The Mystery of the Hummingbird, II

luis

Poor Bear.

He's in a coma now, beat down by savages in the biker bar he liked to frequent in eastern San Diego county. He was actually trying to break up a fist fight in the parking lot, and a fighter sucker-punched him in the temple. Horrors ensued, and a brief recuperation, then a bleed in the head sent him far away. No one knows where. Though his sweet-heart sent me an email that she was reading Hummingbird to him, and even in his coma, he has grimaced (smiled?) and stirred as he seemed to understand parts of the book. I have The Bear on my mind because he has been coming to me in dreams. I have known him since 1978, and only now have I dreamed of him. I awaken uneasy--as if he's been offering me a message from whatever twilight world his spirit is inhabiting now. But I can't quite decipher his messages. If you have lived with Teresita long enough, you will begin to listen to these dreams.

We worked in Mexico together during those "relief-work" years with the orphanages and the Tijuana garbage dump dwellers. He was a big man--a biker himself, a hunter, with a huge beard, a huge gut, a bunch of guns, and a pirate's bandana tied around his head. He drove, I rode shotgun--we shared the mike on the cb radio. We shared a serious jones for Springsteen music and The Wild Bunch. Some of the Baptist missionaries in our group thought The Bear and I were agents of Satan--once, a troubled Christian girl fled from our van in tears because we were listening to evil music--"Rosalita" and "Born to Run."

And then he fell on troubled times, crisis and heart-break, and his church turned on him. Those he loved judged him "back-slidden" and "un-spiritual." His wife was "discipled" by a man who considered himself a spiritual giant, and The Bear was not. Her heart hardened. There is no doubt, The Bear was no Fourth of July picnic. But not even a hard-time prisoner in San Quentin enjoys feeling lost and forgotten. And utterly discounted.

Bad Christian juju cursed Bear until he flailed in his rage and confusion. It was a hideous melt-down. And he ended up on the street. He lived at Mission Bay and took showers in the bathrooms there. The only people who cared about The Bear--the only ones--were Hells Angels, druggies, trailer park folks, witches. It's no wonder he turned to pot and beer. Lots of pot. Lots of beer.

We had been estranged. He once tried to fool me into mailing a pound of drugs for him after I had taken him in and given him a room. That kind of thing.

Still, he was a stalwart friend and a human army tank. No dangerous situation bothered me when The Bear could pick a guy up with one hand (I saw him do that on more than one occasion). He was pretty sure he could pick up demons, too, and fling them like The Hulk flings evil-doers. He drove ten thousand miles with me, scouring basement archives, working sputtering microfilm machines, thumbing through dusty files and ancient newspaper cuttings for stories about Teresita.

We met Charles Bowden for drinks in Tucson, and Bowden asked The Bear, "Are you a good man?" And the Bear stared at him, mouth open, unable to answer. Afflicted by the question.

After that, we drove to El Paso and mined UTEP for material, slept on Bobby and Lee Byrd's floor, visited John Wesley Hardin's grave. Headed out through the back-country wastelands and hit Albuquerque one dawn as the hot air balloon festival launched. We were in cowboy hats and I had hair down to my waist. Must have been quite a sight.

And up, up through the Rockies! Up and over Wyoming and into Yellowstone in October as the south road melted before us and the vastness was empty of humans. We vanished, walking among giant clouds of steam in the snow like a goth rock band. We saw moose and buffalo, a coyote pack surrounded my Jeep, elk trudged through the snow. I was so devastated by things in my life, not the elast of them the growing influence of Teresita, that at times I'd cry, and he'd kindly ignore it and turn the Blue Cheer tapes up really loud and drive on.

When I got to Tucson, I rented a seriously haunted adobe in the Old Barrio. The Bear was working doing air conditioning. Somehow, he found me there, and he moved in with me again. I was happy to have him. I'd been seeing apparitions at night. Something had grabbed my feet and tried to claw my ankles. It felt like human hands with long nails.

One night, as The Bear slept on the floor in the living room, I lay in my bedroom reading. I could see a reflection of the living room in a window, and I saw a dark figure move across the room. Then it fled past in a blur, going the other direction. The living room light went on, and Bear called, "Lou--was that you?"

Then the building was set on fire. Somebody ah snuck in and broken all the crosses and slit a bed. There was a fire lit on the roof over every room. We ran through the blinding smoke, trying to put out the flames.

We hiked almost every day as the sun set in the Saguaro National Monument. We took home a dead rattlesnake and kept him coiled next to the tortillas in our fridge. We fought. I got sick and passed out in the heat--he found me and took me to the hospital.

And now he's gone.

Or he's not gone, but traveling the ghost road. What does he keep trying to tell me? I want to understand what he's saying. Bear, Bear--do you copy? What's your 10-20? Come back. Over and out.

L

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Book club members have been some of my most enthusiastic and careful readers. I’m thrilled to share my work with you, answer your questions and tell you some of the stories behind the stories. This is our spot, just for us. Here, we can chat:  If I’m nearby, I’ll come and visit your club. Otherwise, we can Skype, talk over the phone or email. Sometimes, I’ll send surprises or hold contests.

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