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.

The Recurring Dream

This is a dream that I periodically revisit. Ever have one of those? It would be nice to have one that has a happy ending of sorts.  Mine is never like that. The scenario may change, but the outcome is always the same: The realization that my parents are dead and our relationship is over.

Variation #1: This is how it goes. I am trying to calm my mother. She is lying in a coffin, weeping.  My father sits on a couch nearby. My mother is wearing the cherry red dress we buried her in. Peter Pan collar, white cuffs and gold buttons. I had chosen it myself when sorting out her closet.  All her clothes had been in complete disarray—on wire hangers, draped over the hanging rods, and tossed in a heap on the closet floor.  It was as if her closet was smack in the middle of a wind tunnel. Chaos reigned supreme.  Or maybe it was the madness in her brain, a brain that had succumbed to Alzheimer’s, that caused it.

So I found the red dress, its tag still attached: $29.95, from J.C. Penney’s. When had she made the purchase?  Before she lost her mind to Alzheimer’s? Perhaps, and, just like that, she never got a chance to wear it. Except to her grave.

In my dream, I give my mother bread and water.

In my dream, I don’t know why my mother is crying. I assume she’s hungry so I give her some bread and hope that it’s one with raisins, her favorite kind. Eagerly, she devours it. Ironically, in life, she ate so little. “Como un pájaro,” my father says. Like a bird. Then, as if reviewing a scene of a crime, and suddenly realizing the identity of the murderer, he proclaims,

“It’s the cholesterol that gave her the Alzheimer’s! To control it, she stopped eating and it ate away at her brain, instead!”  That’s his theory and he is sticking to it, no matter what.

My mother then sits up in her coffin. The bread has made her thirsty. “Tengo sed,” she says.

I leave the room to get a glass of water. When I return, I find she has stepped out of the coffin. She is walking toward me, her thin, frail arms outstretched, as phantoms often do in scary movies when floating ethereally through graveyards.

“Tengo sed,” she repeats and I hand her the water.

At which time, a crowd gathers, shouting at me not to give her the drink. Too late. As she gulps it down, the water pours out of her body, seeping through ghostly skin and on to the floor. Which is when I remember. Oh yeah, that’s right. My mother is dead.

Then I wake up.

Variation #2:  Sometimes, my brother and I are in my childhood bedroom, looking out the window on to the street, waiting for our parents to return from running errands. Waiting. When finally their car pulls up, our hearts beat fast with anticipation. Yet no one comes out of the car. My brother and I look quizzically at each other and then it hits me. They’re not coming out of the car. They’re dead.

I've never gone bowling with my mother except in my dreams.

Variation #3: We’re in a bowling alley, which is odd because I never went bowling with my mother. She’s putting on her bowling shoes, and her back is to me. I cannot see her face. But I talk to her, and keep talking. She says nothing but keeps adjusting her shoes. Finally, I say, “Mama, Mama” No response. I wake up, remembering that she’s gone.

Creepy dreams, yes. Strange, even. Yet, I look forward to them because, crazy as they are, for a brief moment my parents are with me all over again–if only in my dreams.