The Long Walk Back Home, Chapter 13

Two days later Chris, Pam and Calvin were sitting at a table at the Spice Rack, a popular restaurant in Pacific Beach.  Jackie was expected to join them momentarily after getting off of work.  Chris and Pam had spent the day at the beach; their first date.  Chris was still careful of the sun, due to possible lingering effects of the antibiotics that he had just finished taking.  “Dairy and sunshine are not your friends while you take the” the emergency room doctor had told him, so he had put up a pole and canvas sunshade and placed a blanket under it.  Pam preferred to lie just outside the shade, cooking slowly under the San Diego sun and basting herself with baby oil so that she would roast evenly.  This was San Diego, and your social status was at least partly dependent upon the quality of your tan.

Chris had attached his old racks to his mother’s car and cinched down the surfboard that he had pulled out of mothballs.  With a tee shirt on and his nose slathered in zinc oxide, he would make forays out into the surf.  The waves were from three to four foot high that day, and they were well formed.  Chris enjoyed some pleasant rides and gave Pam lessons, which was even more pleasant.

The sun had just began to drop toward the western horizon and light was creeping  up under Chris’ shelter when it was declared to be time to go.  He washed off the sand at the public showers near the boardwalk and put on another shirt, some shorts and flip flops.  Pam went into the restroom at the Surfer Hotel and washed up a little better.  She emerged in shorts and a blouse tied at the bottom, sandals and her hair pulled back in a pony tail.  Chris stared at her as she emerged from the Hotel and wondered how in the world he hadn’t noticed her when they were kids.

Calvin got to the restaurant before they did.  He had secured a table by the time that they arrived and already had a pitcher of beer when Chris and Pam walked in.  They sat down with Calvin, ordered a soda for Pam, and after Chris had washed some salt and sand out of his throat with a glass of the beer they began to talk.

“Before we say anything else” Calvin began, “I’ve decided that I am going to give college a try.”  Pam clapped her hands and Chris gave Calvin a soft punch in the shoulder.  Calvin smiled, appreciating the encouragement that he was receiving.

“So, what made you finally decide to go that way?” Chris asked.  “Not that I think you shouldn’t.”

“Well” Calvin replied, “I’m not going to work and pay taxes so that only you can go to school on the G.I. Bill.  I’m going to ride on that gravy train too.”  This prompted another round of clapping and another punch in the shoulder.  “But really, I liked being in the Spear the other day.  I think I want to see if that works for me.  I talked with my Mom about it and she’s excited too.  She says that I can stay at her house to save money while I go, but I’m not sure about that yet.  I would be the first in my family to go to college though, and she said she’s proud of that.  Yeah, the more I think about it, the more that I like the idea.”

“Maybe we could form a study group” Pam suggested.  “Jackie has been in some and she says that she always does better when she studies with a group.”

“How would that work?” Chris asked.

“Well, we’d all be starting in our first semester, so we’ll be taking a lot of the same basic courses;  math, English, Physical Ed, you know, the basics.  We could study together, at least some of the time, and help each other out when we’re stuck on something.  Jackie only joins them now for specific classes, but we’re a long way from where she is.”

“And where exactly am I?” Jackie asked as she walked behind Chris and pulled out a chair next to him.  Calvin attempted to stand when Jackie arrived, as he had been trained to do by his mother, and nearly upset the table.  Chris’ beer and Pam’s soda came within an inch of tipping over before Chris reached out and grabbed a glass in each hand to steady them.  Some of the contents still slopped over onto the table top anyway.

“Excuse me!” Calvin spluttered as he sat back down and began to sop up the liquid with some napkins.

“Don’t worry about it” Jackie replied.  At least you have SOME manners, unlike others who are present.”  She playfully slapped Chris on the shoulder as she said it.  Chris’ face reddened and he began to make excuses but stopped when the other three began to laugh.  Later, Chris would reflect that this had been the first time that Jackie had ever joked with him.  It felt like some fences had fallen down.

Jackie ordered a glass of wine and Pam told her about Calvin’s decision to attend college.  “That’s wonderful” Jackie said.  “I don’t think that you’ll ever regret that decision.”  Calvin beamed his pleasure at all of the positive words that he was hearing.    “Pam was talking about forming a study group when you showed up” Chris said to Jackie.  “She says that it’s worked for you.”

“It has” Jackie agreed.  “I’m convinced that all of us in our groups performed better than we otherwise would have.  As time permits I could help yours too, every now and then.”

“That would be great” Chris replied.  “My brother has offered that too.  He’s in grad school though, so he’s way past where we’ll be.”

“I never knew your brother, Chris” Jackie said.  “I didn’t even know that you had one until just the last couple of weeks.”

“Yeah, he’s a couple of years older than me.  He used to hang with a different crowd when we were kids.  Sometimes they’d let little brothers tag along, but not very much.

“Yes” Pam interjected.  “I know how that is.”

“I never ignored you” Jackie protested.

“No, you didn’t” Pam agreed.  “But I didn’t really fit in the group, so I hung back.  It’s OK.  We’re all grown ups now.”

Chris looked at his and Calvin’s beers and at Jackie’s wine, and then at Pam’s soda.  “Well – – -,” he said, drawing out the word.  Pam crumpled her napkin and threw it at him.

The waiter arrived to take their orders, and afterwards they resumed their conversation.  “So, how is your work going?” Pam asked Calvin.  “I was surprised that you could be here this early today.”

“We just wrapped up a job and we’ll begin another on Wednesday or Thursday.  I’m going to lose a lot of money by going to college!”

“You’ll earn it back, and more” Jackie advised.  “You won’t regret it.”

“No, I probably won’t.  It’s just hard to pass up the money now.  The boss wanted us to work through the weekend, but I’ve got other things to do.”

“Like what?” Chris asked.

“I’m going to meet with some of my friends from the Rez” Calvin answered with some hesitation.

“Oh, are they coming into town?” Pam asked.

“Uh, well, no.  They’re not.  Actually, I’m going out there.”

Chris couldn’t speak.  Jackie and Pam knew nothing of their recent experience of being followed back into town.  Nevertheless they were surprised too.  “Really?” Jackie said.  “Are you sure that’s safe?”

“Yeah” Chris said while looking straight into the eyes of his friend.  “Are you sure that’s safe?”

Calvin averted his eyes and pushed the knife on the table in front of him, to align it perfectly between his fork and spoon.  “Yeah, I think so.  I’m going out really early.  Those clowns don’t get up at the crack of dawn, so I’m not too worried about it.”

“Well, what’s so important that you have to risk it?” Jackie asked.  Chris was silent, but the same question was in his eyes.

“It’s a church thing.  Me and some guys I know do church.  It’s sort of our own thing.”

“Don’t you go to church on Sunday?” Jackie asked.

“Yes, I do attend the mass on Sunday.  The Saturday thing is only once every couple of months.  It’s something that me and four other guys do.  We call it ‘Church Our Way’ and it’s pretty special to us.”

“Tell me more” Jackie urged, and Calvin continued.

“For starters, we meditate on a passage of scripture while sitting in a sweat lodge.”  The blank stares that surrounded him told Calvin that further explanation was in order.  “We’ve built a low hut by stretching canvas over supports made of branches, and there’s a hole in the ground in the middle of it.  We go inside naked while one guy who stays outside heats up some rocks.  When they’re ready he puts them into the hole in the ground and we ladle water over them and sweat in the steam.  It’s a cleansing ceremony that’s pretty common in a lot of tribal traditions, and we use it to clean our bodies and clear our minds.

“Whenever the temperature drops, the firemaster adds new rocks and we pour more water on them.  After two rounds of hot rocks we drink some water and then do two more.  When that’s finished we go into a house where we sit in a drum circle and drum while each person gets a chance to sing what he feels like he’s learned in the sweat lodge.  When everyone who wants to has sung, we sing another song to God the Creator and then thank Him for life and all of the good things that he has given to us.”

The other three people at the table were quiet for a while, thinking about what Calvin was sharing.  At length Jackie spoke up.  “I think that sounds pretty cool to me, but I’ll bet that the churches aren’t very wild about it.”

“Yeah, they don’t really dig it at all.  We pray to the Father, the Son and the Spirit, but we do it in a sweat lodge and accompanied by drums and song.  That really freaks some people out.  They think that we’re doing devil worship or something like that.  We’re just doing worship in our own cultural context is all.  We’re pretty sure that Jesus didn’t say “Ye shalt in all ways look like a mid twentieth century Southern Baptist if ye wish to follow me.”

“Well, I have to admit that it sounds a little weird to me” Pam said.  “But from what I know about you, you don’t strike me as being some sort of voodoo guy or something, so I don’t see why anybody else’s opinion should matter here.”

“Thank you” Calvin replied.  “I think.  Well, it’s just that my ancestors didn’t come here on the Mayflower.  They wore animal skin clothing, and little of it.  They used dance and drums to worship Creator.  They cleansed in sweat lodges and they constructed lives out of the land and what Creator gave them.  We don’t think that responding to Creator in our own cultural context is a bad thing.  In fact, I doubt that the first Christians meeting in Jerusalem, or Asia, or Roman Europe, looked like Nebraska Methodists, or prayed like Texas Baptists.  So we do it our own way and it feeds us spiritually, we believe, and honors our God.”

Chris had not said anything while Calvin had this conversation with Jackie and Pam.  Now, when it seemed as if Calvin was finished, Chris spoke up.  “I don’t suppose you’ve forgotten already what happened when we went to get your truck.”

Calvin didn’t respond and the girls looked at each other and then back at Chris.  “What?” Jackie asked.  “What about when you went to get the truck?”

Chris recounted the experience that they had with being followed back to San Diego, at the end of which Jackie replied “Oh, that’s insane!  You have got to do something about this.  You’ve got to go to the police.  There are laws in this country.  People can’t just get away with doing that sort of thing.”

The look on Calvin’s face said “Oh, yes they can,” but he determined that now was not the time to share that insight.  Instead he said “Sometimes things just aren’t as cut and dried as you’d think they should be.”

“Well, you’re not going alone” Chris said matter of factly.

“Oh, God” wailed Pam.  “Are you both out of your minds?  Is there some unwritten law that says that boys are not permitted to use their brains?  You two have got to go to the police, and not go galavanting around the county where you could get yourselves beaten to a pulp or worse!  I haven’t waited nineteen years to find a boy that I think is worth spending time with so that I can see him – – -, so that I can see him – – -.”

Jackie reached across the table and put a hand over her visibly upset sister’s wrist and then looked first at Calvin and then at Chris.  “Pam’s right” she said calmly.  She’s right and both of you know it.  This nonsense has got to stop.  Chris, you showed kindness and thoughtfulness when you first came to us, so I know that you can do better than this.

“And Calvin,”  her gaze switched to him, “You’re no fool.  Now I wish that you would both drop this silliness; no, I’m asking you, as a favor to me and to my sister, that you would listen to me.  You’ve both got parents and families and friends;” at that moment she patted her sister’s wrist, “and someone very dear to me who has a special interest in you, Chris, and they all deserve better than to have you two involved in your own personal war with those people.  Now please.  Please. Tell us that you’re going to go to the police before we go any further today.  Will you do that?  Please?”

Chris looked silently at Calvin.  Calvin looked back at Chris, at the two girls, and then back again at his friend, and then he slightly shrugged his shoulders.  Chris was determined to support his friend, but he also desired to agree to Jackie’s plea.  The conflict had created a struggle in his mind.  He had found that he was attracted to Pam in a way that he had never been before to a girl.  She was an attractive girl, but it was her kindness and genuine concern for others without seeking advantage for herself that drew him to her.

He also realized how much he enjoyed the friendship with Jackie that had begun to grow in the last few weeks; a friendship that was far more satisfying than the romantic juvenile fantasies that he had entertained before his three years in the Army had given him a context with which to compare what had value and what was merely shadow.  Jackie was nearly begging him to go to the police, for Pam’s sake as much as for his own, and he wanted to do as they asked.  But he also had friendship obligations to Calvin, and he respected those obligations.

The conflict played on Chris’ face and Calvin could read it, so he spoke up and came to Chris’ aid.  “Chris is reluctant to go to the police because I am reluctant to go to the police” he said.  “He wants to agree to this for your sake, Pam, and that very much, I suspect.”  He then turned to Jackie and continued.  “And he wants to agree for your sake too.  But he knows that I have some pretty serious doubts that it will do any good, so he is holding back for my sake.”  He then spoke directly to Chris.  “I appreciate that, buddy, and I don’t want to put you into a position of disappointing either side, so I agree to go with you to the police.  It’s not that I believe that it will do an ounce of good, and in fact it might even backfire on me, but I agree.”

Calvin gave Chris a soft punch in the shoulder and Chris looked back at his silverware and napkin, saying nothing.  Jackie broke the ensuing silence and asked “Why on earth wouldn’t you want to go to the police, Calvin?  How could it possibly backfire on you?”

Calvin then spoke of the injustice that his people had come to recognize as the norm.  “When there’s trouble between Indians and white people, the Indian is usually thought to be the cause of the problem.  If the police decide to get involved at all in such cases, it’s us who are likely to end up in jail.  Or dead.  I’m not just whining to you.  We’ve got two hundred years of history to support what I’m saying.

“Now, Chris is my buddy.  We went through some things together in Vietnam that make people stick close to each other, although the truth is that Chris saw a lot of worse things than I did.  The truth is that I never expected a white guy and me to be as good friends as we’ve turned out to be.  Actually, Tom Fielding was the first white guy that I ever got close to, and it was him who showed me that this was possible.  “Anyway, I can see how much you care for Chris, Pam, and you too Jackie.  I know that he wants to listen to you both and put your minds at ease, so I’m good with going to the police.  I’ll tell you right now that I don’t expect anything good to come from it, but I’ll stick with my Bud.  That’s what we learned to do in The Nam.”

Silence descended onto the table in the middle of the noisy restaurant.  Calvin stared at the girls while Chris continued to study his napkin.  Pam and Jackie looked at each other and then back at Calvin and Chris.  Pam reached across the table and placed her hand on Chris’ arm, but said nothing.  It was Jackie who broke the silence.

“I’m sorry Calvin.  I didn’t know any of that.”  She then looked at Chris and continued.  “But I still believe that you should go to the police.  It’s 1969, and things are starting to change.  I think that you should give the system a chance, but I admit that there’s a lot here that I don’t know.  I’m speaking for myself, but I think that Pam will agree with me.  We will worry for your safety – both of your safeties – but we’ll support your decision, whatever it is.  I don’t want to be one more problem for either of you to have to worry about.”

Jackie concluded by saying  “Calvin, we care about you too.  We don’t give a flying damn about Indian or white or any of that stupid crap.  You’re a good person and a good friend.  If you don’t get some justice from the law, I’m going to be really pissed!”

Pam looked at her sister, surprised by her rare use of profanity.  She laughed, and the sound of her laughter broke the tension at the table.  Jackie said “Well, I can be pissed off if I want to” as her face reddened, and then Chris and Calvin laughed at that.  After a few minutes more their food arrived and the four friends fell to eating and laughing and enjoying life, as only the young can do.

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