The Road Taken: Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

When I was young I wanted to be a cowgirl. I wanted to live on a farm and ride horses all day long, milk the cows and chase after the piglets. Of course, later, I realized I was allergic to hay and grass, and just about everything in between. Besides, as a Latina from Queens, what did I know about living the farm life?

As Pam drove down the freeway, passing the exit for the SeaTac Airport, I thought about my other dream. That of flying away. I loved flying, and had been doing so since birth. Getting on a plane was second nature to me.

I fantasized sometimes about embarking on a journey, with no care or concern as to where I was going. It felt thrilling to imagine taking off without telling a soul I was leaving, let alone whether I’d be back. I could be somewhere else, relaxing in Paris, along the Seine, with Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Expatriates, we’d be, clinking our glasses, brimming with champagne, and laughingly toasting to our good health. We’d be joined, by Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein, for a scintillating conversation about whatever novels we were working on. Then, Zelda would ask me to read one of my poems aloud.

These were the dreams that excited me. In each, I was doing something, making my mark, for I was sure there had to be more to me than this: being a married lady with a husband that was gone all the time.

But so far, I hadn’t figured it out. All I knew was that my entire life had led me to this point. Marriage. It was supposed to be the end all, starting with my Barbie and Ken dolls, and all the wedding scenarios I concocted for them. It continued through the Doris Day movies and Donna Reed shows on TV. Marriage, marriage, marriage.

The problem with marriage was the focus on the happily ever after part. It didn’t tell you what was supposed to happen after the vows. The road to marriage was like this big, amazing ride that builds and builds to this incredible crescendo and then you reach the other side and nothing. There is no manual on what to do. Just an abyss, and suddenly there you are, having to create your own rules, your own version of how it’s supposed to be. Only I was flailing.

Back to reality, I flipped through the latest copy of the Ladies Home Journal, one of the magazines I’d brought along for the drive. I had started buying it as soon as we tied the knot. Perhaps, I was expecting it to be my marriage road map, as all the articles seemed focused on helping young wives deal with their relationships.  So far, it wasn’t working.

The best part of the magazine was the monthly feature, titled, “Can This Marriage Be Saved?”  I immediately opened to it, and offered to read it aloud to Pam. We both loved reading these seemingly hopeless stories of marital discord. The more futile the better and the editors of LHJ seemed to know that, too, because each story always seemed bleaker than the previous one. And yet, no matter what, the marriage could always be saved.

In this particular issue, the husband kept telling his wife he had to work late, but really he was having an affair with his secretary. And when the wife found out, she cried, but in the end she forgave him. The marriage counselor gave the wife instructions on how to revive her marriage and keep him close, and recommended to the husband that he avoid being at the office late at night with the secretary. The counselor, having put the burden of keeping the marriage together on the wife, now concluded that everything would be fine, as long as the couple followed his advice.

Pam laughed, “That guy’s a total jerk and the wife should leave him and leave him now.” Looking at me askance, she added, “I’m sure she’ll be happier and better off.”

Better off? I pondered this for a moment. I thought about G and my momentary lapse with Rick. A heavy dose of guilt pored through my veins, making me feel sheepish. I wasn’t sure which of us, if any, would be better off.

Looking outside my window, I noticed the skies were turning. Clouds were beginning to form to the south the direction in which we were headed.  It would start raining soon. As we approached the Washington State border, Pam got off the freeway.

“Let’s stop and get a bite to eat.” I nodded.

We pulled up to what Pam would refer to as a cheesy restaurant. The kind that had a flashing sign that read, “Cheap Eats,” only some bulbs were missing, so it only said, “Cheap.” Pam turned off the ignition, but I made no attempt to get out of the car. She seemed a bit agitated by my lack of movement. Raising one eyebrow, she looked at me skeptically, she said in a raised voice,

“Well? Are you going to snap out of it or what?”

Leave it to Pam to give me an ultimatum. She knew it was always the “or what” that stymied me. I knew I needed to pull myself together and make a decision about what I wanted, but the idea of taking any action was outside my comfort zone and made me numb. There was safety in staying the course. And then it hit me. Without realizing it, I had settled for the tried and true, and that was G.

I could no more get on a plane and fly to parts unfamiliar, than I could become a cowgirl and live on a farm. I was me, 26 and tethered to the path I’d chosen with G, whether here because of succumbing to societal pressures of marriage or because of decisions I’d made by my own, damned self.

How I wished I had one iota of Pam’s grit, and her tenacity to stand up for herself. But these weren’t mine for the taking. Sigh. Who needed dreams, anyway?

I opened the door and got out of the car, feeling a flicker of light extinguish inside me.  You know what they say, even cowgirls get the blues.

Read past installments, by visiting the page, The Road Taken.

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31 thoughts on “The Road Taken: Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

    • Thank you so much. Sometimes it’s scary telling my story in an honest way, but if I can help someone else who may be going through something similar than that’s what I want to do. Your words are encouraging and I so appreciate them. Thanks!

  1. Some mighty fine writing here, woman. I always think like should come with a manual and have on my never ending list of things to write is a manual of how to, whatever, what nots, no way, and how the hell….? I’m not alone in saying this, but life just doesn’t make sense, never ever, never will, it just happens, so Pam says. So sorry I am late to these posts. Somehow will need to go back and read.

    • Brenda, I’m just so glad you’re here at all. Your words are so insightful. I wish you had written a manual and done it back in the day when I needed it. Instead I had to play it by ear. If I knew then what I know now, but then I wouldn’t have had this story to tell. 😉

  2. Your writing always hits to the core, Monica. The whole idea of marriage as the GOAL. For me it was too. So much so that I married young, divorced and jumped right back into another marriage without having learned a thing. It was still the GOAL. I still didn’t know myself or know that there was an alternative to my fairytale fantasies. I love that this younger generation really seems to get this. They get that marriage is just another choice, and that choosing NOT to marry is valid too.

    I love your installments on “The Road Taken” and look forward to reading them every time!

    • It’s amazing just how different these times are from when we were young. Well, we can take comfort in knowing that we helped pave the way and today’s young women know they have options. Marriage isn’t the end all. I so empathize with your statement, “I still didn’t know myself or know that there was an alternative to my fairytale fantasies.” So true. Thank you so much, Michael Ann, for your input. Truly insightful!

  3. I agree with Susan that things happen for a reason. And Pam happened for a reason. What a revelation to have at 26 though. I can’t believe you lived with it for 11 more years!

    • It wasn’t so lucid to me then. It was a feeling, which I was able to figure out with age, experience. I couldn’t put a label to it then, but now I know. Which is kind of sad when you think about, but if I’d know then what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have my kids. So, like you and Susan said, it all happens for a reason.

  4. My favorite parts are Paris – along the Seine with Zelda & F.Scott Fitzgerald, and Zelda asking you to read one of your poems out aloud , then Hemingway, Stein and you talk about your novels…. what a perfect dream!! Oh to be part of your crowd!!. I love your writing Monica.
    Someone very dear to me recently went through a divorce – it was so painful, she was belittled ad disrespected but she is stronger than she ever was and I admire her so much. I see her forging such a great path for herself -post divorce.

    • I know! Wouldn’t that be swell? And if this were a movie, I’d want to play myself and I’d have Colin play F. Scott. He would do an amazing job!

      I’m truly sorry for what your friend is going through. I’ve been there and know too well the pain. She needs friends like you, who’ll stick by even through the hard times.

  5. I loved this installment… whimsy laced with cold, hard reality. I love how you were able to remember the feeling of that flicker of light being extinguished. I noticed Hadley wasn’t in your dream… how she haunts mine 😉
    Great post!

  6. ~~We’d be joined, by Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein, for a scintillating conversation about whatever novels we were working on. Then, Zelda would ask me to read one of my poems aloud.~~~

    I looooooove your dreams, sweet Monica. Xxx

  7. Lady, when I saw there was a new installment to “The Road Taken,” I brewed some more coffee (I had just finished a cup with Annie’s blog) and returned to my spot, anxiously anticipating where your travels had taken you with Pam. You did not disappoint, amiga. I love, love this series! This post, specifically, resonates with me, and I’m sure with so many other women. I think most of us have been in that place where we have doubts regarding if we did the right thing in marrying. I used to call this process “marriage remorse.” And while you may not have been a cowgirl then, you’re a cowgirl now, lady! After all, you don’t have to live on a farm to fence-mend, gallop, and herd cows! Methinks you were part Annie Oakley then too, only you didn’t see it at the time. But really, did you not maintain your family’s “ranch”? Did you not have strength of character? A kind heart? Okay, then. You were a cowgirl and that’s all there is to it. 🙂

    • Oh, Bella, you sure know how to make a gal from Queens feel good! Every time I write a new post I doubt myself, as to whether this is something my readers are going to want to know about. But you give me faith that I’m on the right track. I love that you think I’m a cowgirl now. After all, I finally have spirit! As for the kind heart, I have my mother to thank. 😉

  8. This is such a true life post with all the sadness and longings of a young girl. Sometimes in life we have to dig the grave and let our eyes rest in the hole before we let go and live the life we must live in order to survive. For some, marriage is the place we define ourselves. They become a wife, mother, etc. and the path has been paved. Not so much anymore…or at least it’s changing. Thanks for a great read, Monica. Love where this is heading!

    • Thank you, Annie, for your eloquent comments. It is only looking back and reflecting on who I was then that I can see what the problems were. But then, I was unable to express my thoughts or pinpoint my feelings. I buried myself and just hoped for the best, that all would work itself out. I so appreciate your input and am glad you find something of value in my words.

  9. I, too, fell victim to the societal pressures of having the “perfect marriage” — you can imagine how I felt when I suddenly found myself divorced. Talk about no instruction manual!

    But as you’ve noted, your strength is due to this situation you found yourself in, as is mine. And we’re BETTER OFF, because we get to teach the next generations that those very same societal expectations and pressures: complete, total bupkis.

    😉

    • Mikalee, so nice to hear from you!! 🙂
      No instruction manual, indeed. If you ask me, our culture focuses too much on the wedding itself (probably because of the money involved in planning one) and not enough on the marriage. They tie that “happily ever after” BS in a bow and hand it to us on a silver platter. And then expect us to succeed and wonder why divorce rate is so high! Sheesh!

      Yep, the best thing about divorce, is what it taught me about myself and how it made me stronger for it.

      • True dat, sister…we are SO much stronger for it…

        So I hate to admit it: But I have to be grateful for my divorce — in one regard, at least…for what it has done for me. In the other regard — for my children — I hate my divorce with every fiber of my being. 🙂

  10. I so empathize with this installment, Monica. I, too, always wanted to fly; in fact, as a kid I often put on a cape, raced down our slide, and flapped my arms, fully expecting to soar! How sad that you bought into the pressure of marrying young, then found it to be somewhat stifling (though, speaking from experience, even marrying later is no guarantee of happily ever after!). I love how you’re able to recall this time in your life, analyze it, and write about it with the wisdom you’ve attained over the years. I’m looking forward to your next installment!

    • Debbie, you hit the nail on the head! That is exactly how I’m writing. Kind of like, if I knew then, what I know now. Of course, back then, I didn’t know how to articulate what I was feeling. Thank you for picking up on that. 😉

  11. I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, and there was obviously a reason that Pam came into your life when she did. The cowgirl I know in you has grit, so can’t wait to read further to learn the path you took to get here.

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