Annie

Her name is Annie. I get the sense that always was her name, since Jill and Shannon immediately saw her as an Annie once I proposed the name. So yes, my glorious, prancy, big, sweet mare answers to Annie now.

Just to be clear, this is not her namesake

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Neither is this:


Here is Annie's namesake:



Annie Sullivan was Helen Keller's teacher for 49 years. She was a badass, devoted, brilliant, kind, cutting-edge teacher. She is Annie's namesake.


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We went for a little ride today.

First, we practiced circling the mounting block until Horsie was standing still and lined up. Then we walked by the sign that scared Horsie yesterday. She totally ignored it. Good girl! We walked by Kermit and Bella and practiced focusing on the ride instead of their requests for attention. Kermit and Bella thought that sucked, but I sure was proud of Horsie for ignoring them. Then we saw some scary horse mats on the ground and walked over them. We circled Robin's field and then made our way home.

We were both feeling pretty proud:


Horsie is so great! I like her so much!

She needs a name though -- any ideas?

news! news!

I've been quiet for while, I know, but I have a *really* good excuse.

I was adopting a horse!

A horse! A big, glorious, sweet, young, prancy-sometimes, beautiful-always, wondrous, miraculous horse.

Here she is, as I led her around the field for the first time:


That was Saturday, the day Shannon and I drove out to Mid-Atlantic Horse Rescue to pick her up. It was about an hour and a half each way, and on the way back, I kept looking back to see her head through the trailer window. The breeze picked up her mane and jostled it about and I couldn't really believe that it was all happening so quickly, but I guess you just know when you find the horse who makes sense to you.

Her racehorse name is My Ex-Girlfriend. Bev (from the rescue) found her at the New Holland auction, where she had been mauled the night before by a stallion who got loose. Since My Ex-GF was tied with nylon, she couldn't get away, and was covered with cuts when she went through the auction. Instead of going to the butcher, Bev bought the mare and, after running her tattoo, realized she was a granddaughter of Seattle Slew! (Son of Harry the Hat, for those of you into great-event-horse-sires). She was never raced, which is good news in my book.

After a few weeks to recover from her most serious wounds, Bev posted her photos on facebook. You can see that she's still pretty dinged up and thin from her previous life. But after a few months at Mid-Atlantic, my future as-of-yet-unnamed horse put on some weight and settled into her life with a herd of rescued mares.

A few weeks ago, I saw her on the site and liked her face. I kept going back to her and, after I presented my paper in Buffalo, I made an appointment to see her on 1 July. She was very herd-bound and freaked out if she had to be in a stall, but I sure did like riding her. Here we are:



I knew she was great for me, but I made myself wait overnight and called Shannon, Jill, and Alyssa to list everything I could think of that was bad about her: she freaked out in a stall, she pulled on the lead, she was completely herd-bound. They all pish-poshed my concerns and reminded me that these were problems we could deal with. Plus, Horsie (as I call her until we think of her forever name) was very low on the pecking order, so she'd be great with any of the horses, and she had a nice disposition, and I would get a voucher to cover $200 worth of training.

So I wrote Bev to say YES I WANT HER!

After a vet check, where she was most certainly a big handful of a girl and the vet said she needed to learn some ground manners and gain confidence, she was cleared for adoption. And then it was Friday night and Shannon called to say the brakes weren't working on the trailer and we might not be able to get her, and then a few hours later, she called to say Matt had installed brakes on another truck with another trailer and we were off to get my new horsie.

When we got to the farm, we carefully led her into her stall, ready for drama. Only there was
...none.

She whuffled a hello to Kermit, angled herself up to the fan, and settled right in. No drama there.

So we introduced her to Kermit and Bella, ready for drama. Only there was none.

So we put them out in the field, where there was some splashing in the creek and some running around, but then she settled right in like this was all normal and no big deal at all.

Since then, Kermit and Bella have decided to pace the fenceline, pining away for Sasha and Grace, who are in the barn for the next few days, but Horsie is out in the field, eating grass or hanging out in the shelter, undisturbed by the drama unfolding around her. So much for herd bound.

Today, I went out to do the morning feed and Horsie went into her stall like it was a peaceful oasis, ate her grain, whuffled hello to Grace, and then let me tack her up and go out for a teensy little trail ride around the riding ring. Then we went back to the barn for a bath and some scritches before retiring to the upper field with Kermit and Bella.

Tomorrow, we'll maybe walk around the perimeter of the upper field. Maybe we'll trot around the ring a bit. Then I'll give her another bath and scritch her mane (she likes that) and give her lots of carrots and tell her how wondrous it seems to me that I should get to have a horse like her in my life.

It's been an awfully painful few months, filled with loss and grief. I still expect to see Rosie in her field when i drive up to the barn. I still can't say goodnight to all my creatures because I can't bring myself to say "Spirit Rosie" instead of just "Rosie," but I went to see her grave today and felt peaceful and ok with it all. Rosie would want another horse, bound for slaughter, to live the sort of life Rosie lived.

So it is with great joy that I tell you that I have found a new companion, a big, glorious, athletic, sweet mare who is already enjoying the sort of life she deserves.

Joe

My college boyfriend, Joe, died very suddenly of a pulmonary embolism on Friday night.

Unlike when Ethan died, a mutual friend from college tracked me down and called me that night. The next morning, Josh IMed me from Iraq and we talked about Joe and how shocked we were to learn of his death. Clay has kept me updated via Jesse, who found out about the service this Wednesday from Joe's wife.

Joe was the first man I dated after Ethan and I broke up. He was beautiful and almost-annoyingly brilliant and intense and kind. I loved Joe with all the ardor and desperation of my youth.

I loved him more than I had loved anyone before and more than I have loved anyone since. It was a complicated relationship, my first unwitting and naive foray into open relationships. Neither he nor I were equipped to handle the situations we faced. I know that a good part of why I loved him so much more intensely than anyone else is because our love was so completely saturated with pain and confusion. When you're young, you think there's a correlation between suffering and love. When all the suffering had past, however, I found hidden in my marrow a deep love for a kind and good man.

I also loved him so deeply because we were in college and I was more wide open than I am now. I have since loved people more maturely, more sustainably, more sanely, but I have never -- will probably never -- love someone so much that I cannot hold still with it.

Joe, even now, 20 years later, I can feel as a sense memory, and I never really got over it or him. I would have done it all over again and sometimes I regret the loss of that naive willingness to leap, empty-handed, into loving another person because doing so led me to someone like Joe.

Our break-up was terrible; we betrayed each other completely. I never saw him again.

But in the years since, our lives had the occasional strange overlap, like when a woman in MA recognized me at a bus stop as "the woman who broke Joe's heart" five years after I graduated college. And when I tracked Joe down and sent him an email saying how sorry I was for the things I had done.

He wrote me back and said that he, too, was sorry for the things he had done. In the days leading up to his marriage, he went back to my dorm and cried and said goodbye to me and that part of his life. That was the end of our correspondence, but I always hoped that someday, we could find a way to be friends.

Then time moved on, and then the awful news on Friday that he was gone.

There's a lesson here about making amends - and probably about letting go too. There's a lesson about how quickly and randomly a life can end. There's a cautionary tale about love and the ways your college sweetheart (and high school sweetheart) can leave memories laced with memories even after you have grown older and wiser.

There were so many ways that Joe was wonderful, and when I'm ready, I'll write about them or talk about them. For now, I feel a heavy grief in my chest. Growing older means that you will have friends who die young. It hurts; it hurts.

One Month

Right about now, one month ago, Rosie died. A few hours later, my mother and sister arrived at my house to take care of me.

When Lydia said they were driving to Philadelphia, I said they didn't have to; I would be ok.

I actually thought it when I said it. Just as I meant it when I told Shannon and Jill that I could drive myself home from the barn. Fortunately for me, none of them believed me.

I had already felt the terror of Rosie struggling to get up and not being able to, of seeing her lie back down and start to jerk her legs as if trying to run. I had felt the hope that she would get up and then the horrible realization that she was going to die. I had pleaded with the universe not to take her away from me, pleaded with her not to die, and then understood that pleading would not make any of this stop. And I had gone as quiet as I could as she seized one more time and then was suddenly dead, there in my arms with my head on her still damp from the rain shoulder.

When Shannon walked in, I had done my sobbing and gasping and felt my head spin with grief. Then I had pulled myself away from Rosie's body and fed the chickens and helped shut down the barn for the night and let Shannon drive me home. During the drive home, I felt calm. Stupidly, for a few brief moments, I thought I was ok.

But I wasn't, and as I walked to my house from Susan's apartment, and saw my mom there on the steps waiting for me, I think I said, "Mom" and started sobbing so hard my legs buckled.

My mom and I don't tend to be physically affectionate. We greet each other in the European style: a kiss on each cheek. But in the middle of the night, when I found myself crawling around my bed because I couldn't get my skin to stop burning and prickling with the pressure of grief, my mom showed up in my bed and leaned back on the bedboard and held me in her arms.

For the next few days, she and Lydia didn't leave my side. Lydia slept with me and they sat with me on the sofa and stayed by me when I napped. They took me to see a movie and out for dinner and did my dishes and read magazines on the sofa. I oscillated between a sort of dry-eyed grief and terrified sobbing.

Since then, my grief has become a dull ache, and I mostly feel it in the form of my grasping heart. It clutches at things, desperate for love; it feels like this hollow, sucking void, and I want to fill it with love for people and animals and newly sprouting vegetables, even as I know that none of these things can satisfy the grasping. I'm trying to remember what it is to value people and animals and things on their own terms, instead of as salve on a wound, and I know I will have emerged from this next stage of grieving when everything becomes itself again, but until then, for today in particular, I've remembered what it meant to have my mom and sister there with me during those first overwhelming, hollow, burning days of grief.

I never planned to have children, and in many ways Rosie was both the love of my life and my most demanding child. Losing her has opened a chasm in me and as the immediate grief subsides, I look at what remains, and I count myself blessed to have a family that comes to me in my times of need, friends who have been so kind ot me, new people who have not shied away from the awkwardness of someone who has lost her greatest love, and even plants and animals, who just keep being so vibrantly alive.

updates

I taught my last class of the semester yesterday. I really liked that class, but I was ready to be done. Next week, they have exams and then I have to grade the exams, but then I get a few weeks off before I begin summer school. During that time, I really need to work on this talk I'm giving in the end of June.

Instead, I watch a lot of Scrubs on netflix (I just started season three) and go to Susan's house for dinner, and try to talk myself into a more steady frame of mind. That requires a lot of effort.

I've continued to go to the barn to help with horsecare, but started taking weekends off (unless Shannon's on call or they need me to cover). Jill just offered to cover my Tuesday morning feed, since she goes to the barn to ride anyway. I felt ambivalent about going down to three days, but realized I really need those extra mornings to work on that talk, particularly since my brain remains so muddy.

I've also been thinking a lot about fostering a rescued horse. I contacted the woman who writes Fugly Horse of the Day, and she recommended Angel Acres. I'm not sure if they're looking for foster homes, and I wouldn't be able to foster a horse until July at the earliest, but I wrote the woman who runs it to see if fostering is even a possibility. I can't imagine adopting another horse right now, but I think Rosie would like me helping a horse in distress get fat and healthy.

Just about everything in my life is in a holding pattern these days. I don't know what's going to happen with various friends whose lives are in states of flux, and I don't know what will happen next for me. I sure wish I could know that everything's going to be ok.

Grief

The grief is always just around the corner. I can feel it, lurking.

People have been so kind to me; that has held me up. I still need to write about some of the wonderful ways people have been there for me.

For the past two days, I've managed to stay on a pretty even keel. That's my goal: nothing too extreme, don't dwell on thoughts that will push you into grief and panic, have my feet "go mechanical around," as Emily Dickinson put it, "on ground, or air, or ought"

The thing is, doing what my body wants to do -- collapse, sob, lie there as vacant as I can be -- doesn't help me, doesn't help Rosie. It surely won't show anyone any more clearly the certainty and clarity of my love for her. So instead, I try to keep my grief this cold thing lodged deep in the bottom of the lake. The rest, I let ripple across the surface.

But I feel like my mind is in a split screen. One side is me, going through the day, being functional and doing the things I need to do. The other one is me, still trapped in the moment when I realized that this immense being I loved with all my heart for more than half my life was going to die and there was nothing I could do about it.

I didn't cry at that moment. Noises came out of me and there were not noises I'd ever heard come out of me before. I could hear myself making them, but I wasn't crying.

And then I heard Shannon walk into the barn just after Rosie had stopped breathing and I had my head on her shoulder and my arms around her neck, and that's when I could feel myself start to cry. The primal moment of absolute grief had passed.

It returned at 5 that morning. I was crawling around my bed on my hands and knees, making little noises and feeling my skin burn, and then I was sobbing while my mother held me and my sister rubbed my back. And then the valium kicked in and I slept.

The moments after are less terrifying, because the other parts of my brain started functioning. But they are more complicated because I'm aware of myself and the people around me. I'm watching myself grieve and I'm watching myself function at the same time that I am still trapped in that moment of absolute panic and grief.

And I know that this respite is going to pass and it's going to hurt and I'm going to have to continue to do what I'm doing now: survive, find moments of grace, look at all the people who have reached out to help carry me through the parts I cannot survive on my own.

I know we all suffer losses, and they are all terrible. And I suspect I should lock this post because it shows the ugliness of my aching heart, but I see no reason to be ashamed. I loved Rosie for twenty-two years and now she's gone, and it hurts so absolutely, even as I muddle along through the rest of the days of my life.

condolences

Grace lost her bootie today, so I walked around the field to find it. A woman drove by and paused to open her window. "I'm afraid to ask this," she started, and I said, "yes, Rosie died on Friday."

"My daughters and I were so worried that's what happened," she told me. "We hoped she was just in a different field. We really loved Rosie." It turns out this woman had been visiting Rosie when she walked her dogs. Rosie would come to the fence line and visit with this friend I never even knew she had.

Then, Kermit came up to me in the field. He put his head up against my chest and just held it there. Kermit never does stuff like that. He also isn't that keen on getting lots of petting, but he let me stroke his neck and face and we just stood there. After he returned to his grass and I started to walk away, he came up to me and did it again. He misses his friend. We offered each other condolences.

Since Rosie died, so many people have come out of the woodwork to reflect back my love for Rosie. Strangers I never knew have told me they read my blog to find out about Rosie. A friend's sister wrote me a long email about the death of her own horse and about how she had been keeping up with Rosie through her sister.

I realized today that Rosie has been my friend for more than half of my life. Twenty-two years, we were together one way or another. That is longer than any relationship with anyone not in my immediate family. But I'm not the only one who feels her loss. Rosie was a tough girl and she touched and inspired more people than I had ever realized.

And that's the second unexpected gift in this painful time: Rosie was loved; Rosie moved people; I wasn't the only one who saw her magic. She was just herself and people loved her for it.

what I lost

I went to the barn for the first time since Rosie died. I wanted to see the horses and I told Shannon and Jill that I would continue to do the weekday feeds and be available to cover on weekends. I can't leave them in the lurch, but I also realized that I couldn't imagine not seeing Grace, Kermit, Sasha, and Bella regularly. I loved Rosie with the absolute certainty of gravity, but those other horses - I love them too.

It was like seeing horses with new eyes, or with the eyes I had in childhood but had forgotten about until that moment. The horses were these breathing miracles, the sun shining through Kermit's long winter coat, causing it to shimmer in a fuzzy halo, Grace's almost-black solidity and chiseled head, Sasha's dramatic head tossing and prancing, Bella's determination to get that bit of grass almost out of reach on the other side of the fence -- I saw it all as if for the first time. It's not that I'd forgotten, exactly, but I had let that amazement fade to the back of my mind as I focused on keeping the barn clean and the horses safe and healthy.

After I took my first riding lesson, I remember kneeling by the pony who had trotted me patiently around the ring as I tried to post and slowly brushing her legs, transfixed by their delicate perfection. When I first met Rosie, I was again transfixed by the intricate perfection of her body. I daydreamed about her, examined her every detail, tried to memorize her.

And then there were the recent years, with their medical dramas and terrifying injuries; there were the possible surgeries to face; there was the not-knowing if she'd ever recover fully. There was also the petty stuff that comes up when three women share the enormous job of tending to our creatures. And today, when I saw the horses with the eye of a ten year old girl for the first time in years, all of the rest of it fell away.

I never expected that gift amidst sorrow that has buckled my legs and woken me up in the middle of the night in a full-fledged panic attack. I never expected to smell hay or see little flowers growing or admire the glory of horses, and losing Rosie woke me up both to what I lost and to how lucky I was to have had it in the first place.