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Lone Wolf 

"Ma. Yeah, it's Caleb. You won't believe it — they put a no-trespass order on me, and the hospital security guards made me leave. I was being stupid, and they said I was acting threatening to the nurses ... No, I'm in a cab right now and should be back to Saranac in a couple hours."

Caleb, my customer, was talking to his mother on his cellphone from the shotgun seat of my taxi. I had just picked him up at the University of Vermont Medical Center for transport back to his home in Saranac Lake.

"Yeah, Grace is feeling better," he continued. "They did tests and the baby is fine, and they're probably gonna release her in a day or two. They say she'll still be able to have the birth back home."

He said goodbye to his mom and clicked off. "Well, I fucked up," he said — perhaps to me, perhaps to himself. "But Grace is gonna be fine, and that's all that matters."

I was sure he meant it, yet, glancing to my right, I could tell he was still angry. His body remained coiled, and his jaw muscles pulsated. The man was compact and wiry, with a brick-red beard and matching short-cropped hair. It's not a great leap to imagine why the hospital people felt threatened, I thought.

The trip to Saranac was going to take a good two hours, including a ferry ride from Charlotte to Essex. That's a lot of time to be sitting a scant two feet from a seemingly volatile person. For my own well-being, I wanted to engage him, to establish human contact.

"So, did you grow up in upstate New York?" I asked, casually but with genuine interest. The man was bursting with some sort of intense energy, and I wanted to know his story.

"Yeah, 30 miles outside of Binghamton, in the town of Delancey. My father had a dairy farm, and I was one of 12 children. He was also a Pentecostal minister, so it was a super-strict upbringing, like, no TV or movies. Of course, every Saturday night he'd be hanging out at the bar at the bowling alley. The hypocrisy made me nuts."

"Is the farm still in the family, still in operation?"

"Yeah, two of my older brothers run it."

"You didn't want to stay in the family business?"

"Well, I got into manufacturing crystal meth when I was 14. I got busted at 17 and did seven years in a few prisons, the bulk of the time at Attica, which is high security. I was released in 2012."

"What was prison like?"

"Nobody fucked with me, if that's what you're asking. I got a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I've competed on the MMA circuit. My record's 13 and 1."

In Charlotte, the outgoing ferry was departing just as we arrived. The woman in the booth said the schedule was off owing to high winds; out on the lake, swirling whitecaps backed up her assertion. I paid the fare and pulled into the first position in Lane 1, cutting the engine.

Though it was windy, the sun shone brightly — all in all, a welcoming autumn afternoon. I stepped out to wander around the dock, and Caleb joined me. His anger at having been booted out of the hospital and forced to leave his pregnant partner seemed to have dissipated. I was actually enjoying his company.

Hanging out in the open-walled brochure booth, I asked Caleb if this was his first child.

"Not exactly," he replied. "I have six others with my first wife. I know, I know — I look too young. But I have a set of triplets, then the twins, and the youngest is a single. They're all under the age of 8. Multiple births run in my family."

"How did that happen, if you don't mind me asking? I mean, being in jail and all?"

"Conjugal visits. Anyway, the mother took off, and now I'm raising all of them with Grace, plus major help from my mother. All the kids are now bilingual, 'cause Grace speaks to them in Navajo. She's a full-blooded Indian. Sometimes I'll come into the room and Grace and one of 'em will be talking in her language, and I'll ask what they're talking about. Grace will laugh and say, 'You don't want to know.'"

I wrapped my head around that slice of information and asked, "Where did you two meet?"

"I was traveling in the Southwest three summers ago and stopped into a tobacco shop, and Grace was this beautiful girl behind the counter, all in the traditional Native clothes. Her parents owned the store. I asked her if she'd like to go out with me, maybe to a restaurant. She looked at me strange and said, 'What would I eat?' She had, like, no experience with outside culture, life off the rez.

"We fell in love, and she took me to meet her father to get his blessing on our getting married. He asked her, she later told me, if I was a 'lone wolf.' He then spoke to me in English and told me that I had the warrior spirit. Before we got married, there was a ceremony where I was actually given the Indian name 'Lone Wolf' and a headband with three feathers. Two were turkey feathers, which stands for love and loyalty. The third feather — I'm not sure what bird it's from — was my destiny, which was as a warrior."

The ferry ride was exhilarating. We were positioned at the front of the boat, and the windshield kept getting sprayed with lake water as the square-shaped hull pounded the waves. I asked Caleb what he did for work, and he explained that he managed a couple of his mother's rental properties in Saranac, in one of which he, Grace and the kids lived.

An hour and a half later, we reached his home, a shabby ranch house in what seemed to be an older neighborhood, just off the main drag. "Seems like a nice place," I said as we pulled into the dirt driveway.

"It's all right," Caleb replied, "but we want to move back to the Navajo reservation. We couldn't before, but now that we're having this kid together, I'm allowed to live there."

"That's what you both want?"

"More than anything. When I met Grace and her people, it was like finding the missing jigsaw piece in my life. From that day, I completely gave up the drugs — selling 'em, taking 'em, you name it. I love nature, and I completely love the lifestyle on the rez. Grace's dad told me it was my destiny to live among the Navajo people, and I believe it."

What a tumultuous life, I thought as we said our goodbyes. But just maybe the Native American wisdom that has graced his life will continue to heal his broken warrior spirit, making him whole and healthy.

As Caleb walked toward the door, I called to him from my open window. "Hey, Lone Wolf."

He turned back to me and smiled, and I said, "Good luck to you and all your people. And also — peace and love."

All these stories are true, though names and locations may be altered to protect privacy.

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About The Author

Jernigan Pontiac

Jernigan Pontiac

Bio:
Jernigan Pontiac is a Burlington cab driver whose biweekly "Hackie" column has been appearing in Seven Days since 2000. He has published two book-length collections, Hackie: Cab Driving and Life, and Hackie 2: Perfect Autumn.

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