The summer before I started kindergarten, my mother bought me a cowgirl outfit. A real cowgirl outfit—cowgirl hat, leather skirt and vest, boots with spurs, and two six-shooters slung low on my hips. The best part? Every bit of that wild west ensemble was red—not bright red but deep, menacing red like a sunset before a storm. That outfit made me feel like the sheriff of a dusty lawless town and I moseyed around in it all summer long with my spurs clanging and my fingers itching to draw those six-shooters.
My mother somehow managed to convince me to leave the cowgirl outfit at home when kindergarten started. I’m pretty sure she used a subtle threat to ban Sesame Street during breakfast and even cowgirls have priorities so I hung up my spurs and headed to school.
I loved school, even without spurs, and I wore my red hat and boots everyday when I got home. Life was good. And then my teacher made my life even better.
“Remember, next week is Halloween. We are having a party and you can wear your costumes!” she said excitedly.
My five-year-old mind reeled. A kindergarten Halloween party could mean just one thing—my red cowgirl outfit was going to school!
The day of the party arrived and I was all decked out in my cowgirl finest. I even dusted off my boots. My mom frisked me before taking me to school, insisting that I leave the spurs and the six-shooters at home. I shook off the small defeat and reveled in the glory of wearing an entirely red cowgirl outfit to school.
I got to school and the first thing on my to-do list was painting. I doubled up on the smocks that day, not wanting to risk getting paint on my leather vest or skirt. I immersed myself in Impressionism until the curly-headed blonde girl at the easel next to me interrupted my artistic flow.
“What are you dressed as?” she asked with a nasally laugh.
“I’m a cowgirl,” I said proudly and thought maybe this girl could stand to watch a Clint Eastwood movie or two.
“That isn’t what cowgirls wear,” she said as she waved a paintbrush in my general direction.
My ears felt hot and I was sure my face had to be the same color as my boots. Did this curly-headed little girl wearing her pajamas and carrying a pacifier really just dare to question my cowgirl outfit? Before I could stop myself, I shoved my paintbrush into the pink paint and then swiped the brush back and forth over the girl’s face.
I got my paint privileges revoked that day and was relegated to playing with trucks for the rest of the week. It was totally worth it.
Later, it was story time and we all gathered on the rug. After an hour of playing with trucks, I was ready to listen to a good book. I smoothed out my cowgirl skirt and waited politely. I glanced to my right and there was the curly-headed girl, a little worse for wear because of the painting episode. I smiled, secure in the knowledge that nothing bad can happen within the sanctity of the story rug.
But then something bad happened.
The curly-headed girl leaned over to me and whispered, “Real cowgirls don’t wear red.”
I felt myself heat up again and my fists clenched involuntarily. No one disparages my red cowgirl outfit twice in one day. I hauled back my arm and let my fist land right between her shoulder blades. She let out a pained breath and then said, “You hit me! I might die now!”
Being five and not knowing the telltale signs of imminent death, I watched for obvious things like bleeding from the eyes and uncontrollable diarrhea. Nothing.
The curly-headed girl was just fine and learned a very valuable lesson that day: real cowgirls do wear red.