“Hey there little cowboy, don’t forget your hat,” an announcer yelled into a microphone. His booth partner laughed. I slogged across the crud-filled arena as quick as I could in cowboy boots, and my five-year-old hand reached down and bashfully grabbed the black felt wide-brim hat I was so proud of. I gathered myself as best as a little boy with a bruised ego could, but I couldn’t run out of there fast enough. As soon as I got to my aunt my eyes burst, alligator tears draping down my cheeks.
I wanted to be a cowboy, but it required a past I’d never really known.
Despite days of coaching from my teenage cousins and my own best intentions, I wasn’t made to stay on that steer that day. Instead, I was thrown almost right away, and along with the fall went my dreams of being a great bull rider.
Afterwards, my aunt took me to town and had a special trophy made, just for me. I picked one with an orange amber jewel and a bull rider on top, as I imagined I looked just like him. I was going to be a cowboy after all, and this trophy was going to show me the way.
It wasn’t much longer before my family moved away from the Alberta home where I was a kid. My corduroy pants and cowboy boots didn’t give me the hoped for cowboy powers for long. My family moved to an inner-city African American neighborhood in the Midwestern U.S. For some reason my fashion choices, Canadian accent, and slower way of being clashed mightly against the parachute pants and Air Jordan sneakers that filled the hallways of my elementary school.
A couple of weeks after we moved, I fell again. This time there were no announcers to remind me to grab my hat when the kids knocked it off on the playground. This time gravel filled my socks instead of soft manure. This time my aunt didn’t have a trophy made for me after I got jumped on the playground.
I wanted to be a homebody, but it required a past I’d never really known.
When I grew up I moved far away from both of those hallowed pasts. As different as they were from each other, my adult lifestyle was yet another world away. Now I was a middle class dad, a single man struggling to make his own in a world that seemed unprepared for what I had to offer. When I met you I was feeling bold, strong, capable. I shared myself with you with unabashed enthusiasm, full of vigor and life and ability, and desiring nothing more than to be with you.
Despite it happening quickly, when you started pulling away from me I did not know what to do. Instead of releasing you and moving on like anyone else would have, I held on as tightly as I could to a love that was never really reciprocated from you. Your distance, your sly forgetfulness, they seemed to me to be a lullaby that you sang to yourself every night to keep yourself safe from the monsters under your bed. As I heard your lullabies I assumed they were for me, too, because you knew the history we shared. You knew the times I had hid out from the world, and the days that I kept tucked away from embarrassment. You knew me- or so I thought. You could not know me because you could not know yourself.
I wanted to be your life partner, but in reality, I was yearning for a past I’d never really known.
When everything ends, it is all of the sudden different and the same. I yearn for the comfort of the past, but then realize that a comforting past is not something I have ever really known. Here is a toast to the future, and to all it can become, without you, and the hood, and the rodeo arena.