Ya know, I never did write much about what it was like to live up here in the Tiny Little Town, all alone with Two Little Girls, running a ranch for two years while my husband worked on the other side of the state and lived in a hotel room.
I mean, we've done this before. Such is the life of an oil-field wife. All through our marriage, we've dealt with separation after separation - Oklahoma while I was pregnant with Littlest One, North Dakota when I was first learning to homeschool, more shorter stints than I could even begin to count. But none of those compared to 2013-2014. Those didn't involve isolation and forty acres.
So what was it really like, those 21 months he was working away?
It was the most difficult thing our marriage has been through. And while I've been through plenty of hard times, none has lasted that long. It wears on you. You're exhausted, but you don't get to just take a break from it. You give up hope that there's even an end to it.
Living alone - save for two children who require your care - is crazy-making. It's up before dawn, work till you're so exhausted that you collapse into bed at night, only to lay awake thinking of all the things you didn't do, worrying about all the things you hope don't happen, and jolting out of sleep every two hours because more snow fell off the roof or the coyotes are too close or the dogs are barking at some noise only they can hear. It's planting a garden, then realizing there is no way in hell you're ever going to keep up with it, trying with all your might anyway, and having to walk by it every day and realize how badly you're failing. It's not wanting to cook dinner because the kids would rather eat ramen anyway, and gaining ten pounds because rather than make a salad, you just join them. It's not giving a damn what's healthy anymore because all you really care about doing is surviving.
For two years, I did everything I could to try to keep my children from feeling the pain and stress of having The Daddy gone all the time. I spent every spare moment I had driving them (and their horses and their chickens) all over creation because I felt like that was something we would've been doing if Daddy was home, and they should suffer because he wasn't. I celebrated their successes with them and sent him cell phone pictures. I cried through their losses with them and sent him heart-breaking text messages.
For two years I did everything that a wife and mother should do... and everything a husband and father should do, too. I irrigated a pasture. I milked goats. I built a tree fort. I disciplined. I hugged and encouraged. I disciplined some more. I taught kindergarten and fourth grade. Then I taught first grade and fifth grade. I drove us on road trips to visit family. I hauled water and I hauled horses. I cleaned the house, fixed the meals, canned the meager harvest, and irrigated the pasture some more.
For two years, I hid a lot of tears. The kind that came out of frustration when the pasture sprinklers wouldn't hook up like they should. The kind that came from feeling like I was failing as a mother and had no one there to offer encouragement or a break. The kind that came from feeling so damned alone that I just couldn't stand it anymore. The kind that came from feeling so exhausted and just wanting to sleep but being too full of anxiety to close my eyes. The kind that came from the anger I had bottled up over the whole miserable situation. There were tears cried while I sat on the bathroom floor hiding from my kids. There were tears cried into my pillow at night. Tears cried with my face buried into the soft side of an understanding horse and tears licked away by an ever-faithful dog. At some point during it all, I gave in and started taking anti-depressants. I also learned that it really is possible to drink a bottle of wine in one night, if one really sets their mind to it. (It is also possible to homeschool with a hangover, but I don't recommend it.)
You know the "fight or flight" response they taught you about in seventh grade? As soon as he left, I would go into "fight" mode. It was me against the world. Or at least against the farm. I would steel myself the night before he left, preparing for the weeks ahead. I would tense my shoulders, my heart would start pounding, I'd narrow my eyes, grit my teeth and prepare for a knock-down drag-out fight... and I'd stay that way until he pulled back into the driveway weeks later. For a few days I could let my guard down, and then it was back to fighting. And the physical and emotional exhaustion that comes with that response, carried on for almost two years, is more than one mama can bear for very long.
Angry words were spoken to sensitive little girls who really didn't deserve it, and to the husband who was working so hard to give us everything he could. Rage would spark at the smallest little thing gone wrong - goats eating the lilac bush, dog puke on the carpet, spilled milk. From the outside, I could tell you that I was being ridiculous and should be ashamed. But from inside, while it was happening, I just couldn't control all the emotions that would finally pour out in the worst of ways.
I lost all semblance of joy. Laughter didn't happen unless it was forced. I hardly smiled, except when I had to fake it for the sake of the children. Creativity all but vanished - where I once spent all of my spare time making beautiful things, I just had no desire to even try. I'm not sure I could've even recognized beauty at that point.
Yeah. It really was the hardest time in our marriage, and one of the hardest times in my life.
And then, just when we were almost convinced we were going to have to move across the state, it happened: he was transferred back home. Life was again as it should be - a Daddy home for dinner every night, home every weekend to do little projects around the farm and take us on drives and hikes. A Daddy home for holiday celebrations and birthdays and family movie nights. A Daddy at home to help with animal chores and to bring in firewood. The hard thing - the beautiful thing - about our marriage is that we make an absolutely incredible team. We function so well together, support each other, take care of each other. Our children have changed in the past few months - they are happier, they are learning more and you can just see them blossoming, likely because they have a mama that is happy again and they have a Daddy at home to share their lives with, too. It's been an incredible four months. I can look into the future and imagine a garden full of produce again, having help hauling animals to fairs and gymkhanas and rodeo practice and sharing the pleasure of watching our daughters grow. I've made plans for hiking all over our area together and I've pinned new recipes to try and I'm even throwing around ideas for camping trips. It's no longer survival. I'm actually living again.
Except, you know... the oil field. It's a rough business in a rough economy. And today he called to let me know this brief period of a beautiful life is already ending. He leaves tomorrow.