Looking back along the broken trail of my life it's not easy to see just
exactly where I jumped the rails. It seems that from an early age I had an
inclination toward derailment, and when my country blundered into its
own earth-shaking train wreck, my own minor catastrophe was assured.
In any case, there is no question but that my life went crashing off the
tracks. What might have been a respectable, successful, really quiet
ordinary life, tore free and went lumbering out across the broken
I can't help but laugh, looking back. I can't help but swell with pride and
pleasure as I look back at the shards and shambles of that train wreck.
What a personal tragedy it might have been. What if I had chosen to take
the comfortable way and ignored that voice that called out from deep
inside? What if I had chosen not to live my life, but to simply live out my
I was a lucky man to find that one little niche in which to take refuse. I
was a lucky man to find a place to sort out the rambling of my mind, to
discover that secret stone against which to grind my anger.
For strapped into that seat I played out an essential part of my life. I
played it out as best I could, trying to fit together the contradictory
fragments of my beliefs. In the heat and the dust and the anger of that
land I began to piece together the formula by which I would play out the
rest of my days
And the days passed. And the years passed. And my life began to slip
away. It began to slip away while I was searching for something that I did
not understand. Searching for something that was not there.
My life began to slip away, and I did not notice. I did not think to pay
attention. Not to that. There were other things to think, other dreams to
dream, other days to crush my life against. Always another burning
sunrise. Another day of wind-torn fury. Another Texas night. Another
night of great moons and cool breezes, and dreams that would slip away
into the years.
But I knew. Down inside the secret knowing of my heart, I knew. I
knew of the life, this life that was mine, my only life, slipping past and
past beyond me. That certain knowledge had been building up inside of me
for many seasons. It was not the sort of thing that happened suddenly. I
had always known that someday I would quit. I just didn't know when the
time would finally come.
It came upon me one year. Over the spring and summer and fall.
Things just weren't the same. My mind was moving on without me, moving
on somewhere else.
In my heart, I really didn't want to stop. I did not want that part of my
life to end. I wanted to just go riding out across those fields forever. But
my mind knew better. My mind was smarter than my heart.
I can't explain what happened that last year. The joy was still there, but
something was missing. Perhaps it was the anger. The anger that had
forced me into the solitude of the brush country. The anger that had found
release only in the cockpit of those bellowing machines. And the anger had
slipped away. Not all of it, but most of it. It had been slipping away all
those years, and I hadn't even noticed.
That last year Santos wasn't with me. He had found full-time
employment in the oil fields. And The Kid was gone. And Mike. And Johnny
had slipped away the year before.
Everything seemed different. And my thoughts were not on my work.
There were other things out there in the world. Things that called. Other
lives for me to lead. My mind was no longer in the cockpit. It was moving
on. And I knew, knew instinctively, that it would be a mistake for me to
stay too long. A fatal mistake, perhaps. It was time for me to go.
During that last summer I talked with Bob about my decision. "It's best
that way," he said. I think he knew all along that I was not in for the
duration. I think he knew long before I knew. I was not going to be like
him. I was not going to spend my lifetime flying those throbbing airplanes,
riding those furnace winds, slicing across those summer skies. There were
other things that I had to do with my life.
It had been nearly ten years since I walked off a college campus. I had
sought a rough life, among rough men, following a rough trade. And I had
found all those things. I had done things, and seen things, and learned
things, that most men never dream of.
But in all those years, I never got hit, never got shot, never got
arrested, and never got killed. Not even once. I really don't know why, or
how. It just worked out that way. I never got killed at all. Based on that
criteria, I judged that it had been a pretty successful chapter of my life.
And I had grown a little bit smarter. Even I could tell that.
That last season at The Atascosa, I told all my friends and all the
farmers that I would not be back the following year. I told them that the
time had come for me to go. They did not want me to go. They did not
understand. They assured me that the following season they would accept
higher rates. "Just set the price," they told me. They would pay.
But, of course, that didn't have anything to do with it. I hadn't come to
The Atascosa each year for the money. I hadn't flown the fields of La
Pearla, or the lonely lands of El Indio, for the money. It had nothing to do
with money. Just so there was enough, that's all that had mattered. Just
so there was enough to pay the crew, and buy the fuel, and eat tacos and
jalapeņos, and a little beer. "Just a little beer," that's all I had ever really
But that was all moving behind me now. I had sat in the seat as tens of
thousands of acres of South Texas cropland had slipped beneath my wings.
And I had loved it as I had never loved anything else. The winds, the heat,
the fields laying tight against the surface of the earth. I had loved it all. I
had loved the beauty of the fields, and of the earth, and of that long flight
across an endless sky.
But things had changed that year. There was something else I wanted. I
didn't know what. I didn't know where. But I knew that the time had
come. The time had come for me to be moving on.
*** the end ***