Monday, May 9, 2011

Mouthy Mondays

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 Singing-Horse

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.


HorsesAndTurbos said...

Wow. Just Wow.

Andrea said...

I live in NC and remember learning about that fire from my BM last year. I'd ridden at the barn when I first moved to the area, but I think the people and horses had completely turned over by then. I remember reading the list of names and dreading finding one of the horses I'd ridden.

I'm so sorry for your loss. I know right now you don't want to love like that again, and I totally get that. I sold a horse I loved to come to grad school here and thought I'd never love another horse the same way. Last year (seven years later) I finally felt that way about another horse. It takes time, but one day you might find love again. Until then, just enjoy the riding and don't feel pressured to make it more.

Becky said...

Ellie - there's not much to say that you haven't said already (and with such an incredible voice, too.) You survived. You came through, and you came through without bitterness.

And even if you may not ever love another horse the way you loved Summer, you probably won't hurt the same way again, either. It's not much of a trade off, I know.

When you do decide to open up to another horse it will probably be different - slower to bloom and not quite as passionate--- Mature. (Think of Robert Frost's "Nothing Gold Can Stay") It's still love - it just takes longer to take root, and it doesn't make what you had with Summer any less.

And keep writing - you've probably been told this before (and if you haven't, your English teachers are morons), but you've got a gift.

mommyrides said...

Ellie: What a beautifully written testimony to the love you shared with Summer. I envy you, your time with her and dream of having that kind of horsey soul mate myself. Keep riding, keep breathing, keep moving forward, and you will continue to honor Summer and yourself.

BritnieAnn said...

Beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing! I know it had to have been hard, but I bet it also helped the healing process.

MysteryTheMorab said...

How heartbreaking and so very, very sorry you could not have your soulmate for many, many years. Of course there are animal soulmates (I'm lucky enough to have one). Will there be more? Only if you open yourself up to the possibility. Good luck to you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing that. As other people have said, you've got a knack for drawing people into your story.

I'm glad you're starting to sing again. Please reach out for help if you need it - I got stuck in a depression that lasted for several years after losing a pet when I was about your age. It blew chunks. When I finally got help it took my therapist a while to convince me that a life without color or joy isn't normal, and it wasn't until part way through college that I started to see color and feel joy again for myself. It's really really hard to tell where the line is between healthy grief and unnatural depression, fortunately it sounds like you're much more aware of what's going on inside your head than I was.

Best wishes to you and your horse. You may never have another relationship quite like you had with Summer (if nothing else, you won't approach relationships the same now that you've been through a loss like that) but other, good relationships can still happen. And they will.

Anonymous said...

Your so young to have suffered such a great loss. Please keep this thought in your heart. When your time comes, (way,way, down the road) Summer will be waiting at the gate for her soul mate. God Bless

DarcC said...

I'm so sorry that you lost Summer. As I read, despite knowing something was coming, I was not prepared for that. I cannot imagine your pain.

You do have a tremendous gift in your writing. Please keep sharing it with the world.

I'm glad you are able to find small moments of happiness with horses again.

Joy said...

My very first horse, Bailey, passed away this past February. Bailey was the love of my life, my soulmate, and my best friend. No, she didn't die in a fire, but she did get out down due to an injury. Bailey fought through her injury for about a month before we realized she wasn't getting any better. Taking her to the animal hospital (Cornell University) was the hardest thing I'd ever done. I'd had Bailey since I was 10, I'm 13 now. It's about 3 months since I lost Bailey, and though I have a new love (my Wishin' girl) the pain hasn't gone away. I miss her just as much as I did when the vet told me "Well, she's gone now." <-- those were the hardest words to hear. It felt like someone had just punched me in the stomach, I couldn't even stand anymore, I just collapsed onto the ground. Losing your best friend is hard, and you will always miss them, no matter what, no horse, no amount of time, no friend, nothing will change that. What we have to realize (though it may be hard) is that God took them home or a reason, they served their purpose in this world, and it was time for God to call them home. We may not think it's fair, but it's because there's another horse out there looking for someone to love them. When first got Wishin (I got her on Valentines Day. Only about a week after I lost Bailey) I didn't want to let myself love her, or any horse for that matter, because when God calls her home, I don't want to feel that pain again. :'( So, I know how you feel, and it's the worst feeling in the whole world, and I wouldn't wish it on anyone.

Anonymous said...

There's a slow tear rolling down my left cheek and a dog with his nose under my elbow saying "Hey - what's up?" And I'm thinking about my best friends - canine and equine. There are some you bond with that way and some you don't. I'm glad that you are singing again - think of it as talking to Summer. You express yourself awsomely well !!!!

redhorse said...

What a horrible lesson for such a young lady to learn. I'm glad you committed so much of it to memory, because you're right, it would be a crime not to.

It's a beautiful story, in spite of the ending.

Jill said...

Thank you for sharing this.

What a beautifully written yet tragic memory. I'm so glad you committed so much to memory in a short space of time. If people you're around day to day don't believe in animal soul mates, I'm sure people here do - I do, but I don't know how many 'soul horses' you get.

I'm so sorry for your loss. I lost my pony to an accident when I was 13, over 10 years ago now, and I recall still the horror, the shock, the numbness, the terrifying crying that won't stop and all that love you have with nowhere to go.

But it eases, gradually, even if you don't feel it ever will. How can it?! And you always have the memories. And sometimes they come to you in dreams and eventually, one day you wake up smiling.

Best wishes and best of luck to your relationship with your new horse. I hope you will grow to love again, even if in a different way.

Breathe said...

You gave her such a gift. I'm like you. I believe there is one soulmate, but that if that dear one leaves us, they send us friends to keep us from being alone.

And to help us keep our hearts open.

Ride on. It's what you are meant for, clearly.

Calm, Forward, Straight said...

No, you can never duplicate your first love - and I too believe soul mates are the rarest of things.

But you have obviously learned such an important lesson - so far beyond your years: live in the moment... treasure every minute you have with a loved one.

Beautifully written - so sorry for your loss.

nagonmom said...

Sympathy for your immeasurable loss. You are a born writer. In case you hadn't noticed. Some singing takes place in story telling, and you really can sing!

Red Hot Ruby said...

You are not alone in believing an animal is your soul-mate and that they cannot be replaced. I am happy that you are seeing the light at the end of your tunnel of despair. My heart aches for you. . .

Anonymous said...

Oh oh oh. That mad me cry.

Anonymous said...


jenj said...

I am so, so sorry for your loss. You never quite get over losing your soulmates, in whatever form they take. Time eases some things but you never forget - they are the truly special ones that live on in our memories, and hopefully one day find their way back to us.

ellie said...

I want to say thank you to Mugs and everyone who's left kind words here. I honestly can't say how much I appreciate it; to be receiving such support and empathy from strangers is an honor to say the least.

The one-year anniversary of the fire was about a month ago and was a very emotional day for me. My mom took me to the barn and that was...incredibly difficult to see. But dealing with the memories and feelings that resurface has become easier in the last six months and I definitely feel I am out of whatever depression I may have had in the weeks following the fire. I'm incredibly lucky to have some amazing friends who are always there and willing to listen.

Despite being the worst event of my life, Summer's death has made me a stronger person. I certainly believe in the truth of the phrase "it is better to have loved and lost than to have not loved at all"; in the last year, I've gained a new, vibrant appreciation of the love and beauty all around me. I'm a happy person and I no longer hesitate to seize the moment. Deep down, I value everything and everyone in my life more because I don't take their existence for granted; I guess you could say this stems from a fear that stuff could disappear at any time but I prefer to think of it as something that's made me a better and more mature person.

Again, I really, really am grateful for the love and support shown to me here. You are all pretty incredible people.

phaedra96 said...

I am glad that you can move forward. My daughter lost a Percheron/Morgan filly at a year due to colic(had to be something congenital). After surgery at six months, infected sutures, walking, holding, loving this baby, she went down a second time at a year and we had to let her go. Sis never could move past it; she had another horse but slowly just quit. I hurt so for her and just had no way to make it better. Maybe someday, she can have another Kimi, but not now. Even ten years later. Keep going.

Anonymous said...

i never keep my horse in a stall for this reason

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