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Just another of your crazy Oklahoma stories.

At the beginning, all I wanted was to grab your face and pick all your stories like pieces of meat stuck between your teeth. Every fucking single one I wanted to hear.

You were a self-proclaimed hillbilly with little to lose. I dangled from your lips like a mountain climber from the highest peak. Under me, an unfillable void — potentially, death.

I liked the story about the guy who brought a live rattlesnake to the bar. You said that he slammed it on the counter, the snake hissed and rattled, and you beat up that guy’s ass. A fight broke out. People were breaking stools on each other’s backs.

“I was so drunk.”

“What happened to the snake?” I asked, and you looked at me like you almost forgot about that part. The whole time, I thought the snake was the point.

You shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess the dude brought it back to his truck,” and that was it. You went back to your favorite part — how you beat that guy’s ass.

“Why did you do that?” I asked. You shrugged again.

I couldn’t stop thinking about it, so I filled in the empty spaces, imagined the snake crawling on the counter, its scales brushing against half-emptied glasses, a tiny, forked tongue vibrating while people snapped away. I could even hear the voice of the guy, maybe a fat dude with a baseball hat and dusty cowboy boots — “it’s just a goddamn snake.”

Then I pictured your hand, how I learned to know it in the months to come: open towards a face. The fat cowboy’s that one time, and then, one day, my own.


Months later, I tried to get you to stay instead of going to the bar to “kick that guy’s ass.” I didn’t know who that guy was. I ordered a pizza to sober you up. You were drunk, grunting, shaking like those animals that go crazy when they’re confined in a cage for too long. How they start walking up and down, looking for something to do, to devour.

When I tried to stop you, you hit me once and twice and three times, spat in my face, threw pizza at me. By the time the cops came, there was a large smear of tomato sauce on the wall. I didn’t wipe it away for weeks, a repulsive reminder before the mold came: this could have been blood.


When you went to prison, I tried to fill in the gaps once again. I imagined what that guy must have done to make you so angry, why you had to go kick his ass. I couldn’t come up with anything. I had followed you to the bar to keep you from harming someone or getting yourself in trouble. It seemed reasonable to me, but maybe, in your head, that was why I deserved to be hit. I didn’t let violence follow its natural course.

After the arrest, when I felt like you had been ripped off of me like a limb, I kept asking myself what made me call the cops. It came to me like some kind instinct, a gut feeling, as if I was prey in danger and I couldn’t save myself, while you, the big animal, were finally out of your cage, ready to tear anything to pieces.


Once, on a drive to Oklahoma City, you showed me these rusty enclosures where a guy kept his panthers. Even from the highway, they looked defeated, their primal aggression buried somewhere underneath their matted fur.

“These hillbillies keep big cats like pets here,” you said. “A tiger is only two grand or something.”

Another of your crazy Oklahoma stories. I wanted to ask how big cats could survive in the heat, locked in a cage, and if they ever got out.

During our time together, I couldn’t help asking questions about those stories. But you didn’t like being questioned, just like you didn’t like being chased to the bar or being stuck in the cage where you could sober up, and tell me why you were always so angry.   

What interested me about those stories didn’t really matter to you anyway. I just tried to fill in the blank spaces until I found the answer the night you hit me, just like you did with the fat cowboy and his snake. “Why did you do that?” I had asked you.

You shrugged again.