The Long Walk Back Home, Chapter Twelve

Chris, Calvin and Sonny were on Interstate 8 headed east the next morning.  Calvin attended an early mass and wasted no time in picking up the other two.  “I’m dying to get my own wheels on the road” he explained.  Chris made introductions when they picked up Sonny, and they drove straight down Fairmont to the freeway.

They drove through the pass between Mount Helix and Grossmont, and dropped into the El Cajon Valley.  Sonny asked if they could pull off of the freeway for a moment and stop at a military surplus store that lay close to the offramp.  Calvin did so and Sonny replaced the blanket that he had given to the shivering diver nearly a week ago.  That purchase secured, they were soon rolling east again.

The day was already beginning to heat up.  El Cajon Valley was always hotter or colder than San Diego, and on this day the gloom that had dominated the area the previous week had failed to blow in from the sea to cool things down.  At this moment El Cajon was merely hot.  In a few hours it would be more like an oven.

“So, you and Jackie seemed to hit it off pretty good” Chris said to Calvin.  “I didn’t expect her to be that open.”

“Yeah, I felt pretty comfortable talking to her.  I could see right away that she was hurting.  I tried to be honest, and I tried to fill in as much detail about Tom’s life as I could.  The little details can say more about a person’s life than the big ones do.  She was very easy to talk to, and that helped a lot.  Man, I know that you and Tom said she’s pretty, but she’s more than that!”

“Except when she’s taking a swing at your face” Chris said.  “She just never did cotton to me at all.”

“Which shows intelligence and good taste” Sonny said, and which comment drew Chris’ right elbow into his ribs.

“She was OK with you, as far as I could see” Calvin said.

 

“We got over a hard place last week” Chris replied.  “I’m not looking for any kind of a relationship with her now, although I tried for that a few years ago.  I just want to be a friend.  I suppose that to her I’m a connection to Tom now instead of competition for his time.  Maybe that gives us room to be friends.”

“Well, she was always friendly to me” Sonny said.  “She never made any stupid pollock wisecracks about me, for which I was grateful then and am grateful today.”

Calvin looked across Chris at Sonny’s large frame that was resting against the passenger door.  “I can’t believe that anyone ever made stupid Pollock jokes about you” he said.

“Nobody did twice” Sonny replied with a grin.

“Oh, great.  I’m the only guy who ever pissed off Jackie!” Chris lamented.

The three young men chattered on as the truck passed through El Cajon and ascended the grade to Alpine.  They stopped for lunch in that town at a cafe with the unpromising name of the ‘Chat and Chew.’  Afterward they continued east, through the Laguna Mountains and on toward the high valley where the Campo Reservation was located.  The banter continued, but it was mostly carried on by Sonny and Calvin.

Chris felt his stomach clamping down around the hamburger and fries that he had just eaten, creating an uncomfortable knot in his gut.  He was remembering what Calvin’s uncle had said about the three goons who had jumped them wanting revenge.  Those three goons lived out here, and they were driving right into their territory once again.

“So what?” Chris asked himself.  “We kicked their butts before and there were just two of us”

  “Yes” the internal dialogue proceeded.  “But they expected us to be pushovers.  They won’t make that mistake again.  And will the bring guns?  Knives?  Clubs?”

     “But there’s three of us this time.”

     “Who says that next time there’ll only be three of them?”

     Fear, or something very much like fear, mixed with some other primeval instincts in Chris’ mind and began to pour adrenaline into his system.  That brew of emotion and chemicals reacted badly with the churning mash of lunch in Chris’ stomach, and with little time to spare he croaked out “Pull over man, I’m gonna puke!”

Calvin swerved onto the shoulder of the road and Sonny jumped out of the car.  Chris barely cleared the threshold of the door before he cut loose, spraying a wave of lunch and beer and bile and stomach acid toward the bush that he had hoped to get behind before the flood occurred.

He wretched three or four times more before he finally sat down on a boulder that Calvin had narrowly missed in his haste to come to a stoop.  “You OK man?” Sonny asked when Chris seemed to have regained his composure.

“Yeah, it’s OK.  I’m cool.”

“What’s up with that?” Calvin asked.

“Ah, it’s nothing.  I used to get carsick a lot when I was a kid.  I still do sometimes.”  Chris was lying through his teeth.

“Man, that was a load” Sonny said.  “I’m glad you didn’t put that in my lap!  You OK to go on?”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m good.  Let’s do this thing.”

They got back into the truck and continued to drive into the reservation.  Chris cracked some jokes, projecting a comfort that he did not feel, in an eventually successful attempt to return the mood in the cab of the truck to the cheerfulness that had prevailed before he had gotten sick, and the episode was forgotten by the time that they rolled up the driveway of Calvin’s uncle’s mobile.

Sonny, remembering what Chris had told him about waiting to be invited in, didn’t make a move to exit the truck.  Calvin jumped out of the truck immediately and began to walk around the front of it.  He began to motion for the other two to get out also and then, thinking better of it, held up his hand, signaling for them to stop.  He then continued up the stairs and onto the tiny porch, and knocked on the door.

The door opened almost immediately.  Calvin’s uncle stuck his head outside the door and saw Sonny sitting in the truck.  “You planning on giving every Anglo in the county a tour of the Rez?” he asked.

“It’s all right Uncle” Charlie replied.  “He’s going to help with the towing.  You gonna let me offer them some coffee?”

“Them?”

“Yeah.  Chris is here too.”

“The guy that peed on the cowboy?”

“Yes Uncle.  Chris is here too.  The three of us came so that things would be more equal if we run into John Wayne and his punk friends.”

“That’s probably smart, even if they are white.  Carlson and his bunch want your scalp so bad that they can taste it.  Yeah, you can bring ‘em in.  I won’t stay around though.”

Calvin turned and motioned for them to come in.  Sonny and Chris exited the truck and walked quietly up the porch.  Sonny had figured out that there was tension in the air and was quiet as he approached the door.  Calvin’s uncle looked at him with an expression that would have been appropriate if Chris had emptied his stomach on the kitchen table instead of the side of the road.

Sonny walked past the scowling uncle and Chris followed.  The older man’s expression softened minutely as he gazed at the bruises that were fading on Chris’ face and the clean and healing wound on the side of his head.

“I liked it better with the fishing line” the uncle said, and then walked out of the mobile home.

“He likes you” Calvin said with a laugh after the door had closed.

“Yeah” Chris replied.  “Like he likes a goat head stuck in his foot.”

“No man, I‘m serious.  I haven’t seen him talk to a white person unless he had something nasty to say.  He was impressed that you let me sew you up, and that you helped me in a fight with other white people.  and he really likes that you peed on one of them.  He told me that he’s wanted to do that himself all of his life.”

Sonny looked at Calvin, then at Chris.  “You peed on somebody?”

“So, ‘I liked it better with the fishing line’ doesn’t qualify as nasty?”

“No man.  Context is everything.  That was a term of endearment.”

“You peed on somebody?” Sonny repeated.

 

“Aghh!” Chris exclaimed.  “Let’s get to work.”

“Coffee first” Calvin replied, and poured the coffee that his uncle had already made into three cups.  Later, after Calvin told the story of the fight and Chris’ victory dance over his fallen adversary, they went to work.  It was an easy task attaching the tow bar to the front of Calvin’s truck and fastening it to the trailer hitch on the back of his borrowed vehicle.

While they were closing the garage door Calvin’s uncle pulled to the side of the road in front of the mobile home and stopped.  He walked up the driveway and Calvin met him half-way.  They talked quietly for a couple of minutes and then separated.  The uncle drove away and Calvin returned to where Chris and Sonny were waiting.

“They know we’re here.”  Calvin told them.

“Who knows we’re here?” Sonny asked.

“Briscoe and Dennehey know” Calvin replied.  “Uncle saw their truck, a blue ’68 Chevy.  It drove past here while we were hitching the truck.”

“I didn’t see any truck” Chris said.

“Uncle did, and you can trust that.  They left the Rez to the east, and you can bet that they called Carlson from the first pay phone.”

“Shit! Chris exclaimed.  “Don’t those guys have anything else to do?”

“No, they actually don’t” Calvin answered.  “They’re rich, remember?”

“So how’re they going to stay rich?  Even rich people have to do something besides skulk and look for enemies.”

“Maybe, or maybe those shitbirds will piss all of their parents’ money away and end up poor folk like us.”

“Well, let ‘em start something” Sonny growled.  Maybe it’s ass kicking time for them again.”

“I’d like to avoid that” Calvin said.  “They know that there’s three of us and that two of us kicked their butts the last time.  I’m guessing that they’ll bring some sort of insurance.  We’ll go out the way we did the last time and see if we can get out of here under their radar.”

They climbed into the truck and started the engines.  Calvin pulled slowly out of the driveway and then drove down the lesser used roads of the reservation.  It was quiet in the cab of the truck; the banter of the trip east from San Diego had vanished.

Chris was looking for anybody that might be following them whenever Sonny got out to open and close gates.  In the silence of the drive each was in his own thoughts, and the thoughts in Chris’ head ran to bullets ripping, heads exploding and fists the size of mallets opening and closing.

They came at last to the road which led to the Interstate.  Calvin turned right and drove a few miles per hour under the speed limit, all the while glancing in the rear view and side view mirrors.  Chris noticed that and looked in those mirrors too, from time to time.  He saw nothing suspicious.  At last they came to the on-ramp and soon they were in the thick of the traffic headed west towards the city.

Chris breathed a sigh of relief, and even Sonny relaxed what had been some very tense muscles.  Only Calvin remained vigilant.  “I guess we’re home free now” Chris said.  “Not that I wouldn’t mind administering an ass-whupping to those jokers again if I had to.  I’d just rather that I didn’t have to.”

“Well, you may get your chance yet”  Calvin replied.  “I think we’re being followed.”

That statement sent a shock through Chris and Sonny that caused them both to sit bolt upright.  “You’re shitting me!” Chris said.

“I wish I was” Calvin replied.  “Back three cars in the middle lane.  Shiny blue pickup that nobody’s ever used for real work.  I saw it on the road before we got on the freeway.  Every now and then on the curves he’d come into sight for a minute.  I’m guessing it’s Carlson’s punks, and maybe Carlson too.”

“Well shit” Sonny growled.  “Why don’t we take the next off ramp and get this thing done?”

“I’d like to avoid that” Calvin replied.  “I try to make violence a last resort.  It’s a Christian thing.  I’ll fight if I have to, but I’d rather not.”

“Well my religion is ‘Do unto others before they can do unto you’” Sonny said.  “These guys are persistent.  They’re not going to leave you alone.”

Chris listened to his friends discuss the situation.  Sharp images of his bad dream arose in his mind, and with those images came the desperate panic that he had felt that night.  That urge for survival, bred by years in Vietnam, fueled a desire to strike out; to hit and kick and bit and club and shoot, and do whatever was required to win the next battle and stay alive.  The berserker was once again creeping out of the shadows of Chris’ mind, looking to lead a desperate and bloody charge against his adversaries.

Chris stared into the rear view mirror and struggled to regain control of his own mind.  He looked carefully at the pickup and it slowly registered that it was just a normal pickup truck that could only carry normal sized people.  those people might be carrying any sort of weapon, but they were just people and not iron-toothed, mallet fisted visions from hell.

The rising warrior receded and rational thought regained it’s place in Chris’ head.  “We’ve got to do a little creative thinking here” he said.  “We’ve got a situation and we have to manage it.”  Chris’ wartime experience began to assert itself.  A threat was presented, and a strategy was required to deal with it.

“I don’t think that they want to stop us and fight today” he continued.  “I think that basically they’re cowards, otherwise they wouldn’t have attacked us from behind.  They want to follow us and find out where we live.  These are some evil bastards and they want to get me and Calvin on our own.  We have to figure out how to screw up their plans.”

They sat silently in the cab as the truck rolled slower than the other traffic through Alpine and down into the El Cajon Valley.  It was Sonny who first broke the silence.  “They still back there?”

Calvin looked for the one hundredth time in the rear view mirror and answered “Yep.”

“OK.  Here’s my idea.  We can’t shake them, what with dragging your truck behind us, so let’s take the truck to my place.  They don’t know me from Adam and, for now at least, they don’t have much of a beef with me.  With that load off of your tail you can lose them pretty quick in downtown traffic.  Chris, you get off at my place, and when they go to follow Calvin, you can walk home.  I’ll go with you just in case.  Calvin, you call Chris or me, or both of us for that matter, as soon as you get home safe.  Then we can plan what to do next.”  They debated aspects of that plan but ultimately that’s what they decided to do.

By the time that they had agreed on this they had crossed El Cajon and were rolling down the grade towards Mission Valley.  They passed College Avenue and saw the college that Chris and perhaps Calvin would soon be attending, and came to the 43rd Street off ramp at the bottom of the valley floor.  When the traffic light turned green Calvin progressed up the grade towards El Cajon Boulevard, and as he slowed down for that light he burst out in a peal of laughter.

The laughter made both Chris and Sonny jump in their seats.  “What?” Sonny asked.  “What’s that all about?”

Calvin continued to look into the rear view mirror, beaming with relief.  “Yeah” Chris added.  “What gives?”

“Take a look in the mirror” Calvin said.  Chris and Sonny did as they were instructed and Chris instantly recognized the truck that belonged to Calvin’s uncle.  It had just slipped in behind them, and Chris said “Excellent.  Now there’s four of us.”

“It’s better than that” Calvin replied.  “You see that old Dodge in the lane next to him?  That belongs to Uncle’s friend, Nestor Vargas.  If I’m right, they’re both about to have a little engine trouble right now.”

As he said this the light changed.  Calvin took off down 43rd Street with all three of them looking in their mirrors.  Sure enough, both vehicles sat motionless in their lanes.  The two drivers emerged and raised their hoods and began to gaze down at their engines.  As the three friends sailed through the green light at Orange Avenue they saw the light behind them turn red once again, and when it did the hoods came down and the two drivers reentered their vehicles.

Chris directed Calvin through the neighborhood, through residential streets and alleys, and soon they were backing Calvin’s pickup into the garage behind Chris’ house.  When the truck was safely nestled next to the old Mercury that Chris’ father was restoring Chris said his goodbyes to his two friends.  Calvin left to drop Sonny off before returning to his mother’s house.  Before leaving however, Chris said “We’ve got to talk about what to do.  We can’t let this shit go on.  We gotta go to the police or something.”

“That’s never worked all that well for me” Calvin objected.

“Well, you’re not in this alone now, man” Chris replied.  “If we gotta kick ass and take names to get some help, then that’s what we’re gonna do.”

Sonny agreed and stated that he was with them all the way.  Calvin seemed to be struggling for words, and he simply grasped Chris’ hand and then Sonny’s.  “Let’s go before I start bawling” he said to Sonny.  They reentered the truck and rolled down the alley toward the street that led to Sonny’s home.

 

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The Long Walk Back Home, Chapter Eleven

Chris stopped in the middle of the road and looked from there at the property.  There was nothing to indicate that Calvin’s uncle or anyone else was home, and  Chris took what was his first good look at where Calvin had once lived.  The single wide was a faded yellow with a brown metal roof.  The front door was reached by the small porch that he remembered from the last time that he was there.  The kitchen had been to the left as you entered the structure, and the bedroom where Calvin had slept was to the right.

The garage was bigger than the mobile home.  It sat about fifteen feet from the back corner where the bedrooms were, and rose six or seven feet higher.  It was a square structure, nearly as long as the mobile home but that same distance deep.  Two large hinged doors covered openings through which a car could be easily driven, and Chris had no doubt that Calvin’s crippled rides were behind those doors.

“Come on, let’s drive up and see” Sonny urged.

Chris looked at the empty road in front of them and then looked behind in the rear view mirror at the equally empty road behind them.  “I don’t think we’re going to get caught in rush hour traffic here” he said.

Chris continued to examine the property for any sign of occupation.  Sonny began to get fidgety and again said “Come on.  Let’s knock on the door.”

“I don’t know if that’s a good idea” Chris said.  “Calvin’s uncle made it pretty clear that he didn’t like me or any other white people.  I don’t think that he’d be too happy to see me.”

“Well then I’ll knock on the door.  I’m not white; I’m Polish.”

“I think that the difference might be lost on him” Chris replied.  He sat in the road for a minute or two longer and then, muttering “what the hell,” he pulled into the driveway.  Chris rolled up to the steps leading to the porch and stopped, turning off the engine.  He then leaned back in the seat.  Sonny reached for the door handle and Chris told him not to open the door.  “Why not?” Sonny asked.

“Calvin and I talked a lot back in Nam, and I remember that he once told me that the way to do this was to stop in plain sight.  If the person you’re visiting wants to talk, they’ll appear from the door or somewhere.  That tells you that it’s OK to come in.”

“That’s weird.  How long do you plan to sit here?  He might not even be home, or he might not see us.”

“No, maybe he isn’t home.  And if he’s too busy to have noticed that we arrived then he’s too busy to waste time on us.  I know, it sounds strange.  It’s what Calvin said though, so it’s his rules.  Maybe its like how many times you let the phone ring before you decide that nobody’s home, or if they are, they don’t want to talk to anybody.  I give it eight rings.  I guess I’ll give him eight rings.”

“Hmm.  Sounds whacky to me.  So do we leave a note or anything if he doesn’t come out.?”

“Probably not.  I’ll give it another two or three minutes.  You leave too soon and they think you didn’t want to speak to them very much anyway, and you hang around too long, well, you’re just being an annoying bastard.”

“How do you know all of that stuff?”

“Like I said; Calvin and I talked a lot.  When they weren’t trying to kill me over there I had a lot of time on my hands.  That place could get exciting in a hurry, but a lot of the time I spent just sitting around and waiting for the days to pass until I came home.  We talked a lot about our families and stuff, and his was so different from mine that I learned to just shut up and listen.  He’s a better story teller than me anyway, and it was a good way to kill a lot of time.”

Chris looked past Sonny through the passenger window to see if there was any crack in the door, but there wasn’t  “If he invites us in, which I don’t think he will do, he’ll probably offer us coffee.”

At that moment Chris became award of the sound of an approaching vehicle.  It was coming from the opposite direction than the way that they had entered the Rez.  It was a truck; Chris recognized it as the one that belonged to Calvin’s uncle.  The truck didn’t slow down a bit, but instead continued its course down the road.  Chris reached down and turned the key, and the car’s engine rumbled to life.

“We done here?” Sonny asked.

“Yep.  He doesn’t want to talk to us.”

“You sure he’s even here?  Maybe we should wait a little longer.”

“Nope.  That would put us right into the category of ‘annoying bastards.’  We’re done here for now.

“Well, this is all crazy to me” Sonny said.

“Yeah, well it’s crazy to me too.  Let’s get back to the city.”

Chris drove Sonny to his house and dropped him off, and then he returned to his own home.  His mother would be shopping or running errands, or visiting her friend Irene Chang, and Chuck would be hunched over his books.  Chris decided that he might as well learn how to relax and maybe even try to read a book, especially as he was due to begin classes in a little more than two months.

The rest of the week passed slowly.  Chris spent a lot of time indoors avoiding the sunshine, or relaxing in the shade of a large Torrey pine that grew in the back yard.  He had spent many hours of his youth climbing in that tree until he saw a large spider on a branch who’s coloring was a perfect camouflage.  On a later climb in that tree he saw another of the large arachnids, now that he knew how to spot what he was looking for.  Since that time he had been content to remain on the ground and merely enjoy the shade cast by the low but broad tree.

In the afternoons he enjoyed helping his mother in the kitchen, and in the evenings he would retire with his father to the garage.  It turned out that the project he was working on was restoring a 1949 Mercury, just like the one that James Dean played a deadly game of ‘chicken’ in in the movie “Rebel Without A Cause.”

His father had always been a capable mechanic, and had developed an interest in restoring classic automobiles while Chris was away in the Army.  “It kept him busy so that he wouldn’t think about you being over there” his mother told him.  Chris expressed surprise that his father was so affected by him being in a war, since the elder Paine had been in one himself.  “Yes.  He knew what war is all about.  How could that make him worry less?” his mother had asked.  It was with this in mind that Chris lingered in the garage with his father after the evening meal, helping a little but mostly just being with him.  His father, in turn, seemed to be happy to share space with his son.

The thought occurred to Chris during this week that perhaps his father could help Calvin to get his truck running.  He would need a work truck, and maybe his father could help him to save some money on the deal.  His father offered to look at the truck and, if it was not too big of a job, he would help to get it running again.

At last, Saturday came and with it the gathering with Calvin, Pam and Jackie at the Spear’s Point.  Calvin picked up Chris in his borrowed truck at about three in the afternoon.  He had worked a half-day, which is why he had not been free to retrieve his truck that morning and instead had to wait until the next day.  He had cleaned up quickly and, after stopping for Chris, they drove to the college area and parked a block away from the restaurant.

They were early, and so entered the establishment in order to get some food.  The place was not busy, as Pam had suggested would be the case.  They went to a counter where they could order and pay for their food, and were given a number to place on the table.  They each got a beer and picked the table farthest from any other customers.

It was instantly clear why this was considered to be a hangout for the smart students.  On the walls were posters and prints featuring the images of Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, and host of other men and women who Chris assumed were scientists and poets and scholars.  A large model of the solar system hung from the ceiling with the planets wheeling at different rates of speed around the sun, which was the one bright light in the place.

In one booth two students, one black and one white, were engaged in a game of chess.  “Look at that” Calvin said.  “The white guy has the black pieces and the black guy has the white ones.  I like that.”

“I hadn’t noticed” Chris said.  “Man, that solar system thing is cool!”

Calvin looked up at the solar system, then again at the other customers.  Some were engaged in low but earnest conversations.  Others were reading in the dim light or were writing in notebooks.  “You know, I think that I could get to like this stuff” he said.  “It’s like, they have their heads together in here.  No nonsense.  Yeah, maybe I could do the school thing.”

“Oh, hey” Chris said.  “I invited a friend of mine to come with us tomorrow, if that’s OK with you.”

“Sure.  One more white guy on Uncle’s property will really give him a case of anal flutter” Calvin said with a laugh.  “He IS white, isn’t he?”

“Yeah, he’s white.  Well, he’s white and he’s Polish, so he knows a little bit about being on the outside.”

“That won’t cut much ice with Uncle.  He’d be just as glad for your friend to go back to Poland as he would for you to go back to England, or wherever your family came from.  It might be good to have him along though.  Can he handle himself?”

“Yeah, Sonny’s a pretty big guy.  Why?  You think there will be trouble?”

“Could be.  My uncle’s keeping his ear to the ground.  Word going around is that the two punks with Carlson were Dallas Briscoe and Ted Dennehey.  Both of them come from rich families and hang around with Carlson because they’re just as mean and low-life as he is.  They’re swearing that they’re going to get paybacks.”

“Well, they couldn’t hassle us on the Rez, could they?”

“They’re saying that they don’t care about no Rez; that they’ll jump us wherever they can find us.  Folks on the Rez are keeping their eyes peeled for them, and if they do start anything there it’s a federal offense and the FBI will get involved.  Carlson and his friends know that too, and they say that they don’t care, which is probably bullshit, but it wouldn’t hurt to keep our eyes open and bring a little insurance.”

Chris sat silently in his chair for a short while, looking through the window at the traffic on College Avenue.  Was Carlson and his thug friends in one of the vehicles whizzing by?  Were they able to pressure the hotel clerk into revealing Chris’ name and address?  Could they be lying in ambush somewhere between the restaurant and Calvin’s truck?  Would they be a threat to his family, or to Pam and Jackie if they saw them sitting with him in the Spear’s Point?  “Oh, man” Chris said.  “I thought that I left the damned war behind me.”

“I know what you mean, man” Calvin said.  “I wish that you hadn’t got sucked into my personal war.”

Chris stared at Calvin briefly and then replied “Well I’m in it, so let’s win this damned thing.”  They clinked their glasses and drank to that, and as they put their glasses back on the table the door opened and Pam and Jackie walked into the room.

Chris waved and caught their attention.  Both he and Calvin stood up as Pam and Jackie approached the table.  After greetings and introductions Chris asked “Is this table OK?”  Jackie said that she would prefer a booth, and they moved to one that was empty.  The girls weren’t hungry, but Jackie ordered a glass of wine and Pam, being under the legal age, an iced tea.  After a bit of introductory small talk, they got down to business.

Chris began the conversation with “So, as I told you before, Calvin spent several months with Tom before he was reassigned to my base camp.  Ask us anything you’d like to know, or you tell us anything that you would like for us to know.”  Jackie said that she wanted to hear Chris talk about the relationship that he had with Tom when they were young in his own words.

“I always had my own view of it”  she said, “but I want to know how you felt about him; how you treated him in your relationship.  Was he a second fiddle, as it seemed to me?  Sort of a Jerry Lewis to your Dean Martin?  I don’t mean to be bitter or nasty, but that was the impression that I carried with me all of the years that we were young together, and I would like to know the truth of it all now.  Please, tell me anything that you want as long as it’s the truth.  I can take it, I promise you.”

After thinking about his answer for a minute Chris replied.  “Well, the truth is that Tom was never a second fiddle to me.  At least, that’s the way that I saw it.  Yeah, I was a little bit crazy.”  Pam and Jackie both looked at him with an skeptical expression.  “OK, I guess I was more than a little bit crazy.  But I never took Tom for granted.  Look, I was the guy with the surfboard, or the skateboard, or the macho thing, but it covered up what I wasn’t, which was all the things that Tom was.  I admired Tom’s ability to play the piano.  I love music but I don’t have one lick of ability with playing an instrument or carrying a tune, and I knew it then as surely as I know it now.  When Tom would play the piano I would listen and know that he was head and shoulders above me in that department, and that was OK by me.

And when we were just hanging out and there were no cliffs to scale or people to impress I would pick Toms brains about historical and scientific and, well, all sorts of things.  I really liked that stuff.  I still do.  But I was so into doing things that it was painful for me to sit down and read.  It still is, and I’m going to struggle when I go back to school.  I already know that.  Tom would talk about those subjects in ways that made them seem to come alive and I could listen to him for hours, but only when we were alone.  Once a group of people arrived my show would go on.

Tom didn’t mind the crazy stuff all that much either.  At least, he said that he didn’t.  I understood his desire to get out from under his father’s thumb and he understood my trouble with not being any of those things that I admired so much in him.  No, Tom was no Jerry Lewis.  He wasn’t even Dean Martin.  To me he was the producer and director of his own show.  Tom was part of what, or who, I wanted to be, and now, when I’m going back to school, I don’t have him to help me.  I’m going to be on my own.  You know what?  It scares the crap out of me.”

Chris sat back in his chair, having said all that he could think of to say on the matter.  He took a sip of his beer and looked directly at Jackie, inviting her with his eyes to ask more if she wanted to hear more.  For his part, that was all that he could think of to say.

“Well, that’s just weird” Jackie said.  “I always thought that you could hardly wait to finish experiencing one thrill so that you could then run off and find a new one, and you dragged Tom after you.”

“Yeah, you’re right about some of that, but it wasn’t one-sided.  In fact, it was pretty much 50-50.  Tom was not afraid to get out there and mix it up with life.  He would always calculate the odds, whereas I was just peddle to the metal, but he was ready to go if the odds looked good that we’d get out of something in one piece.  It’s like I’ve already said; he hated being under his dad’s thumb and so he was ready to take chances, maybe just not as many as I would.  I think that’s why he went to Vietnam.  I’d be willing to bet that he volunteered for that duty.

“He did” Calvin said, interrupting the flow of Chris’ train of thought.  “He was stationed at some fort on the East Coast and he got tired of missing out on the action.  At least, that’s what he told me.”

Jackie now turned her attention to Calvin.  “So” she said.  “Were you very close to Tom?”

“Not at first.  We were in the same unit but bunked in separate hooches.  Oh, I’m sorry.  Hooches were prefabricated huts that we put together to live in.  Anyway, I’d been there for a couple of months already before he got in-country.  After he was there for a month or two we met at church and found out that we were both from San Diego.”

“Church!” Jackie and Chris said together.  “I didn’t know that Tom went to church” Chris said.

“Me either” Jackie echoed.  “How did that come about?”

“One of the guys in Tom’s hooch was a CA, a Chaplain’s Assistant, named Willy Freeman.  Tom and Willy got to be pretty tight, and it was how Willy lived that appealed to Tom.”

“Uh, so how did this guy live?” Chris asked.

“Willy didn’t just talk about this Christian stuff” Calvin continued.  “He lived it.  Here’s an example.  One day I was at the roach coach with him and Tom – – -.”  Jackie’s stare told Calvin to explain.  “The food truck.  This small truck would come around and you could by sandwiches and soft drinks and snacks from it.  We called it the ‘roach coach.’  Anyway, Tom bought some hard boiled eggs and dug out the yolks.”

“That’s right!” Jackie interrupted.  “Tom hated egg whites.”

“Yeah” Calvin continued.  “So, he dug out the yolk and dropped the white parts on the ground.  Well, before we could leave, an old Vietnamese woman who cleaned the hooches came and asked him if she could have that egg white.  We were all a little stupefied, and then Tom nodded that she could.

She bent down and picked that egg white up and started brushing the sand and dirt off of it, and she was just about to eat it right there.  Well, willy was going to have none of that.  He stopped her and then bought a bunch of eggs and sandwiches and chips and other stuff and gave it to her.

The old gal was amazed, and tried to thank Willy.  We were amazed too, and then we felt like turds in a punchbowl for not having done that ourselves.  Anyway, Willy brushed off the thanks and then emptied his pockets and bought stuff for the other Vietnamese women who worked in our unit area.  Every payday after that he would spend part of his salary to buy things that the Vietnamese workers needed.  It grew to include soap and canned goods and band aids and, well anything that they might need from the PX.

Other guys began to catch on, and whether they went to church or not they joined in the fun.  Those women adored Willy and the others, but Willy said he was just doing what Jesus commanded, which is to love his neighbor.

He was like that with everybody; really living what he believed, and so Tom got interested in spiritual stuff that way.  Sometimes Willy would CA for the Catholic priest who performed the mass in our unit if a Catholic CA wasn’t available.  He didn’t like that duty very much.  Our priest was sort of an asshole; uh, pardon my French.  But he was not very cool at all.  He would call out the stoners who were smoking dope on the hillside behind our unit, tell the congregation that they were not to be like those guys who were all going to hell and stuff like that.

But Willy didn’t buy into that sort of thing.  He was a friend to everyone.  If one of the stoners got a ‘Dear John’ letter, or lost a buddy in a fight somewhere, or was just down because he missed his home and had ten months to go before his tour ended, Willy was there.  He wouldn’t give BS advice or any advice at all unless he was asked.  He just listened and was there for them.

Well, Tom saw something in Willy’s actions that made him want to know what was behind them.  By the time I left he was taking classes and learning who Jesus is and what He really said and what the faith is really all about.  I think that he got baptized pretty soon after I left to go to Chris’ duty station.

Tom was drawn to Willy’s Protestant background but we had different chaplains rotate through our unit, so sometimes he’d go with me when my Catholic priest was there and then I would go with him when the Protestants would preach.  I don’t really care that much; Catholic or Protestant.

“I wonder why he never said anything to me about it?” Jackie said.

“He told me that he wanted to surprise you when he got home.  He wanted to take you to church and express his faith the first Sunday that he was back.  You know, he loved you an awful lot.  I’ve never really had a girl; never really loved one anyway, so I don’t know a lot about that, but I know that he loved you.  He told me that at least once a week.  In fact, I got tired of hearing it, but then like I said, I’ve never been in love.

He darned sure never got tired of saying it!  He was going to walk you right down the aisle at that church where you attend, and he was going to marry you at the front of that church, and you and him were going to raise a family and grow old and fat together.  That’s what he said, over and over.  He loved you and he loved God.  That I can swear to you is the truth.”

The three people in the booth sat silently and stared at Calvin.  Finally it was Pam who broke the silence.  “I knew Tom pretty well, but not as well as any of you did, so I suppose that I’m the least surprised to hear about this.”  She put her hand on Jackie’s arm and continued to speak.  “I really wish that he would have come home.  I would have liked very much to get to know him better.  I will say this though.  I believe that he’s a happy now as he could possibly be, and that he wants for us to be happy too.  I think we can honor him by being happy that he is in a good place and we have time before us to be like he was.”

“Yeah, he would tell you that he already is home” Calvin replied.  “It’s sad for us; I was blown away when Chris told me about it, but that’s how it always is for the ones who have to stay around for a little while longer.  Tom’s dead to this life but he’s very much alive and waiting for us in the next.  Of that I’m certain.”

Chris had no idea what he could say that would add to this conversation.  He was not ill-disposed toward religion in general, but he viewed a lot of Christians as hypocrites who said grand things and then did mean ones.  He didn’t think that mentioning that would be proper at this time.  Besides, the others at the table with him were pretty well grounded people; maybe they were on to something.  He would have to think more about that later.

Jackie and Calvin were soon carrying most of the conversation.  Calvin knew the Tom who had been thousands of miles away from Jackie and navigating himself through a war.  She heard about things that he had said and did that she recognized as coming from her Tom.  She also heard about the things that came from a Tom that she did not know so well; a Tom being forged in the fires of war, being shaped into a man with new facets, new strengths and perhaps weaknesses.  She eagerly dug for details and Calvin readily supplied them when he could.

Pam had little to add to the conversation, and Chris practically nothing at all.  In time they looked at each other and smiled; looked back at Calvin and Jackie and then at each other again.  Chris held up a finger to get everyone’s attention and was successful.  “Hey guys, I think I left something in the truck.  I’m going to go and see.  Then I’m going to get another beer.  Anybody want something when I return?”

Jackie said “No” and thanked him.  Calvin looked at Chris with a quizzical expression and Chris said “I had some papers with some stuff written down that I thought might be useful.  I won’t be long.”  Calvin shrugged and returned to the conversation.  Chris then looked at Pam and asked “You wanna walk with me?”  Pam smiled and said “Sure.”  They rose and walked out of the restaurant.

“You think they know that we’re gone?” Chris asked with a smile.

“Sure.  They know” Pam replied.  “But I don’t think that they care.”

Chris laughed and said “Probably not.  I had no idea that Jackie and Calvin would get along so well.  They’re like old friends.”

“Yes” Pam replied.  “Calvin is just what Jackie needed, I think.  He’s a wonderful storyteller.  It’s like we were watching Tom do all of those things that he’s talking about.  I’m really happy for Jackie.”

They walked a good deal more than a block up College Avenue and then turned around to walk back  “Aren’t you going to the car for some sort of papers?” Pam asked.

“Naw.  There’s no papers there.  I just wanted to let them talk alone.”  Pam looked at Chris and said a low “Hmm.”  Chris looked back at Pam and smiled, and then said “ and I wanted to take a walk with you.”

“Oh” Pam replied, and stared down College Avenue as they walked for a moment in silence.  After a short distance Pam brushed Chris’ arm with her fingertips and said “Good idea.”

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.”

 

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.