Walking Through Cowboys

dad and I*I wrote this as a father’s day present*

I love watching my dad listen to music. Eyes closed, brow furrowed, arms articulating rhythm. Engulfed in the moment. It shows me that in him I have, as Anne of Green Gables would say, “a kindred spirit.” Someone who knows the feeling of elation a gorgeous melody brings, or the tingling thrill a writer creates with a wonderfully chosen word.

Because of his passion, I grew up in a home of creativity and imagination. Because of him, my world is vividly colored, my memories full of magic.

However, there is a drawback to a mind fond of fabricating adventures: sometimes it does so without your consent. For example, Gollum haunted my childhood bedroom for weeks while my dad was reading my brother and me The Lord of the Rings series, and the goblins from a silly children’s movie my mom bought us made many repeat appearances in nightmares. One of the most memorable groups of unsolicited phantoms though appeared when I got up one night, still dazed by sleep, to go to the bathroom.

My door was slightly cracked. Light trickled in, widening as it stretched across my bed. It played with the darkness, creating amorphous shapes in the shadows. My eyes were still blurred with sleep, so I lifted my hands, attempting to rub the fog away, and when I brought them down again, I inhaled sharply and stepped back, because suddenly there were three cowboys blocking my path.

The ominous figures towered over me, all wearing hats and pointing pistols in my direction. We stood for several moments, sizing each other up, as I tried to convince myself the men standing in front of me were not real.

I knew without a doubt, if they were more than shadows, they would shoot me if I tried to walk through that door behind them. But I was old enough to be fairly certain three characters straight out of one of my dad’s favorite movie genres hadn’t posted themselves in my room with the sole purpose of thwarting my efforts to pee. So, after a few more moments of hesitation, I pressed forward.

My first couple steps were cowboy free, and the figures in front of me did not react to my advance. As I reached the line of their boots, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, sure a few more inches would send me through the imaginary foes and into the bathroom. Instead, I found myself bumping into the very solid, very real, middle cowboy’s chest.

I stifled a yelp and retreated. The lips on his inky face curled into a sneer.

Stay calm, I thought. There aren’t actually cowboys pointing guns at me in my room. That’s ridiculous. But my racing heart persisted. And I was sure the sneering man could hear it.

I have always been a stubborn person, perhaps especially as a child. So, despite my fear, I decided to make one more attempt for the door, this time at a run. I set my feet, closed my eyes and sprinted at the men and the door they blocked.

Bam! My right hip smacked hard into one of the cowboys and I fell. At this point there was no more arguing with their existence. They were real. And the only thing I could think to do was to yell for my dad.

I screamed his name over and over, each time wondering if a gun would go off before I could call again. Then finally, through a mess of terror and tears, I saw him.

Without pausing, he walked through the three cowboys, picked me up off the floor, and carried me out of the room cradled in his arms.

I remember vividly the relief and confusion I felt with my head buried in his chest. I didn’t understand how my dad had walked through three solid men, but I knew from that moment on he could do anything, would do anything, to rescue me.

When the sun illuminated my room the next morning, I realized it hadn’t been cowboys I’d been running into the night before, but the corner of my dresser. I was relieved to know I wasn’t the target of rogue gunmen, but it didn’t change how I felt about my dad.

He had saved me, and has done so countless times before and after that night, from dangers both real and imagined. In his arms, I found comfort after a beloved grandma no longer remembered my name, and the strength to survive three boisterous, and often belligerent, little boys.

He will always be the man who walked through cowboys to rescue me. And no matter what life brings, that will never change.