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.”

 

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