C’mon now—everybody wears a costume. Every day. Everybody knows that—though most kids probably don’t think about it. (Hell, most kids don’t think period.) They don’t consider that what they’re wearing is a costume. But it is.
Now, sometimes it’s obvious, like that Tisha Blacque girl, who dressed like a regular kid last year but this year dresses like someone in some old vampire movie. Not that I’m criticizing her. I’m not. She can dress any old way she wants to. And she’ll never hear a thing about it from me.
But other kids are wearing costumes, too. Just look at them. Some of them dress like models they see in magazines. Or like people they see on TV shows. Or rock stars. Some of them even dress like their parents—like you see in old paintings where kids had to dress like their parents. And when you see them all together, it looks like a cloning experiment that went crazy.
I’m not sure why parents do that, make their kids dress just like them. Maybe it makes them feel young again, seeing a young person who follows them around like a shrunken little twin. Even dumber? Adults who dress like their kids. Fat and forty, they wear hip-hop shorts—or squeeze into tops so tight they look like over-filled tubes of toothpaste. They even try to talk like kids … but I’m getting off the subject.
Once, you made us discuss that poem, by Shakespeare, who I hate by the way. Too many weird words. Anyway, you projected something he said on the screen and just stood there looking at it:
Die single, and thine image dies with thee. [Sonnet 3]
Then you turned to us and asked, “Can anyone tell us what that means?”
No one said anything. But you’re one of those teachers that wait. You don’t ask a question and then answer it two seconds later if no kid says anything. You wait. And wait. Until someone in the class says something. I don’t like that. I like teachers who give the answers. It’s just more comfortable, all around.
Anyway, finally, that Jennifer Queen girl who thinks she’s so pretty (okay, she is pretty, but she shouldn’t think so all the time), she said: “If you die before you get married, your face dies with you.”
That’s when Claire Bell jumped in and said, “Lots of kids’ faces look like they died already.”
And everyone laughed. Even you. Do you remember? Claire Bell is pretty funny, most of the time, except when sometimes she makes jokes about me. Then she’s not so funny.
So, after Jennifer Queen said that, you complimented her (you’re always doing that, not just to Jennifer, so I guess you’re just being nice, and that’s okay, I guess) and then you said, “But it’s not just your face that dies, is it? It’s your image. What do you think he meant by your image?”
And Claire Bell decided I guess to be serious for once because she said, “It’s you. All of you. Like what you see in the mirror. Your image.”
And you praised her, too. And then you asked something that to tell you the truth I was thinking about right at that second: “But won’t your image die with you, whether you’re married or not?”
Kids sort of looked around. Some of them agreed with you. And then that Terry Crowe kid said, “When you’re dead you’re dead. But the other day I saw a dead crow in the woods, and when I looked up, I saw another one, a live one, in the tree right over my head. Someone who didn’t know crows would say that they looked just alike.”
“That’s excellent, Terry,” you said. And he blushed. I never saw that before.
And then quietly, really quietly, that Emily Booker girl said the same thing I was thinking, “When you have children, your image doesn’t die.”
So then we all got it, that Shakespeare stuff, I mean. He was saying that if you don’t have any children, your image will die with you. Okay. So maybe that’s why some parents make their kids dress like them.
Me? I don’t dress like my parents. My dad’s a cop, as you know, because he stopped you once for speeding in a school zone, right outside here. (I bet you remember that, don’t you?) And my mom, she’s a nurse at an old folks’ home. And you never saw me come to school dressed like a cop, did you? Or like a nurse? I don’t think so.
But I do wear a cowboy hat to school every day. Big deal. It keeps the rain off my head. The sun out of my face. A lot better than those baseball hats some kids wear. And when they wear them backwards, they really don’t do a very good job with the weather. And by the way I don’t think it’s fair that we can’t wear hats in the building. What’s the big deal?
And, yes, I wear cowboy boots, too. It’s not because they make me taller. Though they do, of course. It’s because I like how they feel. I even like how they sound. They clunk when I walk. They make me sound solid, you know? Not all whispery or squeaky like sneakers. When I’m coming down the hall, you know I’m coming. I like that. I don’t need to sneak up on anyone. And if I ever have to kick someone, not that I would kick someone because it’s wrong to kick people, but if I had to kick someone, well, with cowboy boots, they’d stay kicked.
And, okay, I wear blue jeans and Western shirts all the time, too. What’s wrong with that?
And as for the bandana, well, you may not have noticed, but I wear a blue one, then a red one, then a blue one, alternating every day. On cold days I can put it around my mouth and nose.
On hot days I can wipe away sweat. And when I spill something, I can get it wet and use it like a dish towel. You’d be surprised how often I do that. I’ve had to use it as a bandage a couple of times, too, like that time I cut myself in art when we were carving linoleum blocks. That hurt like crazy. But the bandana worked great, though I had to throw it away later because the blood just wouldn’t come out of it.
Now the chaps. The principal won’t let me wear them in school any more. I don’t think that’s fair. They protect my jeans. I don’t tell him that he can’t wear those ugly brown corduroy pants that are so tight around the middle that his big gut hangs over his belt like a fat rope of sausage. I don’t tell him he can’t wear those stupid ties with his breakfast all over them. Or those shoes that look like he stole them from the old folks’ home where my mom works. Don’t tell him, but I still wear my chaps to school. I just take them off and put them in my locker until I go home.
I do the same with my spurs, too, which he told me not to wear anymore after I spurred that James Kuhl kid when he said that cowboys were all queer. I wear them but I store them in my locker. Kuhl still leaves me alone, by the way. He knows if he says anything again, I’ll catch him sometime when I’ve got my spurs on, and he won’t like it any better the next time than he did the first time.
So why do I dress like a cowboy? That’s what I’m getting around to. Well, it’s simple. What’s my name? Billy Kidd, right? Sort of like that Billy the Kid, the other one, the one born in 1859 and shot in the back in 1881 in New Mexico, that one, he was a cowboy. Before he became a killer. He didn’t start out to be a killer. He just wanted to be a cowboy. But people kept messing with him, and the next thing you know, he killed a couple of guys. No way he killed twenty-one like some people say. That’s all just legends and lies and stuff. It wasn’t anything like that big a number. Just a half-dozen or so, that’s all. And most of them got killed because they just messed with the wrong guy, which is something they shouldn’t have done and which they didn’t live to do again.
So I hope those guys that Billy killed had children, because if they didn’t, well, their image died with them, right? That's what Shakespeare said anyhow--though, as I said, you can't be too sure about him because of the weird words.