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Any use of real places, events, corporations or products within this text are strictly for the purpose of adding realism and authenticity to the writing. Critiques are always welcome. Also, please let me know what you think of the format. If you want more information about any rodeo events, there are tons of resources online.
Written exclusively for Nifty Archives. This story involves sexual relationships between boys, aged 15 and older. If this is illegal in your area, please do not read on. This story is work of fiction. Any similarities between real places, people, and events is completely coincidental and unintentional. If you read the archives frequently, then you know the drill. Take the rest with a grain of salt. This story is (c) 2007-08, Milos. All rights reserved! Please do NOT repost this story without permission.
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Dusting Himself Off
By Pamela McDaniels, SI Staff Writer
(Phoenix, AZ) The conference room in this particular Ramada has large glass walls. The last lingering threads of daylight spill in from the windows across the lobby, and there's a dripping coffee machine on the counter behind me. People walk by in the lobby, going about their business unhindered. My editor was able to set up an interview with Lem Taylor; the first interview since his his accident.
Once considered the prince of rodeo, Taylor had a tough fall from grace. The injuries he sustained in the finals round at last years PBR Championships quickly put an end to his career as a rodeo athlete. But Taylor would be the first to tell you that it wasn't the bull's fault.
Taylor's injuries are some of the worst in recent history, and many people stop short of comparing him to Lane Frost, who lost his life while riding a bull at Cheyenne Frontier Days in Wyoming back in the summer of 1991, the same year Taylor was born.
His injuries rocked the rodeo world so profoundly that PBR Chairperson Troy Levinson started the Lem Taylor fund in Taylor's honor. The fund was set up in order to help injured athletes in rodeo accidents cover some of their hospital expenses.
It was announced, just two weeks after the accident, that the bull that injured Taylor and countless other athletes, 681-J Backdraft, would be put in permanent retirement. Backdraft might not be living between a set of hamburger buns, but he is comfortably living out the rest of his days on a private ranch, studding a whole new generation of rodeo bulls.
It's in this line of thought that I spot Taylor in a wheel chair, being wheeled across the lobby by his older brother, Jason.
# # #
I can't stay away from him, no matter how much he tries to keep me at arms length. The more I try to help Lem, the more he pushes me away. I can't even go across the living room to get something for him. He has to do it himself. About the only thing he'll let me do is drive him across town to his physical therapy. Usually, I just ride along with him and Jason.
I sit there and watch him work with his therapists. He yells out, screams in pain and cries while he tries to walk himself across the room using parallel bars to hold him up. Right now, he can only drag his legs along. He thrusts his hips to kick his feet out in front of him, and pushes himself too hard. He'll hardly make a noise the rest of the day. At night he'll lay next to me on his bed, cling to me and cry because he hurts so much. It's the only time he'll let me touch him. I watch him struggle, and I just want to go over and hug him. Tell him that everything is going to be fine. Sometimes I wonder if I'd be lying if I said it.
It's taken us this long just to get back to friends. Trust is an uphill battle. The past feels like a war. Jason's been staying with us, and Lem doesn't have a problem letting Jason help him. At night, Lem still tells me I should find someone, and that I deserve to be happy. I told him I've got everything I need with him.
I'm surprised how much Jason's grown up. We sit at the table at night, after Lem takes his pain meds and knocks off, and we talk over coffee or beers. We talked a little about growing up, and what went on when I tried to end myself. It's sad that over the last few years he became what Ronnie used to be.
Makes me feel like I should call Ronnie and just try to shoot the breeze.
A few nights ago, I was walking by Lem's room on my way to the bathroom. I overheard Jason and Lem talking about me. Jason told Lem that if he didn't try to work on things with me, he'd knock both our heads together. Lem sounded like he was going to stick by his sentiments, which must have frustrated Jason something awful, because they started a yelling match. I grabbed my backpack and headed to the coffee shop down the way. I read over some of my old journal entries.
We've all come further than we know. Lem especially. It makes me love him even more. I'm such a love-sick fool sometimes, it's disgusting.
# # #
But right before he comes into the room, Taylor stops his brother. I can hear him through the open door.
"I'm not going to let this be my first impression," he says. Like a baby deer taking it's first wobbly steps, he stands up using his brother's arm for support and takes a slow step forward. His bother hands him a cane, which is hanging from the back of the wheel chair, and over the next few minutes he uses all his effort to slowly walk across the room and seat himself. It's a determination that is nothing less than admirable.
He sits down and reaches over to shake my hand. He has a grip that is both eloquent and masculine, and, given his current circumstances, a smile that could light up the room.
I mention to him that it must have taken him a lot of courage and effort to walk across the room.
He just sits back and laughs. "Well, you ask anyone I know, they'd tell you I'm pretty stubborn and bullheaded. No pun intended."
PM: Well, it seems like you've had a long road to recovery. How's it been?
LT: Like you said, it's a long road. Therapy's been painful, and I still have a lot of pain that keeps me awake some nights. But everyone's been so supportive and helpful, it's really a blessing.
PM: I think this is interesting; tell me about your first words coming out of the coma.
LT: (Chuckles) Well, I was still going in and out of consciousness. When they finally pulled the tubes out of my throat, which was probably the most unpleasant experience in my life, I looked over at Momma and asked her if I made the buzzer. She just cried and cried. I don't actually remember saying it because I wasn't all there.
PM: What was it like being in a coma?
LT: Like nothing. I can't even say it was like sleep. Last thing I remember was heading toward the ground head first, and as I came down on my head, I just remember seeing something like someone in the audience somewhere shining a bright flashlight at me. Next thing I remember seeing were blurs, which were the people in my room, and just feeling this immense pain. When I faded in and out, I kept having these strange dreams.
PM: What sort of dreams were you having?
LT: Varied. Some of them I was in this big white room with no end to it. Sometimes there'd be people in there, and they'd hover just out of my reach. Friends, people I knew and loved, and once in a while that damned cow. Most of them were nightmares of the ride. It wasn't like I'd fall off 681 and wake up. It happened over and over and over again, like that scene in Clockwork Orange where the guy's eyes were being held open and he was forced to watch the propaganda film. I think a coma is the closest thing to hell that someone could experience.
PM: What were your thoughts as you were heading toward the ground?
LT: Honestly? I was probably thinkin' shit, shit, shit, shit! I knew in my heart that I had to get up and run. Get away from this mess. It didn't quite work out how I wanted it to.
PM: What about the neck brace on your vest? Wasn't it supposed to protect you?
LT: It did it's job, for the most part. Somehow, I was unlucky enough that the bull came down on my hips. The vest is only made to keep you from getting your ribs crushed. The neck brace failed because when I fell of the side, I landed on the plastic clasp that fastens it to the vest and broke it. I was just very unlucky.
# # #
Lem is making slow progress at therapy. He can stand on his own, but it still takes him a lot of energy and effort to get out of the chair. They tell him it could be a few months before he's walking on his own with a cane.
Jason and I are becoming decent friends. He's still Jason in there, but Lem's accident changed a lot of things in him. I really think he'd make a good father some day, and I hope he does marry and start a family.
Ronnie sent pictures of my nephew. God, he's getting so big. It really doesn't seem like he was born all that long ago. He and Jenny just got settled into their new house in Idaho. Ronnie finally got a good job with the government thanks to Dad. From what Ronnie says, Jenny's got another little one on the way.
He's my only tether to the family. Nobody knows that Ronnie's been talking to me. Tay seems indifferent, but he just never brings me up in conversation. It hurts. Mom started to get involved with the church again. She won't even take my calls, not even for Christmas. I don't understand it all.
Lem's mom calls to check in on him and Jason at least every other day. She knows, but it never comes up in conversation. It's like she thinks if she doesn't acknowledge it, it's not really true. She does ask about me, from time to time. Jason seems to think that she feels a little sorry for me, on account of my family turning on me. His dad never brings it up, either. But I guess that's not the sort of thing that guys bring up in conversation. I don't know what keeps their family together.
With Lem pushing me away, I feel alone in this world. I called Joey the other night just to have someone to talk to. She's the same old girl I remember, but she's getting married to a man. It threw me for a loop because I could never see her dating a guy. She said they met at school, and he made her feel safe, and secure. She said the sex part was odd for a while, and she was afraid of it, but they took their time and made it work.
I bet that's what Mom and Dad want; for me to find a nice girl and settle down. Change. I've never felt so certain about anything in my life. I know where my heart is, and I know deep inside me that there's nothing wrong with it.
Chase is coming down for her spring break. She wants to spend some time with Lem. I think it'll be fun to have her down. Maybe I could get Lem to let us take her to the Grand Canyon or something. That might be a cool day trip.
# # #
PM: So, Backdraft. What happened?
LT: Well, right after he sprang the chute, he tried to get me into a spin. They say animals that try to get you to the inside want to hurt you, and he wanted to hurt me. I could tell that before I even got on his back.
About two seconds in, my rope started coming loose and I knew I was going to go over. I was thinkin' that I should bail, but he got me forward and knocked me into his hump. That was enough to knock me clean off. I knew I needed to scramble, but the first fall knocked the wind out of me. From what they've been telling me, I wasn't on the ground more than a second before he came down on my hips. I probably wouldn't have been able to run if I wanted to.
PM: Were there other factors that contributed to the accident?
LT: You know, I really don't think my head was in the game right then. Rodeo folk are superstitious, and a few nights before my ride on 681, I found my riding hat sitting on my bed. That's considered really bad luck. As much as I dismissed it, it came down to me and Hybride falling out of the chute. If that rank hadn't tripped, I don't think I'd have been mangled up at all.
When they drew my reride, the air in the room was so thick you could have cut it with a knife. I'll never forget the look on the guy's face when he was handing out the riding slips. It was like he wanted to say 'you poor bastard.' After my best friend of 18 years found out I drew Backdraft, him and I got into it. He said he just knew something bad was gonna happen if I rode Backdraft, and if I did it, if I took the ride, he'd never talk to me again. I honestly think hearing that hurt more than anything the bull did to me.
PM: Have you talked to your friend since then?
LT: Yeah. He was pretty torn up about seeing it all happen from the stands. Matthew's always been like family to me, and he almost watched me die. So did Momma. There were thousands of people there, and the only two people I didn't want to see me get hurt did. Well, I didn't want anyone to see that, but them especially. I'm happy that he didn't turn his back on me. I don't know what I'd do without him.
PM: What are your impressions of Backdraft?
LT: He's an animal that demands respect, that's for sure. I'm amazed that there are people out there who've ridden him and walked away from it. I've heard people say that he was evil, and part of the devil himself. I remember Hinkley Miller telling me that it felt like Backdraft took part of his soul back to hell with him.
PM: That gave me chills.
LT: You and me both.
# # #
Even as friends, Lem and I have our share of problems. We get into fights from time to time, like we always have. I have to separate myself and lay low for a while, and he's fine. Lately, it's always been about his burden on me. I haven't been able to do anything for him anyway, and it makes me feel totally useless sometimes.
Jason tells me to stick with it. Lem's stubborn, but if I want what's truly in my heart, I'm going to have to be more stubborn than he is. Jason's not very good at playing matchmaker, but he is trying. He told me that the happiest he'd ever seen Lem was when he'd talk about me, or when we were together. I almost started crying right there. It's so hard to hold yourself together in a moment like that, even in front of someone as masculine as Jason.
He was leaning against the counter, waiting for the coffee to get done brewing, and I guess my eyes must have been getting a little watery or something, but he took a few steps across the kitchen, and told me to come to him. He just kept saying, "Mattie, come over here."
I walked over to him, stood a foot or so away, and he just hugged me. Told me to let it out and held me until I was about dry. Then he said that he thought I was one of the most misunderstood people he knew.
Yesterday, I went back to the coffee shop with my old journals. I wanted to see where I came from and where my progress was, if there was any at all. I found drafts of my suicide letter. Some were written hours before I slit my wrists, and some were written months before that. I was trying to figure out everything I wanted to say, and I can't believe that the thought had been in my head that long.
Most of them were long letters that stopped mid-thought. There was one that I described every feeling I had for Lem at that moment; I love you, I hate you, I want you, leave me alone, kill me - you are the end of me, you make me happy, you make me feel like shit, you take advantage of me, I take advantage of you, I wish we could be different, I wish I mattered to you, I wish we mattered to you, you are everything to me, I am nothing, I am shit, I am shit, I am shit. Don't abandon me.
I never knew back then how much it all fucked with Lem's head until Jason told me about some of the stuff he was going through after I left. Lem never went into great detail about the fight, but Jason told me everything that happened between the fight and when I came back. Just how much of a shell he was. We were both shells. Jason said it was like God himself breathed life back into Lem when I showed back up. He said that's when he truly knew that Lem and I were more than just friends.
My first few weeks in my own rehab... my silent hell. I remember wondering what I'd done wrong, and why I hadn't died. I was too scared of it to try again. I didn't say anything for damn near a month, unless I was talking with Ronnie. I was scared of everyone there, scared of myself, and scared of what everyone thought of me. For a while, I wish I would've died. I thought about finding some other way out, and if it wasn't for Zach and my roommate, I might have.
It's too painful to read my journals from those days. I wasn't a very good friend to Lem in the long run, and I was afraid of what he'd say to me if I saw him again. When I saw Lem's face in the fading light, right when Ronnie pulled me out of the tub bleeding and carried me off, Lem's apparition said something that scared me. I forgot it until I saw him getting tossed in the air by that fucking bull. I remember hearing Lem somewhere in the back of my head saying help me. Sometimes it was a whisper, and sometimes it was hollering. It felt like he was in danger. It was one of the only reasons I was able to hold on. If I didn't hear him calling out for me in my head, I might have let myself slip away.
The other night we tried to make love.
I must have got him in the right mood or something. He didn't have rehab, and we'd been watching movies for a few hours. I'm not sure where Jason was, I think Lem told him to go have some time to himself, but it wasn't long before he was leaning up against me, using my arm as a pillow. It must have been the umpteenth time we've seen that James Bond movie together. He leaned over and kissed me on the neck. Didn't take too long before we were doing a little french-style-kissing.
Between breaths, I told him I loved him. He just stared in my eyes like he always does, and it looked like he wanted to say something, but he stayed quiet. He got this blank look in his eyes after a few seconds, then started kissing me again. He said he wanted to try having sex, so we went to his room. He couldn't pull his legs back enough to let me top because his back hurt him so bad, and I couldn't straddle his hips because that hurt him, too. It's hard for him to sit on me because of the rods in his back. Nothing was really working. He got frustrated, and a little upset. Told me to leave him alone.
I said we have time, and that I wasn't going anywhere. He screamed at me. He told me to leave and started throwing things at me. I walked out of the room and shut the door behind me. I could hear him bawling. I slid down the wall. Here I was sitting on the floor in my boxers, leaning up against the wall with my knees all pulled up, getting all worked up, and who walks in but Jason.
He helped me up, told me to go get dressed. He went in to talk to Lem for a few minutes, then he took me out for a while. He said Lem needed to smolder and get over himself. Jason put a lot of himself on the line and sacrificed a lot for his brother. I hate to say it, but I used to hate him, and now he's one of my best friends.
# # #
PM: What does the future hold for Lem Taylor?
LT: I'm taking things one step at a time. I've had to learn to crawl again, had to learn to walk again. As soon as I can walk normally again, I have to learn to live again. The biggest thing is getting my life back together. I think I'll go finish school and make something of myself.
PM: Do the doctors expect a full recovery?
LT: Most of my doctors never thought I'd even get this far. Like I said, I'm bullheaded and I won't stop until I reach that goal. Hopefully I can get these metal bars taken out of my back here in a few years and start moving less like a robot.
PM: Do you think you'll ever get back into rodeo?
LT: As an athlete, no. I know there are people out there who chase the circuit and get hurt pretty bad, then they get back in the saddle. I almost lost everything, and it was a scary place to be. I've definitely used eight of my nine lives, so I'm not going to tempt fate anymore. I've thought about getting into rodeo on the administrative end, maybe becoming an advocate for the sport and work toward making the sport just a little bit safer.
It's a tall order, and this way of life is engrained in my blood. It'll never leave me. Like they say, you can take the cowboy out of the rodeo, but you can't take the rodeo out of the cowboy.
PM: Is there someone special in your life?
LT: There're lots of special people in my life, and I'm blessed to have them all.
PM: Do you have a special girl in your life?
LT: (Smiles) Why? Interested? (Laughs) Actually, I guess you could say that. There is someone very special in my life. We have our share of problems, but we've stood together without murdering each other.
PM: She's lucky to have you.
LT: Actually, it's the other way around.
PM: You mean, you're lucky to have her?
LT: I guess that about sums it up.
# # #
Life is funny, sometimes.
Lem is letting me in a little more each day. He doesn't need quite as much help as he used to, but he's still in quite a bit of pain most of the time. He's walking without the chair, now. He can go for little distances on his own, but most of the time he needs his cane. They say he might need it forever, but knowing Lem, he's already got plans to ditch it as soon as his pain levels come down.
He gets tired easy if we have to talk too much. The trip to the Grand Canyon with Chase was really nice, but we had to stop and rest every so often. We'd sit and look over the scenery and enjoy each other. We walked over the skywalk, and Jason freaked Chase out something fierce. The girl hits hard, because Jason walked away with some good size bruises on his arm.
We found a little place overlooking the canyon for lunch. We were sitting on a blanket near this Indian camp, and it felt like we were lounging on top of the world. We sat there and just caught the sun. Then, in front of everyone, Lem rolled over and sat up. He reached into his back pack, and pulled something out.
"You know, I don't much care if it's seen as something real by other people or not, but you'd know it, and I'd know it. I mean, it'd be special, right?"
He was stumbling all over his words, and the more he talked, the more red he got. I asked him what he meant.
"Mattie, I love you. Legal or not, if I were your wife, or whatever you'd care to call it, would you be my husband?" He had a new ring. It looks identical to the one he got me, shape-wise, but it looks like it's made out of silver or white gold, and instead of a red stripe around the band, it's got a matte gray stripe.
Anyway, I held my hand over my mouth and laughed. Jason was getting a kick out of it, too. Lem looked a little deflated at first. I said, "Lem Taylor, I can't imagine seeing you in a wedding dress! What would everyone think?" That set Jason off more, which got me laughing even more.
"Fuck what anyone thinks of it!"
Jason said Lem might have trouble finding heels in his size. Chase just sat back and said Jason and I were mean.
I sat there and checked out the ring. "God, if this doesn't put a fork in my mom's side."
Chase was sitting there staring at me like it would kill her if I didn't answer him right then. Funny thing is that Jason looked pretty much the same.
"Only if I have their blessing."
Lem looked over at Jason. Jason just smiled and nodded. "You have my blessing." Then Lem looked over at his sister.
"Goddamn it, Matthew! Just say yes and take the fucking ring already!"
I squeezed the ring in my hand and hugged him for dear life. I had tears in my eyes when I said it, but I said yes. "I swear to God, Lem, don't even ask me to carry the baby." That got a good laugh out of everyone.
He slipped the ring on my finger and held me for a while. Said how much he loved me. "I will never leave your side again, this I promise you."
I said yes.
# # #
PM: What advice would you give to other young athletes in rodeo?
LT: Life's about taking risks. You could die walking out your front door tomorrow morning. If the bull doesn't kill you, it just makes you that much stronger. Just keep your perspective, and be aware of the ones around you that got you to where you are, because you could just as easily lose them and that sort of pride hurts more than any flesh injury.
I think it'd be cliche to say to live every day like it's your last, but you only have one last day in your life. You just gotta stand back and ask yourself: was it all worth it?
# # #
I would like to take this opportunity and personally thank all the people who have emailed me over the last few months and shared your thoughts, criticisms, and comments. It's been a long haul, and an emotionally draining investment of time and effort.
I would like to send a special thanks to Eliot Moore, who has been looking over my shoulder over this entire process. His great critiques have put forth a great many considerations that simply helped the story flow that much better. In this vein, I would also like to thank those who haunt #niftywriters, who have also given me some good critiques over the months.
I will return again, someday, to regale you with another tale. I don't want to wear out my welcome too soon. It's necessary to say goodbye so that we may meet again. Until then...
With all my love.