Our big tree glows with lights and cherished ornaments, and I’m sitting near it, warmed by my very cool Hogwarts School Scarf and a mug of delicious coffee. Ready to set down for you a marvelous life change- a huge event- that I haven’t been able to process sensibly, or think straight about until now, nearly 6 months later.
Here’s what’s happened.
One pretty afternoon in mid-July of this year Joe strode into Sunnybank’s kitchen, plunked down opposite me and asked for my full attention. Baffled, I closed my computer and stared at him.
He placed three little containers in front of me. He touched the first one. “Take one pill now. No questions. Just do it.”
He touched the second. “Put two drops in each eye.”
He indicated the third container. “Squirt a mist into each nostril, just once.”
I did, completely mystified.
“Now, come with me.”
What on earth???
Too flummoxed to speak, I followed him to the car. He drove precisely 5.1 miles, and I gaped at where we stopped. This place was called Casalae Farms. It was set off by what seemed miles of bright white fences, lots of paddocks, and LOTS of horses standing there, gazing at us curiously.
I paled. Horses? “JOE! I am deathly allergic! We can’t be here!!!!!
“Hey. Do you trust me? Do you trust our daughter? We two doctors researched the latest meds available. You’ve taken them. There. Will. Be. No. Problem. No inability to breathe, no lost vision, no sleepiness or drugged unsteadiness. Zero. I Guarantee it.
Now, go inside. Take your time. We have all the time in the world.”
I think I remained paralyzed by doubt? nerves? for a bit, but he simply waited. So I got out and made my way to the front door of a very large one-story building. I went in, very slowly...
I’d never, ever seen the inside of a stable. Only pictures. Never saw horses in their stalls, heads poking out, munching hay. I’d only three times breathed in the scents that go with these beautiful animals. The first, best time happened on the evening of my third birthday. I was taken to a little clearing surrounded by very tall pine trees in the middle of town and placed on a shaggy pony, who walked patiently round and round a well-beaten circle with two equine friends who were carrying other happy children.
That pony ride brought a rush of Total, Intense Joy. I was profoundly changed in an instant. Precisely then, my life was set. I would live it surrounded by horses.
Here’s a weird fact: It was as though I was revisiting a shadowy former existence.
Only 36 months in the world and I knew these scents, the feeling of warm horse flank, the pleasure of braiding a rumpled mane, the creak of the saddle, as certainly as I knew my name. It all felt so familiar. Yet, I’d never seen a horse, except in a picture book.
It was eerie.
It was the best, best --reunion.
I can’t explain this better.
But life had other ideas.
Except for the annual September Saginaw Fair, where I could blissfully ride the gorgeously carved merry-go-round horses, sometimes twice, I rarely saw another live horse. I clearly remember the exceptions.
Once, aged ten, while riding my bike around our block I suddenly skidded to a stop. There, right there, two girls, maybe a year or so older than I, were busily, expertly unloading two palomino horses from a dual horsebox built into a van parked in front of their modest home. These twins, Janet and Joan R- names forever engraved in my memory- backed them down, saddled them and rode up and down the street and into the open field that served as a huge communal play area behind all these middle-class homes.
I think I stood there for hours, spellbound. I never approached them; they were based twenty feet away, across the street. That was not allowed. But I could look.
I can play those two happy hours back as a loved mental movie, even today. This is the first time I’ve ever spoken of it.
Every Sunday at 3:30 we drove to Grandma and Grandpa’s house to watch Roy Rogers and his horse, Trigger, on TV, as they had another 30-minute adventure. It was the highlight of every week.
And every Tuesday and Friday the milkman would deliver bottled milk to our front door. His horse happily accepted my proffered carrot.
Once I sent $5 I’d earned babysitting to the Double Bubble Gum people for a rubber saddle that fitted my bike seat exactly. It was a most wonderful treasure______ but one day it vanished.
I drew nothing but horses. St. Stephen Elementary School’s principal, Sister Paula, angrily rang my mother. I must never draw another: my teacher was sick of seeing them.
Disobedience was unthinkable.
But I could still draw them at home. And, at school, I drew a home, corrals, flowers, hay bales, meadows, grass and sun-- and a little girl in pigtails holding an extended rope that left the picture’s margins. Something was connected to that rope, something just out of sight.
It angered them, but what could they do?
I was never discouraged. I knew things.
My cousin Nancy was given a beautiful chestnut mare when she was ten and I was thirteen. The mare had a foal that Nancy raised. But- then I entered puberty I found myself suddenly, violently allergic to all hay-eating animals after entering the county fair’s horse barn.
Doctors diagnosed an acute allergic reaction to horses. That slammed the door on my dreams. It was a crushing blow. Epic.
My first cousin, Nancy, and her parents lived in Dearborn, Michigan. I never was able to visit her, or see her horse. Undaunted, I formed a club, the BSKDC (Black Stallion Kentucky Derby Club- influenced by Walter Farley’s wonderful story, The Black Stallion, which I’d all but memorized) and we’d chat about her horse life whenever she visited Saginaw. I still have the paper I drew up to form the club, making Nancy vice-president. I was president, of course...
Once I filled out a form that promised some lucky person would win the sleek bay racehorse pictured in LOOK magazine- if the name an applicant submitted was accepted. I studied that stunning horse for days, chose a name, mailed that form and haunted our mailbox.
Nothing ever happened, of course. But anticipation, and the possibilities- made my daily life a bit more bearable. Denial of reality was an indulgence that helped mitigate the awful pain.
Now, in 2018, I was at LAST inside a stable, after nearly three-quarters of a century of going to sleep every night thinking of horses, riding them, cleaning them, racing them.
This new reality was Impossible.
It was, in fact, how one defines a miracle.
I stood rooted, extremely tense, for a long time, waiting for the ax to fall. Blisters might easily form on my trachea and on my eyeballs, and I would be felled, unable to breathe.
But------ nothing happened.
Suddenly, shockingly, I didn’t care if it did!! I’d enjoy every single second in this horse-saturated environment, and to hell with consequences!
Inside that barn were two long aisles lined on both sides with roomy stalls.
I counted. Thirty.
Some were empty, as their residents were outside, cavorting with friends or grazing. Insiders poked their heads out of their boxes to whinny to each other. Two stood quietly cross-tied in the central aisles, awaiting saddles and bridles, and their riders.
This. was Heaven.
I stood there and simply looked, and looked and looked, while breathing in their special perfume. It was, perhaps, the most perfect hour of my life.
I wasn’t aware that I was silently crying. One lady, a large brush in hand, greeted me cheerfully, then looked closer, and quietly asked if I was all right.
My husband answered behind me. “Oh, she’s just happy. We’re here to look around, if that’s OK.”
“Sure! Wander wherever. You’re welcome to explore.”
And off she went to groom her beautiful white Arabian horse.
Eventually, Joe poked me out of my reverie. “Go on, move! Look around. Walk up and down the aisles. Check out the horses; look into all the tack rooms...and don’t miss the huge indoor riding arena and its elevated, glass-enclosed viewing room....”
And so, this woman, this normal woman, did. No tightened chest happened. No wheals as big as eggs. No blistered eyes. No acute vision loss. Just me, walking slowly up and down the two aisles, peering into the stalls’ interiors, noting food buckets, water buckets, soft sawdust floors occasionally decorated with poop balls...
One contented, curious horse’s flexible lips mussed my hair and flapped over my extended hand, hunting for a treat...The animal finally licked it thoroughly. I was enchanted. I’d never seen or felt a horse’s tongue. I’d never dared to pet a horse. (All covert visits saw me in a mask, goggles and gloves.) I turned to go back, past another long row of stalls, and there, just down a way, was the huge indoor arena. It boasted a very long mirror so riders could more effectively evaluate their horses’ confirmation and their riding postures. Deep, chocolate colored sawdust coated the vast floor, and overhead lights brightened everything. This arena was closed to the elements and directly connected to the stable area.
One could ride at all speeds, all year long.
It was perfect.
I found it impossible to grasp.
After an hour of such massive sensory input I was suddenly overwhelmed, lightheaded, and had to leave immediately. I needed space, and lots of time to process what was happening------- and what wasn’t.
We left. The car was silent as we motored along.
I was semi-mute for days.
I’ve lived a long life taking on all manner of delightful personal challenges, such as:
-teaching myself competent gardener skills, and how to design lovely little gardens
-researching what flowers appreciate to be happy
-learning how to ski
-learning to be a competent pilot
-hiking through Europe alone for months, absorbing its lovely architecture and scenery
-learning how to competently train our doggie
-learning to sing properly and how to make musical CDs
-writing a book and expressing myself in poetry
-experiencing the great joy of motherhood
-biking and hiking at least five National Parks with Joe and eventually, Bryn-dog
-reading science and rudimentary astrophysics and all manner of philosophy and history-especially biographies of people who’ve moved this planet in a different direction.
Willful ignorance of the world’s story is NEVER bliss.
-sharpening my reasoning and evidence-based skills to more effectively deal with life’s odd, sometimes scary twists and turns
-learning to be totally content with my own company
-cherishing the friendships I have, every single day.
To remain profoundly depressed, morose, and angry about what could never be was to waste my life.
No horses, ever. Fact.
I’d accept what could not be changed and move on- and, for heaven’s sake, try to do it with some grace.
I’ll look back only if there was something to learn from Life’s inexplicable, often injurious curveballs.
Forward thinking welcomes the fascinating pursuit of life’s changing panorama.
Backing too far into regret or acute disappointment encourages a slow decline that metastasizes into rage and hate, a toxic brew that inexorably erodes a body’s balanced mental and physical chemistry.
Bad things very often result from embracing that approach.
Now, in this sparkling July afternoon, I’d been thrust squarely into a new, fresh, eerily familiar equine world. It was akin to finding one’s self transported to the moon.
At 8 a.m. that evening, nothing bad had happened. I still breathed easily. There were no eye bulges. No giant wheals. I felt fine.
I didn’t know what to say.
Joe just grinned.
There is so much more to tell. I couldn’t write about any of this since that momentous first day at Casalae. In fact, I couldn’t write about anything, period. I’d just sit there, staring at the keyboard.
My mind had flat-lined.
So, for months I’ve reprinted (and gently tweaked) favorite columns submitted over the last 13 years.
I’d resume writing if-and when- my fingers and brain unlocked...
Today, December 21, with zero warning, a word-tsunami suddenly roared toward me, almost too fast to comprehend. I raced to my computer and this story spilled out.
I’m just warming up!
Be prepared; it’s gonna be all about horses for a good while!