Early in our marriage, when my husband, Matt, would return home, late at night from an emergency farm call, he would clean himself up, slip his frozen body into our bed inching as close as I would let him and remind me, “You do know how James Herriot knew that his wife loved him, right?”
I would interrupt him and say, “She was a better woman than I am.”
Ignoring me, he would say, “He knew, because after those late night calls, she would let James put his cold feet on her to warm them up.”
I had never read James Herriot. Even so, I was pretty sure that his statement was a manipulation. It was an effort to define my roll as ‘the vet’s wife’, in a way that would benefit him. It turns out that he was not the only one who had ‘ideas’ about the person that the act of marriage would magically turn me into. I would soon discover that there were many expectations of my roll.
I had not considered that the bonds of marriage would instantly create an additional job description for me. To be clear, I did expect as a wife, that I would be a partner and a helpmate. I did know that two very different families were merging into one that would evolve over time into a unique new family.
What I did not see coming, was that in choosing a man in this profession, people sometimes had very specific ideas of the kind of person that he might choose as his wife. And, I am fairly certain that according to his clients, he had made a very bad error in judgment.
I didn’t really grow up with animals. We did have a few farm animals when I was very young. We always had an outside dog. But, we were never allowed to have indoor pets. My parents were children of the depression. Our dogs ate our scraps. We only took them to the vet if things were really bad. I begged for a horse as a young girl and my oldest brother bought me one. But, we were all a little afraid of him and so he was mostly a pasture ornament.
When Matt started his first job, clients began asking how many animals we had. Upon learning that we had none, their mouths would gape open in shame filled shock. Clients asked if I rode English or Western. Learning that I didn’t ride because of my fear made me a “project” to fix; there seemed to be no end to the efforts to turn me into the person that they felt that I should be.
Then there was also the ever so popular notion that as an auxillary-ish duty, the vet’s wife is required to save and rescue every animal that is found wandering the streets and she must be the perfect candidate for pet sitting, which is a no-win situation. What if something died on my watch? If I refused, then what did that say about me?
Probably the most surprising thing, even to this day, is the idea that a mysterious sort of osmosis takes place once we were wed. I must have gained his veterinary knowledge.
The usual questions go a little something like this: “My horse is gimpy on his right front. It’s usually only at a trot and he will work out of it. What do you think it could be?” By this stage in our married life, I know that even he doesn’t have a crystal ball, so I reply, “I don’t know. He would probably need to see the horse.”
“But, what do YOU think he would say?” With that question, there is an expectation that you can now read his mind. If they have ever been married, they should know better.
However, there are several possible scenarios for the vet’s wife to consider before even considering any response other than the safe shoulder shrug with a dazed and confused, “I dunno.”
If you try your best to guess what he would in fact say, one probable outcome is getting “the lecture” from the vet (your husband) that begins with a *[email protected]%-load of sarcasm where he refers to you as “Dr. Jean”. To be fair, after hearing him give advice over the phone for close to thirty years, I sometimes think that I can guess what his advice would be and so it is important for even me to remember my boundaries. There is also the possibility of giving bad advice which the person will remember as coming from him. Again, this is can also earn you the previously mentioned lecture.
I tried to learn to ride; not once or twice but many many times. I tried to enjoy equestrian sports but my heart was never really in it. What I finally decided is that I will never overcome my fear of horses enough to enjoy them. And when I really look within, I know that it doesn’t bring me the giddy kind of joy that I get from laying on a quilt warmed by the sun kissed sand, reading a good book with the world drowned out by the sound of crashing waves.
For a while, I felt robbed. I’d spent a lot of time trying to be and do something that is someone else’s passion. So, I quit working at the office. I stayed away; licked my wounds. Then, I realized that while I am not a horseman, or even horse woman, I do love to study these animals and the animals who own them. They make for a very good story.
I hope to share a story or two, or maybe just an observation. I’d like to know what you think. And, I hope that you will visit often.
I am a daughter, sister, aunt, mother and probably most notoriously, ‘the Vet’s wife’.