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Carlos

My parents, particularly my mother, would ask any poor soul who was down on their luck to come live with us. Usually, these people were with us for a short time and I never really developed a relationship with them.

Then Carlos started crashing on our couch. Carlos described himself as a cowboy from Texas—which to my nine-year-old mind meant he had probably shot at bad people before, knew how to play guitar, and he obviously could fist-fight well. In reality, his being a cowboy simply meant: he was friendly to everyone, wore cowboy boots, loved country music, and he chewed tobacco. Either way, I was enamored.

My tenth birthday cake, made by my grandmother who also lived with us, was cowboy themed. That year, I was a cowboy for Halloween. When I rode my bike, it was a horse on the plains of wild territories. All of my action figures, regardless of their appearance, became cowboys that year.

Though I had two older siblings, Carlos became my older brother. When he was home we would play games, watch cowboy movies, or sometimes I would just hang out while he listened to Willie, Waylon and the boys, drinking beer and spitting into an empty Coke bottle. Sometimes we did non-cowboy stuff. He was tall, so he would lift me into trees in the yard and catch me when I would ask if I could jump into his arms. Of course, we’d play catch and tag like any other kids would, but he was the only kid I had to play with.

Our house was the only one with peeling paint, broken down cars, and stray dogs in the neighborhood—So not many of the kids around were friendly with me. But our house was also the only one with a cowboy, and he was my loyal compadre. Then my mom met someone else who needed help.

Rene was beautiful! She had long, curly, brown hair and wore a constant, infectious smile on her face. I guess, by all measures, she was a cowgirl. I had never thought about cowgirls before, as far as I was concerned there were cowboys and then the other people they protected. But Rene wore plaid blouses, Levi jeans, and (yes) cowboy boots. She was just like Carlos: very friendly, loved country music, she didn’t dip but she did smoke Marlboro cigarettes.

I was happy for her to live with us. You would think that Carlos’ attention for me would dissipate, but—even though he and Rene hit it off like Annie Oakley and Frank Butler—Rene was one of our gang. She was with me anytime Carlos was, enjoying all of our favorite pastimes.

When they left for the West—yes, they went West—I was sad but I sucked it up. Cowboys don’t cry to a crowd. That night, I pulled out my sleeping bag, laid it on my bed, and went to sleep alone on the range. And under those imagined stars shining down on my little ranch, I wept myself to sleep—cuddled with my first ever pang of loss.

 

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