An Old Hippie And An Apache
I became aware of a buzzing sound and sat up, rubbing the beard that is covering my face. My hair had fallen down and I grab my bandana and tie it back.
The buzzing was coming from Gray Wolf’s little black and white television that was sitting on top of the refrigerator. It was left on and somewhere in the night, it lost its signal.
It was the beginning of a new day on earth.
My mouth was dry as cotton and my head throbbed. I was tangled up in sorrow and to make matters worse, the sun wasn’t shining.
I want to get out of here. I am doing too much dope, I thought. I can feel the grass growing around my brain and I wonder if I am trying to kill myself? Well, maybe.
There are flies in the kitchen along with a sink full of dirty dishes and beer cans littered the floor. Ashtrays, overflowing with roaches and cigarette butts litter the small Formica kitchen table.
The two aluminum chairs, covered with cracked and torn red vinyl, were tipped over on their side.
A small bag of grass is sitting on the counter next to a dirty coffee pot, with an inch of thick, black, coffee, scorched from being left on all night, coagulating on the bottom. I get up and walk over and grab the grass and look around for rolling paper.
I found some.
I rolled a joint. Bending over, I lit it from the pilot light on the gas stove before deciding to wake Gray Wolf
“Wake up! It’s time to start a new day,” I yell. “I made breakfast, scrambled eggs and Falstaff, breakfast of the 101st Screamin’ Eagles. Come on, get your lazy ass outta bed.”
I saw Gray Wolf’s beaded and fringed deerskin jacket lying on the floor. What looked like vomit coated the front and a big cigarette burn on the left sleeve ruined what used to be a beautiful jacket. His mother beaded that for hours, he said so that Gray Wolf would have a beautiful Apache jacket to wear to events. That was when he still wanted to be an Indian.
I walked into the back bedroom. I guess he didn’t make it to the bed as I found him on the floor next to the closet.
He woke up. His eyes were plastered shut. He looked around. He didn’t recognize where he was.
I looked down at his dirt stained t-shirt and noticed something under his left sleeve. I pulled the sleeve up and saw the picture of a woman tattooed on his arm.
“Who is that?” I asked.
He stared at the tattoo and tried to concentrate. He squinted his eyes, crinkling his forehead.
“Damn, that’s my best friend, Eagle Feather’s, wife. Shit, she had her friend do that. I remember it hurt like hell. Eagle Feather will not be happy.”
“I don’t suppose. Are you all right?”
“The tat hurts a bit.”
“No, I meant you. You know, do you think you can come out of this?”
He looked at me and took a deep breath and got to his knees.
“I need to get my wits about me before I try to stand, White Eyes. How’d you know where I was and that I was so fucked up?” Gray Wolf asked, as he stood and shuffled into the kitchen scratching his balls and rubbing his stubble of hair on the top of his head. His hair looked like it was cut off with a knife.
I wondered what happened. The last time I saw him, he had long black hair. He looked like the Apache he is. No longer.
“I heard on the wind, from the birds, and felt it in the sunlight,” I said, “and your sister called. She said the only talking you did was to dogs and old tractors.”
“Ah, I thought my sister might have something to do with it. White Eyes. you ain’t no Indian. The wind and birds don’t talk to White Eyes, only to Indians. My sister, how does she know you?”
“She said she got my name from some of my letters that were scattered on the floor. Unopened, by the way.”
“Shit, White Eyes, it smells like rain and feels like hell. Where do I belong, man?”
“I don’t know brother, but I don’t think it’s here.”
His face was gray, sagging like wet paper. His eyes were yellow and rimmed in red and held up by multiple bags under each one. It looked like he lost all of his muscle tone. He was an old man at fifty.
I noticed the hole in Gray Wolf’s left arm where all his disability check goes. I watched him last night climbing walls while he sat in a chair and I tried to keep him awake.
Gray Wolf and I met in Nam in 1969. We were in the Bien Hoa Province, land of peaceful frontiers, with the 101st Airborne. We became friends and he changed my name to White Eyes and it stuck. I don’t think he remembers my real name.
Gray Wolf came home from Nam sporting a hundred dollar habit. I heard that there was something in the chemical makeup of Indians where they couldn’t handle alcohol, well, evidently they can’t handle drugs either. Gray Wolf couldn’t stay away from the White Rabbit.
Today he smelled like death. What happened in Nam, took all the fun out of his life and left him with horrifying memories and his long lost dreams.
“White Eyes, I’m on fire and this freight train is running through my head.”
I noticed he was soaking wet. He’s running out of time, I thought, but he believes there’s a lot more standing here than what he sees live each day.
When the sun comes up he gets a little spark like he used to but he is running out of time, he just doesn’t know it. I know that any day could be his last. Damn, time goes by so fast.
He’s an Indian, an Apache. He says his home is the hills and the trees around him and the sky is his ceiling that holds the stars and moon above him.
Pale Horse loves him and she gave him her soul.
Grass and heroine temporarily take all his troubles away, or so he says, until the evening comes to take him home; but it has also taken his life away.
“Do Indians celebrate the 4th of July? It’s not like they were set free or anything,” I ask him.
“Sure we do. Yeah, we do. My dad died in the Philippines, fighting for this country, the same country that tried to kill him for years. Then I went to fight for this country and now it’s killing me too. Ha, nobody told me my senior trip would be to Vietnam, White Eyes, nobody told me.”
“I know. We were so young, our balls hadn’t dropped yet. The rich college boys were running around campus chasing skirts and we were in the swampy rice paddies in the Mekong Delta chasing slant eyed gooks.”
“I dream, White Eyes, do you know that?”
Yes, Gray Wolf, I do. You always did. You told me some of your dreams while we motored along the Mekong River on our way to Laos, do you remember?”
“Yeah man,” he said dreamily as he slowly took another toke and held his breath. A few seconds later he gasped and the smoke exploded from his mouth.
“Now they’re giving tours down that river,” I told him.
“Hmmm,” Gray Wolf nodded his head dreamily.
“Remember Danny? Danny McGuire? What an asshole, eh?”
“Yeah, he was an ass,” I replied.
“Before Nam, I had a dream that I could fly. Did I tell you that? So I jumped off a cliff and flapped my arms like a bird. I did fly until I lost altitude and crashed into the rock. I broke my wing in two places.
When I was assigned to the Screaming Eagles, I told them about me flying and breaking my wing. They told me I should have used a parachute. Hell, before I was drafted, I never heard the white man’s word, parachute. Apaches don’t have a word for parachutes.”
“Are you a Shaman, or whatever you Apaches call a man who has visions?
“Yeah man, last week I had this vision. It told me to go to Phoenix. I went and stood on the bridge, waiting for a vision. What river is that, the Gila? My squaw, Pale Horse, came by and asked me what I was doing there. I told her I was waiting for a vision and she was my vision. She took me home and we smoked some more and I shot up again then she said I wasn’t an Indian no more and she cut my hair.”
His eyes started to well up with tears and soon they were running down his face
“Then we got naked and she held me while the shakes took me where I didn’t want to go.
I messed up White Eyes, She tried to love what was left of me but I wouldn’t let her. There’s nothing left to love, White Eyes. She left me.”
He started to ramble, a sign he was losing his hold on reality maybe what was left of his life.
“I ain’t sure of nothing no more just that old folks grow lonesome. I’m old White Eyes. When did we ETS, it seems like so long ago. Man, I hated Laos, more than anything. Hot LZ’s, C4, smell of that shitty country still is in my nose. Well, you’d think with everything I snorted up there it would be gone, but it ain’t. It’s just like we were still there. I can hear the M60’s firing from the gunships as they try to come into the hot LZ’s. It hurts White Eyes. My head. It hurts
I think I’ll call Danny but what will I say? He’ll ask what’s new and I’ll say nothing what’s new with you? Nothing much he’ll say.”
I light my cigar and Gray Wolf moves and I stare at his ancient hollow eyes and want to say, “Hello in there, hello, but I knew it was too late. I would stay with him to the end. It wouldn’t be long now. He was wasting away. He wasn’t eating and when I could get him to eat something, he threw it up minutes later. I could hear him in the bathroom.
In a few minutes, he staggered into the room.
“White Eyes, I’m ready. When the rooster crows, I’ll be gone.”
“Come on, Gray Wolf, you gotta fight this.”
“I don’t know, I’m overmatched and just plain tired, or maybe just too damn old,” he whispered.
We both searched for words. Gray Wolf spoke first.
“Hey, White Eyes, did I tell you I write poetry?” His voice was beginning to get scratchy and it was losing volume.
“No, Gray Wolf, you didn’t.”
“Here, listen to this,” he said walking back into the room with a sheet of yellowed paper.
“I call it A Soldier’s Cry. I think it’s pretty good. Let me know what you think, brother.”
He began to read it to me.
Every night when all is still
I feel a paralyzing chill
I lie awake consumed with fear
Waiting, for those eyes to ‘ppear
I lock and load and wait alone,
On this piece of land I own
Those shining eyes that are so still,
Staring at me from on that hill
Every night they call to me
Taunting me to lose my will,
I vow to fight with my last breath
I’ll fight them ’til my certain death
I close my eyes and see them still
staring at me from on that hill
All my brothers who dropped and fell,
They lost their lives in this living hell
They were some of America’s best
those shining eyes put them to rest
They disappeared in this burning pit
And I vowed to them I won’t forget
Never to be heard from ever again
They were some of my best friends
I watch those eyes as they come for me
But I stand fast, I won’t flee
I will battle them to my last breath
As did my friends, as bullets ripped their chest
They were some of America’s best
They kept their loved ones safe and sound
swallowing bullets, round after round
But here they come those eyes so still
Staring at me from on that hill
I lock and load and wait alone,
Sitting here in fear’s cold sweat
Knowing they won’t get me yet
Lord, I pray, I’m not done
I pray for one more morning sun
As he finished, the paper dropped from his hand and floated to the floor and his eyes rolled up into his head and he gasped his last breath.
“Don’t quit on me, dammit, don’t quit on me! You damn Indian, why’d you have to start on this stuff?”
Now tears were rolling down my face. I angrily wiped them away. That poem was his way of finally being able to express the anguish that had been haunting him since 1969.
I reached down and picked up the paper and looked at it. It was blank. He wasn’t reading anything.
Gray Wolf had that poem written on his heart and it died with him. As it should. He suffered long enough.