Grayslake, Illinois

In my first memory, I’m at the rodeo watching the cowboys dress in the back barns and smelling dust and leather polish and horseshit. Through the bars of the stalls I reach for the flutelike bones in the horses’ legs, but my cousin Saundra (really my father’s cousin, the maiden aunt, the one who loves me) says, “Don’t touch, honey, they might bite.” My father’s brother (he of the silver belt buckle, of the constant cigarettes and fake Texas accent and trashy women) says, “Stop that, you’re spookin’ ’em.” He never speaks to me unless I’m doing something wrong. On the wall behind him there’s a bumper sticker that reads: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for I’m the meanest son of a bitch in the valley.”

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