Sometimes I Think of You As a Cowboyhttps://i0.wp.com/barrenmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/06/IMG_0358.jpeg?fit=1920%2C1321&ssl=119201321Elaine CareyElaine Careyhttps://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/cec9cc6faee9e9bc42fe8128083792f1?s=96&d=mm&r=g
I’m standing at the podium with your casket behind me and all I can think of are stories not to tell. Like the time you drove me and JD all the way to Yankee Stadium during the playoffs; you were trashed by the end of the second inning and punched a Red Sox fan. Or the time Mom caught you sleeping with another woman and locked you out of the house so when JD and I got home from school we found you sitting on the porch steps like a sad dog. You said, “come on,” and we felt like bandits who would follow you anywhere. We walked three miles to McDonald’s but you didn’t have any money so we looked for coins in the parking lot. JD found a couple nickels and I found a used condom. When we turned around to ask you what to do next, you were gone. Probably hitching a ride to Joe’s Tavern, or maybe you were headed to your girlfriend’s house. I still remember the look on Mom’s face when only two of us came home.
I can’t tell the story of how you skipped town when I was fourteen and I didn’t see you again until you showed up drunk at my college graduation and tried to hit on the dean, shooting your fireball breath down her neck. Or how after that, you disappeared again and I didn’t hear from you until six months ago when you called me to say you were going to die soon and did I want to go to one last Yankees game.
I can’t tell the story of how I told you no, and you said you didn’t blame me. Or how right after that, you asked if I would take care of your cat Willie Nelson when you died, and I said I would think about it.
I can’t tell everyone that sometimes when I’m feeling soft, I think of you as a cowboy, the outlaw kind. Or that the reason JD isn’t at your funeral is because when I said this to him, he looked me straight in the face and said, “Well I think of him as an alcoholic high school dropout.”
The one nice story I can think of is the time you snuck me and JD into the Jacksonville Zoo. You said we had to pay close attention to the manatees because they were Mom’s favorite and she would want to hear about them.
When we got to the manatee exhibit, the dirty-looking tank was empty, and the manatee was on a platform next to it, like a huge slab of putty baking in the sun. It had these red boils and scars all over it. A bunch of zookeepers were standing around with clipboards and measuring tape and snapping pictures of the poor animal. You asked the zookeepers what was going on, and they told us the manatee had beached itself three times on Friday.
The zookeepers grabbed these thick straps underneath the manatee and heaved it onto its side so they could take pictures of its stomach. When they rolled it over, some of the boils popped and you said, “Jesus Christ.” The zookeepers assured us the manatee was going to be okay, and I believed them. But then when we left the exhibit, you grabbed me and JD by the shoulders and said, “Don’t ever tell your mother.”
When we got home, Mom asked us right away how the manatees were. We smiled with all the muscles in our faces and said they were great. You put your arms around her waist and told her there had been a whole family of them, and the baby manatee looked like me. She said that’s just how she remembered it. A big happy manatee family.
As I’m about to tell this story I see my Aunt Sally, the one who was always mean, falling asleep in the front pew with her brown and yellow teeth sticking out of her mouth. Behind her, there are a couple of guys from the warehouse where you worked, and some lady I don’t recognize playing a game on her phone with the volume turned up.
I keep my stories to myself and turn to your casket instead. I tell you I decided to keep Willie Nelson. He hid under my bed the first two days after I brought him home, and I was worried he might stay there until he died. But then as I was leaving to come here, he followed me to the door and meowed. I told him not to worry, I’ll be right back.