a wonderful story about life, love and success!
|I never cared for the taste of meat when I was a kid.
This was especially reinforced during the hunting season of ’82. My Dad and older brother had been gone on a weeklong camping-hunting expedition. For now Dad said it was my job to “stay home and care for the womenfolk” – otherwise known as my Mother and two sisters. Dad said that if I did this job well that maybe next year I would be able to go on the trip myself. I looked at him in disbelief, in awe at the prospect of joining them and becoming a man. While I waited for their return, I mostly played upon my bedroom floor with my Lincoln Logs and toy wild animals, creating a rustic Alaskan frontier reality of my own. When Dad and my brother returned I was anxious for any sign of their true adventure, a confirmation that in my envy I was able to at least create some semblance of what they experienced.
I ran through the house, tripping over myself, ‘ol Red - our trusted family friend who was also back from the hunt, and stumbled into the laps of my Dad and brother in the garage. They were in the midst of carving out the bowels of an Elk. I don’t know if it was the shock or if there really was that much red, my vision seemed to blur and I lost my standing.
Dad picked me up and carried me into my Mom, where in this act it was apparent that I was officially relieved of my caring-for-the-womenfolk duties. I don’t know if I was more saddened by the presumption that my Dad would be disappointed by my childish reaction or from the fear that any hope I had in seeking out their prizes next year would elude me. I returned to the floor where I played out that I was the famous Cowboy Dan, riding a horse and roping a steer faster than any man. I lingered with my intact animals outside the front door of the log cabin I had constructed below my own Mt. McKinley.
Dinner that night was an exciting affair. Our close family was once again sitting at the same table and enjoying a meal. My brother had too many tales to tell, the sisters eventually left after they finished and were in the living room playing with their dolls. I finished my mashed potatoes with ease, the corn was no problem, and I always loved my Mama’s hot buttered rolls. Conspicuously upon my plate remained a friendly piece of ham carved with love by my Dad.
I was against the grain. My Dad continued to discuss the merits of fly-fishing with my older brother, who was so lost in enchantment that he might as well have still been out on the trail instead of sitting at a table in front of a heater. Mom, attempting to facilitate my assimilation into their world, offered me the one prize that I couldn’t say no to.
Rising from her chair and retrieving my sisters’ plates to take for washing, she whispered in my ear, “If you eat your ham I will take you to the rodeo.”
“You will?” I asked her in awe.
She only winked and walked away with the plates, leaving me with my Dad and brother who had no idea of the significance of the act that just took place. I didn’t even look at them or away from my plate. I simply grabbed the knife and began cutting up my ticket to paradise and putting it in my mouth. It was an easy swallow.
When I finished I didn’t say a word and simply rose and took my plate to the kitchen. I paused before asking; fearing that if I did then the offer would disappear. I left quickly and returned to my cabin, where my dream was more intact than it ever was before. The rodeo. I envisioned tall men, tall horses, bucking broncos and cowboy hats as far as the eye could see. With my height, it is amazing I didn’t just picture the muddy boots and big belt buckles. Awe.
The next morning I was rustled awake by my Mom.
“It’s time,” she whispered in my ear.
I wasn’t even awake completely before I was out of my bed and in my cowboy boots. To this day it still seems like it was all just a dream. How could I be going off to the rodeo? So quickly, so suddenly after such a big failure, only one day after it was given to me as the price for my submission. Cowboy hat on the head, boots tapping down the front walkway, I did not question it.
Before the next hunting season, I awoke one morning again in a dream state. I had heard a commotion; it was only dawn and with me was my older brother and my younger brother, who had since arrived, still lying soundly asleep in the room. If it had been the right time of year I would have predicted that the noise I heard was my Dad finishing the loading of our camping gear and would soon be in to wake my brother and I to leave. I was going this time and instead my new baby brother could stay to “care for the womenfolk.”
It was not that time of year, however, and I lay there waiting and listening, for it was almost the same sound. Ice was being poured into an ice chest, successive trips out the front door with the car doors opening, closing and the trunk being loaded. What new and exciting adventure were we bound for? I was up and out of my bed with my cowboy boots on when I heard the door make it’s final shut. I knew this for the next sound was my Dad’s car starting, engine warming. I peaked out the window. Where was he going? Maybe he had to go get the bait from the general store and would be back to pick my brother and I up to go fishing. That was it, fishing!
I watched as his car retreated down the driveway. I hoped he wasn’t going fishing without us.
My Dad didn’t come home that day. He didn’t come home the next day. He never came home again. I played the scene of his car leaving in my head over and over again. I watched him leave. This time there was no promise that I could go next time and the womenfolk were on their own.
My brother and I were now at odds; he didn’t accept me as part of his tribe and retreated to himself and his own path. There wasn’t to be another rodeo, my horses would never come to life, my cabin would always be on the floor. I had lost all faith and even retired my cowboy boots and hat.
It was then that my Mom came to me.
“If you make an effort in school, truly follow the guidance of your teacher and his rules, then I will buy you that bb-gun you’ve wanted and your Uncle will take you out shooting.”
I looked at her, knowing that she was a woman who made good on her promises, and felt the heat from the arena lights again upon my face. Caramel apple in hand, sea of cowboy hats for as far as the eye can see.
My brother would not go with us, he left on his own, I shot some cans, and then was again alone.
When I was seventeen it was my turn to leave. I looked at the womenfolk and realized that I had never succeeded at that job. My Mother refused to sign the parental waiver that would allow me to move forward with my military enlistment. She insisted that I was too young for such an abrupt departure and I was forbidden to quit school in my last year and test for my General Education Diploma to facilitate this.
She came to me again.
“Please, just finish this last year of school, graduate, and I will sign the waiver,” tears were rolling down her face, “If you do this, then I can’t hold you back too much longer, you’ll be eighteen and I can’t stop you.”
I looked her in the eye and within a flash I was on a stage, clad in purple, responding with smiles to the clamor as I held my diploma in my hand.
I held myself tightly to the ground, breathing the dirt and adjusting the magazines strapped to my waist to achieve whatever comfort I could. The wind changed, so I had to make some last minute adjustments, and it was then that my Sergeant walked up to me.
“Soldier,” he said, “if you can make these last shots the way you’ve been shooting today, you will be the first expert marksman qualified this month. You’ll also be a shoe-in for Honor Recruit, that comes with a promotion.”
“Yes, Sir, Hoorah!” I replied, the mandatory and only acceptable response when addressed by a superior officer.
As my target rose and came to it’s full height, the order was giving to commence fire. Sounds of the shots from my neighboring recruits echoed through the range. I paused for a moment to catch my breath and calm my heart, and then made my shot. Again, again, again. I lost track of how many shots I made, only knowing that I had the elk square in the forehead, every single round.
The day my wife left, I laid upon the floor and let my tears attempt to soak through the tiles. The pain was endless and I was sure that the flood I was creating could only drain into hell.
She married her boyfriend; he made bullets in their garage, had to file with the city as a registered armory. I became a vegetarian.
I soon left the military and relocated to a small studio on the beach in San Diego. I thoroughly enjoyed the benefit of being granted six months of unemployment benefits in recognition of my successful completion of military service and my honorable discharge. $452.00 a week was not a bad trade for having stacked all those ribbons upon my chest and miles on my feet throughout those years.
My Mother became frightened by my new path and audacious pursuit of idleness. I did not hear her through the crashing of the waves outside my bedroom window or see what she meant through the haze blinding me.
Everyday I would rush out at six a.m. to hit the best waves and ride them back to the beach. This could last for hours, until I was left lying upon the beach, sore but exhilarated. In the sand I would light a joint and dream of far away beaches, the deserts of Egypt, all the territory I had explored while a soldier. I had no reason to create a new dream; I could just reminisce about what good there was in the past.
Grandpa died. Oregon. Suit, tie, black.
My Mother came to me.
“Please, at least go get your hair cut and shave before the funeral,” attending to the most appropriate concern, “you look as if you don’t even bathe any longer.”
“Mama,” I replied, “I will do this for you, but it will be the last.”
Cold winter morning. My stepfather told me that a Volkswagen Bus would not be suited for the winters in Oregon. My Mother had told me that if I moved home and went back to school that she would acquire for me my dream automobile.
Before I could pack my suitcases for loading, it was in the driveway. I quickly turned away from the surf and retreated down the highway. I was going back to school, going home.
When I first registered for my classes I was filled with excitement, until reality set in. I don’t know what I was thinking filling my schedule with seventeen credits, along with a part-time job at my Uncle’s store.
My Mom told me that if I worked hard it would pay off.
So here I am, my sophomore year and I hear quite the success. I just received my acceptance letter from the University of Oregon last month. I am tentatively accepted into the highly competitive Charles H. Lundquist College of Business. However, the grades I receive this term will guarantee my placement, as my grade point average will need a significant boost.
My Mother is so proud of me that for my birthday she bought be a new .270 Winchester hunting rifle. This will be the year that I am able to finally make that trip with my brother. We have been planning it all year and it will be timed perfectly for the week before I leave for school.
I am lying on the floor. My English Professor discussed with me previous to her final that I would need to score the maximum points to maintain at least a B grade overall. A B.
I am lying on the floor, I am not sad. All winners receive a C sometime in their life. I wonder who Charles H. Lundquist was and if he will miss me.
I look him up on the website and can’t find anything about him. They do say the following: “Today we are one of the top cutting-edge business schools in the nation with a forward-thinking curriculum transformed to satisfy the needs of students and businesses in a modern world. Our curriculum, our professors, and our attitude provide the tools required for learning business for today and tomorrow.”
They also say that they welcome my comments and suggestions.
I wonder what my Dad is doing. I haven’t talked to him in twelve years now. Divorce is an accomplishment he has sustained exceptionally.
I haven’t told my Mom yet. My brother keeps leaving messages wondering if he can borrow a sleeping bag from me for our trip. He loaned his out to our Cousin.
I am lying here on the floor. I wonder if I should just go ahead and try to be a cowboy. It is what I have always wanted. I could go buy some cowboy boots and a cowboy hat. It would be a hoot! Maybe I could become a ranch hand. That would be so fun!
Fuck expectation, what has any of the empty promises I’ve heard all my life ever gotten me?
I get up off the floor and go to the closet. Do I even have anything that resembles something a cowboy would wear? How do I go into the western store wearing a Nike jogging suit. Who bought this Nike jogging suit? Who am I, if it was I?
I see my rifle, new .270 Winchester - so beautiful.
I think of the day that I first learned to shoot with my Uncle. The day I took the range and was the Hero of all my fellow soldiers. Shooting in Kuwait, or off the ship in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Blowing up tanks at Marine Combat Training.
I lift the rifle off the ground and laugh to myself, reciting to myself a mantra I know so well, the “creed of a Marine”: “This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life.
My rifle, without me, is useless. Without my rifle, I am useless. I must fire my rifle true. I must shoot straighter than my enemy who is trying to kill me. I must shoot him before he shoots me. I WILL...” …..
I load the rifle with a shiny new bullet and make myself one last promise.
If I am accepted into business school then I get to not use the bullet.
I lay down for the last time.