A Different Blue Page 94

“Stella? I need you to tell me what happened,” I demanded, forcing her to look at me. Her eyes were filled with regret and her shoulders narrowed with defeat.

“Jimmy took his savings and bought a pickup truck and a camp trailer. And he came here. He knew my father wouldn't support a marriage at that point. My career was really taking off. And I had a responsibility to my community. I was the first in my family to graduate from college, and one of the first Paiute girls ever. I had been groomed for bigger things. So . . . we saw each other behind my parents' backs. I was angry with them. I was an adult, and Jimmy was a good Native man. I didn't understand why I couldn't have both. But I proved them right in the end. And, truthfully, I blamed them because it was easier than blaming myself. I used my parents as an excuse. The truth was, I was ambitious, and I feared losing my ambition. I feared becoming like my mother, stuck on a reservation, poor, unnoticed, unremarkable.”

“What happened?” Wilson urged her on.

“Jimmy Carter was elected President in 1976, and I was invited to go back and work in Washington, DC in the office of Indian affairs as an assistant to Secretary Shivwa. My father was sure I would be instrumental in getting the Paiute Tribal status reinstated. So I went. Jimmy never told me not to go. He told me he loved me . . . but he never begged me to stay.

“I found out about six weeks later that I was pregnant. I stayed in Washington DC until my boss, who was good friends with my parents, called them and ratted me out. By that time, I was seven months pregnant, and I wasn't able to hide my figure in high-waisted dresses and shawls. I was too far along to fly home, so I stayed on, even though I was embarrassed and my parents were ashamed. When Winnie was born, I left Washington DC and came home. But Jimmy was long gone. And I was too proud to find him.”

“Jimmy never knew?” I whispered, devastated for the man who raised me.

“I never told him.”

“But then . . . how did . . . how did he find me?” I had no other conclusion to draw. Somehow Jimmy had found me . . . and he had taken me from my mother.

“I don't know,” Stella whispered. “It doesn't make any sense.”

“Winona never knew her father?” Wilson asked gently. He was the only one who seemed capable of stringing two thoughts together.

“We allowed her to think my parents were her parents. I called them Mom and Dad and that's what she called them, and we all lived together when I wasn't traveling. My mother raised her while I continued to work as a liason for Indian Affairs. And in 1980 President Carter signed legislation that restored federal recognition to the Paiute tribes and called for a Paiute Reservation. I like to think I had something to do with it. It made the mess I'd made of my personal life a little easier to bear.”

“But what about Jimmy?” I whispered, stunned that he might have never even known he had a child. The Jimmy I knew had lived so simply and had had so little. I felt anger rise in my chest at this woman who had never even told him about his daughter.

“I didn't know how to find him, Blue. I should have tried harder, I know. But it was a different time. In the 1970s, you didn't just make a quick phone call to an Indian reservation. In fact, you can hardly do that now! I managed some contact with Jimmy's mother, but she died a few years after Winona was born. Jimmy's brother said he didn't know where he was. I was pretty conflicted. I loved Jimmy, but I had traded him for my dreams . . . and I lost him. I thought someday we would find each other again, and maybe I would be able to explain.”

“Maybe Winona did find him,” Wilson pondered out loud. “She was seen in Oklahoma. Why else would she have gone to Oklahoma?”

“But . . . I don't think Jimmy ever went back. She wouldn't have found him there,” Stella protested, clearly befuddled by it all.

“But she wouldn't have known that, would she? Is there any way she might have discovered who her father was?”

“My dad passed away when Winnie was fifteen, and my mother died the very next year. Their deaths were very hard on Winnie. I decided it was time to tell her that I was her mother. I thought it would make her feel less alone, not moreso. I don't seem to have very good instincts with such things because she didn't deal with it well. She wanted to know everything about her father . . . about why he didn't stick around. I had to explain that it was my fault. But I could tell she didn't believe me. I showed her some pictures of him. I wonder if she was the one who took these.” Stella fingered the empty squares as she continued with her story.

“She started acting out in school. She had some run-ins with the police over drugs. It wasn't long after that she got pregnant. All talk of her father ceased. And I thought she had let it go, that she'd moved on to other concerns. We never spoke of her father again.”

Stella Hidalgo began putting the photo album back in the box when she hesitated and felt around the box, pulling various items from inside.

“The letters are gone,” she announced and looked up at me. “The letters are gone! I kept all of Jimmy's letters. They were here. I haven't opened this box since I showed Winona those pictures more than twenty years ago.”

“The letters would have given her some valuable information, including a return address,” Wilson proposed. Stella nodded, and she was silent while she digested the possibility that Winona had gone looking for her father.

“The last time I talked to Winnie, she kept ranting about men who never take responsibility . . . about the injustices of life.” Stella's voice was thoughtful, and her expression suggested she was examining the memory. “I just thought she was talking about Ethan. She said she was going to confront him and make him answer for what he'd done. I thought she was talking about Ethan,” Stella insisted again, almost pleading. “I was afraid. She was so angry, talking about getting even. I even called Ethan and warned him. I didn't like Ethan Jacobsen, or his parents, for that matter, but I didn't want him hurt, for Winnie's sake as much as for his own.”

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