Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid found themselves between the relentless posse led by Joe Lefors and a 200-foot drop from the cliff above what looked like a sliver of a river, and Sundance refused to jump, admitting to Butch, “I can’t swim.” Butch laughed and said, “Are you crazy, the fall will probably kill you!” In the despair of The Great Depression, Will Rogers reassured the bread-line nation, “Prosperity is around the corner all right, but you’re not going to reach the corner.” And 1965 when I changed my major from psychology to English, I consoled my mathematician father: “Dad, don’t worry. I won’t need a job. In three years I’ll be in Viet Nam.”
And now I’ve invested forty years in Hardin-Simmons, a university at which I never imagined myself a fixture, such loyalty hard won in the classroom, at the midnight desk editing students’ confessions and poems—the only light a forty-watt lamp against the gathering shadows, loyalty hard won in cubicles and coffee shops and hallways between classes, acknowledging students, becoming friends, becoming knowledgeable, thinking each day, each soft step, soon I would say goodby.
When I told my father it didn’t matter what I majored in, that I’d be dead in a few years, I didn’t believe it. It swelled with romance, the maudlin score insistently dramatic. Like majoring in English because you loved words—reading them out loud, tasting them, writing them down for posterity, meaning that girl who finalized your decision to enlist in the Marines, patting your hand, kissing your cheek—“Friends. Let’s just be friends,” meaning that when you were dying, heroically, in the Central Highlands, you would of course hold on long enough to haltingly breathe out your last, mellifluous words—Tell I loved her.
The movies ruined me. How could I know the Marines would require me to mother my platoon, keep them, and maybe me, breathing, never asking of them what I would not ask of myself, always anticipating the ambush toward which we had been trained to turn and charge, yelling, into the fray, the highlight reel, because not to do so meant for sure, we were dead.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Dir. George Roy Hill. Writer: William Goldman. Perf. Paul Newman,
Robert Redford, and Katharine Ross. Twentieth Century Fox, 1969. Film.