Rosa's mother cried. Her father looked confused. Her little sisters appeared to be a cross between their mother (discontent) and their father (bafflement).
"But you've never been farther north of here than Disneyland," pleaded her mother on the way to the bus station.
"Disneyland is south. I've been to Lake Isabella. That's north."
"See! You've never been very far from here," reasoned her mother. Rosa thought that it must be fun being her mother.
At the bus station, she gave everyone three and a half industrious abrazos. She then grabbed her luggage as if was an uncooperative bull's head and headed for the bus that would deposit her at the No Bull Riding Academy, lying just outside of Delano. She had worked at odd jobs, some very odd, for nine months for this bus ride and the fees the academy demanded in order to give one opportunity to break a bone or two.
The training classes, held amongst the echoes and aromas of the academy bulls, were meant to prepare the fourteen pupils but also to weed out the not-so-sure-I-wanna-be-here-afterall's.
Rosa was given a creeping approach to bulls and what it takes to stay on one for more than a second. She first was warned not to hold onto the "bull rope" after the bull has flung her off, which was certain to happen they reminded her, because the bull rope was connected and attached to the bull's front legs. This meant she would be dragged until the bull ran out of energy or got bored, neither likely to occur.
The time for her first ride arrived one rather cool morning. Rosa had to cowboy up, which in cowboy means to stiffen one's backbone. Three trainees before her had been quickly removed off their respective bulls in various unkind methods bulls share strictly among them--in these three instances, jerked, shaken and bounced. It was eye opening for Rosa. She quickly reminisced of her time on a rented pony when she was five and how frightened out of her rented cowboy outfit she was. Self-doubt was whispering in her ear, but she was not sure which ear so she brushed both off. She then put on her riding helmet.
Several cowboys guided her in mounting the bull stationed in the gated steel chute. The bull's name was Sunset. She clutched the bull rope with one hand. She also fought all instincts of self-preservation, for she wanted to hop from the bull and into a cowboy's arms.
Sunset heaved and snorted rhythmically under her as if paid to do both. This massive 1,500-pound beast she was on emitted a surge of power with every snort. Every snort travelled through his body and up through hers and into her nostrils. She was afraid she'd start snorting uncontrollably. There was a reason why only men did this, she hypothesized--because they were men. Frail little girls from East L.A. shouldn't be snorting around some faraway, smelly rodeo arena on a rude and crude animal.
She could feel his muscles ready to go to work, a stored fierce and potent force, a primeval reaching out to her, letting her know he would be in charge shortly and wouldn't disappoint, ready to knock her cuerpo here and there so she wouldn't forget ol' Sunset.
She looked up at one cowboy sitting right next to her on the fencing, which ran along the side of the chute. He winked at her in assurance. He appeared like an angel, un angel M?®jicano. He was young, self-assured. She welcomed his gesture as she gulped a "What am I doing here?" to herself.
"How're you feeling?" he asked.
"Is it too late to change my mind?" she asked with a nervous laugh, her voice sounding to her like an aged woman's croak of madness.
"You'll do fine," he said. "A short fun ride. Keep your back straight. Keep your free arm out and away from the bull. And grip that rope tightly." His voice was an even and soothing baritone with underlying firmness.
"Nod when you're ready," came from another cowboy who was the gatekeeper, "and I'll open this gate so you can have the fun you paid for."
All she could see now was each breath the bull was taking methodically in the now chilly morning air as he continued to heave and move side to side in the confines of the chute. The mist from his nostrils appeared to be the smoke from some fire burning within this frightening animal. The horns seemed to be glistening in front of her. His hide, hard, tough, felt as if should be hanging on a wall, not on a huge creature ready to frolic.