Poetry & Prose

Cowboy In Boston

I bought my first button up shirt at 18, alone and with my own money, finishing off the last of my first paycheck. This was right after I spent the first part getting my hair cut, going to a men’s barber around the corner from Davis, and only paying $25 for the whole thing. Two hours later, in my shoebox triple, head lighter and a breeze blowing on the tops of my ears, I couldn’t help myself. I shimmied on my jeans, I buttoned up my shirt which didn’t quite fit right around the hips, and I stood in front of my mirror and sobbed, my cheeks red from running all the way home. 

Now, I grew up around self-proclaimed cowboys, and something about the smell of unused leather, vape smoke, and boy sweat put me off for a while. I could just never stand the boot-cut-jeaned boys that I made friends with. We lived in the suburbs. Who the hell wears cowboy boots in the suburbs? 

I told the barber all of this when he got the clippers out. I just couldn’t stop grinning at him the whole time, and he laughed along with me, but I think he wanted me to stop talking. Something about the way he held the clippers, pulling them out of his holster and brandishing them, told me that he wasn’t too pleased to have me there. 

And I know I have thick hair, and I still had a lot of it when he whispered to his buddy and laughed, gesticulating with his hips and hands like he was going to swagger towards me, but I think maybe he overcharged me on the hair cut. I wished then, as he was switching guard sizes, that I had actually gone through with taking Spanish in high school, like the real cowboys, so I could have heard what they really thought when I told them I wanted a cut like James Dean. I mean, I would have laughed too. 

But I couldn’t tell him how, when I was re-packing my carry-on to fly to Boston, I saw a woman wearing a paisley red shirt, fringed leather chaps, and clunky boots made of real leather stepping off the plane two terminals over. She was broad, square, and had a buzzed head with frown lines etched into her face. And though she was walking with purpose, not looking too closely at anything, she was getting weird looks from every mom and pop in the waiting area, like everyone thought she was some actor about to pull a stunt. But given that it was 90 degrees out and the grass was dying, and the Texas sky was going on for miles, I couldn’t imagine her anywhere else. 

As he started on the front of my hair I wanted to turn to him and say, Would you believe me if I told you she caught me staring and nodded at me? It was real quick, and she didn’t smile, though I wished she had. But it was enough just to see her, a real cowboy in the flesh. And I wanted to apologize for scaring him and his dog when I came into the shop too quickly, buzzing with thoughts of my future, but that’s not really something you bring up while someone has scissors to your ear. 

I thanked him for his time after he finished my hair, and I think I annoyed some people later on trying on paisley shirts in the Goodwill dressing room. But I settled on one, rang myself up, and my friends all congratulated me on my new look when I got back. But even with my newly buzzed head, I found myself feeling a void I hadn’t anticipated. I had a hunch going into every single trussed up New England storefront afterwards that it was her missing from the space. I’ve never been one to claim a title without asking first, so I don’t think I’d ever call myself a cowboy. I mean, how would you even broach that topic at a dinner table? 

But I am trying to live up to it. Nothing’s as good as wearing a button up and boot-cut jeans.