Life at Bailey Ranch (the place Steve and I were caretaking when we first moved in together) was pretty sweet at first. Sure, there was an epic mess to clean up that the previous caretaker had left behind — it took us MONTHS of working every day to get it all hauled to the dump — but in exchange for that we lived there rent-free. The caretaker’s house was a tiny, ancient mobile with cardboard walls and a nonworking oven, but compared to where I’d been living it felt like the Taj Mahal.
And the part of the ranch that we lived on faced a big green-year-round pasture that needed to be grazed down, so our horses and cows were fat and happy and our feed bills were practically nonexistent.
Which was good, because money was TIGHT. Steve was working part time as a veterinary assistant, and I was collecting unemployment from the closed-down machine shop and searching for a market for my art. Collectively it would have been enough to live on, but to complicate matters, Steve knew literally nothing about managing money. The term “drunken sailor” comes to mind. When he lived at home with his parents (which was right up until we both moved to Bailey Ranch), they had given him his own credit card to cover all his living expenses, and THEY paid the bill every month. So Steve had it in his head that credit cards=free stuff, and somehow that didn’t change when it was MY credit card we were using and the bills were coming to us. “What do you mean we can’t afford that?” he would protest in exasperation. “There’s almost seven thousand dollars left on the card!”
Adding to my frustration was the fact that Steve’s father was constantly swooping in, paying some outstanding bill or handling some repair that Steve should have taken care of, and then WHINING INCESSANTLY ABOUT IT. And it was no use me asking Steve to ask his father to please let us handle our own concerns, because financial independence was a completely alien and totally unwelcome concept to him.
I know, I know…and still I married him. What can I say, I thought it was something he would outgrow once he got used to living away from his parents.
Anyway, so we were always looking for ways to supplement our income. So when a local horse-trader asked Steve to put a little training into a couple of problem horses he had, Steve agreed and they came to live in our pasture.
One of the trainees was a striking pinto Mustang filly called Bunny, so named because of the perfect rabbit shape on her right shoulder. I was inspired to paint her.
When I showed the painting to the horse trader, he bought it from me and asked me to do two more of his horses, a mare named Sixxy Miss…
And an aged Thoroughbred stallion named Jet T Chub:
Chub was gorgeous for his age. I ended up breeding Stormy to him, but as with all of her pregnancies the embryo was reabsorbed before the second trimester.
Word got out, and other people asked me to paint their horses.
In the middle of all of this, Steve got a decent-paying job working security at the new casino and we got married. And pretty much the instant the knot was tied, he started talking about having kids right away.
I was not on board with with this. There were too many aspects of our relationship that still needed work before we brought another human into the equation, not to mention the appalling state of our finances, and frankly I personally did not feel ready for motherhood.
But it was all he could talk about. How much he wanted to be a dad, how much he had to offer and teach our children, how he wanted us to be a family instead of just a twosome. To prove his sincerity and devotion to being a good father he quit smoking, quit Copenhagen, stopped overspending and paid off all our debts.
So, about ten months after the wedding, I got pregnant. And it turned out that when Steve talked about how much he wanted to be a dad, what he actually meant was that he looked forward to hanging out drinking beer with his teenage sons, because that whole gestating-infancy-toddlerhood-childhood stage? Was noisy and messy and inconvenient and a major buzzkill and he wanted nothing to do with any of it. His parents helpfully told him that just because I no longer had the energy or desire to hang out in smoky bars, didn’t mean that HE had to stay home. So they all went out partying together, and he went back to smoking and chewing and spending money like he found it in the road, and oh yes, apparently that’s when all the cheating started too.
Looking back, that was pretty much the end of our marriage: the day I gave in and got pregnant. It took another eleven years for me to admit it and give up trying to save it, but that was really when it ended.
And coincidentally that was when my art career ended as well, because as soon as I got pregnant all of my creative juices started flowing in a different direction and the part of my brain that did the art thing completely shut down for a year or so. It took me most of my first trimester to finish that picture of old Tank, and I wasn’t happy with how it turned out so I gave it to the owner for free.
I tried to get back into it when Elizabeth was a baby, but once she started walking (and climbing!) there was no place to work that was safe from her. So aside from a Christmas card or two, I haven’t done any artwork in about eleven years.
I’m thinking maybe it’s time for that to change. I could paint, print and sell greeting cards maybe, or get serious about writing and illustrating children’s books. Or go back to doing pet/horse portraits. Even in this economy there has to be SOME kind of market somewhere that I can break into.
So…there you have it. The Twenty-Year Retrospective of Debora’s Artistic Journey, Which Actually Only Spans About Ten Years Because I Hopped Off The Art Bus Halfway Through.
Further updates as events warrant!