Sunday, September 10, 2017

A Horse Named Terry

"Do you want to come and meet Terry?" Her brown eyes wide. Sparkling. The embodiment of child-like wonder. If ever I'd had cause to use the phrase, this had been it.

"Sure, kiddo." This was not a request to be refused. Hearts of stone would rumble from the look in those eyes. Ravaging marauders would have given pause at the look at my daughter's face before continuing their rampage. The village would be burned, but that skip in time, that temporal record scratch, would have marked the moment forever.

I followed my daughter through the stables to the very end of a row of stalls, past other horses, to find Terry, the smallest of the lot, and my daughter's mount for the previous week. More of a pony, really, than a horse. A dwarf amongst giants. But when my daughter had ridden him a mere twenty or so minutes before, her head had practically been obscured for all the clouds.

Some familiar smells: the hay, the manure, the wood from the old barn, hide and hair. A thousand different odours combined that most people knew as "the farm smell:" a brown sludge. But to those versed in such things, there was an entire palette there with all kinds of data ripe for the taking. I'd grown accustomed to my (sub)urban environment and the accompanying smells, but some things would not--indeed could not-- be forgotten, and I still had a vocabulary for such things, limited though it was.

"First we have to take the saddle and riding blanket off of him."

A week-long summer camp, and here was Calamity Jane, transported through time from the Old West, channelled by my daughter, teaching me about horses. All it had taken was a week-long summer camp to master this particular act of prestidigitation. My daughter's nine-year-old brain was a sponge, a selective one, and it had selected horses.

"Next you have to brush him down. I'm going to take the bow out of his mane too; I put it there so he'd look nice for the show."

If she had been born a hundred years ago, my daughter would have balked at such chores. But the wheel has turned, and now taking care of horses was something special. At least to a certain nine-year-old girl with eyes identical to mine. A connection--especially for city-folk--to another world. Other life. Living, breathing. The world around our world. The world inside and outside our world.

"You have to be careful not to stand behind the horse, daddy. You don't want to get kicked. You always approach a horse from the front so you don't startle him."

It wasn't Terry I was worried about. I was the one who had been startled. Spooked. Here was my daughter with her beautiful brown eyes--my eyes--looking into another world. I could hear in her voice her passion for horses, and the thought occurred: she was more excited about horses than I remembered being about anything in a long time. Was it just me? Or had the World of Men blunted my senses? Was it the office life, the bills, the million other uncertainties, scooping me out, one spoonful at a time, intent on leaving nothing but the container?

I knew what she wanted. And by god in that moment--like almost every moment since the day she had been born--I wished that could have given it to her. I wished that I could reach up, pull her dreams from the sky, let her ride on the breeze as Pegasus might. I wish I could buy her her horse, let her soar through her childhood years, short and precious as they were, for I knew that those same heights could never be reached again. You never could never fly as high as you could as a child. The world would never be as big as it was when you had to crane your neck to see everything, to talk to anyone.

This must be the gambler's desperation; the urge to fill that void at any cost. What I wouldn't give to keep that light in her eyes. To make that smile last a little longer. What parent wouldn't? That secret pain that only parents knew: when your child asks you to buy them a horse or take riding lessons, and the first and only answer you want to give is "Yes." As she grew older, she would hear more than her fair share of "No." The World of Men would try and break her with "No" as surely as Terry the horse had been broken. Tame her dreams as he had been tamed.

How could I explain to her about mortgages or car payments or saving for education or retirement or a rainy day? What was that to whatever dreams may come? No was still no, no matter what form it took. I would know that it was not out of meanness or spite, and the woman my daughter would grow into would know, but that nine-year-old girl would never know. In her eyes, the world would seem a little smaller then. Her father wouldn't stand quite as tall as before. When it came time to settle all accounts, there was no way to claw back out of the red in that particular ledger.

"Do you want to pet him daddy? Just gentle, right on his face."

I wanted you to ride forever, kiddo. I wanted you to follow all the dreams you could, as long as you could. For every one of my disappointments, I wanted to help you climb one more step. For every "No" I'd endured, I wanted to give you a "Yes."

I smiled back at my daughter. Of course I smiled. I looked into her eyes--my eyes. I reached out with my hand and touched my daughter's dream. Terry the horse.

"He likes you daddy. Terry's a good horse, isn't he?"

"He is, kiddo. The best."

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