People influence us…
She was the brightest light in the county, my Dixie. A born genius, they said. Who they was, not a person would say, but whoever they was, I sure as heck believed ‘em. She could do polynomials in her mind faster n’ I could shout “Howdy!”, write a poem more beautiful n’ the stars, and sing better ‘n that redhead fish lady in that Disney movie.
She could have done anything she wanted.
She could have changed the world.
She stayed in Riley County.
Now, don’t go misunderstanding me. Riley County is a great place, if you like wheat, corn, wheat, and more wheat. But it sure as heck ain’t a place for a born genius. A born genius oughta go somewhere like New York or Boston or one of them big cities, not stay in the heart of Kansas.
I tried to talk her into going to one of them nice colleges that wanted to give her money, but she refused. Bright as she is, my Dixie could be stubborn. She said she couldn’t leave me, what with her mama dyin’ and her brothers too young to help with the farm work. I told her I could handle it, I did. But she just wouldn’t listen.
At least, not until Eric came along.
She met him when she was singin’ down at the bar. Said he came up to her after a set and bought her a drink. From then on it was “Eric this” and “Eric that”. My Dixie said she loved him, loved that boy to the moon and back, but I didn’t trust him as far as I could throw him.
He stunk of entitled wealth. He came from Los Angeles, and his parents owned a casino. He wanted to take my Dixie away to live with him there, no doubt to gamble and drink her life away. She was too beautiful for him, too kind and brilliant. But she was young and in love.
I watched her forget her promises, forget the farm work, forget her mama. All she could see was him, and all he could see was… certain parts of her. She told us, when she came home one morning with the stench of whiskey on her breath, that she was gonna run away with him. She said they were gonna travel the globe, see the wonders of the world, taste every wine. I told her it was a waste of her mind, a waste of her heart. I tried to remind her of her promises but the light in my Dixie’s eyes was gone. All I saw behind them was a mind drowned in alcohol.
My Dixie told me she didn’t wanna hear another word from my mouth ever again, not if I was gonna go crushin’ her dreams. She pulled out a cell phone I didn’t know she had and called that Eric right in front of me. When he pulled up on that big black bike she ran to him and got up behind him, without even a word or a glance for me. I had to cover my eyes as gravel spurted from beneath them great wheels, and I kept ‘em covered long after the roaring of the bike faded away.
I couldn’t go inside. I couldn’t face my dying wife and my boys too young to understand why their sister was gone. I couldn’t tell them I had lost the best thing that had ever happened to us. I stayed on the porch steps, head in my hands, and was still there when the cop car pulled up.
I saw the look in Sheriff’s eyes, that look of pity and disgust. I knew before he ever opened his mouth what he had come to tell me. I watched his moustache move, studyin’ it as them words came out of his mouth. All them words bounced off of my ears, all words but one: Dixie. Dixie.
She was the brightest light in the county, my Dixie. A born genius, they said. Or used to say. Now they say what a shame it is that such a beautiful girl could let herself go so hard. They ask how I could let that boy influence her so. They say it was my fault. My fault.
It was my fault.