He was responsible for my first and only pair of cowboy boots--a rich purple-brown leather found at Dan's Boots and Saddles on 4th street, picked out with my father on my 16th birthday. I'd spent the past six months filling my head with stories of cowboys and rogue frontiersmen, dreamers and entrepreneurs making their way in the Wild West, natives forever masters of the mysteries of their land.
My clearest memory of reading novels like Flint and Lonesome Gods was underneath the desk in the back row of my high school English class. I thought I was clever, getting lost in land grant feuds and railroad robberies as my teacher droned on about parallelism. Occasionally I would raise my hand and answer a question or make a comment, keeping up the illusion of being an attentive, good little student. I thought I was so clever, sticking it to the system reading what amounted to western dime novels in the heart of the Institution.
Now, of course, I know the dangers in romanticizing the Wild West and glossing over the history of the marginalized. And I also know that there was no way my teacher didn't see me reading my battered paperbacks under the desk while we should have been reading Brave New World (I had already read that the first week he assigned it, but I kept it open on top of my desk all the same). He saw me all right, but as a teacher myself now, I realize that my high school self was the least of his classroom worries. I did my work and, after that, I was my own keeper.
Still, every time I wear those boots--almost fifteen years of history worn into their soles--I feel the thrill of that subversive reader, intoxicated on popular novels about her beloved Southwest, the heady promise of being one such a writer fictionalizing her own future adventures still fresh in her heart.
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