Veeder: Living in a town full of labels, assumptions
By Jessie Veeder
It’s 7 p.m. in Boomtown, and the sun has long gone down, revealing a snake of headlights creeping in from all directions to the center of the buzz of our small city.
Moms in SUVs head in to pick up kids from hockey practice. Roughnecks stop at the store to stock up on Gatorade and snack cakes. Teenagers meet up for a movie. Ranchers come home from hauling cattle to the sale. The sheriff zips out from the courthouse to the west highway where a bumper-to-bumper community sits.
My husband and his pickup were a link in that chain heading from the east toward town to meet me for dinner. He had been sitting in his office all day, answering calls about malfunctioning pumping units, calculating oil production, drinking coffee, making presentations and putting numbers into spreadsheets.
When he was a younger man — a year or two before he completed his higher education and the year he bought me a ring — you could find him during his working hours (which were most of the hours of his life) climbing the skinny steel ladder 120 feet to the top of an oil derrick, where he would swing and connect pipe finishing for starting its journey 10,000 feet below the earth where that black gold lay waiting.
He would do this in the bitter cold, hot sun and relentless wind. He would put on layers of clothing over the muscles he cut from a job that wrote the definition on manual labor, and he would drive 30 miles (or 70 miles or 90 miles) to get to a job that covered him in a grime that would never quite come clean from those clothes or from under the fingernails on his strong hands.
I’ve known my husband since he was 12 years old. In the years between then and now, he has been and become many things. He’s a son and a brother, a boyfriend and a carpenter, a troublemaker, a good hand, a cowboy, a friend, a caretaker, a really good cook, a professional and, once upon a time, he was a roughneck.
When he walked into the restaurant with me that night — two more souls in a sea of beer mugs, Carhartts and conversation — he was just another oilfield guy.
His company hat, fire retardant shirt and steel-toe boots told everyone it was so.
This phenomenon we exist in out here in Boomtown is full of labels and assumptions. That string of slow-moving lights leading to town, the lines at the grocery store full of unfamiliar faces, the bars filled with testosterone and hard-luck stories, puts us on edge, so we categorize the faces to make this commotion easier to comprehend.
I took my seat across from my husband and scanned the place. I was one of three women in a room full of men, a situation that’s become commonplace, and one that, by now, has been analyzed enough to accept.
I looked at my husband as he read his menu, likely weighing the decision between the patty melt and French dip, and I asked: “What’s it like for you?”
His eyes moved from his menu to me, so familiar, calm and pulled together, the way he’s always been.
“They think we’re all the same,” he said.
I nodded my head as he continued for a beat, saying something about changing his clothes, how he would have if he had time between work and our date. How he would have put on his good jeans, his cowboy hat and it would have made a difference, not in him necessarily, but in who he is to this place.
I looked over to the men playing pool, ball caps and back slaps and laughing. I glanced at a table overflowing with big jackets and boots, all ages buying each other beers and winding down. I saw tables for one, tables for six, a bar lined with men watching the big screen.
And I saw us, how we looked here among them, blurring together, our lives, our talents, our struggles, our love becoming a part of one story and the buzz of it all.
Just one string of headlights heading toward Boomtown.
Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband on a ranch near Watford City. Readers can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.