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The Passion Letters

January 9, 2013

THE TRUTH ABOUT THE COWBOY
Posted by m izvaldes in Diary

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I’ve had more than a dozen books published, but never have I had a publication day come and go without so much as an email from my editor, wishing me well — until now. With the recent publication of my first memoir, The Feminist & The Cowboy: An Unlikely Love Story, I have had the odd experience of having been essentially shunned by my publisher, one assumes because the reality of my life more than a year after having turned in the final manuscript is different from the ending one might have liked to have seen if my life were the madefor-TV movie or fairy tale my publisher seemed to have hoped they might market my book as. I have been advised not to discuss any of this publicly, to just accept this cold shoulder and lack of support as my penance for the crime of being openly broken up with the cowboy when I should have just pretended we were still together long enough to sell books. I have tried to be cooperative, but as the early reviews come rolling in for the book I feel compelled to come clean — totally clean — with my readers. I do this because I think it will help to make sense of a book that in many ways just doesn’t make sense to healthy people, and because I believe very firmly that the truth is the only currency a writer has, and that if there is any hope of redeeming this book and making it meaningful is lies in the full story of my relationship with the cowboy and not just in the candy-coated version that appears in the book. The first thing I think readers need to understand is just how much time it takes for a book to go from a writer’s computer files to a bookstore shelf. It takes more than a year, usually. That year is used

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for things like cover design, advance publicity for magazines, visits with book buyers from members of the sales team. So the version of my life that his shelves last week is actually more than two years old. That said, a lot can happen in two years, especially when you’re in a relationship with a man as complicated and volatile as the cowboy. There has been some confusion because in addition to the book I have also kept a sporadic blog about my ongoing relationship with the cowboy. Those who followed the blog understood that things changed, and they followed along with me. But for those reviewers who are new to the party, just learning about me from the memoir and then seeing on my blog that the relationship described in the book both wasn’t what it seemed, eventually, and is not in existence anymore, there is understandably a sense of having been the victim of a bait-and-switch operation. I am truly sorry for this, and I wish to reassure readers that no one in the world feels more the victim of bait and switch than I. What I mean by this is that while I set out to write a memoir that was a love letter to a man I was deeply in love with, a man who challenged me in myriad ways, a man who changed my life profoundly, a man I respected and honored greatly at the time, what I actually wrote was a handbook for women on how to fall in love with a manipulative, controlling, abusive narcissist. The fascinating thing about the release of the book, for me, has been just how many reviewers have seen what I failed to see when I wrote the book: That the cowboy was controlling and abusive. I simply never saw it then. I admired and nearly worshipped the man. One reviewer described her disappointment in having learned that I was still with him at the end of the book, saying that she could not help but to think of cult members as she read my adoring account of a man who, to her eyes and through nothing but my journalistic descriptions of his interactions with me, was obviously a domineering abuser. It hurts to read reviews like that, but it is also empowering for me now. See, while I didn’t understand just what kind of man I’d fallen for at the start, and during the writing of the book, the longer we were together the more obvious it became. That said, I want to come clean with something else. There is a LOT you don’t know about the cowboy and how he treated me. I kept a lot of it under wraps, because I had turned a book in and I was trying to be a good contract employee and not completely sabotage the book by telling the whole story on my blog. But with my publisher’s complete lack of support now, and with the reviews so clearly describing for me the fact that healthy women, whole women, are able to recognize in the cowboy a dangerous man that I was, in my blindness and lack of experience with abusive men, unable to see, I feel that the only possible way for any of this to make sense to anyone is for the entire story to be known. To be honest about it puts me in danger — real physical danger — so I am reluctant. But I also feel I owe it to my loyal readers and fans to be truthful now. It is the decent thing to do. One reader wrote to me via a comment on this blog, condemning me for finding the cowboy’s behaviors abusive now, where I said they were wonderful before. This would be a fair condemnation if it were true. Though I have referred to the cowboy being abusive on my blog, I have never listed the reasons I believe this. If all you had to go on was the book, you could very well jump to the same conclusion my critic did. I don’t blame her, and I totally understand. I have been working on a sequel about the cowboy and me, and though I am quite sure my publisher won’t want it I will likely selfpublish it soon. In it, I plan to detail the ways I was fooled and manipulated, the mistakes I made in choosing to ignore red flags, the Recent Posts The Truth About The Cowboy Conservative White Men Like Me. Progressive Latinas Like Me. Slate.com Likes Me. Must Be Doing Something Right! The Feminist and the Cowboy Hits Shelves At Last! What Your Man’s GiftGiving Style Tells You About Him A Southwestern Christmas
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many unfortunate ways that I started to subsume and lose myself in order to please an unpleasable and controlling man. I hope that in doing so I will help to make sense of the first book, both for you guys and for myself. What I want to emphasize here is that the first book was NOT an attempt to sell a lie; it was a sincere, heartfelt memoir that came during the honeymoon period of an abusive relationship, before I understood just how much danger I was putting myself in, with me justifying the hints of violence through my own romanticized version of the American cowboy icon and, unfortunately, with me blinded by this man’s almost unfathomable physical beauty, which was almost impossible to reconcile with the brutality that this most handsome shell encased. In the interest of retaining some respectability, I will tell you a few of the more painful moments, so that you can understand just how quickly things changed and just how violently they escalated. I do this as a warning to other women, too. For many years, I simply scratched my head at women in abusive relationships, unable to understand why they stayed, judgmental of them for not being smarter. What I didn’t understand was just how masterful some men can be at the seduction and honeymoon phase, just how ruthlessly perfect they can present themselves to be, before the screw begins to tighten, and tighten, until you one day wake up and don’t even recognize yourself anymore. The worst of it began in April last year, when I discovered the cowboy and I had accidentally become pregnant. While I am pro-choice in theory, I am pro-life for myself. I could not abort that child. It went against everything I believed. And so, even though I was 43 years old and have Lupus, even though my pregnancy with my son had been a living hell 12 years before, I decided I would have the child. When I sat down face to face with the cowboy to discuss the situation, he was very kind at the start. He was supportive and said he wanted to help us sort out the best way to handle things. When I told him I was going to have the child, I expected he’d be supportive, even if he, like I, was overwhelmed by the idea of becoming parents to an infant at our ages (he was 53). Instead, his eyes grew snake cold. He glared at me, and moved away from me. He was angry, and told me very clearly: “Looks like you’ve made up your mind, but here’s what you need to know. You can have me, or you can have the baby, but you can’t have both.” I was stunned. I balked. “You don’t mean that,” I said. “You say you love me and my son, you wouldn’t just leave us because I’ve decided to have your child.” He smirked then, his eyes crueler and colder than anything I’d ever seen, and he said, simply, “Watch me.” With that, he got up, got the overnight bag he’d brought to my house in the city, and he walked out the door to return to the ranch, four hours away. He did not answer my phone calls or emails after that. I was dead to him. I grieved harder than I have ever grieved in my life, absolutely astonished that any human being could contain within him the capacity to be so mean and selfish. I called many friends and family, and they got me through it. I tried to forget the cowboy, and kept the breakup and pregnancy a secret for the sake of my publisher, continued to post cheerful blogs about my supposed relationship. It was hell on earth. I tried to figure out how I was going to make it, how I was going to be a single mother while enduring what promised to be a painful and difficult pregnancy, how I would raise a newborn while still caring for my adolescent son, who would likely have to step in to be a mini-daddy for his sibling. It was truly awful. But I made my choice. The baby. Not the cowboy. Then, at my first prenatal ultrasound appointment, the technician told me something terrifying. There was no baby anymore. The blood tests said I was pregnant, but there was no detectable sack or

A bit about me * More than 1 million books in print in 11 languages * NY Times and USA Today bestselling author * Named among the 25 Most Influential Hispanics in the US by Time * Latina magazine Woman of the Year * Entertainment Weekly Breakout Literary Star * CNN Most Influential Hispanics List * Hispanic Business 100 Most Influential Hispanics * Pulitzer-nominated Feature Writer for Boston Globe * Named Top Newspaper Essayist by SUNMAG * Favorite Writer by Readers of ABQ Magazine * Not as vain as this all makes me sound. No, really.

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tests said I was pregnant, but there was no detectable sack or embryo. They rushed me to the hospital, thinking I was having an ectopic pregnancy. After observing me for a week, they concluded instead that I had miscarried. My father contacted the cowboy to let him know how distraught I was, how much I was suffering. This is because my father truly had sympathy for the cowboy, whom he saw as “a tragic figured,” because the cowboy had his shining moments, where he clearly longed to truly connect and love, but was unable to do either meaningfully because of severe abuses he had suffered as a child. The cowboy rushed to the hospital, full of apologies. We reconciled, because I was weak and stupid and wanted him to be the man I had once believed he was, the man I wrote about in the memoir I’d turned in months before. I wanted to make the fairy tale come true again. I wanted things the way I’d thought they were. Things changed for good then, though. We tried to muddle through, but it just got worse and worse. There were certainly moments of great beauty and love, I cannot deny that, but underlying it all was this unrest, this unfortunate beast that would raise its head now and then, and more and more frequently. There were signs of physical violence to come, textbook signals. The cowboy bragging nonstop about all the fights he’d been in, all the men he’d put in the hospital, while polishing his guns in front of me, letting me know just what I might be in for if I got out of line again. There was the time we had an argument, the time I dared to challenge him and insist that I was right about something, when he, furious with me and so much bigger than me, simply dragged me down the hall to the bedroom, bent me over, and took me, telling me as he did so that I must never forget who was in charge, that I must learn to be nicer, that I must learn…to obey. Yes. I am not proud. I was so beaten down by then, from the constant daily criticisms, from the constant erosion of my self esteem, that I just took it, and wept, and apologized, and promised to do better. I did not think I would become someone like that. And there was a part of me hidden away inside, kept safe, that watched it all and waited for my chance to escape… There was the night we argued at my house, and he was going to leave, as he always did, stonewalling and locking me out being his favorite weapons, his silent treatments going on sometimes for weeks on end, the emails finally coming in which he said he was willing to come back as long as I changed a long list of things about myself, and me always caving in…but that night, he was brutal again, when I tried to say I was sorry, when I tried to stop the inevitable stonewalling, he glared, called me a mouthy cunt, told me to get to my side of the bed and not touch him, told me that he couldn’t stand the sight of me, told me that if I really wanted to impress him then I’d be a good girl and just shut the fuck up, and his finger poking me in the chest, and then wagged in my face, telling me that my biggest problem, the reason he would never marry me after all, was that I was a woman who just didn’t know when to shut the fuck up, shut the fuck up, and me saying I would, that I would be quiet, and turning my back to him so he wouldn’t hear me cry, and him feeling the bed shake anyway and yelling at me that I was pathetic, that if I wanted him to stay then I better stop fucking crying, and me running into my closet with my phone to fall in a heap on the floor and text myself so that in the morning I’d remember that this was NOT okay, that this was NOT love, and him pretending the next morning that nothing had happened. The last day I saw him, I jumped out of a moving truck to get away from him. He was in a rage. He’d called me a useless cunt this time, a mouthy bitch, all manner of names. He’d told me what a terrible mother I was. He’d attacked, attacked, attacked, all because I didn’t say hello to him the right way when he came back from running the dogs on the ranch. He was convinced I was being bratty because I didn’t react with enough enthusiasm to his return. This unleashed an avalanche of hatred. I stood there in the sun, disbelieving, trying to

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reason with him. He told me that I needed to leave. “Get your shit and let’s go,” he said. It was getting late, and he knew I hated driving home from the ranch in the dark because so much of the rural highway out there had no cell service. If I got a flat tire or something I’d be doomed. I asked if I could just stay in the guest room until the morning. “You can either get your shit and put it in the truck yourself,” he said, “or I will drag you by the hair, beat your ass to the ground, hog-tie you with duct tape, and throw your ass in the back of the truck. One way or another, you will be leaving. You decide.” He meant it. By this time, he had raised his hand to me on at least three occasions, but had yet to strike me. He always blamed me for this. I drove him to it. Anyway, I got in the truck, and we started to leave. I was hysterical, and afraid, and he began to talk about how much he wanted to beat my ass down. The truck was going slowly, and the look in his eye was terrifying. I really believed he would kill me. He’d hinted at it. So I opened the door, and I jumped. I thought I’d land on my feet. I didn’t. I landed facedown on a bunch of rocks, nearly crushed under the back tires, dislocating my shoulder, badly cut and bruised everywhere, my hip filling with blood. I screamed. He stopped the truck, walked over, looked at me on the ground as I begged him to call an ambulance. “Only you would be stupid enough to jump out of a moving truck,” he told me. He did not help me, or come near me. Instead, he said he was going to the hunting lodge to get some witnesses, in case I tried to tell the police he had done this to me. In that instant, I finally fucking understood — this man did not love me. He could not love anyone. He was alone in his anger and paranoia. I pushed my should back into joint, struggled to my feet, and terrified he’d kill me, I got my dog out of the back seat, and my purse, and I ran for the hills. I hid in ravines and canyons, behind juniper bushes, and walked the 16 miles back to my car. I drove away, and never saw him again. That is what’s going on. That is why the release of this memoir is so bittersweet for me. The book was true, when I wrote it. But life changed. I didn’t try to fool anyone, or to exploit anything. Rather, I believed in a man who didn’t deserve it. I fell for the incredible charm and manipulations such men are capable of. I failed to see what women who are wiser than I was are clearly seeing as they read my book — that this man was “a jerk,” as one reviewer said. I didn’t know. I’m sure I’ll get shit for posting this. I’m betraying my publisher, who would have liked for me to be the next Ree Drummond. Hell, I would have liked for me to be the next Ree Drummond. But I wasn’t. I was the only Alisa Valdes, learning as I went along, living honestly and hopefully, trying to love. The only way the memoir works is if it is allowed to be what it IS rather than what others might like for it to have been. What is it? It is a guidebook for women on what falling in love with a controlling abuser looks like. It is a handbook on what NOT to do, what to run away from. I did not know it then. Then, I felt safe and thrilled, impressed with myself for having secured such a hot, strong, strapping, manly man. It was an illusion. Underneath it all was a scared, insecure boy, who talked the talk but didn’t walk the walk, a man who only felt good enough when he was making others feel badly. The memoir is important, and it is valuable, but not without this afterward. The message of the book, as I see it? Even smart, educated, self-sufficient, thoughtful women can get sucked into abusive relationships, and it will happen slowly, a little at a time, like a frog in a pot of cold water that is placed over a low flame, that even someone like me can, sometimes, be slowly boiled to death. Finally, I want to say that I do not blame ranch life or cowboy culture for any of what the cowboy turned out to be. He could have been an accountant and it would have been the same. He was what he was because his own mother and father failed to love him. He was an

abused child himself, and that was perhaps the hardest part of it all — that I saw glimpses of that little boy, the boy who so desperately wanted and needed to be loved, and sometimes he was playful, and joyous, and sweet, and happy, sometimes he loved, sometimes he allowed others to love him. Sometimes, we were happy. Blissfully happy. And that’s the part I never understood about abuse — that it doesn’t always feel like abuse. Sometimes, lots of the time, it felt like heaven. I’m grateful to have gone through it. I learned a lot. I grew a lot. And now I know what so many of you who are reading the book already know — how to spot a controlling, abusive man from the get go. And I assure you: It won’t happen again. In his own words:

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