I recall it was an afternoon in the middle of a heat spree. I looked out the window of my office and was intrigued by a man ambling slowly in my direction. He was wearing what I could see was a chocolate-colored leather sleeveless vest and worn blue jeans. His face was dark and flat, the latter feature accentuated by him pulling his onyx black hair back tightly at the forehead and then tying it in two matching braids dropping just below the shoulder line.
He was on the other side of the street but as he came parallel to the entrance to my building, he sharply turned left and crossed. He must have entered the foyer because I lost sight of him. One of my clients had recently made a first-time appointment for his neighbor. I had never seen this person who was due to show up for the meeting in just minutes: I wondered if by chance the man crossing the street was he. I noticed only a moment later the arrival light in my waiting room turned red.
“This man is different, doc, but you’ll get a kick out of him,” is all the information my client gave me regarding the mystery man coming to my office…well, except that this new client was named Walter Brook.
When I opened the door, I was staring at an Apache Indian warrior in the flesh. You guessed it!! Walter Brook. Immediately my mind sped off into quick-think mode; or more to the point, I went to work trying to figure out what this man was doing in my office unless he mistook me for an agent and thought he was going to be auditioning for a part in a Cowboys and Indians flick. My fantasies were getting the better of me. Fortunately, it was only a brief period before I’d learn that Walter owned the title of inspector at a meat-packing plant in Vernon, a fact that had nothing to do with him coming to talk with me.
“We live ON California soil but we live IN Mescalero souls,” he began. “I’m a Mescalero Apache from New Mexico and so is my wife. We left the reservation ten yearsago but we devoutly respect and carry on the traditions of our people. It’s very complicated to live in two worlds but it worked out that way for us…how it all happened is not really important at this point.”
“I assume you’ll be telling me what the problem is?”
“Yes.” He was not a man to waste words, and the ones he delivered were solemn. “When I arrived home four days ago there was a suitcase on the porch.” He stopped to examine me. His face appeared chiseled out of stone, firm, strong and seemingly unable to even flinch. He was broadly and powerfully built and he stood a couple inches over six feet. “You have to understand that with my people the authority of the female is great, at least of equal power as the male and in some areas much larger. In the home the woman rules supreme. If she believes she has cause to do so, all she has to do to end the relationship is put the man’s suitcase outside the door—that signals that she is finished.”
“I’m assuming you’re telling me that you finding your suitcase waiting for you suggested that you met this fate?” His long pause and grim expression confirmed the worst. “What did you do to cause her to take such extreme action?”
“A couple years ago I had a drinking problem—it had been going on for a long time. Well, two years back it became a major problem because I wasn’t coming home after work and I was blowing money, even gambling a bit. I agreed to go to AA and it worked—to a degree anyway.”
“What do you mean?”
“I stopped drinking. The problem was that the successful remedy for my alcohol addiction had side effects.” I perceived sarcasm in his voice. “These ten, twenty or fifty-step programs are great if you devote your life to stopping the behavior… but they don’t stop you from being human. Get what I’m saying?”
“Well I might but let me check. I’ve had a number of clients who have used these programs to cure problem ‘A’ only to find out they developed problem ‘B’. It’s called symptom substitution. Is that what you’re referring to?”
“That might be it. What happened for me was I wanted sex. Twice a day! Nikki refused. She made all sorts of excuses. Then she’d ridicule me and make me feel ashamed for wanting her.” Again he paused, long enough for me to pose a question.
“So that’s why she put you out—you wanted too much romance?”
“No. That alone would not have given her justification for such an extreme act. You see, before she exerts her power to send me away she is expected to council with her family and mine. They never would have condoned it because I had a drinking problem or wanted to get cozy too often…but after I started having affairs, that was it.”
“But what is it you want from me?” I asked with notable bafflement. “You say she’s acted in accordance with the traditions you both adhere to.”
“My neighbor who referred me to you said you are very clever. Think of something that will save me.”
The session ended with me assuring him I’d consider it as a homework assignment and get back to him. I did fix on his final statement, particularly that he was hoping to find a strategy that would “save me.” I wasn’t sure what he meant. Then as I did what I’d promised, devote time thinking about what I might do to assist him, I realized that what he was asking me to do was to address whether or not there was an angle that hadn’t been considered, one that would argue against his wife’s judgment to turn him out of her life.
That’s when I realized that if I was going to do that, I needed to understand his culture, the traditions and customs of the Mescalero people. Thus, over the course of the next three evenings I read as many books and articles as I could find about this amazing tribe’s history and way of life, especially pertaining to women’s rights and marriage.
When I finished I was left with one question: How did this devout respect for women evolve for the Mescalero people? When I asked him, Walter could only provide his own theory:
The tribe holds sacred a belief in what they call White Painted Woman. She is a spirit that circulates through the women of the tribe, such that if there were to be a loss of one or more females, the energy would still be alive in each of the other women: the female essence of White Painted Women preserves the strength, durability and elasticity of the tribe.
I called Walter and suggested he come back to see me.
We live ON California soil but we live IN Mescalero souls.
His statement repeated in my mind. It was clear to me that he was emphasizing that no matter what the prevailing values were where he dwelled, the physical space and environment where he and his wife spent their time, both of them still lived by the mores of their people; their souls were Mescalero no matter where they were living out their daily lives.
Walter wasn’t surprised when I told him that from my reading of tribal law, Nikki had acted properly given he had violated the marital bond—that I had to concur with his wife and those she had gone to for council.
“That’s not very clever,” Walter flatly commented. He was no more impressed when I told him that my opinion was that if Nikki had as much of a Mescalero heart as he described, that I was doubtful he’d be able to rebuild the relationship. “What you’re telling me I knew already. I was hoping you could come up with a…”
“I don’t do miracles. I’ll admit I tried to a few times but it’s not my forte.”
“So what do I do?
“Walter, you were hoping I would have a winning solution for you. See if this works. I’d suggest first that we find you an equally satisfying addiction to alcohol or carousing. How about…golf? Whatever it is, you’ll also need a nice girl that loves you in spite of your shortcomings…and preferably one that doesn’t own a suitcase.”
Walter laughed and laughed, far more than my amateur humor deserved. Then he displayed a wide smile before revealing for me the real motive for his joviality. “I’m kind of relieved to tell you the truth. I believed that out of respect for my family I had to explore if there was a way to mend what had torn between us. But to tell you the truth, Nikki hated me all along—had we continued on together we might have ended up killing each other,” he jested.
“So I did well?” I chirped.
“Yes. Since I already knew the answer, that she never loved me and therefore there would be no resolution, do I still have to pay you?”
The Mescalero were—and are—known to be crafty and astute business people. He was serious…but I still insisted he pay. Then I laughed too, concluding by sharing a secret.
“Walter, you’re not alone paying for what you already knew. The best therapy in the world ends with the client concluding that they knew from the start everything that resulted from the treatment. My profession is one of the few where you’re compensated for riding shotgun while somebody else does the work.”
He huffed and puffed but fortunately he was in no mood to smite me; finally agreeing I’d earned my fee.
It was a dozen plus one year before Walter—and everything I had come to admire about the Mescalero tribe—would drift back into my life. Mescalero became the setting for love, mystery, murder and redemption in my fictional accounts. Walter Brook was renamed Walter Chicory when I assigned him a crafty character role in two of my stories.
“‘You’re Walter?’ I jerked; it was the very name Preston had mentioned, a Mescalero Indian man who befriended him and taken him to eat. ‘Sober as a virgin,’ Walter roared amicably. ” – Mistaken Enemy.