Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Four Weeks: Lost

Around and around the looping roads of the campground, I galloped an imaginary horse, clutching invisible reins in my hands. I was too old for imaginary horses. As a rising seventh-grader, I felt too old for a lot of things. But who cares about convention when you live in a tent? I was happy to stay a horse-crazy kid before school came and forced me to acknowledge those imminent teen years I'd been dreading.

In the lazy heat of midsummer, I stretched out on my red blanket in the shade and I drew several versions of my stable logo, for someday when I would own my own stable. I read SADDLE CLUB books and thought myself into them, and when the time came to get up off the blanket, to gallop my restlessness away, I had the horses pictured perfectly. I knew their names and personalities. I, on my own two feet, spooked at tree branches and gusts of wind. I whinnied and snorted and pawed the earth with my flip-flops. I tossed my tangled mane.

I must have looked plain crazy to everyone except my family. They were accustomed to me. They could see my imaginary horses.

Then one day, out of shy boredom, I silently nodded when a stranger asked me to seesaw. We didn't talk much and the awkwardness grew -- until she said, "This feels like jumping on a horse!" -- and I nearly fell off in shock.

"You like horses, too?!"

There was hardly any silence for a week after that.

We spent the days cantering our bikes side by side along the lake. We swapped favorite horse books and favorite horse tips and favorite horse stories. When she finally had to leave, we stayed in touch for years.

Today is September 27. On this day five years ago, grown, and with the campground the furthest thing from my mind, I knelt in the pasture at the head of a horse named Stuff, who I met and started riding just a year after my campground time. I rode him for three years before I bought him at the age of 16, and spent the next nine years revolving around him like the earth around the sun.

I didn't know, in the campground, that those dreams I wanted so badly I could taste the dust and smell the leather were only a year away. And of course I didn't know how it would end, twelve years down the road. A morning too warm for September, the engine cooling from my long drive home, a breeze stirring wisps of hay that should have already been eaten. Except he wasn't hungry.

In every book I write, there is an animal and it is usually lost. There is Orange Cat in LIVVIE, lost to a car. There is Widdershins in BODY OF WATER, maybe lost to a fire.

I can write about being homeless and I can write about lost dogs and lost kitties and little girls who feel lost themselves. But I can't write about horses yet. Even while I ride my new horse and spend hours at his side, I can't write about horse-crazy little girls, jumping seesaws and cantering bicycles. I haven't found the right words to describe something that isn't there.

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