She sat across from me on the porch. Usually she didn’t like to talk about what she calls “psychological things,” but something had changed since I last saw her.
We were drinking cool tart lemonade, made from the fruit from her trees, dispensed from one of the antique crystal pitchers she collects.
“I didn’t know what a hornet’s nest I would be stirring up when I told Harold to leave,” she started. “I mean I knew it would be bad – that’s what kept me from doing it for so many years – but I didn’t know how bad...But ultimately he made it easy for me.
“I’d been having nightmares for years; bad ones, Sarah, really bad. I’d wake up screaming – a monster out to get me. It sounds silly, but it was so real. I could see him; I could feel him…not out to get ME, but to kill my children.
“I’d wake up outside, down by the barn, just terrified. Mikie would have to come and bring me home, poor baby. He was only 10 or 11 at the time. He’d wake me up, stop me from screaming, and bring me back to the house.
“Some part of me knew the monster was Harold, but for a long time I didn’t let myself know. Deep down inside I was afraid he would kill – not me – but the children, to get back at me.
“He would do that. He’d give them such a hard time--verbally; he never hit them--but to get back at me. For what, I don’t know.” Her look was pensive.
“Maybe it was because he felt he came last on my list. I was always home; always taking care of the house and the farm, but the kids came first, and then the animals, and then Harold. I guess he hated that.” Her face was lined and soft, but still glowingly beautiful.
“But I said he finally made it easy for me. One night Mikie had a dream, too. He woke up screaming and said, ‘He has a gun!’
“There wasn’t anything going on right that moment, but I knew if Mikie was dreaming too, things were getting bad. I knew I had to do something about it.
“The next night I woke up without any help, down by the barn again. I don’t know what woke me but when I turned around, Harold was sitting there, with a gun.
“Scared you, didn’t I?” he said, but the mean grin told me he’d meant to.
“I knew he was capable of doing something terrible; that he might do something terrible just to get back at me.
“I told him to leave the next day.
“Of course he came back that evening. He couldn’t believe it when I told him I meant it this time.”
“’You’re abandoning me?’ he yelled.
“I told him he could call it whatever he wanted; but he was going. Poor man; first his mother took care of him, excused him from everything; and then me. He really didn’t know how to take care of himself.”
“When his truck disappeared down the driveway, I felt such a relief, I can’t tell you.
I never had those nightmares again.”
Without pausing, she says, “You want to go with me while I do my chores?”
We walk out through the shade of the overhanging porch onto her sunlit acreage. Hundreds of sheep dot the green pastures of her Oregon ranch which are punctuated by long water lines that she has to move every day.
We walk down toward the barn, lambs and goats calling to her, following us along the fence.
“Isn’t she lovely?” she says, gesturing to one sheep that looks indistinguishable from the others to me – half naked, newly shorn.
“She’s my favorite. She’s a good girl,” she says nuzzling the ewe’s face. “Her name’s Brigitte Bardot…and that’s Queen Elizabeth, and Eleanor Roosevelt….” They crowd the fence, nuzzling her hands, nuzzling mine.
“Come and see the babies,” she says to me, and walks ahead. Her Border Collies follow along behind us, their dark-eyed faces watchful for any word from her.
I could see how this warm, generous heart of hers might have appealed to a man looking for mothering. How it might have felt to him that this overflowing love extended to their three children and hundreds of animals but not to a grown man. How this unmet need might have turned to resentment, even hatred.
Now in the barn she holds up a pygmy goat kid so I can see his tiny, alert face, and bright eyes – then she nestles him close against her chest.
“Isn’t he just a beauty?”