Today's tale is from "Ellie." Not only did this story knock my socks off emotionally, but it's beautifully written. And if I'm doing my math right, this young woman can't be more than 16.
I'm running low on stories folks...get those pens out. If you sent me one and haven't seen it yet, resend and feel free to call me a name or two. I can take it.
The little red horse at my lesson barn didn't have a name yet - not one that we knew, anyway - or so I was told. She'd been dropped off from by a friend of my instructor and would remain at our barn on trial for two weeks while my family decided if she would be suitable. I was not to get emotionally attached. I was to be completely objective, or as objective as a 14-year-old girl getting her first horse can be, anyhow. That afternoon, as I leaned against the fence and watched the little mare flit around nervously in her pasture while the last dregs of warm autumn drained from the North Carolina air, I pretended that naming her wasn't really a big deal for me. But I'd always wanted to name a horse: just start from scratch, something totally original. We didn't have her breeding, history, anything - so it was all mine to decide. In what later turned out to be a cruelly ironic twist, I named her Some Like It Hot, barn name Summer.
Summer was pretty scruffy that day. Both mane and tail were snarled into dreadlocks - her mane was about a foot and a half long. She was unshod and her front hooves were so overgrown they curled up and cracked at the tips from being left in a stall for several months (she was given food and water, I think, but not much else). Her winter coat, just coming in, was frozen into stiff curls of sweat and dirt because she'd galloped around the pasture so much upon arriving. Big eyes, cute little head, built small and sturdy like a quarter horse even though she was an OTTB. After about an hour of just watching Summer get used to her (temporary) new home and chatting with my instructor, we left so she could have another day to just settle in. We were back the next day, of course; we washed the grime out of her coat and cut the worst of the tangles out of her mane. We also lunged her, something she'd never done before. I tried to seem like I wasn't completely in love with her with a small amount of success.
I can only describe the next four months in images that I fiercely committed to memory because not to do so would have been a crime.
Days spent grooming her in the barn because it was raining outside. I taught her to ground-tie and she was amazing at it, something that surprised me. Though my mom always found it funny that as soon as I disappeared around the corner, Summer would watch closely and fidget or try to follow me every time.
The day we found that "magic belly spot" that, when scratched, made her stretch out her head with the cutest expression.
My mom nicknaming her Mary Poppins because she was 'practically perfect in every way'.
The moment I realized that she was completely, head-to-toe, bright red - except for a streak of dark brown in her forelock. (I've only met a few truly solid chestnuts, and I've never met a horse with a streak like that.)
The way she would press her forehead into my chest while I combed my fingers through her forelock slowly or even just braided and un-braided it.
Chatting happily to my mom on the car ride home about how Summer and I had the same personality and ridiculously similar physical traits, too.
Being told by people that their first impression of me and Summer was that my connection to her was incredible.
A little girl's mom, at the barn to watch a lesson, smiling genuinely as I avidly described to her how I'd found my soul mate.
The incredible, perfect feeling of her canter stride when we went toward a jump.
Our first three-foot jump. Flight.
Shedding. I couldn't wait to see how sleek she'd look with her winter coat gone.
Sitting on her bareback in a halter while she grazed just because I loved the feeling of her back.
That amazing feeling right after a lesson where you and the horse both had a breakthrough.
Sitting on her back in the fading light of a spring evening, singing softly to myself.
Singing with my friends while we walked around in the pasture on our horses and goofed around. They said I was good. I've never thought I was good at singing.
Dreaming and planning and just knowing all the things we would do. There were too many to list.
Whispering 'hello, summer-bird' when I stepped into her cool stall.
The way she would stop eating her grain and stick her head out of the stall when she heard my voice coming down the barn aisle.
Talking to a girl at school about how my horse was my inter-species twin and how I was so glad to have found my soul mate. She didn't understand, not being a horsey person (actually, most of my horsey friends didn't understand either, because there was no way to describe it) but smiled and nodded anyway.
The feeling that maybe everything in my life could go right all at the same time simply because nothing could be wrong since I owned Summer, the most perfect horse in the world.
I should stop now. Luckily, I have many many more vivid, fleeting moments committed permanently to memory. There would be no way to put them all here. But it was only four months. One morning in April I asked my mom if she could drive me to school because I was running late and she told me to sit on the couch. I remember wondering if my grandmother had passed away, because this was obviously serious. In the back of my mind I was thinking forward to the ride I had planned for that afternoon. Then I sat numb for a few seconds as my mom stated simply that there had been a fire at the barn and that everything was gone. I still denied any real pain. Surely things had worked out okay somehow. I had Summer and that meant that nothing could go wrong. I could deal with whatever it was. "Everything?" I asked.
I think the events that happened in the month after that are just images now, too. An hour spent crying and all I could think was that I shouldn't go outside and scream because it would scare the neighbors. The firemen at what used to be the barn, still smoking even though the fire was put out around 4 a.m. A girl whose horse had been in a pasture, and was thus still alive, telling me she understood because all the horses were 'her babies'; me thinking that it was nice of her to say that but that she had no idea how devastated I was. Watching my instructor - a strong, independent woman - break down in her car (three of her horses were in the fire). Eating crackers and talking to the barn owner because it calmed me down. Watching a horse who'd been kept in a stall 24/7 all his life be in a pasture for the first time and running around happily. Returning the next day and realizing that the pastures were coated with yellow flowers. Coming my fingers through the piles of ashes and finding part of my tack box. Discovering my curry comb which still had Summer's hair in it and refusing my mom's suggestion to keep it, because seeing the singed red strands hurt far too much.
Planting a flower for Summer in my friend's garden while she planted a flower for her horse, too.
Crying myself to sleep every night for a month. Breaking the news to my best friend at school and feeling guilty because she was having a good day.
Flashbacks. So many flashbacks.
Going to other barns because I need riding the way I need oxygen. Leaving those barns feeling awful because being around horses that weren't mine just hurt.
Hating horses because they looked like Summer, or because they fidgeted when their owners walked away, or because they exhaled tenderly on my palm the way she used to.
Lying in my bed at night and crying because I could remember the exact rhythm and sound of her breathing.
I have always been an avid music lover, like many teenage girls. But for months after the fire, I hated listening to music. It all seemed so superficial and I couldn't connect to other people's emotions anymore. In school I would think, why are you getting upset that you have a test tomorrow? at least your soul-mate isn't dead.
Not singing for months. I couldn't even sing in the shower which is practically a ritual for me.
I found therapy in leaving town for two months over the summer and working at a family friend's barn in Virginia. The hard labor kept my mind off my grief and seeing all new people, barns, and horses kept me from having such frequent flashbacks. I found a new horse at the end of the summer and ended up buying her because I love riding her but we have very little emotional connection. I know that that sounds strange. But I don't particularly want to be in love with this horse like I was in love with Summer, because that would feel too much like demeaning what we had. I don't believe I'll ever have that again. You only get one soul-mate and once they're gone, that's it. I know it sounds stupid or silly because most people don't believe in soul-mates or if they do, they think about it as something romantic that you'd have with another human. I used to think that too. (Before I had Summer.)
So I brought this new horse home and kept up my riding. She's a cool horse, sort of like a business partner. She's not nuts about me and I don't spend every moment thinking about her like I did with Summer. And then, one fall night as I cooled her out after a ride, I realized I was humming for the first time in a very long time. A few days after that, I caught myself unintentionally singing during a ride. That was when I knew it would be okay. Everything would be okay.
Two weeks from today will be the one-year anniversary of Summer's death.