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Clint was a cowboy. How he ended up a member of the software group, I never did ﬁnd out. But there he was, bigger than life; cowboy boots, oversized championship buckle, and enough genuine presence to spill out of the Pendleton Round-up Happy Canyon main arena. Most of the others on the team were what you’d expect: introverted, contemplative, brainy. Some a bit more anal than others, but generally a careful, risk-avoiding lot. Not Clint. He rode every requirement like he’d once ridden brahma bulls: tenaciously; ﬁlled with the passion of pursuit, the joy of conquest. Clint was a noisy learner. He rattled windows. He seemed to have a panoramic picture window into his soul, and every twitch, every nuance took center stage. He told embarrassingly improper jokes when the rest of his teammates were stuck; class clown, court jester, and the perennial winner of the yodeling cowboy competition, all rolled into one. And his distractions worked. Often as not, he’d jangle their stuckness enough for everyone to gain some traction. It seemed as if he had just the right hammer to nudge anything loose. And he was never once shy about using it. Most on the team never understood what this frantic dancing cost Clint. He seemed like any free-spending cowpoke; bottomless pockets, endless good humor, always ready for another big adventure. The life of every party. Clint was no superﬁcial fool, though you’d be excused for mistaking him for one. Behind those eyes, tearing up over his latest inappropriate wise crack, was one wounded wise man. He’d traveled the circuit, living out of his backseat in lean times, a trailer when winning. He’d won and lost it all so many times, the distinction between winning and losing melted away. He continued riding bulls, breaking horses, being broken by them, too. He’d broken just about every bone a cowboy can break, even earned a couple of championship buckles before switching rides into IT, where the competition was more subtle, the championships few and ever further between. But he settled in, conﬁning his carousing to the weekends and after hours. Every cowboy understands that drunk sick ain’t never sick enough to miss roll call or the supper bell. He showed up every morning, freshly showered and starched, polished and bleary-eyed, boot heels leaning him into whatever this next workday might bring. It would not bring money. What he made paid back child support. What he could charm out of instant life-long friends sustained him. He had a string of exes, each one dearly loved, mumbling along beside the trails he’d trodden. Each in turn had fallen under the spell of the fearless buckaroo, the charming cowpoke, that kid in cowboy boots, only to learn that he really was fearless, he really was unrelentingly charming, and that he’d never, ever, under any condition, be able to grow up. Not that he had not tried. He’d served in the Army. He’d graduated from technical school. He was capable of passing for an adult, ... mostly. He could not lose his innocence, no matter how
hard his experience tried. He cried himself to sleep when nobody was left around him, and no one was supposed to know how he hurt inside; least of all himself. The broken bones healed ragged, leaving aches and pains nothing could relieve. But Clint’s broken hearts hurt him more, and he seemed to have a broken heart for every time he’d fallen, inevitably head over stirrup-heels, in love. And he’d loved at least as many as had loved him, and probably many, many more. And his love, though apparently ﬂeeting, was eternal, the love of an infant bonding with sustenance. I don’t think he ever understood where his lovers disappeared to, even after they’d ﬁled papers to take his house and half his future income forever. He’d taken to sleeping in backseats again, closing the VFW every night—not just Saturday night —and his performance was falling off at work. His team lead was an idiot, but present enough to notice that Clint was limping, favoring his weak leg again. Clint had been in and out of the state hospital. Drying out. Cleaning up. This time was a little bit worse than before, like each time before had been a bit worse than the time before that. He seemed near the end of his rope. His employer was patient, but not in the business of playing Job to his self-destruction. And he was destroying himself. Literally killing himself with cigarettes and scotch and the recently fruitless attempts to cobble together one more good time, just like the old times. The good times caught up with Clint. Maybe he was just overtaken by the stampede, trampled under hoofs and dusty-billowing wagon wheels. He’d had a few heart attacks, DUIs, weekends in jail, but he’d made bail. He’d been in the state hospital before, and swore he’d clean up his act when he got back home. But this was no act for Clint, and the ex who owned his home would not come to the door anymore when he knocked at three am, having fallen for him all over again, again and again and again. She wouldn’t face him anymore because she just could not avoid falling all over again for this fallen rodeo star who’d now fallen far too far to ever come home. They say there’s a point on the way down where gravity just takes over. No will in this world could pull back to ground level anyone descended to that depth; and I believe this. Clint was falling, no longer by volition, but by thrall. Something or someone was calling him, and no one could turn him back. So, he’d nearly died that time. They found him, still drunk and grey as cigarette ash on an old town sidewalk, and admitted him to the state hospital again. His employer granted him leave, but shortened the lead. He’d stay clean or be turned out. And he’d been there a month or more when, visiting my client, I learned that he had been incarcerated, and was to be released that day, and that his team lead, that marginally-functional idiot and nearly Clint’s last friend on earth, had volunteered to go fetch him from this stir. I could not stay away, and asked to go along. The three hour drive down through the Carolina Piedmont, I’d planned as the perfect opportunity to ply my trade. Consultant to the team, I’d tried to coach this leader-in-name-only, but he’d not taken my bait. Still seemingly clueless, I was conﬁdent he possessed a heart that was no tin badge. But between his intentions and his actions laid territory completely mysterious to me. Perhaps to him, too.
The conversation came reluctantly. I could ﬁnd no purchase. Direct statements seemed to ﬂy over his head and the subtler stuff never stuck. So we talked around the obvious, an elephant squeezed between us in the front of his SUV. We talked about the weather or something, the same topic that always borders whatever the real subject might be. But we did discuss Clint’s situation, how he was on his last life. His blood pressure had damaged his heart, and his drinking had pretty nearly destroyed his liver, and he might well be unemployable now. The company would see. They’d give him enough rope and judge how he used it. Abuse it once, and the forgiveness would not be extended. Like his exes, they loved him, but could not seem to live with him. Clint was contrite. Struggling to put a positive face on one sorry-assed situation. He was weak. He’d lost weight. Still clowning, he seemed wore out. He was pleased to be free, committed to cleaning up his act. Somewhere in there, understanding that, since his was no act, he would not be cleaning up anything. We played along with the ﬁction, wanting to believe it true. Denying the obvious fact that Clint would be leaving the circuit soon. They received him like a conquering hero, Ulysses home from the quest, and laughed at his now dusty, tuckered jokes and warmed his bottomless cup of Joe, relieved he’d come home. But Clint didn’t stay long. He’d lost his wind, his will to achieve. A milk cow could throw him, and he knew it well. He was mustered to a long-term disability package. Enough to keep him and his exes almost comfortable until he died. I’m sure he died shortly after being released to pasture—and that he died alone—like he lived alone—surrounded by adoring crowds. Clint had never once stood in his own presence, just like you and I have never once stood in ours. Unlike most of us, he was utterly alone no matter how many adoring fans admired him. He never grew up and never managed to live down his reputation as the life of every party he ever crashed. And he never, not once, attended a party he had not charmed his way into. Rest in peace, cowboy. ©2011 by David A, Schmaltz, all rights reserved
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