RAW MATERIAL FOR A NOVEL
Personal history has taught me to be independent, covert, and paranoid. In our times this has proven to be adaptive. In the past I’ve attributed much of it to my childhood, as theorists encourage us to do, adding the broad cultural forces of valley farming and prairie homesteading, with the impact of the Depression and World War. I’ve been talking about the persuasiveness of books based on Edwardian understanding of how single women can survive. So far I haven’t talked much about my marriage, which was outside the social norm unless you are a romantic who believes in Great Men.
If I look objectively at this decade-long event, it is complex. I’ve used this material in “Bronze Inside and Out,” focusing on what it feels like to work with the materials of plaster, black tuffy, bronze, and the mythology of the West. This second version of the decade of the Sixties in Browning, MT, goes to the complexity of personhood as we moved from thinking we were roles and vocations to understanding the myriad push/pulls that molded our behavior.
1. The attachment was as much to the land as to any person. Both my parents were highly attached to a place, my father to the prairie and my mother to small towns. Marriage to Bob gave me entitlement to be here and to explore both loves in my own way.
2. Because I believed in his sculpture — both the quality and the importance — and threw my energy into it, Bob was able to accept me and include me in his personal doings (bugling elk, rounding up buffalo, building a foundry). I urged the leap to NY Bigtime and provided dependable labor.
3. Marrying someone from a different time is like marrying someone from a different country. I was prepared to adapt, but was nearly extinguished. I couldn’t sing the songs he knew, hadn’t cooked the foods he liked, I did not fit his notions of a sex object except that I was young. The male conviction that women should be pretty and “maintained” determined his affections. He had had and continued to have multiple partners, which began to make me feel inadequate if not stupid, but to him it was the norm. So I got into the spirit of soap opera sometimes and repelled most invaders.
4. Both of us had parents whose bonding was socially enforced but sometimes personally disappointing. There was a near-decade gap in the ages of his parents. TE had been on the frontier for 8 years when he went back to Quebec for a healthy wife. My father’s concussion changed every personal relationship and the nature of our family.
5. Bob’s determination to keep his personality the same, anchored in an identity he had had to fight to keep, came up against my irrepressibility in terms of learning and growing — I was, after all, young. My seeking became a threat. The two previous wives had more to do with who he was than I expected. Jeannette was the queen of the soap opera and hated his mother.
6. Intriguing and novel-worthy were his requests of me to undergo what amounted to ordeals. They arose naturally and seemed to be in service to the cause but they were life-threatening: taking the last bronzes to Cody for the Buffalo Bill Museum in a record snowstorm; diving under three feet of icy water under the museum crawl space to find and turn off the inlet from the city system; walking to circle geese on a small lake in foggy confusing terrain that got me lost in a snowstorm. He never doubted I would do these things and I never questioned them. I was proud to do them but my success made him feel put down.
7. Though I was nearly psychotically jealous of my predecessor, I was also resentful of my real rival, his mother. Bob played us against each other. My mother was distant, unable to know what to do and forbidding herself from intervening. She learned this from her mother and I continued it.
8. Early in growing up I decided never to have children. My mother’s threat had always been that I would have a daughter just like me so I was determined to prevent that. Bob had had a vasectomy (various stories). His daughter was all grown up. His son soon disappeared. But Fate was laughing at me: the daughter (my age and looking much like me) developed cancer and died, so that we had to at least partially raise her children. Bob had no idea about parenting. I was overwhelmed.
9. The times were expanding and society was being challenged. When we went to SF for a commission, we drove past Haight-Ashbury and Bob ridiculed the hippies. I liked them, have always wished to be more of a hippie. At the other end of the spectrum the John Birch Society formed and Bob admired them but never formally joined. He protected his collection of guns, but just accepted the collection of artifacts until much later.
10. Western sculpture — cowboys and Indians — was forming into a category that could support galleries and auctions. The specialists were often vulpine. Huge amounts of money were involved. The popular and competent gentlemen painters who had illustrated the major glossy magazines lost their venues and became easel painters of Western subjects, including animals. Bob’s collection of trophy full-mounts attracted them and they supported his work as opportunities to learn anatomy.
11. Limiting myself to one man’s life meant losing contacts and advice from others. He was locally important so the machinery of counties gave him priority, though some of them belittled him behind his back. I ran away twice, seeking shelter — or something — and everyone was kind but not prepared to take me in. When the time came for divorce, the community (except Indians) were on his side and thought it was about time. The Indians said that since we went on being together, we were not really divorced. It was a matter of behavior rather than laws. Whites thought I was stupid for not taking a big alimony.
12. Everyone thought I should go to a psychiatrist, so I did. Bob even went with me. The advice was bored, I say from my educated position now, and the moment the word “suicide” was mentioned, I was sent home. Personally, I thought the issue was too private to discuss. When Bob told the shrink (which was the only way the professional knew about it) I was made to leave the room.
13. I wasn’t like an abused woman who might be harmed. I didn’t need a shelter for battered women. Without input from me, Bob had bought a little ranch on Two Medicine and he let me stay out there all winter. The land saved me: snow, five horses, two cats, a well, heat.
14. We underestimated Bob’s deteriorating health. He was so strong and vital that when he had a heart attack and was hypoxic for minutes, we just tried to hang on, but he was changed. I had gotten involved in the first place (when he was 47) because of an eye infection that coincided with a hostile fish and game officer who threatened to close the museum and nearly destroyed him. We were in a ten year window and took advantage of it, pretending it was permanent.
15. One of Bob’s strategies was setting up jealousy. Lorraine, his fourth wife, was a troubled alcoholic married woman who lived two doors down from him and had always had a huge crush on him. He wanted me to return to work without marriage. He said either I came back to take care of the grandkids for the summer or he would get Lorraine to do it. My reaction was that if I could be replaced by such a person, I was free to leave. I went back to teaching until I had enough money to leave entirely.
16. I was not welcome back in Portland, but went anyway. My mother never said anything about the marriage. She had been widowed for a decade and assumed we would now form a partnership. NOT. The only job I could get, as an animal control officer, did not please her but she thought it was a start on a new life. I began in a hot summer like this one and when I got home, she took me out to Swan Island where a Mexican restaurant served hamburgers with avocado and she ordered us margueritas, which I had never had before. It was a bit like a date.
If high school English terms have any meaning anymore, this is raw material for both fiction and nonfiction,. What strikes me is that the same characteristics that took me into this marriage (arrogance and unreality), saved me through the decade, and took me back out the other side, continuing to work ever since. On balance, it was good for both of us. But I was going up and he was going down.
This is a helpful link.