Here I am, Mom, bursting in through a brand new door.
After I announced that I’d no longer be writing a column for the Alpine Avalanche, I received a lot of comments. Some of them made me laugh and some were so touching they made me cry. I want to mention these three: “How will we know what happens next with your liar?” “If you’re finished with that cowboy, could I have him?” and (paraphrasing) “Good for you, Beth. Would you like to write for The Planet?”
Yes. Thank you. I would very much like to.
I will tell you more about The Cowboy Liar, since you asked. As far as being finished with him…I don’t know what to say. Like any long story, there is much that remains to be seen.
In 1982 I was working at Lajitas-on-the-Rio-Grande, as it was called then. I started as a desk clerk and moved to bartending at the Badlands Saloon. Eventually I became the assistant restaurant manager, but that was never half as interesting as the saloon.
To say it was fertile ground for a writer would be as understated as saying we have “nice” sunsets in Big Bend Country. Characters and scenes abounded, but the only thing I wrote during that time was a journal, if you don’t count the index cards of words and phrases in Spanish. You see, I had met a man who spoke no English and I burned to know what he was about.
The first time I danced with him, I made this journal entry: You are in big trouble. Get out while you still can.
But of course, I never listened.
On the first night we spent together, a shotgun blast pierced the silence of the tiny resort town. It never occurred to either of us that anything could be wrong anywhere. We barely noted it.
Two hours later someone banged on the door of my apartment. I opened it to find a friend, but behind him were lawmen in various uniforms. First in line were two green-garbed and serious-faced Border Patrolmen. I knew what that meant and it caused my heart to pound.
“Is he here?” John asked. How did he know? How could anyone have known? Could I have been any more naïve? Not likely.
When I admitted that he was, they asked me to bring him. I had never once thought about the fact that my cowboy was undocumented—what did that even mean? It meant nothing to me. He was a man. Even though I could barely communicate with him, I already knew he was a good man. He stood out from the crowd of others as if the sun was always shining on him.
The longest walk of my life was into my bedroom that night. I think coming out of it was the longest walk he ever made. He knew the way it would be. It was a first in a series of tough lessons for me. I witnessed blind prejudice and racial hatred in my own home—in my face. After all these years, I’ve never forgotten how that felt. And I was only an observer; it was aimed at him.
The short version of the shooting incident is that two men had entered the saloon with the Mexican man now in my apartment. All of them were construction workers in Lajitas, so they knew each other. The other two arrived drunk; the handsome cowboy had come to flirt with me and had not been drinking. The other men left the bar without being served because I knew better. My cowboy stayed and walked me home.
He was rudely interrogated, called a liar, and accused of murder. I believe my presence was the only thing that stopped them from beating a confession out of him. He’d been with me the entire time, so I explained that.
One of the lawmen said the most awful thing, “You can be his alibi or you can keep your reputation.” The message was clear: an Anglo woman with a Mexican man would not be tolerated in his territory.
I maintained my composure with a will of steel, but I wanted to hurt him.
They acted as though they didn’t believe either one of us, but they finally left us alone. As they were leaving, the awful man took one more run at me. “All the doors open to you now are gonna slam shut in your face.”
Fine. Slam the doors. I’ll knock out a wall.