Last week, I felt privileged to be able to give our readers a
look inside the life of Chris Christensen, a Vietnam Vet
who lived in a wooded patch of land just off Highway 3 in
This week, I’d like you to meet three more: Lori, Lisa and
They are Chris’ sisters, who grew up with their 54-year-old
oldest brother in a housing project in Schenectady, N.Y.
Each one sent me notes which will forever go to that little
corner of my email inbox that never get deleted. I was taken aback
that while dealing with their brother’s death, they wrote to say
thanks for telling his story.
It is through the miracles of our modern times — the Internet,
Google, et al — that our story found its way from that grove of
cedars he called home to the corners of the country his sisters
Chris hadn’t kept touch with his sisters, and they had no idea
where he’d ended up. And while we told the final piece of this
intriguing man’s life, they wrote me and spoke of all the times
that led to it.
The four siblings grew up in a troubled home, Lori said. Their
parents divorced. Their mother suffered from mental illness.
Chris was an altar boy. But at some point, his behavior began to
change. His grades slipped and he started using alcohol and drugs.
Also, “He began to challenge authority,” she wrote, “a habit he
would keep throughout his lifetime.”
But they always cared for their brother.
“Ah, but he was so intelligent and when sober he was so, so
funny,” she wrote.
He went off to Vietnam in 1972, Lori said. He came back with his
addictions, and at some point, got into a bad motorcycle wreck that
caused a skull fracture. It was reportedly not properly treated,
It was then he began the life of a nomad — off everyone’s
“He began to wander the country soon after with nothing but a
backpack and his thumb,” Lori wrote.
He’d come to visit sometimes, Lori said. But his addictions and
traumatic life experiences made him difficult to deal with. His
independent streak would eventually lead him away.
“I can’t explain why Chris was angry with us yet loved us at the
same time,” Lori said.
They’d heard he lived in Oklahoma, then went to Oregon. He’d hop
in with truckers seeking company on long trips. They’d found out
his attempts to find religion as a born-again Christian, only to
leave the faith because “he’d feel they were trying to control his
life,” Lori said.
When Chris moved to Washington sometime around a decade ago,
Lisa, who’d tried desperately to keep up with him, lost track.
Prior to that, when he was in Oregon, she could keep tabs from afar
on him, thanks to a woman at a veteran’s affairs office in
“She would’ve called me when money was needed to keep Chris in
the hotel,” Lisa said. “She would’ve called when he got sick. He
never had to know where the money was coming from.”
Chris’ mother passed away in 1997. She “suffered daily at the
thought of him being out there ‘somewhere,'” Lynn told me. She
added that Chris “always had a reason” not to come home.
In many ways, Chris’ way of life will always remain a mystery.
But I’m thankful we got a snapshot of it. And proud I could tell
the piece I knew to the ones who loved him.
“I couldn’t have asked for a greater gift than that glimpse you
gave us into his world and for the peace we have knowing what the
outcome was for my brother,” Lori wrote me.
I’ll never forget that.
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