I Never Wanted To Be A Cowboy. Ever.
Well, OK, maybe when I was about two and didn’t know any better. Come to think of it, the old family story is that I went around the corner of our house to a little toy store and walked in, strapped a pair of six-shooters into the holster I found and walked out of the store with no on seeing me. Cute story, that. Of course I had to give back the toys and apparently I screamed bloody murder.
My dad, however, wanted very much to be the cowboy. He loved country music, played the guitar (until he lost a couple of fingers in a work accident) and when you get a good look at him, he does remind one of Audie Murphy. Even his sister Mary used to sing The Red River Valley to me before I went to bed while she stayed with us. The horror I won’t soon forget for she had a voice like dull razor blades. She smelled funny, too.
But when we’re kids it’s easy to go to the land of imagination and have a fun, healthy time of it, scaling fences, wading fords, gettin’ on the ol’ Conestoga wagon for the ride into the wild, wild, wild west. Getting older, however, my imagination was a lot less fun and a lot more wild.
Don’t Drink And Ride
There’s an old saying: Don’t be a’leanin’ in the saddle. It means don’t get drunk, head into town and get into a gunfight because you can’t hold the homemade gasoline.
That’s what it was like for me. I was so out of it that I might as well have been drinking homemade gasoline. Eventually I had had enough, too much confusion, too much anger, too much horseshit. I finally wanted to find out why I was always leaning in the saddle and could not sit up straight and tall.
I think any cowboy could be confused by the bright lights of town. They might forget where they parked the horses. They might have misplaced the cows but they sure know where the gold nuggets are that pay for the drinks. Hell, it ain’t a halfway decent night out if you don’t have one or more black eyes (metaphorically speaking). That’s a hell of a life for a cowboy, and it’s just the kind of life I was leading.
Hollywood offered us a different version of the cowboy one that is sanitized, wholesome, as sweet as barbecue sauce on a honeybee. One that is steeped in denial and illusion.
Why, Lookie Here, Darlin’, It’s One O’ Them Bipolar Boys
When Roy Rogers leaped from the back of his faithful horse Trigger to kiss his sweetheart Dale Evans, why, the ladies in the theater would sigh with envy. Now, I weren’t borned yet, but I heard tell. Hollywood wanted us to have that escapist, pure, wonderful and romantic love — or at least the idea of it. Hell, it don’t matter if your beau has no teeth and bad flatulence. He’s still your man holding the gee-tar and a’sangin’ and a’twangin’. Just don’t look at those other things because hallelujah, you’re in love. There’s nothin’ wrong with you!
And a lot of people feel the same way when it comes to mental illness. If you don’t look at it, it ain’t there at all. Just look up at them big blue skies, those bee-yoo-ti-ful mountains. Look anywhere but at the dad-blamed problem.
That’s what I was doing to myself. I didn’t really want to see what I was doing to myself, doing to my life and to those people surrounding me. I didn’t own up to having a problem. I was in denial so deep that it made the Rio Grande look like a purdy little crick.
Had to face the facts. I’m a cow, not a cowboy.
And I needed someone that knew how to handle me, someone that could round me up and get me a’movin’ on the right path. And not the one to the slaughterhouse neither.
‘Scuse Me, Have You Seen Any Cowboys?
When you need a ranch hand to help you out it’s not a very good idea to look for the wake of dolphins. Besides, dolphins don’t speak cow. They don’t know where to find a cowboy. Sure, they might be able to swim real good but they can’t butt horns worth a lick. In fact, I don’t see no horns, do you?
So why look for someone that knows the trail when you’re lookin’ in the town jail? Ain’t gonna find someone in the pokey. Why ask someone that doesn’t know what you’re talking about? You gotta find someone that speaks cow.
Cows being notoriously without a decent sense of direction, and not quite knowing where to ask, finding someone that speaks cow could take quite some time and let me tell you, it sure did take time for me. But once I found the right townsfolk to ask and I realized what I needed, I was amazed to find that I actually had a chance to make it out of town, out of the desert and back to my herd.
How You Can Tell It’s A Cowboy
Is it big? Does it have six legs, a weirdly-shaped head, stands fifteen hands high and wears fuzzy pants? Does it have a lasso?
Then you just might have found yourself a cowherd.
A therapist/cowherd might have some or all of these things but one thing they certainly do have is the uncanny ability to move you through the canyons and keep you away from the cliffs. They know how to make good time, too, and get you into the peaceful back forty and away from the damn wolves.
I have to admit that I’m not all that good at finding my way out on that ol’ prairie. I can barely get two feet in front of the others. And there’s nothing scarier than being out alone when the wolves are howling all around you.
Uh…. Where’s My Herd?
All I ever wanted, like most basically good and faithful cows, is to be a part of the herd. The herd is safety, comfort, companionship. It’s where a cow belongs.
I have been long away from my herd. And I’m just now working my way back with my cowhand makin’ sure this little dogie is gettin’ along a whole lot better. Step by step, past the Saguaro, past the scorpions, past the rattlesnakes. Believe me, there’s plenty of rattlesnakes along the way.
My team is the best. They’ve got me right where they want me. Eventually I’ll rejoin the herd and be more comfortable with myself. I just have to believe they can get me there without me believing that I’m a laughingstock.
And This Laughingstock Ought To Know
I don’t much care about people laughing at me anymore. There was a long time that went by where I was so concerned about what people thought (or really, what I thought they thought) about me that it immobilized me. And I sure felt like a jackass.
Sometimes I still feel that way. It’s not very easy to get over the dread of being judged or being without the self-esteem to dismiss others’ imagined (or sometimes real) slights. No one really understands the fight, the commitment, the sheer heuvos it takes to simply not care about being judged. Believe you me, I judge myself far more harshly than others do. That’s not good for me at all. I have to fight that misperception on every front.
So let them stare at my skinny little calf-ankles. Let them laugh at me all they want. They can bray to their heart’s content. But before they laugh at this little calf I hope they realize how hard I have had to work, how long I have had to walk with the cowherds before I can get back to where I belong, among friends, among family, among the herd, My cows.
Hey, Maw! Is That You, Maw?
I really, really look forward to the day when, after all the work, after all the cliffs, rattlesnakes, cattle rustlers, tumbleweeds and wolves, I can get back to where I belong. Can’t say that yet and it could be some time before I can. But I want it very, very much. I want to be put out to pasture with everyone else and that would be just fine with me, thank you. I just don’t want to end up with ketchup and mustard on me. Anywhere. And you can hold the cheese.