Biblio File column
"Welcome to Vietnam."
Drafted in 1966, nineteen-year-old Phillip I. Elkins (better known today as Señor Felipe, host of "LA Sounds with Sr. Felipe" on Chico's KZFR.org) little knew what awaited him. Years later, living in Chico, flashbacks would haunt his life and become a relationship wrecking-ball.
Elkins is writing a series of autobiographies that capture the eras (and errors) of his life. In "Shadowman" ($20 in paperback from Sr. Felipe Press, srfelipe.weebly.com; also for Amazon Kindle), Elkins tells the story of his life in Chico.
This time he writes in the third person, using his best friend's name as the central character, mixing in excerpts from earlier books, memories from childhood (where Elkins was known as "Cookie") and his year in Vietnam.
Elkins notes that "Shadowman" was written "when I was having a pretty rough time with things. I was going through my second divorce, and I was letting go of a successful business that I had for several years, and I couldn't seem to find a suitable job."
PTSD leaves him with a "terrible short-term memory, I was explosively angry, and I was constantly exhausted. I felt confused and disorganized…." So the story of "Eddie Pacheco" and his disintegrating marriage to Peaches is dark indeed, especially after Peaches is sexually assaulted by a stranger.
Eddie's anger is palpable. But who to be angry with—an unknown assailant, some higher ups who promoted a purposeless war? After Vietnam he is physically whole but mentally wounded. In one horrific incident, "Eddie throws up again and again. He wanders off, seeing fire burning, smelling oil, gas, flesh, clothing, and bone all burning together. He retches some more. He feels dizzy and weak, and he falls to the ground and lays there, grateful that he's still alive but somehow wishing he wasn't."
Depressed in Chico, thinking of jumping off a cliff in Upper Park, he meets a woman who is about to do the same thing. The two are saved by a ranger with a surprising childhood connection to Eddie. Something begins to change in him; "the shadows are fading," he realizes.
And there's an old childhood memory, pushing back against the void: "Lookie, lookie, lookie—Here comes Cookie!"
Copyright Chico Enterprise-Record; used by permission