’m going to tell you a story. It’s about this little boy named Stanley, he’s eight years old, with dark curly hair, snow white skin, and sad green eyes. He’s a very sickly child, Stanley is. When he was a baby, he’d contracted rheumatic fever, and then later he started developing all these allergies; so he’s been pretty much in and out of hospitals his whole life, and has missed out on a lot. Losing all those days of school, he began to read on his own, to try and make up for it, you know? He read and read, everything he could get his hands on: history books, mysteries, young adult fiction, how-to manuals, Greek and Roman mythology, Dickens, Poe, Dostoyevsky, Kafka, Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, even those lousy Harlequin romance novels…you get the picture. Consequently, he developed a huge vocabulary and was leaps and bounds above his schoolmates, who hadn’t even mastered See Spot Run. Anyway, his mother is this real working class, salt-of-the-earth type, not real cultured or anything, but a good person. She means well at least. His father who he’d been extremely close with had died the year before, leaving the boy without a friend in the world. So of course, under these circumstances, the mother coddled him, doing her best to shield the boy from any further heartache.
Every day she would drive him to school, despite the fact that it was less than a mile away. This only alienated the boy further from his peers, I mean, he was already seen by them as an outsider, just this shy, pale little fellow, who would speak so fancy, using all ‘em big words. They would even make up little rhymes about him, like: ‘Stan, Stan the dictionary man, he eats Play-Doh from a can,’ stuff like that. This made him very sad.
Still, little by little, Stanley got stronger, and one day he asked his mother if he could walk to school like the rest of the kids in the neighborhood. She refused at first, but after months of begging, she relented. He was so excited the night before his big day, he never slept a wink, and at 8:30 the next morning he shot out his front door like a wild mongoose, even forgetting to say goodbye to his mother, who watched out the window after him as he clambered up the hill to join the others on the path to the school house. Soon, he was out of her range of vision, and she sighed as she got herself ready to go to work, waitressing at the diner across town.
The children couldn’t believe their eyes when they saw him shuffling up the path, beaming with joy. ‘Look everybody, it’s Stan, Stan, the dictionary man,’ jeered a crusty-mouthed bully named Paddy Daniel. ‘He eats Play-Doh from a can!’ The rest of the crowd piled on to torment the boy, all save one exquisite girl named Silkie Moon, who was in the grade below Stanley. ‘Leave him alone!’ she shouted. ‘You’re all a bunch of rats!’ This was the harshest curse word she knew, and would only use it sparingly outside the earshot of her parents. All of them stopped teasing the boy immediately, because Silkie was so stunning, and they loved her for it. She had soft blue eyes that radiated great intelligence and warmth, and very long satiny hair the color of cinnamon, with delicate gold flecked curls that spun loosely at her temples. Under her protection, Stanley was accepted in to the group, and they continued forth laughing and horsing around.
After Stanley had been trudging along for quite a while, a large, lonely expanse of land came into view. It was covered in a tumble of high reeds, colored amber, sage and goldenrod. Stanley had never seen anything like it before – not even in his beloved books or on TV. Noticing how awe-struck Stanley was by the sight, Silkie pointed her graceful little finger to the west and said in a serious voice, ‘That there is the Cowboy Field.’ The name was a perfect fit, he thought, and images of men in chaps, huddled over cast iron pots containing slow cooked beans simmering on campfires swam around his noggin. When they reached the school, all the boys and girls filed in to class obediently, but Stanley lagged behind. He still couldn’t get the image of the Cowboy Field out of his head. In the ensuing months, he became a popular tyke, all due to the kindness of Silkie Moon, his best friend in the whole world. Each morning, they would make their small journey together, passing by that mysterious Cowboy Field, and every time, it would fill Stanley with a deep sensation of ambivalent wonder.
Anyway, the years glided by and Stanley grew up to become a man, as all little boys must do. He was very handsome and blessed with many talents, but somehow he was never truly happy. After attending college on a full scholarship, he took a job out in San Francisco working in finance. He made a lot of money, bought a lot of things, and soon, he needed a big place to put it all in. So, he laid down payment on one of those ‘Painted Lady’ row houses in Haight Ashbury and began to fill it with even more stuff. As for women, well, he had his pick – snobby ones, funny ones, rich ones, loose ones, angry ones, tender ones…every kind of one – just not the right one. None he could connect with anyway. More years passed, more women, more fruitless searching, more empty nights, more disillusionment, and less of a point to any of it. He had his house, he had his things, there was the random fuck, the occasional dinner with an occasional friend, ‘it was enough,’ he would tell himself.
On a rainy Tuesday night, he received the news that his mother was very sick, and he immediately flew across the country to be by her side. She died two days later. Grief-stricken, he wandered the empty rooms of his boyhood home for weeks, miserable and alone. One afternoon, he woke up in a severe state of disorientation, adrift in churlish waters – moorings gone. Deciding that a walk might help to clear his mind, he soon found himself on that old familiar path to the schoolhouse. Drawing the clean air into his lungs, he reflected on his mother and how much he had loved her. His thoughts then turned to Silkie, how kind she had been to him, and what a glorious woman she must have become. He was thinking about all of these things when he reached the Cowboy Field. As a boy, the sight never failed to instill in him an overwhelming stir of powerful and conflicting emotions. In all that time, however, he never dared venture into its ominous tangle. He stood there for a long while, staring out into the rolling swale, and then, as if he were being pushed by an invisible hand, he found himself surrounded by all of it.
The ground was wet and marshy, and his shoes kept getting sucked into the mud; his heart raced a mile a minute, but he kept moving forward. After what seemed like hours, he realized that he could no longer see the path. High above him a flock of starlings swooshed by, breaking apart and then recombining in dazzling formations. He wasn’t sure what to feel, or if he felt anything at all, except tired, so very tired. Sometime later, the sun began to set, so as best as he could, he hobbled through the mire to get back to the safety of the path. Very quickly it began to dawn on him that, try as he might, the task was impossible. Panicking, he doubled his efforts, but it was no use; he was stuck in that lonely skein of tall reeds. His leg muscles were on fire, he couldn’t take another step. Tipping his head to the sky one final time, he collapsed in the middle of the field. He knew he would never again return to that childhood path, for in actuality it no longer existed. Soon he’d be asleep, and he would dream about his mother, father and darling Silkie, for all of eternity…away in the Cowboy Field.