Do you remember a year in your life when you flirted with death? Maybe more than a year? How do we obey the urgent command to simply stay? To live?
I can start with my horse, who I got after taking lessons for about a year. It was a Christmas to remember, because Dad gave me a halter to unwrap and knew exactly what it meant. I was so excited, and more than that, I felt a sense of purpose in my life, even as a nine-year-old girl. Riding Tiger wasn’t just fun. There was all the work to keep his stall and pasture well-kept and the grooming for him and the cleaning of the tack and the bringing in hay for winter, and going to buy the 50-lb bags of grain that were practically bigger than Mom was, and the learning about horses. How they think, what they like, how to communicate. I got lessons from H and because this was a rural area, all the kids had horses. At age ten or eleven we could meet on the dirt road at the junction and then go for miles on our horses. We would ride out in that field owned by the cranky farmer and then we would dip down into in the creek bed. H started taking me to competitions, and so on the weekends, there were shows to ride in and extra grooming and lessons. I basically grew up with Tiger.
I cannot underestimate just how very important that was to me. The truth is that Tiger saved my life. He was so good and kind and that he kept me hopeful about life after age fifteen. I think back to that year and it is strange how disconnected I was from the entire world. No one had any idea that there was part of me that wanted to die. I know now that I also had a part that wanted to live. But that part might not have won out if it weren’t for the love of a horse.
Do all people experience that desperation at some point in their lives? I cannot be so unique. But for whatever reason in my little experience, I had a need for love and no way to ask for it. But, when I was low, there was Tiger. He was there for me without any words. Words were too dangerous that year, but we didn’t need them. He would say everything in a look of pure love. But he was more than love, he was power and speed and muscle and yes, on Tiger I could run and jump and race and scare people. It was important to be able to intimidate.
Tiger needed me. I knew I couldn’t go anywhere because who would feed him if I were no longer in this world? I mean I knew that my parents wouldn’t let him go hungry, but no one would do it like me. He might miss the Cracklin Oat Bran and the way I made him a special oat bar treat every once in a while, with molasses. Who would keep him from running after women at the horse shows when he got a whiff of a passing funnel cake? I mean you can’t let down your horse. Not after he has taken you over so many jumps and taken you on rides and adventures and has let you experience the freedom of galloping. Not when he plays little horse jokes on you and you understand his personality like no one else. When you love a horse, you have this bond that is so special. One that took so much time to build. All those times when you really didn’t want to get up early or you didn’t feel like riding or it was bad weather or you were just being a bratty teenager and you wanted be like whatever… But a horse stands at the fence and he looks out over it and he meets your eye and you are never ever going to refuse this honorable, noble, animal who is your friend. Because it is bigger than you and more important that you and even though you feel small and wish you were smaller. Or wish you were gone. Together with him you are something shining and free.
This piece is part of the #52essays2017 challenge where I will share one essay a week in 2017. To learn more about this challenge or to participate, check out writer Vanessa Martir’s website and post about it.