But just like riding broncs, finances went up and down. When things were good, we stayed in hotels. When they weren’t so good, we slept in our truck. We’d come here from Phoenix hoping to make big bucks. We weren’t making enough at this rodeo to pay for our gas.
I slipped outside the arena and found a pay phone—a sure sign I’d been doing the one thing I tried to avoid. Thinking. Being back in California allowed memories of my family to break through my defenses like a cat burglar. My heart galloped and my palms felt moist as I inserted quarters to dial the number, always hopeful that things had changed. You’re 25 years old! Get a grip!
“Mama?” I said when I heard her voice. “It’s me.”
“I know who you are. What do you want?”
“Well… I… um. I just wanted to apologize… you know… for everything. Mama, I’m sorry.”
“You sure are.”
I held the phone listening to the dial tone.
On Thanksgiving I pulled up a chair to a feast prepared by Buck’s mother. I rotated spending holidays with my buddies and their families. No matter which family I was with, the conversation with his mother never varied. “Stevie Ray, are you still estranged from your parents?””Yes, Ma’am.”
“I told you to call and apologize.”“Yes, Ma’am. I did.”
“Well, you’ve got to accept that you’re a terrible person. This relationship problem? It’s all on you. You go see them and make sure you say it that way.”
“Yes, Ma’am.” I gave up telling them that I’d called and apologized upwards of 50 times.
I’d never missed a year riding in the rodeo at Pomona, California, which was only 40 miles from where my parents lived. I decided that if I could ride bulls and broncos I could work up the courage to visit my parents.
“Dad,” I said when he answered the phone, “I’m in the area and thought I’d stop by for a visit.”
“Well…I guess we could meet you at McDonald’s.”They wouldn’t let me in their house.
My brother Wayne didn’t show up. Mom, Dad and I sat in the small metal booth in McDonald’s. They’d aged but nothing else seemed to have changed.
“You’re good for nothing, Stevie Ray,” my father said taking a bite of his Big Mac. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. You’ll end up in prison. Mark my words.”
“Do you have any idea how embarrassed we are of you?” Mom asked, her eyes as cold and hard as icicles.
“No, Ma’am,” I said standing. “It was good seeing ya’ll. I’ve got to hit the road, but before I do, I’d just like to say I’m sorry. You know, for everything.” I refused to hang my head like a whipped dog and slink out of the place. I stood tall and never looked back. I took the pain and stuffed it so deep that it would never see the light of day. “Hopefully”
Excerpt taken from A Long Journey Home. Get your copy today on Amazon.