Seeing Each Other at Our Worst Through Unemployment

At 19 years old, I married the only boy who’d shown any interest in me, because facing adulthood alone sounded scary and he was there. That’s really the simplest, least dramatic explanation. Of course, since I neither grew up in the 1950s or a Nicholas Sparks novel, at 23 years old and three days after Valentine’s Day, I sat in an office alone, holding back tears, as a judge signed my divorce papers. There were a lot of reasons for said divorce, but the most… well, not notable, but quotable in polite company, was that the man I married refused to work or contribute in any way. In fact, toward the end, I was sleeping with my wallet and keys in my pillow case and driving around with all of my valuables in the car. Ah, young love.

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On an average day, I have few, if any, significant thoughts or feelings about my previous marriage. It, in itself, could barely even be titled as such, equating to many other toxic long term early twenties relationships. It is what it is, though, and if it weren’t, I wouldn’t be here. The last few months, however… really haven’t been made up of average days.

One year ago, Jake and I saw each other twice a month and the future of oil was bleak. That’s when he made a promise to me that if things hadn’t picked up by September, he’d get out. All through August, Jake worked the manual labor side of oil, two weeks on and one week off, 12 hours a day, with an hour commute each way. Though he was staying with me, we were lucky to get a half hour together at the end of the night, before Jake would succumb to exhaustion… and unlike other exhausting oil jobs, this one didn’t even pay well. Since this allowed no time to apply for new positions, let alone interview, Jake kept his promise. Starting in September, he was officially unemployed; and although he was applying for positions in the Metro, they tended to be ideal scenarios, as opposed to ones that would provide immediate income.

You see, Jake comes from rodeo people. That’s not a joke or an exaggeration. His dad ran away at 15, to become a bull rider, where he met his mother, a trick rider (you’ll have to Google that, I’d imagine), and together they built a cattle ranch and traveled the country, with their three children in tow, like the Partridge Family, if Shirley Jones fried more stuff. His brother is a bronc rider, his sister a retired trick rider, his brother-in-law a retired bull rider, and his uncle runs a wildly successful rodeo company. Every one of them run their own cattle. Even his nieces are third generation trick riders. Meanwhile, I’m trying my best to help Jake see that any spawn of mine is unlikely to possess such coordination. It seems athletic country folk tend to marry other athletic country folk, and well… a few weeks ago, I fell over putting on Uggs.

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The thing about country folk, and I mean genuine country folk, not the “country folk” in my family, who board their horses because they live in subdevelopments thirty minutes from Downtown, is that they’re often not beholden to a Monday through Friday, 9-5 schedule. For Jake’s family, in fact, this is a pretty foreign concept. I mean, sure they know that city people lead more regimented lives, but it’s in the same way I know that there are people who live off the grid in travel trailers: because I saw it on TV one time. The Grangers do not define “steady work” in the same way the librarian daughter of a nurse and lineman does… and to an extent, neither does Jake. That’s why, when Jake wasn’t immediately able to find work, he wasn’t especially worried. He had plenty in checking from his last paycheck and plenty more in savings, that he knew he wouldn’t have to touch for months. In the meantime, he could just work cattle on the Granger Ranch, for $100 a day tax free. That’s a financial plan, y’all. I couldn’t argue with that, particularly considering I begged him to quit is job in the first place.

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The trouble is, as much as I’d love to claim otherwise, I can never truly break free of 22-year-old Belle, evading those pesky questions about her partner’s employment and working two jobs, herself… not in my own mind and not in the minds of some of those who witnessed that struggle. So, while Jake’s family and friends considered working the family ranch to be legitimate employment; I knew that, at the very least, the man who opened the door to his daughter to hear “ImgettingadivorceI’msorryIruinedChristmas” was struggling with it… and so was I.

Jake is not my ex-husband. He’s nothing like him, nor is he responsible for any of the damage done. It’s not his problem. That’s what I told myself all through the holidays, as I defended his work ethic and decisions to people who, quite frankly, probably weren’t even worried. I’m no longer an idiot teenager making promises I can’t fathom, because I’m out of ideas. They know that. I know that… but that knowledge didn’t change the turmoil and stress I felt and tried desperately to hide.

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I tried to explain to Jake, that his unemployment was wearing on me. I did. I was also careful not to really draw any obvious parallels to my previous situation… so it sort of canceled itself out. “I really need you to get a job… but I know you’re working hard and I trust you.” I was too rational and it wasn’t the clearest expression of where I stood on the issue.

I couldn’t figure out how to tell Jake what our situation was doing to me, without nagging him or sounding manipulative… or just revealing things about myself and state of mind that I wasn’t comfortable acknowledging. What kind of woman begs her guy to quit his job and then complains that he’s unemployed, when he spends all week doing physical labor on his family’s ranch for pay?!?! A batshit crazy one… one who’s a little bit broken… one who can’t quite let go of the past… and I did my best to hide that part of myself. Jake was under his own stress from working for his family and it was starting to show, as well. We started bickering more and more, as I tried to keep a hold on my feelings and he tried to juggle his familial obligations with the new ones he had to his fiancé… sometimes poorly.

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I spent New Year’s Day furious with Jake for getting drunk and embarrassing me in front of his friends, people I barely knew, the previous night. It’s one thing to hear his crazy college stories, but a completely different one to live through them at 29, as a witness to his complete regression. He was not responsible for how I felt about his technical unemployment. He wasn’t responsible for the flashbacks to my previous marriage. He wasn’t responsible for the nightmares, but he was damn sure responsible for not being a drunken asshole and I told him as much. I’d planned to just save my breakdowns for when he was at his parents’ house and only share just how much his unemployment was getting to me, when he’d found local work, but there was always a new need for him on the ranch. It was always urgent and if he turned his parents down, they’d tell him he was selfish and lazy, even though they made no moves to hire anyone for the long term, knowing Jake was looking for work here. He was becoming more inconsiderate and I was becoming shorter tempered. It was really starting to wear on us… and eventually, I just couldn’t abide by my cardinal rule that feelings are for the inside.

Me: “I know it’s not your fault, but I spent years thinking things would be different in six months, in a year, in five years, and I can’t do it anymore! You’re working and you’re making money and I know it’s not the same and I’m sorry I’m so fucked up, but I didn’t sleep for days after the nightmare where you turned into my ex-husband during sex! You have to get a real job.

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Jake: “All I wanna do is help my parents and my brother. I want to get a job up here, stop living out of my truck, and find us a house. I’m just trying to help people and everyone I love is pissed off at me.”
Me: “I know you want to be there for them and I’ve supported that for four months, but you asked me to marry you and I can’t do that if you don’t have a job. I don’t mean that as a threat. I love you so much, but this is too hard for me. It’s been too hard for me.”

Ultimately, we compromised. Jake would spend the next week on the ranch, one week looking for work here, and one more week on the ranch, when he’d tell his dad that he couldn’t rely on him for daily help. By the end of that first week, he had a start date for spraying lawns. It’s not his dream job, but it’s income. It’s local. We survived seeing each other at our worst and Jake’s officially moved in with me. He can stop drinking like when he was 22 and I can stop having deeply disturbing sex dreams about my ex-husband, like when I was 22.

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