I ate salsa in a sticky vinyl booth and laughed with a friend from back in the day. Steph and I took stock and inventory and wondered who was still around. It turns out that we scattered from high school and 4-H meetings to Montana, Wyoming, Kansas and New Mexico. Gabe fell asleep at the wheel and hit a bridge. I didn’t know that and it was almost ten years ago but I still wanted to cry. Suzie can’t seem to get pregnant and Kristen’s little girl had a bone marrow surgery. Megan is remarried now, wasn’t she three or four years behind us in school? They tore down the Grange but they still have dances at May Farms. Do you remember when she was killed? Her kids must have been about the same age as mine is now. That must have been 20 years ago now. They didn’t know where Misty was for a year or two but she’s home and married now, too.
The salsa was hot and ice cubes spun lazily in the sweaty glasses. We sat, getting the eyeball from folks who hadn’t yet realized that this is our new hometown. Cattle trucks lumbered through town on the heels of baffled tourists wondering if this is, in fact, the edge of the Earth.
We are out in the country where jack rabbits pack a lunch and you can watch your dog run away for two or three days. Driving home days earlier the flatter, browner and windier it became, the more at ease I felt. I stepped onto Corridor dirt, rubbed a little sand in my eyes and could see things more clearly.
It’s windy here and there’s little romanticizing this. Even the high school ball players don’t get too tall, they hunker down like tumbleweeds and like Wal Mart sacks on fence posts, we’re all blowing through.
I’m trying to fix my dreams at a different altitude. I’m trying to find that once sparkly girl who was fearless before she was reckless and misguided. Before she was Mrs., and worried about scary things that take your children in the night.
I was looking for a new hometown where old men sit and spit on the bench in front of the bank. I was hoping I could still two-step and teach and preach and hoping I could find a place for my 31-year-old self and a paint color for my walls. Trying to fix my dreams wasn’t even as difficult as determining the new ones. These dreams aren’t as shiny, but they’re real and good and are being washed clean in the wind.
The voodoo queens nearly carried me away more than once. I fought to keep my head above swamp water but know the sting of water in my nose. When I met Grady, the ground solidified and the voices of my past had experienced their turn and were silenced. The voodoo queens want you to think you aren’t whole enough to love or be loved. They want you to think that the swampy ground is safe and they want you to think that you don’t have any more strength left in you. They drawl and want you to believe that even though you may be able to find some kind of one night reprieve from an empty bed, no one will stay past dawn. Their voices drip with chickory and sweet tea syrup but don’t be fooled into thinking they’re right.
The years during which the voodoo queens were calling for me the most loudly didn’t taste familiar like gumbo and cheap wine but like second rate ground beef, diesel smoke and the garlicky taste of Dimethyl sulfoxide rubbed into the sore legs of horses. I was the wife of a professional rodeo cowboy for nearly ten years. My compadres took crank to look their best at their husband’s sides. I was flashy as hell but wondered daily if anyone would notice if I hurled myself down cold, concrete stairs.
We kept track of time by knowing when the books closed at ProCom and when designated slack ran. I knew destinations: Houston, Denver, Kansas City, Cheyenne, Pocatello, Chicago, Deadwood, not by tourist attractions but by hours with a trailer from the rodeo previous and by the quality of the hospitality tent. I sat behind signs that read, Contestants’ Wives at some of the biggest, best paying rodeos in the country with the tasks of looking good and videotaping the steer wrestling.
One night, after a rodeo somewhere in the Great Lakes Circuit, a many-time World Champion staggered out of his flashy rig, tanked with cocaine and cocktails.
“Who wants to fuck a Hall of Famer?” he slurred.
Without hesitation, a blonde woman a rodeo cowboy might refer to as a buckle bunny, set her beer aside and followed him into the trailer. No one bat an eye.
It might sound romantic traveling the country and being married to one of the best professional cowboys in the country. I had some of the best barrel horses around; one was out of Florida for $20,000 and another was also used as a hazing horse and backed up some of the best steer wrestling horses in the business including one who was hailed as the best in the professional ranks in the Great Lakes Circuit. I had custom made spur straps and a big diamond wedding ring. My friends, other pro rodeo wives, were and still are among the most beautiful women in the world.
Some rodeo cowboys are not far removed from those addicted to drugs, gambling or alcohol. The cash, the booze and the drugs flow freely and the time between highs is deadly. When the crowds are loud and the money is easy, the mantra is Younger Women, Older Whiskey and More Money. In the years when winning didn’t come so easily, I watched defeats etch lines and leave scars whether the defeat was missing the National Finals Rodeo by mere dollars or it came in the form of a blown knee or a crippled horse.
When he found himself well into his thirties playing a young man’s game, the crowds hushed a bit. He was referred to as a veteran of the sport. He was losing to boys who were younger and faster. The crowds dispersed and the fans forgot his name. Thus began his decline and like a junkie or a drunk he was desperate, clawing and searching for his next high. He frantically entered rodeos. If a guy enters enough, he’s bound to win a check eventually. He entered until he won but the costs of the wins weren’t even with the responsibilities of a wife and child. The wins didn’t pay for diesel rigs and starched shirts and t-ball gear. The harder I worked at my job, the harder and faster the money went down the road until I couldn’t even see the taillights anymore. I didn’t cry when I told him I wanted out.
Months later, I returned to a town in which we had lived when he worked as a college rodeo coach. I went to the bar with some girlfriends and a familiar face sauntered to our table and called me Mrs.
I told him about the divorce. I didn’t tell him that it was like stepping off the merry-go-round and I suddenly didn’t have any friends and no one even noticed I was gone.
“I wondered when you would find out about the girlfriends,” he said and handed me a beer.