I went to visit Wilson on the reservation in late July. I couldn't stay long; my daycare finally had a child so I had to be back home on Monday. Wilson was staying at Dale's apartment in town. I didn't tell him I was coming; I just showed up.
When I arrived, a lot of people were drinking on the dirt lot that served as a yard. They told me Wilson was inside. The tiny apartment was dark and hot. I don't know how many people were there, too many to count in the dark. Wilson was sitting in a chair by the wall, his chin resting on his chest. I walked over and plopped Andrew into his lap. His head snapped up, startled. It took him a moment to realize it was Andrew on his lap, and then he looked up, grinning.
"Ohhh! Et's youu!" he slurred.
I stayed a couple of days. I didn't mind the partying. In fact, I felt comfortable. I was there helping people. I bought fruit for the kids and toilet paper for everyone else. I was needed. And during the day, Wilson and Dale were sober, having a couple beers only to ward off the shakes.
Little Wally was old enough to be learning to pee in a coffee can in Dale’s kitchen. Most of the day, he and Andrew sat in the cool black dirt outside the apartment and dug holes with spoons while the adults lounged in the shade of old elm trees. The little boys were filthy, but it didn't matter. They were happy and the adults were content to just sit and watch them.
Grandpa Walter no longer knew me. His dementia had worsened and he had begun forgetting people, starting with his most recent acquaintances. Naturally, I was one of the first he forgot. Because our relationship had died, I felt grief just as you would when someone dies physically. It’s hard to know how to act when you walk into a room and the person is still physically there. I had to stop myself from speaking to him as I used to, because he would only look at me and then back to his children, as if asking them who I was. Our relationship was gone and I had to treat it that way.
Because of a car accident some time ago, Dale got an insurance settlement of $5000. He was encouraged to buy a tract house, which sold for only $1000.
"If you buy a house, you won't have to worry ever again about where your family will live."
"Nah," he answered, "I was born poor and I'll always be poor."
Dale took a whole carload of people to the go-carts and then to eat. After that, he and the others drank the rest of the money up.
Dorothy was driving around drunk. Stopping at Dale's, she slid out of the car.
"Would youse watch Paul for me?" she asked Wilson and Dale as she leaned unsteadily against the car. Paul was in the back seat, staring out the window.
"I don't have no where to go," she went on, "and he needs a place to sleep."
Wilson and Dale both shook their heads 'no'.
'Come on, bro, "she argued, "he can't be sleeping in the car."
"Well, sober up then and take care of him!" Dale admonished.
As she was leaving I pulled on Wilson's arm.
"You should have taken him. What if she gets in a wreck?"
"But if we took him, we'd end up baby-sitting for days."
Wilson took Andrew hunting for an afternoon with Dale and Wally. They all piled in the car and drove through the forest for a couple hours; Dale and Wilson shared a six-pack between them. Tammy and I stayed home. Having no goals in life does have its advantages. There are no schedules to keep or deadlines to meet. Forget pressure; forget trying to pay bills. If someone comes after you for money you owe, just pick up and go somewhere else. In the meantime, don't worry about it. You can sit out on the worn, wooden stoop, feel the sun on your arm and the light breeze in your hair, and do nothing.
Well, I could pretend I had no responsibilities for only a couple days. I liked being at Dale and Tammy's and didn't want to go home, but I owned a daycare, so I finally left, driving home alone with Andrew.