These were the successful ranchwomen who moved from barn to kitchen to field with patient, tireless steps. For nearly ten years, I kept up with the cycles of crops and seasons and moons, and I did it all well. I excelled. But in the end, I couldn't sleep. I quit eating. It wasn't enough.
I saved for three years and bought my typewriter from the Sears and Roebuck catalogue. I typed the first line while the cardboard carton lay around it in pieces. I wrote in a cold sweat on long strips of freezer paper that emerged from the keys thick and rich with ink. At first I only wrote at night when the children and John slept, emptying myself onto the paper until I could lie down. Then I began writing during the day, when the men were working in the fields. The children ran brown and wild and happy. The garden gave birth and died with rotting produce fat under its vines. The community buzzed. Dorothy offered to teach me how to crochet.
One day John's father, furious because lunch for the hay crew was late, took my warm, green typewriter to the shop and killed it with a sledgehammer.
A prescribed distance of beige plush separated us. On a TV monitor nearby, zigzag lines distorted our images. John's face looked lean and hard. My face showed fear and exhaustion. The years were all there in black and white. Mike, our marriage counselor, stood behind the video camera adjusting the sound level. We were learning to communicate, John and I. We each held a sweaty slip of paper with a list of priority topics we had prepared for this day. Our job was to discuss them on camera. Next week we would watch our debate and learn what areas needed improvement. We talked by turns, neither allowed to interrupt the other, for three minutes on each topic.
John was indignant, bewildered by my topics. I, on the other hand, could have written his list myself. Somewhere in a dusty file drawer is a film of an emaciated, haggard woman hesitantly describing her needs and dreams to a tight-jawed man who twists his knuckles and shakes his head because he wants to interrupt her and he can't. His expression shows that he doesn't know this woman; she's something he never bargained for. When it's over, they are both shaking and glad to get away.
"John," Mike once asked, "how often do you tell your wife that you love her?"
"Oh, I've told her that before," he replied cautiously. I cut into the conversation from my corner of the ring.
"You only told me you loved me once, and that was the day we were married," I said.
"Well," John said, injured and defensive, "I never took it back, did I?"
The break, when it came, was so swift and clean that I sometimes dream I went walking in the coulee behind the ranch house and emerged on the far side of the mountains. It's different here--not easier, but different. And it's enough.
Excerpted from Breaking Clean by Judy Blunt Copyright 2002 by Judy Blunt. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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