The Young Apache Who Could Fly

 

The Young Apache Who Could Fly

We met in Nam in 1969, He came home sporting a hundred dollar habit. I heard there was something in the chemical makeup of Indians where they couldn’t handle alcohol, well, evidently they can’t handle drugs either. He couldn’t get away from the White Rabbit.
“Before Nam,” he said, “I had a dream that I could fly. Did I tell you that, White Eyes? So I jumped off a cliff and flapped my arms like a bird. I did fly until I lost altitude and crashed into the rocks. I broke my wing in two places. When I was assigned to the 101st Screaming Eagles, I told them about me flying and breaking my wing. Sergeant McGuire told me I should have used a parachute. Hell, before I was drafted, I never heard the white man’s word, parachute. Apaches do not have a word for parachutes. Sergeant McGuire asked me once if Indians celebrate the 4th of July? He said it’s not like you were set free or anything. Sure we do, I said. 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 when we arrived in country, our balls hadn’t dropped. We were still boys chasing Charlie in the swampy rice paddies in the Mekong Delta while the rich college guys were running around campus chasing skirts.”
“Ha, they did not know they were missing out on all the fun, did they White Eyes?”
“I guess they didn’t.”
“Ha, we went in boys and left men, is that not so, White Eyes? At least those of us that left.
I dream, White Eyes, do you know that?”
“Yes, I do. You always did. You told me some of your dreams while we motored along the Mekong River on our way to Laos. I remember.”
He saw a small bag of grass 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. He got up and walked over and grabbed the grass and looked around for rolling paper.
He found some and rolled a joint. Bending over, he lit it from the pilot light on the gas stove.
“Yeah man,” he said dreamily as he slowly took a 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, into those swampy rice paddies,” I told him.
“Hmmm, why would white people want to travel through that swamp? Remember Danny? Danny McGuire? What an asshole, eh?” He nodded his head dreamily.
“Yeah, he was an ass,” I replied.
“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 looked at him standing there in his dirt stained t-shirt and noticed something under his left sleeve. I pulled the sleeve up and saw the picture of a naked 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 toke and sat down on the floor.
“I need to get my wits about me before I try to stand, White Eyes. How did you know where I was and that I was so fucked up?” he 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.
The last time I saw him, he had long black hair. He looked like an Apache. Not now.
“I heard on the wind, from the birds, and felt it in the sunlight,” I said.
“Ha. White Eyes. you are not Indian. The wind and birds do not talk to White Eyes, only to Indians.”
“And your sister called. She said the only talking you did was to dogs and old tractors.”
“Ha, I thought my sister might have something to do with it. My sister, how does she know you?” He took another toke, holding his breath before expelling another puff of smoke. The joint was burning down to the clip.
“She said she got my name from some of my letters that were scattered on the floor. Unopened, by the way.”
“Ha. 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.”
I looked at him closely and noticed his face was gray, sagging like wet paper. His eyes were yellow and rimmed in red and held up by multiple bags. It looked like he lost all of his muscle tone. He was an old man at forty.
I noticed the hole in his 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.
He told me 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.
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.
I wanted to get him to talk to me. Talk about his old life. The Apache ways, the life he loved before the White Rabbit destroyed him.
“Are you a Shaman,” I ask, “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?  Pale Moon 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 and I shot up again then she said I was not an Apache 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 did not want to go.
I messed up White Eyes, Pale Moon gave me her soul. She tried to love what was left of me but I would not let her. There is nothing left to love, White Eyes. She left me now.”
I felt sorry for him. He started to ramble, a sign he was losing his hold on reality maybe what was left of his life.
“I am not sure of nothing no more just that old folks grow lonesome. I am 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. Ha, you would think with everything I snorted up there it would be gone, but it is not. It is like we are still there. I can hear those two M60’s firing from the choppers as they come into the hot LZ. It hurts White Eyes. My head. It hurts.”
I saw his 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 it. He showed that jacket to me a few years ago. He took pride in wearing it. He told me his mother spent hours putting on the beads, so he would have a beautiful Apache jacket to wear to events. He said that was when he still wanted to be an Apache.
“White Eyes, do you remember the song “White Rabbit” by The Jefferson Airplane? They say that rabbit makes you feel ten feet tall. I often wondered why they didn’t sing about how it felt when you fell ten feet. The fall is hard, White Eyes.”
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 am on fire and this freight train is running through my head. I need the White Rabbit.”
I light my cigar and watch him as he shoots up. It won’t do any good to try to stop him. 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 lost so much weight. 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. 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.
“White Eyes, I am ready. When the rooster crows, I will be gone.”
I want to say, “Come on, brother, you gotta fight this,” but I don’t. I know it’s no use.
“I am overmatched and just plain tired, or maybe just too damn old,” he whispered.
We both searched for words. He 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, 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 is pretty good. Let me know what you think, brother,” he said as he sank into the couch.
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.
I realized through the poem, he was finally able to express the anguish that had been haunting him since 1969.
I took a deep breath and picked up his deerskin jacket and covered him with it, hoping his friend, Eagle Feather, wouldn’t see the tattoo of his naked wife.
I reached down and picked up the paper and looked at it. It was blank. He wasn’t reading anything.
He had that poem written on his heart and it died with him. As it should, I guess. He suffered long enough.