I’m a cowboy deep down inside. When I was four or five, back when life was still good and untroubled, my family and I lived in Southeastern New Mexico, close enough to the Texas border to count. It’s ugly there, or beautiful, depending on your perspective.
Tumbleweeds. Dirt. Blue sky. Pump jacks pumping oil. Horses here and there.
I loved The Rifleman, my brother, and Jinx, the best dog who has ever walked this earth. When my brother abandoned me for first grade, I spent the day with Jinx, dragging a stick through the dirt, and pretending that Chuck Connors, the Rifleman himself, was my husband.
Jinx and I looked forward to the afternoon when we could sit in front of the T.V. and watch our show. I would eat peanut butter from the jar and share it with him as the Rifleman wandered the west with his rifle, making the world safe and just.
The Rifleman was a widower and a single Dad. I knew in my heart that I could give his son the best stepmom a kid could ever have. But mostly, I just wanted to carry a rifle. I remember asking for one for my fifth birthday, and I got the cork gun I dreamed of. I think I slept with it.
I think our identities grow up from the earth and wind around our hearts and minds. I feel that I am connected to that dirt along the border between New Mexico and Texas and to the world that such a big sky overhead makes possible.
The barren, endless dust of southeastern New Mexico tells many stories to many people. There are stories of hardship and suffering, of abuse and neglect, of sadness and exhaustion. But that dirt told me a different story.
It told me that I could dream. It told me a very American story of justice and salvation. I imagined myself as someone who could change the world, who could make it better.
My world changed not long after. I learned about school and moving, about wearing dresses and playing jacks. Life gets complicated pretty fast.
But that first story, the first one that I really remember, has stayed with me for all of these years. It is enough to have a dog, some peanut butter, and a cork gun.
It helps to have some Lyle Lovett, too.
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