I am sitting in a black leather recliner, one leg tucked under me, wearing two pairs of black leggings, a pair of heavy wool socks and my cozy maroon Carhartt beanie. There is a foot of snow outside, two off-duty farm dogs snoozing at my feet, and my mind is bursting with creative ideas for the new year. Regularly I get a flash of inspiration, a story idea or an idea for a pictorial essay, less regularly do I actually write them down or bring them to life. I want to change that in 2018 and keep in step with my inspirations.
2017 was one of transition and awakening. It was our second year living in Walton, Oregon and our first year starting our family business, Fog Hollow Farm. In many ways it was a frustrating and uncertain year for me. I left my job at the Post Office and tried to get back into park ranger-ing. My plan was to make that my career again, but I was turned down by Oregon State Parks because of a snafu with my driving privileges. As fate (or whatever) would have it, I was hired by a female-operated chicken farm which taught me a million empowering things that I didn’t even know I was missing in my life.
Many challenges came with that position, chief among them was the shedding of parts of my feminine identity–an experience so powerful I aspire to write more about it–and I know I have a lot to say. I was also challenged to step aside and let a powerful, and beautiful, woman maintain the spotlight. That woman was my boss, and at times I felt uncomfortable in my new role as assistant to a business-running, cow-wrangling, single, blonde ranch-owner. But I kept asking myself, over and over, why I felt threatened and what it would mean to me, and my community, if I could not make peace within myself with the arrangement. I felt, at times, threatened by the many interests that my boyfriend and my boss shared–raising animals, working til you drop, drinking beer. I also felt slightly angered that I had given up so much of myself to cater to the new arrangement–doing what Steve needed me to do for Fog Hollow Farm, working harder than I ever had over at the chicken farm, and bending this way and that way to help others achieve their dreams and pay my bills. What about my dreams? Lord knows I have them! I never asked anyone so much as to hand me a pen!
As time went on, it became clear that I was respected for the work I was doing. “I would give up the business if it meant losing you,” Steve told me. My boss, meanwhile, gave me a seasonal bonus and a hefty raise. Keeping my cool and my emotions in check was paying off. Most importantly, nobody was getting hurt along the way…including me.
Truth be told I liked the work. I don’t mind getting dirty! I can follow through with my obligations. I am likeable and I do have a knack for caring for and working with animals. I was reminded of my own family’s farming roots and my mind began envisioning the many possibilities. Our farm’s success picked up and we even landed an account with a popular local brewery. This was all beyond the scope of my imagination, but I was finding that our hard work could pay off and that relationships could work out, wow!
Seeing my boss dedicate her life to her farm, her home, and her family, even in the midst of her recent divorce, made me open my eyes to the blessings in my life. I was suddenly grateful to the hardworking man who wanted to be by my side and never expressed any doubts about our relationship. I was seeing what it took to create something worthwhile, both professionally and personally. I admired my boss, a lot.
But I kept presenting opportunities for sabotage, both relationship and career-wise, and I was forced to reexamine my motives. I found, as I already suspected, that my motive was to avoid being hurt or failing. I found that I looked for weak spots and poked at them, attempting to test the foundation. I discovered that what I was used to was things falling apart. I found through self examination that the foundation of my life is strong, but that my tampering with it would eventually cause undo wear and tear.
I was reminded that yes, independence is good and it serves it’s place but to undo years of love and compromise is foolhardy. I learned that as much as you spin stories in your head to fuel your achy-breaky heart and past patterns of neglect it still doesn’t make those stories true. I learned, again, that my past would work against me if I let it. I learned that I am growing, evolving woman who does not become less special in the presence of other strong women and who does not, should not, overshadow women or compete. I was reminded that the world we live in does not always support that, but that that is no excuse whatsoever and the world is changing. Rapidly. I learned that I need to maintain stability for myself, sure, but when appropriate I need to share stability–and risk of failure–with others. That’s part of growing up, I guess. That’s part of partnership and family.
In October Steve and I went back home for a visit. I dove head first into the Smith River on my birthday, October 26th. Because Dad’s house is a school bus shanty, I’ve taken to camping down the road, two miles from my “house”. At times I am filled with sorrow when I visit home. These little things happen that just should not happen. These little things that remind me of where I am from and how far I have come. These little things that remind me of how important education is and that make me want to dive head first into a book and never come up for air–I have so much to learn.
Sitting by a campfire, Dad handed me a pot pipe (we regularly smoke pot together and have since I was thirteen), after I inhaled and blew out the smoke Dad asked me, “Hey, that taste like meth to you?”
Dad asked me this very nonchalantly. I almost choked. “I don’t know, Dad,” I told him, “Luckily I don’t know what meth tastes like.” I didn’t pick up the pipe again. And between you and me, I was angered. What kind of dad would even risk his daughter inhaling a substance so dangerous as meth? (For the record, I do know what meth tastes like. But it’s been a very long time and it was a very hard road.)
“Oh, well you never know around here.” He finished.
Fuck. This was my life. I have always know that I never had to leave the school bus. I could have remained on. I could have become a meth head. A young mother. A prostitute. A Wal-Mart checker. A criminal. Imprisoned.
But I didn’t. I became…..a writer. A poet. A social worker. A farmer. A respected friend and dependable lover.
The scars of my childhood still haunt me though. The twisted ways of being. At the farm, my bosses mom and dad often came around during the season to lend a helping hand. The mom would do her laundry, the dad would clear the brush or pick up supplies from the hardware store. They were both there to listen, and give advice. I observed their interactions a lot, sometimes enviously. Meanwhile I would open one of the freezers to organize the inventory and marvel at the supply of meat. In my mindseye, I ran my fingertips across the pork chops and rib eye steaks, thinking Man! Look at all this money! Sitting right here! Frozen dollar signs! (That was the old me talking, the one who might’ve up and ran off with $150 dollars of meat, thinking she’d struck it rich.)
Dad called anyone “rich” who owned a nice car or who had a decent job. What Dad didn’t know if that folks worked harder than he could’ve even imagined to get where they were. It would be easy to say that things were handed to folks, ‘cept for the fact that they weren’t! Dad had spent so many years sitting around getting high he became disillusioned. He’d forgotten what work even was. He thought it was work to get to the mailbox, get the disability check, and get to town to get it cashed–just like everyone else he associated with did. That ain’t work. And just because he was my dad, well that didn’t mean I had to look up to him still. I felt it healthy to look and him and see him for what he was–someone who handed me a pot pipe that might be laced with meth. It hurt me. I felt so different. Again. And I suddenly felt so lucky that I could pack up my bags and leave.
Back at the farm(s), I carried with me the knowledge of insight. I knew what was on both sides of the fence. Unlike my dad, or my boss, or my boyfriend, I’d been in both places. I knew the work and the sacrifice that went into owning a family business, to having a successful relationship (I was learning); and I also know what happens when you have no familial support, financially or emotionally. Dad was never given much of a chance. His dad had never even been to his house, the property he bought when I was a kid. And Dad’s mom died in a recliner in her late fifties and nobody even ever asked how or why. She was a drunk and a smoker and that’s what probably killed her, end of story. I mean, my family doesn’t even go to the doctors. How’s that for a hillbilly elegy?
And here I am–fighting tooth and nail not only for a life but for one that is uniquely mine. When I was sixteen I was eligible for emancipation but I held on til I graduated high school and moved out of my grandma’s house when I was seventeen. I have sheltered myself since then. I have worked a ton of different jobs and was the first and only to graduate from college in my family. I feel sorrow and regret that I have not perfected my working and financial life to the point that it is stress-free. It is not. At the beginning of the year, when I found myself with a dwindling savings account and the opportunity to work on the farm I felt scared, helpless and foolish. Scared that my boyfriend would see what a “real” woman was–one who owned her own house and her own business–and leave me. Helpless that I had removed my foundation, which was my government job, a job that was really all this poor girl had going for her. Foolish because I had put all my faith in a relationship, again.
Now, on December 27th, as we gear up for a new year, I see that being where I am now, compared with where I have been, makes me successful–homeowner, business-owner, or not. My spirit is intact, I have goals of my own (and I always have!) and every little thing that I accomplish is done independently and despite many obstacles. Steve, bless his heart, wants nothing but me. It has taken me many months to examine and accept this. And as I sit here, curled up and safe at Steve’s folks house, I breathe in a breath of gratitude and exhale a breath of hope. It will all work out after all. You are safe. You are loved. You are sober. You have your whole life ahead of you.
With the new year, I truly feel that a new life is emerging, birthed from a renewed sense of understanding, honesty and trust. Back at the farm, Dad is farmsitting. I called him on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the two days since then. No answer. Tonight, we are all going to see the new Star Wars. On Christmas, Steve’s mother placed my stocking in the middle of Steve and his brother’s handmade ones hanging on the mantle. The next day, we had professional family portraits done. Meals are served morning, noon and night and I always help prepare and clean up. Tears well in my eyes and I feel fortunate knowing they are not tears of worry but tears of hope and joy. I feel like a bird who knows she can fly since she finally has an intact, safe nest to return to. My task is to not let my independence get in the way of true love and family, as I am certain it has done in the past.
Peace, love and light, friends. To a new year, a new us, and a renewed sense of trust.