When I was about 7 or 8 was when I decided to go to the dark side. I worked at it, standing in front of the mirror teaching myself to kind of sneer when I smiled, corners of the mouth turned down. This was in the era when on Saturdays, we got our allowance. It was 25 cents, enough for the Saturday matinee and a bag of popcorn. The Saturday movie was always dependably a western and my favorite hero was the Durango Kid. He wore all black and had a black mask. I googled him to write this and discovered he also wore a large white hat which looks more than a little ridiculous me, but then he was my hero. Like Superman and other comic book heroes, he had a normal citizen identity, but became secretly the Durango Kid. It was perfect for me.
I remember being shocked that my best friend who loved horses as much I as I did and even had a pony of her own, thought Roy Rogers was the best cowboy. I disdained Roy and his fancy clothes and studded saddles and trick horse. He was obviously fake. Durango on the other hand was real. He was “wanted” as an outlaw through no fault of his own and helped ordinary people, settlers, Indians, to live lives peacefully once he had driven out the bad guys, who tore down the fences or burned the Indian village so they could have the land for their own nefarious purposes. Durango knew the hardship of having to hide his true identity. A real hero in my view.
All of this Durango Kid romance came back to me recently as I was doing some heavy work, pulling brush. Since the fire burnt the forest around my place, the buckbrush is a nightmare. Some places have been cleared three or four times and still it returns. I have been throwing a choker cable around it, snugging the cable up tight around the base, getting all the limbs and shoots inside the choker and then attaching the choker to a chain and hooking the chain on my truck and backing up quickly, pulling, when successful, the brush out by the roots. Mike comes and helps me once a week and we get a lot done. Then I stay pretty much in the truck. Other days, It’s just me and it’s hard work, getting scratched and poked getting the choker set and getting in and out of the truck to reset the chain and put the pulled brush in the truck. Sometimes the choker slips off and pulls two or three branches and that’s so discouraging that I usually think about quitting.
The whole activity reminds me of what cowboys actually do. They rope and tie calves up, nice and tight, like I do this brush. They may castrate them or brand them and ride their horses driving the cows to market or new pastures. My uncle Ray had been a cowboy and, as a youngster, I fantasized about his life , but once I moved to my land, I realized that cowboys were someone Jim Gates, my neighbor, hired to take his cows to market. Drudge work. Well, you did get to ride a horse which was the main point of a cowboy anyway. So I tell myself, I’m at least getting the cowboy experience, minus the horse. But I sometimes wonder at the hard scrabble life I have chosen that now at 77 I’m setting chokers around brush and pulling them out of the ground.
This line of thought brings me eventually into a whole meditation on why the dark side was so attractive to me, why harshness and rough work seemed real and right. It led me to the discovery that I thought I was bad. My life experiences, the trauma of the appendectomy, unprepared and terrified, the question of who my father was, the rejection of my sister all played a part in making me feel I must be bad because these experiences were terrifying. I was being punished. I deserved such darkness.
Durango Kid, and later, Batman, both of those heroes made me feel that although I might have to be separate and apart, even though bad, it was still possible to do good. So I see that in the choice of darkness there was always promise of redemption. The darkness wasn’t total. There was, after all, the white hat.
Seeing this hidden hope in the child's imagination, I have come to understand that what had happened to me as a child wasn’t my fault. I wasn’t being punished. I was always innocent. I can be grateful to the dark side for keeping me safe, protecting me with toughness and a willingness to struggle. Simultaneously, there was always the promise that the truth of who i was might come out, or that who I loved most would find out who I really was. It is, only after many years, that I admit and understand that I am not an outlaw—that I have always been pure. There's a lot of unlearning to do. Where's that white hat.