Kathy looked out the window, out across the vacant lot full of weeds, and out to the snow-capped mountains. Seeing them there always startled her, not only that they were there, but that she had an unobstructed view. It was a fluke; the neighborhood was working class poor who barely scraped together enough money to pay the bills each month. Yet here was this unobstructed million-dollar view.
Her eyes focused back in on the patch of land directly across the street. That was in keeping with the economical status of this housing development. It was supposed to be an inviting park for the neighborhood to enjoy, but it wasn’t. It was hardened desert with tough, prickly weeds. The compact dirt was covered in seeds with claws that gripped into one’s skin. The locals called these prya “goat heads;” Kathy cursed them as “satan’s bite” whenever she pried them out of her shoes and blue jeans. There was a swing set placed to one side of the park, but it only added an apocalyptic look to the foreboding landscape. It was a picture of wasted youth left to rust, untouched by the children who stayed away, playing in the street instead. But Kathy didn’t let those painful stickers stop her from enjoying the park. She loved to swing; she loved the feel of her long hair hanging loose and free as she kicked her legs to go higher and higher, then, gripping the cold metal chain, she would lean back, and feel as though she could jump straight into the heavens.
The sky here was all encompassing; ever-present, a dome of blue that felt close enough to touch so high was the elevation of the land. It was almost always without a cloud. Unless the rare storm came through. These monsoons brought her neighbors outside to watch crackle of lighting leading the long gray streams of water across the desert, sweeping in from the distant horizon. The promise of water quenching the dry desert brought with it a celebration. After the torrent passed, the remaining clouds reflected fluorescent pinks and oranges as the sun set. It was a glorious spectacle in which painters tried to capture over and over again. But a colorful canvas could never capture the smell of rain or the sound of thunder. One had to be present and experience it in the moment.
Kathy closed the drapes. The aroma of brewed coffee lured her into the kitchen. She poured herself a mug and sat down at the kitchen table. Today was a special day. It was the day the puppy was to arrive. Marcus, her husband of two years, had come home a few weeks ago full of news that Peter the potter’s hound Bonnie had given birth to a litter of puppies, and they were to have one.
“I’ve always wanted a dog,” Marcus had told her excitedly, dancing around like a little boy, his eyes sparkling at the thought of it. “My father wouldn’t allow us to have one. Now we are going to have a puppy!”
Marcus had headed out that morning in their old pick-up truck to fetch the new addition to their family. Peter and Bonnie lived in a blink of a village high up in the mountains. Bonnie was free to roam and often found herself giving birth. But she was a sweet dog, and her puppies were known to inherit her disposition.
The clock slowly ticked time away. Kathy looked around her home. They had moved in just a few months before. It was the first actual house Kathy lived as an adult. It was a new construction, part of a small subdivision four blocks long. The front windows faced south and sunshine streamed in all day in the winter, and giving the excuse to sprawl catlike on the rug soaking up the rays. To the east were the mountains. At the foot of these was the town center. They lived on the outskirts, outside the inner circle of the Plaza, where the artists converged. The old-timers who lived out their way still kept horses, grew vegetables in their gardens. Their yards were stocked with piles of scrap lumber for wood stoves and old cars for spare parts. They had chickens, too, and every morning Kathy could hear roosters crow. Life in a rural desert still felt strange.
Marcus had suggested Santa Fe as the place to settle down and begin their life together. Neither of them had ever been here before. On their honeymoon road trip across country, they drove into town one day and found a place to live. They were transplants from a cosmopolitan city. Romantic notions enticed them there, believing this fringe art community would be the place to do something unique, special, impactful on society. What that might be Kathy still didn’t know.
Kathy and Marcus had grown up in Chicago and their new friends came from all over the country. It was a gathering of neo-hippies into the desert, fellow seekers of some intangible purpose for life, of some sort of an answer for their reason for being alive on the planet. She knew it was the bright sun by day and the sky full of twinkling star by night than attracted them here. She wondered if the landscape full of sweet sage and pungent pinon was what held them captive. The wind blew in the expansive sense of freedom, of anarchy, of personal responsibility, and of self-expression. The elevation intensified the sensation. But the bewitching elements seemed to affect everyone different. Some people soared like the eagles, finding their passion and following their bliss. Others went crazy, as if ghosts thrived in the thin atmosphere, haunting them, taunting them until they were driven to jump off a bridge.
What happened to a person when they live where the sun loomed so close a T-shirt can be worn cross-country skiing? When a person moved from crowded cities to a state where the entire population is less than that of a typical suburb?
Space. Space to breathe … to dance to one’s own tune with arms open wide, twirling around without fear of collision. But with that space, Kathy was discovering, came a disorientation, a restlessness, and a recklessness. She felt it within herself. And Marcus certainly seemed to be experiencing something of that nature. He seemed unhinged, lost without the towering sides of skyscrapers defining and restricting his existence, without the crisscross of boulevards and highways. There was no road map in this open land, no paths laid out to follow. Everyone had to decide where they wanted to go and how they wanted it get there. Most often making it up as they went along, like setting out on skis after the snow covered the fence line. You could go anywhere you wanted, but it was up to you to decide where that was to be, and breaking a fresh trail required considerable effort.
Kathy sighed. She knew she had taken the easy way out by going to college. At least there she had a focus, her goals were laid out for her: finish this homework, complete that class. But Marcus had decided to be an entrepreneur, to live the American Dream. He had spent the last couple of years trying one idea after another, but only succeeded in creating one bad scenario after another. Kathy couldn’t understand what was driving him. Why wasn’t he pursuing his art? He was consumed with being in business for himself. It didn’t even seem to matter what that business was. Maybe that was the problem, she concluded. Nothing he was working on was truly a passion for him.
It would be hours before Marcus returned, maybe all day. Peter was a man of few words, and Marcus liked to talk. Kathy relished the time alone. Her mind began to drift into thoughts about her marriage and, then, about her life in general. The sudden biological urge she was experiencing recently brought her animated visions of children. It was only natural: she was 24 years old and married now. Her body was ready, and on the outside it looked like her life was in place to start a family. Kathy shook her head sadly, she heard her best friend’s voice still echoing in the room from a recent visit: “You are going on and on about having a baby, while at the same time you are going on and on about how unhappy you are in your marriage.” Mary had popped the bubble on her rose-colored dream of a happy little family complete with a baby bouncing on her knee.
Mary was right, of course. She always was. As the eldest of six, Mary had a way of saying it like it was. There was never time to sugarcoat a situation in her mind: see it, say it, and move on. There was something very calming about her direct approach; one didn’t have to second guess or assume what Mary thought; she just said, but somehow she did so in a very mothering way.
Kathy poured herself another cup of coffee, trying not to spill the hot liquid as she walked across the new pale beige carpets to the couch. Set against the cream colored walls, the monotone effect of the room was a soothing, neutral backdrop to the colorful drama of her everyday life. Most of which she could do without, she decided, but couldn’t do anything about. Marcus had a way of needing constant approval and constant attention, and yet, try as she might, nothing she did was enough or was the right thing at the right time. The difficulty came with that she was expected to fix everything and make it all better. She blamed his parents really; his mother in particular. She babied all three of her children, catering to their every whim, even serving them breakfast in bed. It was too much to follow and Kathy fell short on a daily basis. Typical, she laughed to herself. Don’t all psychologists end up blaming the mother? And to think she wanted to be one herself!
The afternoon sun began to fill the room. Kathy set her coffee down and stretched out to enjoy its warmth against her skin. It was pure luxury.
Mary’s visit earlier that week had rattled Kathy. They had been sitting at Kathy’s beloved kitchen table, a classic 1950’s chrome piece with a turquoise enamel top embedded with gold stars sparkling. She had found at a garage sale, and now cherished. The table somehow represented the promise of a settled life and a happy home, conventional and simple, pearls and pumps. In that fantasy the road maps were inherited by the previous generation; roles, defined; goals, set. Kathy laughed at her naivety, as if filling her home with certain objects would make a fantasy come true. But that picture was an out-dated, impossible dream today. The world was different, at least for two people with an artistic nature on a spiritual quest.
Mary’s voice came through once again. “When did you first notice that something was wrong?” Mary had asked.
“It started at our wedding.” Kathy admitted sitting across from Mary. She could feel herself cringe at the memory of it all.
“Your wedding?” Mary repeated, “What happened?”
“Well,” Kathy began slowly, fingering the top of her mug, avoiding Mary’s probing eyes, “You know how the bride and groom are supposed to dance the first dance?”
Kathy caught Mary’s nod out of the corner of her eye, “Go on,” Mary urged gently.
“The band had started to play. But Marcus was nowhere in sight. I walked around everywhere looking for him. Finally I found him hiding on a porch. I told him it was time for our first dance. He recoiled from my touch and snarled: ‘I’m not embarrassing myself in front of everyone.’ I felt a shock to my soul, to the very core of my being. One of the things we loved to do was dance together.”
“Oh, honey,” Mary reached out and touched Kathy’s hand.
Kathy looked up, trying not to cry, “I had to go back alone. Everyone was looking at me. Luckily a dear old friend rose to the occasion. We danced the first dance, then the second. Finally everyone got up and we danced the night away.”
“Did Marcus ever join in?” Mary asked.
“Yes, eventually,” Kathy replied, “but by then I was already feeling timid and questioning what I had done.”
She was still questioning her decision to marry Marcus. That her judgment may have been so totally erroneous gnawed at her confidence. There had been early indications that her choice may not have been a good one, that underneath Marcus’ charm demonic forces were ready to attack her. Demonic? Kathy sat up. Suddenly, she felt vulnerable and cold, startled by that choice of word. Where did it come from? It was extreme, yet accurate, she admitted. Marcus’ attacks always took her by surprise, knocking her sense of self so off balance she couldn’t respond in the moment. Instead she found herself rendered speechless. This from the man with whom she had promised to spend her life with. He didn’t seem to like her. Frankly at times it seemed as though he hated her.
“It’s bipolar behavior,” Mary had told her that same sunny afternoon.
“What does that mean?” Kathy asked.
“It’s the jumping between two extremes, like love and hate. Bouncing between feeling elated and depressed. Highs and lows.” Mary said.
“It feels like one part of him loves me and another part hates me. I never know which part I’m going to get. The problem is that I love him; I want to be with him.”
“You mean, the fun him, right?” Mary countered. “You don’t want the side of him that is so mean to you, do you? Or lays around sulking in a deep depression, always demanding?”
“I don’t know.” Kathy shamefully admitted as she got up from the table. She went to fill the kettle for more hot tea. The sound of the water from the faucet silenced their conversation for the moment. Mary waited, quietly watching Kathy’s movements. Her steady gaze felt unnerving.
Kathy turned to question Mary, “What does it mean when you say: for better or for worse?”
“Not abuse,” Mary said.
“He doesn’t mean it.”
“Mean what?!?” Mary asked. “To hurt you? Emotional and psychic abuse counts.”
“He can’t help it,” Kathy could hear herself almost pleading for Mary to understand.
“Okay,” Mary’s voice softened, “I’ll give you that when a person is manic depressive, it is thought to be a chemical imbalance in the brain. But my point is that the way he attacks you, the words he chooses are intended to belittle you and you end up always questioning yourself.” Mary’s voice sounded angry. “You have lost trust in who you are because he is always cutting you down. It is not ok to let yourself take the abuse!” Mary slammed her hand down on the table. Kathy was startled by the intensity of emotions Mary was showing. “Look, if he doesn’t think he’s doing anything wrong, he’ll just keep doing what he’s doing and taking no responsibility for his actions. And you let him! You just roll over and take it, as if you deserve it. You don’t! No one does!”
Yet, Kathy felt this deep-seated sense that not only did she deserve it, but somehow it was her responsibility to stay and help, to make it better, to do everything she could. She was his wife. Though it did occur to her that that might be the problem. Before the wedding they dwelled in the bubble of being “in love,” of just being happy to be together without a care in the world. It was all light and simple. And it still was – half of the time.
Outside the afternoon sun was beckoning her. She made her way out to the fresh air. The strong odor of horse manure mingled with sweet sage. It was cool, yet warm, another one of those oddities living in the high desert. She made her way to the swing set and sat down. Soon she was spinning in little circles, finding joy in the winding and unwinding. Round and round she went, until the motion ceased, and she was still again.
She felt as though everything wrong or bad that happened was her fault. Deep inside herself she felt a dark void, a blackness, an empty pit. She had felt that way her whole life, as far back as she could remember.
Kathy looked out to the horizon. The mountains had lost their dimension. There were no shadows. They looked flat, a dark tone of purple, cut out against the blue sky; they didn’t look real.
Was her marriage real? Kathy wondered. They had had an informal ceremony by a Justice of the Peace. She shook her head at the irony. Marcus had proposed over the phone, in an off-handed way. He had gone on a “life-altering trip” overseas. While he was away, he decided it was time for them to be together in a formal way. His call came through as a total surprise for Kathy. Her fear of irrevocable decisions was abated by a voice that said: You can always get divorced. Now she was faced with the prospect of divorce, and that was an irrevocable decision.
The wind rustled through the dry, sharp grass; the desert was beckoning. She suddenly felt the need to go for a walk and got up from the swing. She stepped carefully through the barbed-wire fence and found herself in the open land. She felt a rush of exhilaration. The ground was rocky, but she didn’t care; she felt protected in hiking boots and blue jeans. Here and there, cacti grew with their long, spiky arms stretching up and out toward the blue sky. In the spring these very hostile beings sprouted flowers, as if to say: yes, even that which hurts can still bare beauty. Some of the plants were dead, left with only their skeletal spines exposed to harden in the harsh elements.
“I want to buy all this land and put in roads and build a hotel,” Marcus had said to her one day.
Kathy didn’t want to see it. She liked the romance of the old ways.
“Everything changes,” he stated. “And I want to be rich.”
“I guess so,” Kathy said. I guess so echoed through her mind. Marcus had changed. He had gone from an artist, expressing himself through paint on canvas, to a man focused on the almighty dollar. Gone was the man who wanted to see the world, and now replaced by a man in search of validation in as close to the conventional world as he could possibly tolerate, his own boss in a business venture. Kathy had asked him once why the change had happened. “I became a husband,” he told her, like it was totally obvious and expected. It was as though he believed being a husband carried with it a paradigm that didn’t allow him to be an artist. She didn’t know what to say in response. He always spoke with such assurance and authority. Perhaps his idea of how a husband should act and be in the world over-ruled who he actually was.
Kathy scanned the desert before her, shielding her eyes from the bright sun. A stray dog hunted up ahead; his nose followed the scent of a rabbit, in the vain hope of catching his dinner for the night. Kathy crouched down and watched the dog. His large, thin shape and gray-white coloring reminded her of Lucy, the first family dog.
Kathy remembered the night Lucy had become part of the family like it was yesterday. It was in the dead of winter, with the kind of cold that cuts through the layers of coats and sweaters, right through the skin to the bone. Her younger brother had given the stray some of his sandwich. That was all it took. Lucy followed him home from school and stood at their side door. Her father was away at a meeting, leaving her mother alone to deal with three distraught children, tearfully begging for mercy for the very dirty, determined dog shivering in the cold, night air.
Kathy could well remember her father’s tone of disapproval coming through the phone, and her mother’s face turning red at the injustice of it all. Looking back, Kathy could see how trapped her mother must have felt, pinned in on all sides by a situation she had done nothing to bring about. She herded the three of them to bed, simply saying: “We’ll see what happens.” Kathy was sure now that she was silently cursing her father’s unreasonable ways.
According to what was now family tales, when he pulled into the driveway late that night, the next door neighbor caught his attention with a sharp rap on her kitchen window: “You’re not going to leave that dog to freeze to death, are you?” There was nothing he could do, but give way to the force aligned against him. Kathy was sure the image of the dog lying there dead in the morning was more than he was willing to face. After her mother gave him a piece of her mind, she bathed the dog who was soon named Lucy. The pathetic creature sat still while being scrubbed clean, knowing she had won the war. Kathy came to love that dog and her gentle manner. Many times she cried the tears of a sad, lonely child, finding solace by holding Lucy close. She had become her best friend. She told her secrets and felt protected in her unconditional love. She had held her as she was dying.
Kathy sighed as she stood back up. What was she hoping for with the arrival of the puppy? That suddenly everything was going to be okay or somehow make sense? Was Mary right? She just wasn’t sure.
It difficult to make a clear decision and know what was the right thing to do. Her heart was conflicted. She didn’t like how Marcus treated her when he was in one of his many moods, but then he would come to her with love and wrap his arms around her. She would melt. She loved to be nestled up against him; she loved the smell of his skin, the touch of his body, the glimmer in his eyes when he looked at her. They laughed together and had fun. They could talk about art, politics, and shared an interest in other cultures. But then he would become cruel, verbally lash out at her. These thoughts chased around, rambling, contradicting, melding, repelling. It was exhausting. She felt like screaming.
The stray dog finally caught the scent of a rabbit and was off running. A hawk flew overhead. Kathy paused to listen to the sound of its wings as he soared through the air, circling around again. She stepped back through the fence.
“Now what?” she asked herself. She knew nothing, but to know nothing must be the beginning of something, she reasoned.
Yet loving a man who could not be pleased or satisfied was a burden beyond words. The heaviness wore her spirit down. Kathy felt in her bones that it was her duty to make it all better, to do everything she could to make him happy. Deep down inside she felt she could, and therefore should, do just that. She would worry about herself later; she wasn’t that important. Kathy stopped dead in her tracks. A chill went down her spine. Where had this thought come from? She wasn’t important? Kathy felt the tears roll down her cheeks as she ran back to the house. Her whole being wanted to crawl into bed, hide under the blankets and disappear.
She pushed open the door. The house was quiet. Only the ticking clock disturbed the peace. Kathy gave into her sorrow, her distraught, and ran into the bedroom, pulling the quilt over her head, sobbing. Until she couldn’t cry anymore. She lay curled up in a ball praying for guidance. In time, Kathy heard a gentle voice say to her: “Forgive yourself for everything you think you have done wrong. Everything was going to be alright. One way or another it would all work out.” Kathy was determined to believe it would. “There is nothing to fear,” the voice went on. The wisdom told her she was loved; she just had to love herself. Kathy lay still, allowing the words to penetrate her being. After awhile, she rolled out of bed, went into the bathroom, and splashed water on her face. She looked at herself in the mirror. The woman staring back, with puffy red eyes, smiled. She did matter. She had to take care of herself. She wasn’t sure how, but the answer would come. One thing she knew was that the puppy wasn’t going to fix what was at the heart of the problem. In a flash, her next move became clear. She had to leave the house, her marriage, and Marcus returned. She knew she would fall in love with the puppy and hide behind its affection. She would hold onto to the dog for dear life, while hers slipped away.
As if guided by an unseen force, Kathy grabbed a bag and threw in clothes, books, and her jewelry. Tears streamed down her face, blurring her vision as she looked around at the home she loved and was leaving. She had to get out before she was trapped. She knew it in her bones: it was now or never. She pulled the front door open. A coyote howled off in the distance, welcoming her in the unknown.