So there I was last night, walking around the very epicenter of the South by Southwest Festival with a friend. Feeling very out of it, over the hill, overage. What I needed, I realized, as I pushed my way through a crowd of kids with tattoos and piercings and cowboy boots and heavy, heavy attitude, was a new back story.
My real back story (and anyone over the age of 30 has a back story; all you have to do is live long enough without being in a coma most of the time) wasn’t going to cut it with this crowd. I could already tell. Oh, hi! I’ve been to lots of faculty parties and my kids are smart and cute and I’ve been married 35 years and I’ve written lots of things you’ve probably never read and I have several loyal fans. I bet you’re just dying to meet me.
No. It was time for a better back story if I was going to get any respect with this crowd. I turned to my friend. “You know who we are?” I asked her. “We’re Willie Nelson’s first and second wives.”
This didn’t seem to impress her much, so I went on plotting silently. This is something I’m very good at.
To wit: You think I look tired and careworn? Well, hell, yes. You would be, too, if you’d been married to Willie Nelson during his salad days. Yeah, hon, that was me, married to old Willie. The wife who sewed up a sheet around him when he came home drunk once too many times and proceeded to beat him with a broom. You’ve heard that story, huh?
I was kind of, you know, an early feminist folk hero, the Lizzie Borden of the redneck rock movement. Eliot Spitzer should be damned glad he wasn’t married to the likes of me. They’d still be applying hot compresses to his private parts and releasing hospital reports of his health status as “guardedly optimistic.”
After Willie — well, you know, I kind of gave up on men. Sure, there were a few Hell’s Angels here and there, and there was that fling with Elvis before the Good Lord and all those fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches took him away — but it was meaningless, really. Oh, and George Strait and that one great night with Leonard Cohen (yes, ladies, the rumors are true). And minor encounters with Merle and Johnny Cash and a number of non-boldface names you wouldn’t recognize, anyway.
For the most part, though, I’ve just hung up my spurs after Willie. Right now, I look around at all of you and smile kind of sadly, ’cause I know you’re here thinking you’re in the center of things and you feel sorry for middleaged women like me who’re past their prime.
I hate to tell you, though: You were born way too late. You missed the good old days. I was there, young and gorgeous and untamed, and so was Willie, that rascal. I looked around then and you know what? You weren’t there. Matter of fact, you weren’t even born yet. It was over way before your mama and daddy even got together. You might as well pack up your bags and go home, hon. It’s already way too late — and you done missed it.
And so it went. Willie Nelson’s first wife crossed the street, narrowly missing getting run over by an SUV. She shook her head and sighed again. Those suckers would have been messin’ with history if they’d made roadkill outta her. Lucky for them, they didn’t.