you came to our house that first day to talk with Jackie, and especially after the reception that you just received at the Fieldings, I began to get a different feeling about you.  Now that feeling is becoming more confirmed, because  I see that you have taken an awful beating in order to defend a friend who was attacked for one of the stupidest reasons that I can imagine.”

Chris tried to interrupt and say “It wasn’t like I had a lot of choice,” but Pam said “Chris.  Please.  I want to finish my thought.”  Chris held up both hands and then made a motion of zippering his lips.  “Thank you” Pam said and then continued.  “You showed that you cared about the Fieldings by going to their house, and that you cared about Jackie because you came here next.  Now your face tells me that you care that much about your friend, too.  That says a lot about you, I think.

Now, I’m just the little sister here, but I believe that it would be good for you and Jackie and this Calvin person to sit down and talk about Tom.  Mostly I think that it would help Jackie,” she wrapped her arm around her sister’s shoulders again, “and maybe it would help you too.  I love my sister and want to see her happy again.”  She looked into Jackie’s eyes and continued “I want to see you smile.  I want to hear you laugh again.”  She then turned back to Chris.  “And I think you could help her to get there.  You and Calvin.”  Pam looked first Chris and then at Jackie, and said “will you both try?”

Chris looked at Jackie, who once again had tears running down her face, and then at Pam who was comforting her sister.  Pam’s affection for Jackie was so strong and obvious that now Chris felt a tear beginning to course downward across his purple cheek from his damaged right eye.  He wiped it away, trying not to let it show.

At last he said “Sure Pam.  I’ll do anything that I can to help.  I think Calvin would agree to meet with us, too.  He was a good friend of Tom’s.  But I think that you should be there too.  I think that you would help things a lot.”

There seemed to be little else to say at that time, and Chris proposed that he should leave.   Jackie and Pam rose up off of the sofa as Chris stood.  Jackie gave her sister a hug and then walked across the room and stood directly if front of Chris.  “My sister is probably right” she said.  “She’s right about a lot of things, and this seems to be one of them.  I’m glad that you came here tonight.  I think that it would be good to sit with you and talk about Tom.  I really do – – -“ she stopped talking and drew a deep, calming breath and then continued.  “I really do want to rejoin the living.  Thank you for being Tom’s friend and, I guess, being mine too, even if I couldn’t really see it.”

Jackie extended her hand and Chris took it.  He gave her hand a slight shake and then withdrew it.  This turn of events was unexpected, and he was not sure exactly how to react to it.  For years Chris had envied Tom for his relationship with Jackie and never once in that time had so much as touched her.  Now he had her hand in his, but this was a business handshake; a burying of the hatchet and agreeing to move on.  Chris was glad to move on.  The handshake was an agreement to that proposition, and no more than that.

Jackie stepped back and it was Pam’s turn to thank him for coming to their house.  She, too, extended her hand.  Chris grasped it and felt something different than he had with Jackie.  Pam’s hand expressed a feeling other than business, or at least that was the impression that it gave him.

He looked more closely at Pam and saw, that she was taller than Jackie; almost as tall as his own five feet and eleven inches.  Her hair was straight, bangs cut evenly across her forehead and the rest dropping down to slightly below here shoulders.  The last time that Chris had seen her, her hair had been drawn back in a pony tail.  Today it fell straight down, and Chris thought that it made her look a little like an Egyptian.    It was light brown, almost transitioning to a sandy blond in contrast to Jackie’s deep auburn curls.

Pam’s eyes had a funny little downturn at the outer corners which, with eyelids that lay a little lower than most, gave her a sleepy appearance that added to her mildly exotic look.  Chris looked down at the arm that was extended toward him and noticed that it was deeply tanned.  Her grip was firm and he could feel strength behind it.

Chris was surprised to see that Pam was a quietly attractive person.  Not striking, like Jackie, but more soft of manner, and therefore more approachable.   Chris lingered as he held on to Pam’s hand until her face reddened again.  At that moment he remembered himself and let go of her hand, and he blushed again too.

Pam giggled when she saw Chris’ blush, but then her expression changed to one of concern.  “Oh, Chris” she said.  “Your head is bleeding.”

Chris stepped over to the mirror on the wall and looked, and he saw that Pam was right.  The laceration, which had never stopped oozing, was now beginning to bleed more actively.  “Looks like I have a trip to the emergency room in my immediate future” he said, mostly to himself.

“Oh, yes.  You should go right now” Pam agreed.  “Let me put a bandage over it so that it won’t get on your clothes.”

Pam disappeared into a back room and Jackie stepped up to look at the damage.  “So you got that defending a friend” she said.

“Yes”  Chris answered simply.

“He must be a good friend.”

“He’s a good man, and he’s my friend.”

“And you would have done this for Tom?”

“Yes.  This and more.”

Jackie looked at Chris for a moment and then she wrapped her arms around him in a warm embrace.  “Then Tom had a good friend, Chris Pierson.  I thank you for that.”

Pam returned at this point and stopped dead in her tracks.  Jackie stepped back from Chris and extended her hand again.  This time Chris took it and felt something more like human warmth.  “Good bye, Chris” Jackie said.  “I look forward to meeting with you and Calvin soon.”  She let go of Chris’ hand and walked over to where Pam stood, and after giving Pam another hug Jackie disappeared into her bedroom.

Pam walked to where Chris was standing and said “I didn’t exactly expect to see that.”

“Neither did I” Chris replied.  “I think that we just got a barrier out of our way.”

“Hmm” Pam replied.  “Well, sit down.  I’m going to put this over your cut.”

Chris sat down while Pam opened the bandage.  She used a gaze pad to wipe at the blood that now trickled down the side of his head and carefully applied the bandage over the wound.  Chris noticed that he liked sitting there with Pam fussing over him, getting the bandage on correctly and then telling him to go straight to the emergency room.

After she was finished Chris rose from his seat, and this time extended his hand first.  Pam accepted his hand and he said “Thanks for making this happen, Pam.  You’re a good sister.  I’ll call as soon as I can get together with Calvin and work out a time for us all to meet.”  He continued to hold Pam’s hand until once again it began to become awkward, but he noticed that she didn’t pull her hand away from his.

Chris finally let go of her hand and reached up to touch the bandage.  “Well,” he said.  “I’d better go before I start to bleed through this.”

“Yes, you should” she replied, but there was no scolding in her voice now.  “And let me know how it turns out, and that you’re OK.”

Chris laughed – it just felt like a laugh was called for – and said “I’m pretty sure that it’ll work out just fine, and I’ll look like a normal human soon.  But thanks for your concern.”

Pam blushed again and slapped Chris softly on the shoulder, and then said “You let me know anyway.”

“Yes Ma’am, I will do that” Chris replied.  He looked at Pam for a few more seconds, then turned and walked out through the front door.

The Long Walk Back Home, Chapter Seven

Chris sat in his mother’s car with the engine idling while Calvin spoke with his uncle behind a storage shed that stood next to the mobile home.  It had taken no time at all for him to be ready to go, and it took Calvin no more than fifteen minutes to pack a few items of clothing and toiletries in a large, battered suitcase which he placed in the back seat.  Calvin then went into the shed to retrieve some tools that he had used on odd jobs in the eastern San Diego County backcountry since his return from Vietnam.

Calvin emerged from the shed with two five gallon plastic buckets full of tools, a ladder and an aluminum walk-up trestle which he tried to fit into the car.  The trestle and tools would fit into the trunk, but the ladder was out of the question.

“I guess I’ll have to leave this behind” Calvin said.  “Dang.  I really like this ladder.”

“We can come back for it when things blow over” Chris suggested.

“Things don’t always blow over all that quickly out here” Calvin replied.  “As soon as I find work I’ll buy another.  Hold on a minute.  I’ll take this back, and I want to speak to my uncle.”

That had been ten minutes ago, and there was no sigh of Calvin yet.  Chris wanted to get on the road and escape the craziness that had been his last twelve hours, but he remembered Calvin talking to him about what he called ‘Rez time’ when they were in Vietnam.

“White people are controlled by their clocks and watches” he had said.  “You have to do this by ten o’clock, and when the clock says twelve o’clock you have to eat lunch, whether you’re hungry or not.  On the Reservation you eat when you’re hungry, you go to work when the sun comes up and there’s work to do, and you go to sleep when the sun goes down.  Or when you get sleepy.”

Chris debated whether to shut the car off until Calvin appeared or leave the car running.  He was not sure at this point which action would seem most insulting to Calvin’s uncle.  That man was unlike any person that Chris had met in his life.  The Viet Cong, or “Charlie” as U.S. servicemen called their enemy, had hated him and wanted to kill him.  Chris knew that, accepted it, and didn’t hold it against them.  He wanted to kill them, too.  That is simply what war is about.  But he wasn’t at war with Calvin’s uncle.  He had never laid eyes on him before.  This unconcealed animosity toward Chris because of his race was something that he had never dealt with before.  “What have I ever done to him?” Chris thought.  “Man, that guy should take an attitude check.”

And then, before Chris could reach for the key in the ignition, Calvin was climbing in the passenger door.  “OK” he said.  “Let’s see if we can get out of here without any trouble.”

“You really think we’ll have trouble?” Chris asked as he shifted into drive.

“It’s possible” Calvin replied.  “Very possible.  It depends on who those three guys were related to and who they know.”  The bartender didn’t look very happy with them and none of the crowd jumped in to help, so maybe they’re assholes to everybody.  I’m sure that the law was called, but maybe those calls were sort of slow.  Heck, they could be such assholes that they’ve pissed off The Man himself.  We don’t know, but just to be safe we’ll assume that those punks are somebody’s favorite offspring, and then just hope that we get a break.”

Our task for right now is getting out of the east county, and my uncle and I were discussing that very thing.  We’re guessing that if anyone’s looking for us – and we have to begin by assuming that they are – they’re probably watching the main roads and the freeway on-ramps.  And we don’t know what they’re looking for.  Maybe the crowd was focused on me and didn’t get a good look at your car, but with the ass-whupping that you dealt out I doubt that.  Or maybe they did.  Maybe if they did but they aren’t sharing that information.  We just don’t know, so we’re going to have to roll the dice, and Uncle and I roll for the back roads.

Chris was just ready to go and didn’t have an opinion, so he said “You lead the way; that’ll be good enough for me.”

“Go up to the road and turn left” Calvin replied.

For the next thirty minutes Chris and Calvin drove over a network of roads, some paved and some not, and some that required the opening and closing of gates.  It was early summer and the previous twelve months had been more wet than usual for San Diego.  Because of that the vegetation was lush.  Many arroyos that were normally dry had small streams running in them, and the air had a clear sweetness to it.  All of this helped the two friends to relax and consign to the background the reason why they were taking this circuitous route back to the city.

As they snaked covertly through the back roads of the Rez and then through county land, Chris brought up a problem that he had been chewing on all morning.  “So, why was your uncle so mad at me?  I never did anything to him.”

Calvin was silent for a minute and then asked “Do you really want to talk about that?”

“Sure” Chris replied.  “I mean, I can see why he would be surprised to see me sleeping in his house, but what made him mad was me being white and being in his house.”

“Yes” Calvin replied.  “Being white is enough to make my uncle not like you.”

“I don’t get it.  Why is it like that?  I mean, it doesn’t matter to me if a person is Indian or some other color or anything like that.”

“Well, it’s a little different when you’re in our position” Calvin replied.

“How so?” Chris asked.

“I’m pretty uncomfortable even talking about this” Calvin said.  “And you might become uncomfortable too.  This stuff hits us pretty close to home.  We can talk about it, but let’s agree to stop if it starts to get sticky for either one of us, OK?”

Chris agreed to that and Calvin proceeded.  “The United States is your country.  OK, it’s mine too, by default, but the US is the only reality that you know.    Your country has always won its wars.  It’s spread from coast to coast without letting anyone stand in its way.  You’re the first in just about everything.  Biggest economy.  Best cars.  Apple pie.  Baseball.  Heck, you’re about to land men on the Moon, if everything goes right.  Through your eyes America is the greatest place on Earth and has the best of everything and deserves the best of everything, and that Indians are the people who used to be here but now mostly aren’t.  The Indians are just a part of history and we should get on with things.

Well, we Indians see it a little differently.  We are the ones who used to own this place.  Actually, ‘own’ is not quite the right word.  The idea of owning a place is a little bit weird to an Indian.  But anyway, we’ve been here for thousands of years; nobody ‘discovered’ us because we were never lost.  One day a ship sails up to our coast though, and we’ve been pushed and squeezed into smaller and tighter corners of poor-quality land ever since.  That kind of history can make a person a little bit peevish every now and then.”

“But that was then and this is now” Chris objected.  Everybody gets the same opportunities now to make of themselves whatever they want to be.  You know, ‘All Men Are Created Equal,’ and that sort of thing.  I mean, you can go to school just like me and become whatever you want.  You can vote or even run for office and, well, you can enjoy this country just as much as I do.”

Calvin chuckled softly and hesitated before answering.  Finally he began to talk again.  “There’s a lot to respond to in what you just said, and I want to remind you that I’m explaining why my uncle feels the way he does.  I feel somewhat differently – not entirely differently, but somewhat – although the Indian in me knows the same history as the Indian as him does.

Anyway, as regards opportunity, You’ve seen with you own eyes that I don’t have the same opportunity as you do to walk into a crappy roadside squat-and-gobble restaurant and enjoy a peaceful dinner.  And that example extends to a lot of other areas of the bigger society as well.

 

We Indians had – and still have – a culture all our own.  Our dances, our medicines, our regard for earth and nature, were very important to us.  In fact, they still are.  But our culture is looked at by the white culture as cute by many, and certainly childlike by most.  But our culture was not and is not a simple minded holdover from the stone age though.  We related to each other and nature in a perfectly mature and reasonable manner is different but not inferior to the whites.  It’s true that we had neither the numbers nor technology to defend the land, and also that we didn’t understand the nature of the threat until it was too late, but we were never the dimwitted savages that we were thought to be then, and continue to be considered by many to be now.”

“Wow” Chris exclaimed.  “I had no idea that there was that much divide between Indians and the rest of the country.”

“Yeah, it’s pretty deep.  A lot of Indians, especially the Rez Indians, still look at their country and see it occupied by foreign invaders.  They still want and dream of the invaders going home.  My uncle is in that camp, pretty much.”

“Well, I am home” Chris replied.  I was born here.  Heck, we’re part English and part German, a little bit Swedish and French and God knows what else.  I wouldn’t have any idea where home is, if it isn’t here.”

Calvin chuckled at this and said “My uncle would tell you that that’s your problem.  Indians have enough problems of their own and don’t have any spare time to solve yours too.  Ah, that’s enough of this for now.  Here comes our first main road back to the city.”

They came to an intersection with a well-maintained road with a stripe in the middle.  “Time to take our chances in the real world” Calvin said.  “Take a right here and this’ll take us to the Interstate.  I don’t think anybody will be looking for us here.  All we did is kick some cowboy ass.  It’s not like we robbed a bank or anything.”

They saw only a couple of cars in the four minutes that it took to get to the Interstate, and none of them were black and white with lights on the roof.  The on ramp was clear of lurking patrol cars and they were quickly absorbed and made anonymous by the stream of westbound traffic on Interstate 8.  They spoke no more of the issue of Indian feelings about their condition as they made their way into and through the city.  Calvin guided them to his mother’s house in South Park.  They pulled to the curb in front of Calvin’s mother’s house and spoke of Calvin’s plans, now that Chris’ unwise insistence on dinner at Sadie’s had turned his life upside down.  “I’ll get work in construction somewhere” Calvin said.  “I have enough tools of my own, and I can get on a crew somewhere.”

“How are you going to get around?” Chris asked.

“I’ll work that out with Mom.  She’s working the day shift at Mercy Hospital.  I can drop her off and pick her up.  We’ll be OK.”

“Well, if you need a ride, just call me” Chris said.  “In fact, I’m not doing nothing for the next couple of months.  If you find a job where they need a flunky to fetch and carry, let me know.  Like I said back at the hotel, I was thinking of doing some construction anyway.”

“Sure, I can do that” Calvin replied and then he chuckled.

“What?” Chris asked.  “What’s so funny?”

“Oh, nothing” Calvin replied.  “It’s just that back at the hotel you was talking about me going to school like you are, and now you’re talking about following me construction.”

Chris smiled and said “Yeah.  Life gets complicated.  I’m still going to school, but a little physical work wouldn’t hurt me.  How about you?  You think any more about you going to school too?”

“I’ve been too busy thinking about staying alive lately to spend much time thinking about school.  The idea does sort of intrigue me though, especially if I’m doing it with somebody who’ll push me and keep me honest.”

“Well, how about this idea?  Why not go and see an admissions counselor at State and start the process?  You can always back out if you decide to do construction instead.  That way you at least have the wheels grinding if you decide to go for it.”

“Hmm, maybe so.  I’ll think about it and call you.  Shoot, I’ll call you anyway if I find some work for you, or need a ride.”

Chris agreed to that and waved goodbye to his friend and then drove home.  He dreaded the questions that he knew he would have to answer when his family saw his face, but the sooner he got it over with the better, he thought.  He wasn’t wrong.

“Chris!” his mother exclaimed when he walked in through the front door.  “What in the world – – -, what happened?  What is that on the side of your head?”

“It’s not as bad as it looks, Mom” he explained.  “I got in a fight that I absolutely was not looking for.  My friend Calvin is an Indian and some people decided that they didn’t like Indians or people who hung around with them.  I really had no way out of this.”

Lydia Pierson came closer to look at her son’s damaged face, and Chuck came from the bedroom where he had been studying to see what the fuss was all about.  He, too, took a hard look at Chris’ face and said “What the hell?  Is that fishing line?”

“Yeah” Chis replied.  “That’s all that Calvin had handy.”

“Your friend sewed you up on the spot with that stuff?”

“Yep.  It’s all that he had.  There’s not too many doctors working the night shift on the Rez.”

“On the what?”

“On the Reservation.  My friend lives – lived – on the Campo Indian Reservation.  Medical services are a little bit scarce out there.  Scalp wounds bleed like hell, and we had to do something.”

“Holy crap!  That must have hurt.”

“Yeah, it’s not something that I’d want to do every week, but like I said, I didn’t have a lot of options.  Besides, a lot of adrenalin and a little rum made it less nasty than it might have been otherwise.”

“A little rum?”

“Well, maybe more than a little.  Anyway, it worked.  Oh, and Mom?  Who do you all use for a doctor?  I saw Dr. Meador’s office got knocked down and there’s a gas station there now.”

“We go to Dr. Featherstone now.  He’s in North Park, just a block before the Pep Boy’s Auto place” Mrs. Pierson answered.  “We were really disappointed when Dr. Meador retired early.  They bought his property in an instant and put that gas station there.”

“Too bad. I liked Dr. Meador” Chris replied.  “Can you give me this Dr. Featherstone’s number?  I have to get these stitches out and real ones put in.  And a little anesthesia this time would be nice!”

“It’s in the address book by the phone” Mrs. Pierson replied.  “Why don’t you go and call now.  I think that the office is open on Saturday, at least until two or three o’clock.”

Chris agreed to this and sat down in a chair by the table at the end of the hallway where the telephone rested.  He found the number that he wanted and dialed it.  The office was indeed open, and when he explained the situation the receptionist had him wait and speak to a nurse.

 

“You had an accident and a friend stitched a laceration with fishing line?” she asked, somewhat incredulously.  Chris confirmed that this was the case.  “Well, we will make an appointment for you for eight o’clock Monday morning, but I have to recommend to you that you go to an emergency room at any hospital if you start to develop redness or increased pain.  That process couldn’t have been anything like sterile, and infection is a very real possibility.  In fact, I recommend that you go to an ER anyway, but that’s your decision.”

Chris thanked her for the appointment and the advice and hung up the phone.  As he sat in the chair however he noticed the name ‘Pam Olsen’ on the notepad that they kept next to the phone.  “Mom!” he called out, and when she answered he asked “What’s with Pam Olsen’s name on the notepad?”

“Oh, I forgot to tell you,” Mrs. Pierson shouted back.  “She called a couple of days ago.”  Chris waited for more information, none of which was immediately forthcoming.  His mother had gone back to the task of preparing a chicken to be put into the oven for that night’s meal, and all of her attention was on her work.

“So,” he shouted, “did she, like, leave a message or something?”

“Didn’t I write it down?”

Chris scrutinized the notepad to make sure that he hadn’t overlooked anything.  “Nope” he said as his mother appeared in the door between the kitchen and the hallway.  “No message.  Just her name and phone number.”

“OK.  Well, she didn’t say much; just that she’d try to catch up with you later.”

“Huh.  Well, I guess I could walk over to her house and find out what she wants.”

“I suppose that you could, if you wanted to scare all of the children and half of the adults in the neighborhood.  Has anyone mentioned to you yet that you look like Frankenstein’s monster?  In fact, you’d probably scare her to death.  Who is she, anyway?  Or am I being nosy?”

“Yeah, Mom.  You’re being nosy.  But she’s Tom Fielding’s girlfriend’s little sister.  I met her the day that I went over to see Jackie.  If you recall, that visit didn’t go over so well.  I wonder what she wants to talk about?”

“I guess one way to find out without causing a panic would be to call her back.”

“Thanks Mom” Chris replied with a grin.  “You’re a lot of help.”

Lydia Pierson went back to her chicken and Chris went back to the phone, but before calling Pam he stepped into the bathroom to take a look at his face.  It wasn’t pretty.  In the course of the fight the previous night, several blows that he couldn’t even remember must have gotten through his defenses.  His right eye was purple and puffed to half closed.  His ear on the same side was bright red.  Both upper and lower lips were split on the left side and the still-oozing gash near his left temple, with his jury-rigged fishline stitches, did indeed resemble something from a Frankenstein movie.  “Yeah Mom” he muttered under his breath.  “I guess you’re right.”

He sat again in front of the telephone and dialed Pam’s number.  After several rings he was close to hanging up, when at last a voice came on at the other end.  “Hello” it simply said.

“Hello” he replied.  This is Chris.”  A long pause ensued and he then continued.  “Chris Pierson.”

“OK” the voice replied.  “What can I do for you, Chris Pierson?”

“Oh, well, I was out of town and got a call from Pam.  Uh, this is the Olsen residence, isn’t it?”

“Yes it is.  Pam’s not here at the moment.  Can I take a message?”

“Yeah, sure.  I guess.  Just tell her that Chris returned her call and that I expect to be home all evening.  I’m not sure about tomorrow.”

“OK.  I can do that.  Oh, wait a minute.  I hear a car.  Can you hold on?”

“Sure” he replied, and then began to wait, trying to imagine what Pam would want to talk to him about.  In a few short minutes Pam’s voice cam on the phone.

“Chris?”

“Yes”

“Oh, hi Chris.  Thanks for calling back.  How are you doing?”

“Uh, pretty good.  What can I do for you?”

“Well, it’s not for me.  I wonder if you would be willing to talk to Jackie?”

“Jackie!  Are you sure?  The last time that I spoke with Jackie it didn’t turn out so well.  Does she say that she wants to talk to me?”

“Yes she does.  It’s her idea, in fact.  This whole thing’s been really hard on her and it’s messing with her life.  She knows that she has to get things sorted out and she knows that she reacted pretty badly with you.  You see, she knows the Fieldings very well and she has spoken with them since you got home.  They don’t like you very much.  At least, Mr. Fielding doesn’t.  I suppose he hates you, actually.  Anyway, his anger isn’t very pleasant to look at and Jackie became aware that she acted toward you in exactly the same manner.”

“Well” Chris replied, and attempted to lighten the conversation with a little humor.  “She didn’t say that she was going to shoot me, so it’s not that bad.”

The attempt was only partially successful.  Pam forced a chuckle and then continued.  “Jackie’s getting pulled in a lot of directions.  She knows that she has to move on, but she misses Tom desperately.  She’s angry with you but she doesn’t hate you. Not now, at least.  I think that maybe she did hate you, but she saw in Mr. Fielding what hate looks like and doesn’t want to be stuck there.  You knew Tom as well as anybody did and was his best friend, which puts you just about in the center of this whole thing, so she just wants to talk to you.  I can tell you that it won’t be easy for her, either.”

Chris didn’t reply right away.  He remembered Jackie’s slap and her fury, and Mr. Fielding’s threat and insults.  He had been in one vicious fight already within the last twenty four hours and he was not sure that he wanted to endure a second.  In fact, he discovered that he was really exhausted, physically and mentally.  Did he have the energy for any kind of negative face-off with Jackie, or anyone else for that matter?  But Pam had been kind to him, and he felt as if he owed something to her.

At last he said “I appreciate that you were nice to me a few weeks ago, and if you think that a conversation with Jackie could be a little more calm than the last one was, then I’m OK with it.”

“Oh, yes” Pam agreed.  “Jackie knows that her reaction was wrong.  She wishes that it would never have happened, but I’ll let her tell you all of that.  She just needs some honesty about things, and I suggested that she go to the source.  She agreed.  So, you’ll talk with her?”

“Sure” Chris replied.  “I guess so.  When would she like to do that?”

“Is tonight all right?”

“Sure, tonight would be – – -.  Uh, well, I don’t know.  How about tomorrow?  Oh, I mean Monday?  Afternoon?”

Pam’s voice sounded disappointed.  “Is that the soonest that you can be free?” she asked.  “I’d hoped that she could talk with you tonight.  She really is hurting.  She’s my sister and I want her to feel better.  I guess if that’s all you can do though – – -.”

The disappointment in Pam’s voice was an acid that ate away Chris’ reluctance to go into public. “No, that’s OK” Chris said, interrupting her.  “I guess I owe it to her, and to you too, to help if I can.  We’ll be finished with dinner by about four thirty today.  Can we get together after that?”

“That would be great” Pam replied with obvious relief in her voice.  Chris found that he was pleased to hear that relief.  “Jackie will be home by four.  Can you come over here, or would you like to meet somewhere else?”

Chris thought about his battered face, and the thought of Jackie and Pam meeting Frankenstein for an ice cream and soda at the Two J’s Hamburger House for a nice chat didn’t seem like a winning proposition.  “Uh, look.  I’ll be honest with you.  I had an accident and I need to have something taken care of Monday.  I’m not too keen on pubic places right now.  Is there any chance that you could come over here?”

“Oh” Pam gasped.  “Are you all right?  Oh, my goodness!  Am I putting you on the spot with this?  I’m sure that Jackie would understand.  Maybe we should do this later.”

Chris found, to his surprise, that now it was him that didn’t want to put this off.  He had wanted to settle accounts with Jackie several weeks ago and he still did.  Now, hearing that Jackie was still distressed, in fact, maybe even more distressed than she had been the last time that he saw her, he wanted to try once more to tie up that loose end.  “Look” he said.  “It’s nothing serious; I just look a little banged up.  Your place or mine; either one would be fine with me.”

“Well, I think that Jackie would be more comfortable over here” Pam said.  “But then she’s my sister, so of course I’m putting her first.  Is that OK with you?”

“Yes” Chris replied with more than a little reluctance.  “That’ll be fine.  I’ll come over around five thirty.”

“OK.  Five thirty it is” Pam answered.  “And Chris.  Thank you so much for doing this.”

“No problem.  Oh, and Pam.”

“Yes?”

“If there are any small children around, you had better put them in another room.”

 

The Long Walk Back Home, Chapter Six

The attack caught Chris completely by surprise.  He had exited the cafe behind Calvin and had only just began to proceed across the small parking lot when a fist crashed into the back of his head.  Chris stumbled forward, nearing falling.  He grabbed at Calvin to hold himself up and turned to see what had hit him.

Chris was not entirely steady on his feet, and that helped him to avoid much of the next blow.  He made an instinctive move to dodge the fist that flew at his face, and that, coupled with an erratic wobble that resulted from the first blow, caused the fist to mostly graze the side of his head.  It hurt, but it did no real further damage.

Chris backed away from his attacker, who was one of the three men who had taken particular offense at Calvin’s presence in the cafe.  He backpedaled until he felt the bed of Calvin’s truck behind him and used the solidity of the truck to steady himself.  The man came toward him, not running but rather stalking his prey, and those few moments were well used by Chris to prepare his response.

He had seen that the glancing blow had been delivered by his assailant’s right hand, so he assumed that the next attack would probably come from the same quarter.  It did, and Chris slid quickly to his own right, causing the man to miss him completely.  Chris took this moment to look for Calvin and saw that the other two men were ganging up on him, and then he turned his attention back to his own problem.

His opponent came straight toward him, and Chris got a good look at his face.  Chris had engaged in fights as a teen, but those were tame events compared with what he was engaged in on this night.  Back then rules were observed.  The fight would sometimes end with one of the combatants saying the word “uncle.”  On some occasions the two boys fighting went on to become friends later.  This would not be like those fights.  The hate that Chris saw in this man’s face told him that tonight would be more like his last two years than his first eighteen.  That hate told Chris that this would be a ‘no mercy asked, no mercy given’ event.

Chris took advantage of the man’s straight-in approach by throwing a hard left-handed jab into his face and sliding once again to his right.  The blow was not a heavy one but it stung, slowing the man down.  This gave Chris another moment to complete the clearing of cobwebs from his brain and vision.

He tried to guess his opponent’s next move, and he guessed right.  The man came at him with a roundhouse left that Chris just managed to duck under.  He then replied with a more powerful punch to the man’s gut than the earlier jab to the face had been.

The blow caused the man to flinch and drop his guard towards his aching stomach, and Chris reacted immediately with a blow, propelled from the shoulder and with feet planted, that caught the man squarely in the face.  This punch had power behind it and the man was left hurt and confused and vulnerable to Chris’ counterattack.

And then something snapped in Chris.  The berserker that had propelled him through life and death struggles in the steaming jungles of Vietnam, and that had nearly broken from his leash against the mouthy teen at the park on his first day home, now found himself fully unrestrained.  A fire burned in Chris’ eyes as he began to rain blows, now to the head and now to the body; blows aimed at mouth, nose, ears, kidneys and everywhere else that pain and destruction could be administered.  Eventually the man crumpled to the ground and lay there without moving.  The berserker gave him a vicious kick to the abdomen and then turned to aid his friend.

Calvin was a big man, but the two men who were assailing him were not much smaller and were administering punishment.  One held Calvin from behind while the other punched him in the face and anywhere else that he could hit him.  The two men were so focused on beating Calvin to a pulp that they didn’t see the berserker come up from behind.

The man punching Calvin had his feet well apart and planted in order to give his blows leverage, and that gap made possible a clean and mighty kick to the testicles.  The berserker put all of his focus, his fury, and his outrage into the kick, the landing of which raised the man a full five inches off the ground.

“Duck right” he yelled at Calvin.  The imprisoned Calvin did as he was told, exposing the face of the man holding him.  This allowed the berserker to explode a hard jab into the third attacker’s face.  This caused him to let go of Calvin, who then whirled and began to land heavy blows on his enemy.

The berserker turned back to the man with the injured testicles who had fallen to his knees and was trying to gather his breath.  Another kick caught him square in the teeth and the man tumbled onto his back.  Now the berserker landed on him with a knee in his gut, raining vicious punches onto the man’s increasingly shapeless face.

And then he was pulled off of the helpless man by Calvin.  The berserker nearly flew at his friend but, slowly and by degrees, it retreated back into its cage and Chris reclaimed his body.

“You OK, man?” Calvin asked him as the flamed faded from Chris’ eyes.

“Yeah” Chris said.  “I’m OK.  How about you?”

“Not so bad now, but I’m gonna feel like shit tomorrow.  Come on, let’s get out of here.  You follow me.  We’ll go to my place and get some iodine on these cuts.”

Calvin opened the door to his truck and climbed in, and after a couple of coughs the engine turned over.  Chris walked to his car, but before he opened the door he turned to the silent crowd that stood outside the door of the cafe.  Most were patrons, but Chris could see the bartender and waitress in the crowd.  His anger returned to him and he shouted at the group.

“You people would have stood there and watched three men beat two others to a pulp.  Why?  Because you hate that man’s ancestry.”  He pointed at Calvin’s truck.  “That man just finished a year in Vietnam.  How many of you gutless shithooks have ever done anything like that?  He’s ten times the man than any three of you are and none of you deserve to be in the same room with him.”

The berserker began to creep back toward the light.  Chris walked over to the prostrate form of his first attacker, opened his fly and began to urinate on the beaten foe.  Calvin re-emerged from his truck and walked toward Chris.  “Come on, man.  We’re done here tonight.  Let’s get out of here before the sheriff’s deputies get here.  You know that it’ll all be our fault if we don’t leave now.”

Chris was not able to think as clearly as his friend was, but he followed Calvin’s advice.  He started the car and then followed his friend out of the parking lot, onto the highway, and off through the darkness towards Calvin’s home on the reservation.  Calvin turned onto a small yet paved county road and Chris followed him.  Almost immediately he saw a battered sign that said “Campo Indian Reservation.”  There were several bullet holes in the sign.

As Calvin led on Chris down the darkened road he could see scattered lights, but it was too dark to make out clearly what the structures looked like from which the lights were shining.  At one point a dog raced out of the dark to chase and bark at Calvin’s truck, and then the mutt disappeared back into the shadows.

After a few minutes Calvin pulled into a driveway, at the end of which was a darkened mobile home.  Calvin stopped in front of the residence and turned off the motor.  Chris pulled up next to him and did the same.  He got out of his car and followed Calvin up the three wooden steps and onto the small porch.  Calvin opened the unlocked door, turned on a light, and invited Chris to come in.

Chris entered what was obviously a very old and fragile mobile home.  There was a minimum of furniture and only a clock and a brightly colored shawl or serape or something like that hanging on the walls.  Calvin closed the door and locked it.  Chris was about to ask him why he locked the door when he was home but not when he was away when he began to shake.

“What’s the matter, man?  You OK?  Here, sit down over here” Calvin said.

Chris allowed himself to be led to a large chair with a sagging bottom.  “It’s all right.  I’m fine” Chris said.  “It would be like this a lot after some of the action in Nam.  I just get so strung up that the unwind can be a little bit rough.  It won’t last long.”

“I think I’ve got some medicine that will help that” Calvin said, and then went into the kitchen.  He soon returned with two glasses full of dark fluid.  Chris cocked an interrogatory eyebrow and Calvin said “Rum and Coke.  In honor of the occasion, more rum than Coke.”

“Well done” Chris said.  He lifted his glass and took a large swallow.  The rum ignited a warm glow in Chris’ belly that spread over the rest of his body.  He took another gulp and then raised his glass in a salute to Calvin.  “Here’s to a couple of guys who can’t seem to leave the war.”

Calvin clinked glasses with Chris and took a drink of his own.  he closed his eyes and let the warmth of the drink loosen up his aching body, and then opened them and looked at Chris.  “You look like shit, man” he said.

Chris laughed and looked at the ugly, purple bruises that were beginning to bloom on Calvin’s already puffy face, amidst the lacerations, and replied “You ain’t no beauty to behold neither.”  They clinked their glasses again and took another drink each, and then Calvin said “Come on into the kitchen.  I’ll get some iodine and Band Aids.

For the next fifteen minutes they were engaged in cleaning and dressing their cuts.  Chris had one nasty laceration by his left temple where the grazing blow had caught him early on.  “That probably came from a ring on the guy’s hand” Calvin opined.  “It probably should be stitched, or you’ll be bleeding out of that all night.”  Chris looked at the nasty cut long and hard in a small mirror, and at last agreed.

Calvin had only some fishing line and sewing needles.  He heated one of the needles to a glowing red and then had Chris hold it with salad tongs while it cooled.  Next he wiped the fishing line with iodine and threaded it through the eye of the needle.  The line was very small leader material, but it still required a rather large needle in order to fit through the eye.  “You ready?” Calvin asked. Chris took a deep gulp of the rum and Coke and nodded his assent.  “Here goes.”

A few minutes later Chris had a set of five fishing line stitches in his head, which closed it up nicely and greatly slowed the bleeding.  Calvin flushed the area with more iodine and said “You’d better see a doctor as soon as you can.  There’s a better than 50-50 chance that’ll get infected.”

“Yeah” Chris replied.  “At least it won’t bleed and ruin my shirt.”

Calvin looked at the bloody mess that was Chris’ shirt and said “No, we wouldn’t want that.”

Chris peeled off the ruined shirt and put on one that Calvin gave him.  It was too big, but it was clean.  Calvin refreshed their drinks, with the Coke taking on an even lesser role this time around, and then they sat in the living room.

“Shit, man” Chris said.  “Is that the way it always is for you out here?”

“One way or the other” Calvin replied, “it’s like that here or anywhere else.  There’s always rules that have to be followed, and we broke a couple of them tonight.”

“Man, that stinks.  I had no idea how it was for you.  I still can’t believe it.”

“Well, after a few years you get to where you believe it, all right.  It’s a matter of survival.  But i told you earlier today that I wouldn’t unload my baggage on you, so I won’t.  I’ll just leave it with this:  That’s the way it’s always been and I don’t see how it’s ever going to change.”

Chris was silent for a minute, and then took a sip of his drink.  “I’m really sorry, brother” he said.

“Huh?  Sorry for what?”

“I’m sorry that you have to live with this crap.  It’s not right.”

“It’s not your fault”  Calvin said.

“No, but I’m sorry anyway.”

“Don’t worry about it.  And besides, we sure laid those redneck sons of bitches out, didn’t we?  That evens the score a little.”

Chris raised his glass in another salute and replied “Amen to that.”

The two friends finished the pint of rum and Chris agreed to sleep on Calvin’s sofa rather than drive back to the hotel.  Calvin turned out the light and walked through the pitch dark living room into the bedroom, and his closing the door was the last sound heard in the mobile home until the sun was well up the next morning.

Chris awoke to the sound of the door being unlocked and opened from the outside.  He expected to see Calvin, but was surprised to see an older man of uncertain age enter into the room.  It took the man a moment to recognize that the recently sleeping body on the sofa did not belong to Calvin.

“Who the hell are you and what are you doing in my house?” he growled.

Chris sat up quickly and fumbled with his words.  “Uh, well, I’m uh, well, my name’s Chris and I – – -.”

“What the hell are you doing here!” the old man shouted.  “Who said that you could come into my house?”

“I did” came a voice from the bedroom door.  Calvin stood in the doorway, wearing the same clothes that he had on the night before.  Apparently he had fallen into his bed fully clothed, just as Chris had on the sofa.  “This is my friend from Vietnam.  He’s a good man, and he’s my friend.”

“He’s a white man” the old man corrected Calvin, “which means that he’s no friend of yours.”

“Come on, Uncle.  Just give him a chance.  Not all white people are bad.”

“All the one’s that I’ve met are” the old man replied, and then noticed the bruises on Calvin’s face.  “What the hell happened to you?”

“We got jumped by some guys last night.  Me ’n Chris took care of them.  I’d probably have gotten my ass kicked good if he hadn’t been there.”

“We wouldn’t have been there at all if it hadn’t been for me  – – -“ Chris began

“Quiet, you!” the old man said to Chris and then turned his attention back to Calvin.  “And where is this ‘there’ that you were at?”

“Sadie’s” Calvin replied, and his uncle’s eyes narrowed a bit.

“Sadie’s” he repeated.  “You don’t have enough sense to stay out of there?”

“It was my fault” Chris began, but again he was cut off by the old man.

“I said be quiet, damn you.  You can speak in my house when I let you, and I ain’t going to let you.”

“Uncle, he didn’t know and I thought that maybe we could get in and out of their without trouble.  Besides, I just felt like having fish for dinner.  So we got jumped by three guys and we polished them off.”

“Three guys, eh” the old man said.  “You know ‘em?”

“No, never seen them before.  The others there knew them though, so they’re from around here.”

“You jack ‘em up good?”

“Yeah.  I had to pull Chris off of one of ‘em before he killed him.”

The old man rubbed the stubble on his chin and thought for a minute, and then he said “You know that you can’t stay here unless you stay on the Rez, and I mean right in the middle of it.”

“Yeah” Calvin replied.  “I know.”

“Why can’t you stay here?” Chris asked, and at that the man swung around and prepared to yell at him, if not more, but Calvin stepped between them.

“Uncle, last night was bad.  I had two guys beating on me.  Chris fought his one off and then bailed my ass out.  I might not be here today if Chris hadn’t been with me.  Yes, he’s a white guy.  But he might have saved my life and he took a beating doing it.  I wish that you would cut him a little slack, for that if for nothing else.”

The old man looked at the bruises and lacerations on Chris’ face, and especially at the makeshift stitches.  “You put those stitches in?” he asked, and Calvin admitted that he had.  “Not bad work.  And I’ll bet he cried like a little girl.”

“No, Uncle.  He didn’t cry.”

“OK, so he’s not useless.  You still have to clear out of here,and fast.  And you better take your white friend with you.”

“Yeah.  I guess I’ll go back and live with Mom.  Maybe I can come back after things cool down.”

“Maybe” the old man said.  “I’ll keep my ears open and see if I can find out who they are and how bad you messed them up.”

“It was pretty bad, especially his two” Calvin pointed at Chris.  “I’m pretty sure people will be talking about it.”

“Talking about it and waiting for you to get an inch off of the Rez.  The sooner that you get gone, the better.”

“Neither of my rigs are running now.  You gonna need the truck?”

“Yes” the old man answered.  “I am.  Maybe you might need to lay low here for a while after all.”

“I can take you to San Diego” Chris volunteered, and then drew back from the expected wrath of the old man.

The wrath didn’t come.  The old man just looked at Chris and then back at Calvin and shrugged.  “Suit yourself” he said, and then walked into the kitchen to make a pot of coffee.

“Why don’t you gather your stuff and call your mom.” Chris suggested.  “I’ll go and get my gear from the hotel and come back for you.”

“Is there anything at the hotel that you really need to have?”  Calvin asked.

Chris thought about the few items of clothing and the beer in his cooler.  “Nothing that I couldn’t live without” he answered.  “Why?”

“Then I don’t recommend that you go back there.  People know that any white guy who helps an Indian can’t be local, and they’ll be looking for you wherever a non-local might stay.  They’ll especially want to find a non-local guy that pees on the pride of Boulevard after he’s just kicked the prick’s ass.”

Upon hearing that the old man immediately stopped what he was doing and approached Calvin and Chris.  “You peed on one of the bastards?” he asked.

“He sure did” Calvin said, again pointing at Chris.  “Just like a Rez dog marking his territory.”

The old man examined Chris a little more closely and then turned and went back to the kitchen.  He returned with a cup of coffee and said to Chris “You really peed on the bastard?”

“Yep” Calvin replied for Chris.

“Then you two should sure as hell should get out of here as fast as you can, and I mean like an hour ago” he said, and walked out the front door.

The Long Walk Back Home, Chapter Five

“Huh?  Where you been?” Calvin asked.

Chris waved his hand as a sign of general irritation with himself.  “Ah, I don’t know” he replied.  “It’s been a tough month.”  He then went on to relate to Calvin his low points since he returned home.

“Wow, so you got slapped in the kisser and a threat to get yourself shot.  Shit, cousin, you might as well have stayed in the Nam.”

“Yeah, it feels that way sometimes.  Things could get shitty over there, but at least they made sense, sort of.”

“So, where’s your head at now, buddy?  How are your doing?  I mean, how are you really doing?”

“Oh, I think that I’ll get it together.  My family has been really supportive, and they’ve given me time to be left alone and try to work things out.  My Dad’s been really great, too.  He gets up early and we have breakfast together and I spill my guts.  He was a flyboy in Europe in World War II; flew bomber missions over Germany and stuff.  He’s been there and back, and he knows something about how I feel.  Mom and Chuck are cool too, but those mornings with Dad are pretty special.”

“Yeah” Calvin agreed.  “Family’s a big deal.  My uncle was in the War too.  He was a grunt in the 29th Division.  He knows a lot about it.”

“I think that I’d like to meet your uncle” Chris said.  “One grunt to another.”

“Uh, I don’t think that would be a good idea” Calvin replied.

“Why not?  Doesn’t he like to talk about that stuff?”

“Yeah, he talks – – -.  Hey, what about that girl; what’s her name?  The one who macked on your head.  You going to press her for an apology?  That was wrong, you know.”

“I know.  Uh, maybe later.  Her sister came to my house the next day.  She was just a kid when I joined up, but now we’re going to be starting college at the same time.  Oh, yeah.  I’m going to go to college!  Me, the first class academic goldbrick of the century!  Anyway, Pam – that’s her name – came to my house the next day, like I said, and told me that she talked with Jackie for a long time that day.  Jackie admitted that she shouldn’t have fired off on me but she was pissed and surprised that I was there.  She still doesn’t want to look at me, but it’s more about missing Tom than it’s about being mad at me.  At least, that’s what Pam said.”

“That’s good, Cuz.  I’m glad that you had at least one thing go right.  This Pam sounds like she has a good head on her shoulders.”

“Yeah, she does.  I told her that I would meet Jackie any time if she wanted to iron things out and she told me to give her sister time, and that I could talk to her – Pam, that is – any time that I like.  She’s pretty mature for a kid that was in high school two months ago.”

“Not everyone suffers from arrested development like you and I do” Calvin said with a laugh, and Chris laughed with him.

Calvin had by this time finished his beer.  Chris noticed this and drained the warm remains of his own.  He then handed Calvin another and opened a new one as well.  “Say, I got a question for you.” Chris opened.

“Shoot” Calvin responded.

“You’re Indian, and I know that Indians are tuned into natural stuff.  I think they are anyway; I don’t actually know jack about what Indians think, but that’s the general opinion.  Anyway, a hawk flew into my room this morning, flew around it for a few seconds and then flew back out.  Now, what the hell would that mean to a medicine man?”

Calvin chuckled at that.  “My uncle would tell you that it means a dumb bird got lost and ended up screwing around in a white man’s hotel room.”

It was Chris’ turn to laugh.  “Yeah, I’ll bet that bird had a story to tell when he got home.”

Calvin was then quiet for a moment and at last said “I don’t know a lot about the lore of the elders, but hawks are supposed to be messengers from the spirit world.  That’s what some say anyway.  Like I said, I don’t know a lot about that.  When I was a punk kid in San Diego I didn’t care much about that sort of thing.  In fact, I tried to put distance between me and my heritage back then.  Since I got home I’ve been living on the Rez where more people are into the old ways, but I haven’t heard much about hawks and such.”

“Really?  I think it would be cool to hear about that stuff.”

“Maybe, I guess.  But we Kumeyaay, and especially the more traditional people, are pretty serious about their spiritual stuff and don’t share it with just anyone.”

“They don’t share it with you?”

“Not so much.”

“Why not?”

Well, I ignored it all when I was a kid in the city, and then when I came home from Vietnam I was a Catholic.  That doesn’t play so well in their book, and they’re going to have decide that in spite of all of that I’m still Kumeyaay under it all.”

“Oh, I didn’t know that; that you’re a church-goer, that is.  How come you drink beer and cuss?  I’m not ripping on you; it doesn’t matter to me if you’re a Catholic or a Buddhist or a Martian.  I’m just wondering.”

Calvin laughed, and his laughter was easy and unaffected.  “Hey, all of us Christians aren’t of the ‘I don’t smoke and I don’t chew and I don’t go with girls that do’ variety.  Jesus’ first miracle was to make enough wine to keep a whole wedding party stoned, and when he chased the money changers out of the Temple I doubt that he said ‘Go away from here, you bad guys,’ or some milk toast crap like that.  Being Christian doesn’t mean turning into some sort of insipid wet towel; at least, not to me.”

“Insipid!  Man, how do you come up with big words like that?  What the hell does that mean?”

“Let’s just say that it’s not a compliment.  Anyway, like I said, I’m still Kumeyaay under it all, and I still feel most at home when I’m with my people.  But nobody’s told me yet what a hawk’s doing flying into a white guy’s hotel room.  I’ll ask my uncle when I see him next.  So, tell me about school.  You going to college, eh?”

“Yeah.  It seems like a good thing to do.  I mean, I could go into construction.  They’re building stuff all over San Diego.  Heck, maybe I will anyway in the long run.  But if Uncle Sam wants to give me money every month to go to school, I think I’ll take him up on the offer.”

“So what are you going to be?  A doctor?  A lawyer?”

“I thought I’d be a lawyer, and then run for President.”

Calvin laughed at that.  “Yeah” he replied, “I’ll not hold my breath and wait for that one.”

“What, you doubting my abilities?” Chris asked.

“No, I’m doubting your sanity” Calvin replied.  “No, seriously.  What do you want to do?”

“Ah, I don’t know, man.  I’ll just start with the general stuff.  They wanted me to pick a major right off the bat, so I chose business.  I can change that any time I like though.  Maybe I’ll do business and then do construction, and become a real estate tycoon.”

“From shitbird to tycoon.  Now there’d be a story.”

Chris drew some ice from his cooler and flipped it at his friend, and then said “How ‘bout you, man?  Sam’ll give you the same bucks that he’s going to give me.  You ever thought of going to college?”

“Hah!” Calvin replied.  That’s not likely.”

“Why not?” Chris pressed.  “You’re a pretty smart guy.  Heck, you worked in an office and tended bar while I was getting my ass shot at, so that says something.”

“That says more about you than it does me” Calvin replied, making the motion of flicking ice back at Chris.  “Naw, man.  I was never good at school.  I got kicked out of high school and finished at Snyder.”

“Hard Guy High, eh?”

“Yeah, I got a diploma, but I mostly got it for showing up and not causing too much trouble.”

“Well, shit.  That was then and this is now.  I mean, I’m not trying to pressure you into anything.  It’s just an idea, but if you can get Sam to foot the bill on an education, what the hay?”

“I’ll have to think about that” Calvin replied with a chuckle, “but I doubt it.  Hey, did you catch what I said about Tom, or were you spaced out when I told you that?”

“Uh, I don’t think that I was at home.  You want to give me another try?”

“OK.  Pay attention now.  So Tom was living at Long Binh, real close to the big, fancy office where he worked.

“Yeah, I know the place.  I visited there once, remember?  He did have it pretty cush.”

“Uh-huh.  People weren’t suppose to die there.  His hooch wasn’t all that far from the perimeter wire, but except for during the Tet Offensive there was never any real action there.  Well, one night a couple of months before he was due to rotate out, Charlie dropped a mortar or a rocket right on top of Tom’s hooch.  There was twenty bunks in the building, as usual, and the round must have landed pretty close to Tom’s bunk.  Some of the guys survived with shrapnel wounds, concussion and busted eardrums, but Tom and a bunch of others died on the spot.”

“No shit” Chris muttered.  “One mortar falls on that resort, and it has to right on top of Tom.”

“Yeah, man, you know how it is.  Luck of the draw.  You can run from death but you can’t hide from it.  When it’s your time, it’ll come and take you, no matter where you are, and that’s a fact.  It was Tom’s time, that’s all.”

Chris sat still and thought about that.  Was it really as easy as Calvin had just put it?  Tom’s time was up, and it didn’t matter where he was?  That interpretation of things would certainly take a load of guilt off of Chris’ shoulders, but was that the way it actually was?  Chris would like to believe that, but could he?  Or would that be just a big cop-out?”

“Hey, buddy!”  Calvin was snapping his fingers in front of Chris’ face.  “You still with me?”

“Yeah, I stayed home this time.  So, do you really believe that?  I mean, that we have a time to go and that’s just all there is to it?”

“Sort of.  I mean, I don’t think about that sort of thing all the time, but it seems to answer a lot of questions.  It’s like a guy’s driving home at night, it doesn’t matter whether he’s coming home from a bar or from church, and a deer runs in front of his car and goes through the window, snapping the dude’s neck.  What are the odds of that?

Or the Sweetwater River is really low but a kid still slips on a rock, knocks himself out and drowns in a six inch deep stream.  And then you go and do a tour in Vietnam in the Central Highlands and get involved in hot action on a regular basis, and yet walk away without a scratch.  I don’t know, maybe it’s just luck or it’s just random, but I guess I have to believe that there’s some sort of order behind it.”

“Man, I’d like to know that’s true.  I wish that Tom’s folks and Jackie could know it too.  Maybe that could make everybody rest easier.”

“Maybe so.  Like I said, I don’t know if it’s true or not, but it just seems to make sense.  To me, anyway.”

Chris chewed on that thought for a few moments, but was pulled away from it by a rumble in his stomach.  “Hey, you getting hungry?”

“I could eat” Calvin replied.  “You want to go to my place?  I’ve got some Spam and could whip up some sandwiches.”

Chris made a face at Calvin and then replied “No thanks.  I saw a place up the road between here and Boulevard called Sadie’s.  It said ‘fish fry on Friday nights’ on a sign outside, and it’s Friday night.”

A cloud seemed to pass over Calvin’s face and he replied “I don’t think so.  That place can get a little rough.”

“Rough?” Chris replied.  “More rough than Vietnam?  Come on.  We don’t have to stay all night.  Let’s just get some food and then bail out.”

Calvin was clearly not comfortable with that idea but Chris insisted and Calvin finally yielded to his friend’s persuasion.  Twenty minutes later they were seated at a table near the front door of Sadie’s.  Calvin continued to look uneasy and Chris tried to loosen him up with small talk.  After what seemed to be a very long wait a young woman came to their table to take their order.  Chris passed on the fish and ordered a burger and fries and a beer.  Calvin ordered the fish and a soft drink.

“What’s that all about?” Chris asked when the soda was placed before his friend.

“Well, this is sort of a cowboy place” Calvin replied.  “They don’t really care much for Indians here, and I don’t want to feed their prejudice about Indians and alcohol.”

Chris was dumbfounded by this revelation.  “What?  Are you saying that the owners here are more worried about your race than the color of your money?”

“Yep” Calvin replied.  “The owners, the employees, the customers, you name it.  Look, I’ve been Native all my life, and this is the reality that I live.  In the city it’s not so obvious but it’s still there.  Out here there are fewer distractions, so you can see it a lot easier.”

Chris was shocked by this information, and a wave of anger flowed through him.  His friend had spent a year in Vietnam, unlike most of the people who would visit this place tonight.  If anybody had earned the right to enjoy a plate of fish and a beer in peace it was Calvin, and he expressed that thought to his friend.

“Earning’s got nothing to do with it” Calvin replied.  “We are who we are.  Some of us have power and some of us don’t, and those who have it like to remind those who don’t what the score is when the don’ts get uppity.”

Their food arrived while Chris and Calvin discussed this sad reality.  Calvin looked his fish and fries over carefully, and to Chris’ inquiring gaze replied “Just making sure that there’s no spit on it.”

Chris looked his burger over as well, and found that his appetite was diminishing by the minute.  His examination revealed no obvious unwanted condiments on his food and he began to eat.  He decided that they would waste no time eating and leaving, and Calvin appeared to be following the same program.

At that time three men entered the building and surveyed the room, as if looking for anyone that they knew.  Their gaze at last fell on Chris and Calvin, and a look of disgust crept into their faces.  They continued over to the bar, sitting at a corner from which they could watch the two friends.

The newcomers began to talk and sometimes laugh, maybe a little too loud it seemed to Chris, and every so often he could hear negative comments over the babble in the room.  “When did you start serving drunk Indians?” one of them asked of the man tending the bar.  Another commented that there was an unpleasant odor in the room, and maybe the trash hadn’t been taken out.

 

The bartender looked both nervous and angry, and Chris decided that it was just about time to get on the road.  He felt his own anger rising at the damnable injustice of the situation, but the three men were in their mid to upper twenties, lean from hard work, and outnumbered Chris and Calvin three to two.  Chris didn’t like those odds and decided that it was time for him and Calvin to finish their meal and leave.

The waitress, who had wanted their departure since the moment that they had walked through the door, had already brought the check.  Chris pulled a twenty dollar bill out of his wallet that more than covered the food and a generous tip, caught the waitress’ attention, and pointed to the money.  She nodded acknowledgement and they rose and left the establishment without looking back.

That was a mistake.

The Long Walk Back Home, Chapter Four

I less than two minutes Calvin Hall was walking into Chris’ room.  He had a big grin on his face, and when Chris extended his hand Clavin grabbed it an pulled Chris into a bear hug.  Calvin was a big person, a lot like his friend Sonny Rusinko.  He stood over six feet and weighed close to two hundred and thirty pounds, and had the muscles of a man who worked for his living.  Chris had forgotten how imposing a character Calvin was until he was enveloped by that hug.

“How’ve ya been?” Calvin asked.  “It’s good to see you.”

“I’ve been OK” Chris lied.  “A lot better than I was the last time I saw you.”

“Yeah, we’re both doing better here than we were over there.  So, you want to show me around?”

Chris stepped back and encompassed the room with a grand sweep of his hand.  “Here it is; the Hotel Jacumba in all of it’s glory.  Come on outside and have a beer.”

Calvin readily agreed with that suggestion and the two friends dropped into chairs in the shade on the balcony and started to catch up with the last few months of their lives.  Calvin had left Vietnam a month before Chris, and spoke of his return to civilian life.

“I got home and moved in with my uncle George.  My mother still lives in San Diego, but I wasn’t doing so well there before I enlisted.  In fact, it was just a matter of time before the police or somebody from a rival gang got me.  The Army gave me a chance to get it together, and I don’t want to go back into that environment again.  I feel a lot more whole living in the county and working mostly outside with my hands.”

Chris looked down at Charlie’s big hands and saw that they were already calloused from doing hard, physical work.  “So, where are you living?  Is it close to here?”

“Yeah” Calvin replied.  “Pretty close.  You go back up 80 toward Campo.  In a little ways it turns into 94, and then County Road 10 takes you onto the Rez.  I live there in a single wide that my uncle owns.  He spends some of his time there, but most of it on the Barona Rez.  He inherited a little place there from his grandmother.”

“I didn’t know that you actually lived on the reservation” Chris said.  “That’s pretty cool.”

“Well, it is and it isn’t.  I feel more at home being surrounded by my own people, but there’s a lot of poverty there.  When they gave us a place of our own back in the 1890’s they didn’t exactly give us the best of the land.  It’s not been easy making a go of it for my people.”

“I guess I don’t know much about it” Chris said.  “I probably should, but the subject just never came up.”

“Yeah, we Injuns noticed that” Calvin replied with a wry expression.  “Other people are marching and sitting in and getting all sorts of press coverage for their problems while we just sit on little corners of what once was ours, watching cattle being raised and crops growing for other people on good land with good water where we used to live, and we wonder when it’s going to be our turn.”

Chris didn’t know what to say to that, and simply sat mutely in his chair.  Calvin saw that this talk was making his friend uncomfortable and quickly apologized .  “Sorry man.  I didn’t mean to unload on you.  You’re a decent guy and a friend, too.  My people have suffered what I call the Long Hurt, and sometimes it’s hard to turn it off.  I promise.  I won’t go off on you again.”

“Hey, no sweat.” Chris replied.  “I don’t know anything about what your experiences have been like.  Outside of you, I don’t think I’ve ever known an Indian.  I guess that’s a blank spot in my education that I wouldn’t mind filling in a little bit.  You want to talk about it, you go ahead on.  I’ll listen.”

“Thanks Chris.  You’re a rare bird.  Hey, speaking of hurt, I got a letter this week from one of my bro’s back in the Nam.  He told me what happened to Tom”

Calvin continued to talk, but at the mention of Tom’s name Chris’ mind drifted back to his second day of being home.  After leaving his house Chris walked around the neighborhood for another hour or so; he wasn’t sure how long.  He passed the Fielding house twice and went once past where Jackie Olsen lived.  He assumed that she still lived there, although he had no idea why she should.  She was another loose end that he felt he had to clear up.

Chris stopped at a Winchell’s Donuts on University Avenue near 42nd Street, and had a couple of donuts and another cup of coffee.  Afterward he walked to a bus stop and rode the bus downtown.  He walked by the recruiting office and then aimlessly along the sidewalks of downtown San Diego.  His wanderings eventually brought him back to Horton Plaza in the center of town.  That place was crowded as usual with sailors and pigeons and homeless men sleeping on the grass. Chris thought about seeing a movie in one of the crummy little downtown theaters where he used to watch cheesy science fiction movies with his brother, but instead opted to return home.

The house was empty when he arrived, for which he was grateful.  He placed his first call to Calvin, but after ten rings he hung up and fixed a lunch.  He called two more times before his mother returned from her errands, but still no luck.  His mother spoke of Tom and tried to comfort her son, which Chris appreciated but also found it difficult to listen to.  Excusing himself, he exited the house and walked directly to that of Tom’s parents.

Chris’ heart was pounding as he mounted the steps and rang the doorbell.  He was pushing through with his plan in a mechanical fashion; not thinking too much for fear that doing so would cause him to back out altogether.  He heard footsteps and was barely breathing when the door opened.  Mrs. Fielding was standing in the doorway, looking at Chris with a blank expression.  “Perhaps she doesn’t recognize me” he thought.  “I was never very welcome in this house.”

Mrs. Fielding looked pale.  She was neatly dressed but there was a subtle haphazardness to it, as if she went through the motions but really didn’t care.  She stared at Chris silently, not inviting him in nor telling him to go away.  After a half a minute of this Chris wondered if she even knew that he was there.

Now a second set of footsteps became apparent, and a moment later Mr. Fielding appeared behind his wife.  He looked older than Chris remembered; a lot older than three years should account for.  he, too, stared at Chris as if not comprehending who he was, but that lasted for only a moment.

“Get off of my porch, you son of a bitch” the older man growled.  “Get off of my porch before I call the police.”

Chris had not expected a warm reception, but he was unprepared for the wave of hate that Tom’s father sent crashing over him.  He had come here to find out if Tom had truly died and, if so, to express his own sorrow.  He now knew that Tom was dead.  Nothing else could account for the rage and pain that contorted Mr. Fielding’s face into something that resembled one of the fiends that populated the cheap movies he had seen so long ago at Horton Plaza.  Still, he wanted to offer sympathy or, at least, an apology.

“Mr. Fielding, I am so sorry about Tom.  He was in a safe place there.  I don’t know how this could have possibly happened.  I – – -.”

“OK.  You won’t leave?  I’ll call the police.  No, forget the police.  You won’t leave so I’ll just shoot you where you stand, you white trash bastard!”

The enraged Mr. Fielding disappeared, and Chris knew that it was time for him to disappear too. He looked at Mrs. Fielding one more time and said “Tom was my best friend.  I wish it would have been me instead of him.  It should have, in fact.  I’m sorry.”

With that he turned and quickly left the Fielding house.  Chris doubted that Mr. Fielding had a gun, but decided that he had no further business with them.  He had learned what he needed to know.  The insults that he had just heard had stung him, but he knew that there might be more of the same in store for him before the day was over.  Two blocks away was the Olsen residence, and it was toward that house he was now headed.

As he mounted the steps of Jackie’s house Chris felt even more nervous than he had at the Fieldings.  Jackie had been a member of his circle of friends, even if she had not been especially warm to Chris.  This meeting might be a good deal more personal, and a sense of dread squirmed in the back of his brain and in the pit of his stomach.

Chris rang the bell and the door was opened by a young woman but not by Jackie.  “Hi Pam” he said.  “Is Jackie home?”

Pam Olsen, Jackie’s younger sister by three years, looked at Chris for a few moments before recognizing him.  At length she said “Oh, hello Chris.  No, Jackie isn’t home now, but she should be any minute.  Would you like to come in?”

Chris agreed to that and walked into the Olsen’s house.  “Have a seat anywhere” Pam offered, and then sat down herself.  Chris sat on a sofa opposite of where Pam was and fumbled for something to say.  “Uh, how have you been?  I, uh, don’t really remember you very well.”

“That’s because I never really hung out with your group.  Little sisters don’t get included much in the activities of older sisters and their friends.  I’m doing fine, thank you.  And you?”

“Oh, uh, OK I guess.  I made it home at least – – -,” and then he almost bit his tongue.  Yes, he made it home but Tom didn’t, which was the point of his visit.  “I’m sorry.  That didn’t come out the way I meant; I mean, I don’t want to imply – – -.”

Chris was hopelessly tongue-tied and his embarrassment and confusion continued to grow, and shortly Pam came to his rescue.  “It’s all right Chris.  You did come back.  I’m glad you did.  I’m sure your family and friends are all glad too.  There’s nothing wrong with that.”

Chris looked at his feet and drew a deep breath, then looked at Pam again and said “I know.  You’re right, and thank you for saying that.  It’s just that Tom didn’t come home, and I know that hurts a lot of people, including your sister.  Heck, it hurts me almost more than I can stand.  I saw a lot of dying over there, but Tom shouldn’t have.  He just shouldn’t have.  And now I don’t know what I want to say to your sister; I don’t know what to say to anyone else, for that matter, but I especially don’t know what to say to her.  I just don’t want to say anything as stupid as what I just said to you, that’s all.”

Pam smiled and said  “So, let’s try that again.  How have you been?”

Chris thought for a moment and then smiled.  “I’m doing pretty good, I suppose.  I’m happy to be back in the old town, eating home cooking and beginning to reconnect with family and friends.  I have to confess that it’s hard though.  Really hard.”

“I’m sure that it is” Pam replied.  “I can’t for a moment imagine how you must feel.  I’ve been watching Jackie deal with this and, as close as we are, I know that I imagine how much she hurts either.  It’s a lot though.  They were going to get married when he got home, you know.”

Chris was surprised by that.  “No, I didn’t know.  Tom never told me that.”

“They talked about it when he was here for a month before they sent him to Vietnam.  Jackie would be entering her senior year at San Diego State by the time that Tom finished his three years in the Army, and he would work until she graduated.  Then she would work and it would be his turn.  That way, while they were still in school and after they were finished they wouldn’t owe anything to anybody.”

“Yeah, that sounds about right” Chris said.  “Tom didn’t want to go to college on his Dad’s dime, ‘cause he didn’t want his father calling the shots.  That’s why he joined the Army in the first place.”

“Oh, now that’s something that I didn’t know” Pam said.  “He told us that he wanted to go on an adventure.  He would use it to his advantage when he returned, but that he just wanted to do something for no other reason than because he wanted to do it.”

Well, it was a little of that I guess.  And other things too.  The fact still remains that Tom’s dead and I feel like I have at least some responsibility for it.  I don’t know what I can possibly say to Jackie, but I feel like I have to say something.”

“I don’t know either” Pam replied.  “Jackie’s working at the college bookstore this summer and not taking any classes.  That’s probably a good thing, too.  She’s been really broken up about this.  I’ve got to be honest; I don’t know how she’s going to react when she sees you.”  Pam then stopped talking and sat still, listening to something.  After a moment she spoke again.  “Whatever you’re going to say to her, you’d better figure out quickly.  I hear her car in the driveway.”

Chris’ stomach tightened as he sat a little more erect on the sofa.  He was in a corner of the room furthest from the front door, and now he felt trapped.  He knew  however that he was not running away without accomplishing his mission.  Running away wasn’t a part of Chris’ character.  He sat upright on the sofa, rubbing sweating hands on the knees of his jeans and waiting for Jackie to enter.

The wait wasn’t long.  The screen door opened and Jackie stepped into the room.  Chris rose up from the sofa as her eyes met his and recognition registered on her face.  “Hello Jackie.  I, uh, I came over here to tell you how- – -.”

Chris didn’t finish his sentence.  Jackie dropped her purse, walked across the room and slapped his face as hard as she could.  “How dare you come into my house!” she hissed.  “You killed Tom, with your macho, wild child bullshit.  What do you mean by coming here?”

Chris didn’t flinch when Jackie unloaded on his face.  He didn’t expect that forceful a reaction but had known that it was a possibility.  In an odd way, the blow cleared his head.  The situation after all could not get worse. He wouldn’t allow himself to be struck again, but now the cards were all on the table.  “Jackie, let me talk” he said.  “I promise, I’ll leave in just a minute, but let me say one thing.”

Jackie stayed in front of Chris’ face, her anger causing her body to shake.  “Go ahead” she said at last through gritted teeth.

“Tom was my best friend.  I’m more sorry than I can express about what happened.  In fact I don’t even know what happened.  I was surprised that Tom ended up in Vietnam in the first place, and when I visited him there I saw that he was in as safe a place as it was possible to be in that country.  Whatever it was that happened, I would do anything – anything at all – to make it un-happen if I could.  So I’ll go now, and I won’t bother you again.  But I hope you’ll remember while you’re grieving that I’m grieving too.  I miss Tom too, and whether it does any good or not, I am now, and will always be, sorry for your loss.  Your loss and my loss too.”

As Chris finished speaking Jackie’s face changed only just a little.  He thought that she might launch another slap, and prepared to block the blow or dodge it, but she just stood silent.  He decided that there was nothing more to be said, and walked around Jackie and towards the door.  Pam, who was frozen by the sudden fury of her sister, had not left the room.  As Chris passed by she brushed his arm with her fingertips.  Chris looked at her and she silently mouthed the words “I’m sorry” to him, and then went over to comfort her sister.

Chris walked back to his house with mixed feelings.  Mr. Fielding had called him white trash and spoken of shooting him, and Jackie had slapped his face.  That was a lot of anger and insult to deal with in a short time.  But he had also completed two painful projects that he had appointed for himself to do.  Now he could turn his attention entirely towards healing his own hurt.

Chris avoided the park on his way home, and when he arrived there he opened a beer and sat down by the phone.  He decided to sit there and call Calvin’s number until he answered, if he had to call all night to do it.  On his second try Calvin’s uncle answered.  Chris said “Hello, my name is Chris.  I’m a friend of Calvin’s from Vietnam.  May I speak with him please?”  Without a word, the uncle hung up the phone.  A few moments later Calvin called him back.

And now here he sat in the warm air on a balcony with Calvin, aware that he had not heard a thing that had been said in the last few minutes.  “I’m sorry man” he said when Calvin paused in his monologue to take a sip from his beer.  “My mind just wandered away for a few minutes there.  It’s been doing that since I got back, and I’m trying to get my concentration straight.  Let’s back up to where you said that you found out how Tom died.”