Breathe. It’s okay. I have to let her go.
It was all I could say to keep my eyes from filling up with tears that morning. I had contemplated not going at all, wondering if it would just be better if I stayed home than witnessing what I had been dreading for weeks. But bravely, I stepped forward into the morning sunshine, observing my nervous thoughts as my thick muck boots hit against the road below me. It was a short walk to the old barn, mainly uphill but I was happy to have some time to think before the moment I knew was coming. Reaching my hand inside my jean pocket, I could feel two peppermints wrapped carefully inside. It was her favorite treat and today, I wanted to make sure I gave her one, one last time. I thought of the many moments when I had talked to her, stroking her forehead with my hand as she simply listened. She always listened. She was a calm and gentle mare, but somewhere deep inside her aged heart was still a locker full of firecrackers and passion. She would suddenly in a moment of peace display more strength and spunk than anyone ever thought she could at her age, but I loved that about her. My trainer called it disobedience and tried to force the 26 year old to follow orders every moment. But Misty hardly listened. And I never blamed her. She had lived a long life. Her white hairs were beginning to blossom around her eyes and a few strands of grey were becoming more visible down her flowing tail. She had foaled a child and been a mother. But she had been a friend and a teacher to me in numerous ways.
My stomach felt sick. I wanted to cry but I walked faster in an attempt to leave my emotions on the road as I stepped into the tall grassy pasture. I wasn’t going to be emotional. I couldn't be. I thought of what my trainer, Cora, would say if she saw me crying. Although she hadn’t been my trainer or boss in over six months, she still was the owner of the barn I was heading to, and my memories of her still made me crawl into myself. She wasn't a bad woman, but was simply hurting. I reminded her of herself years ago, and I only suppose that she treated me like her mother treated her when she was my age. Harsh. Strict. Zero tolerance for compassion. My body shuttered thinking about the way she used to yell at me for the silliest mistakes. The saddle wasn't clean enough, my hands weren’t angled on the reins correctly, I couldn't work out a math problem to determine how much feed the horses got. She would whip the horses into submission, curse and scream at them till my cheeks became red with anger. How could anyone who said they love horses be so cruel to them? I was always gentle with animals, big or small. It was as if I could understand their thoughts, their eyes told me stories and we shared our lives together. But this was something that Cora couldn’t see. She was hot tempered, and as a girl who just wanted to be with horses I found that after four long years of trying, the farm environment had become toxic for me. But I had made the decision to still come and see my horse Misty almost every week, and I wouldn't let the cruelty of my past trainer threaten me, especially not today. Not while I was already vulnerable.
I finally made my way to the front of the pasture where I could see Misty at the old barn gate. I stopped for a moment, smiling gently at her before taking a deep breath to ensure myself that I had the confidence to go through with this. Staring behind her with those big brown eyes that carried just a hint of spontaneity, she beckoned me to come closer. Snorting and rubbing against me playfully, my fear of letting her go subsided as I stared into her eyes and stroked her colorful neck. Patterned with brown and white spots, her painted coat seemed to glimmer in the morning sunlight. I felt my hands brush across her withers, my fingers catching the flakes of dirt that always made me smile.
I was reminded of the hundreds of times when I came home, covered in horse hair and dirt, and smelled like manure. My family had always teased and laughed at me when I came home, but I loved it. Feeling the dirt in my hands, that earthy smell I always attained when working with horses, I loved it all. Retrieving one of the red and white peppermints in my pocket, I smiled as she lapped it up. I could hear the crunch as she happily chewed it then seemed to smile at me for more. Her breath was minty, and she stared into my eyes with more love than I had known before. I knew the trailer would be arriving soon to take her away, and I should have been getting her halter on and walking up the long hill to the parking lot. But I couldn’t. As I stood next to the paint, hearing her slow and steady breaths on my neck, I couldn’t move because I knew that that moment would be gone so quickly, and I wanted it to last forever. A light breeze played with both of our manes, making them seem to dance. I looked at Misty, and saw her differently. She looked free. Free to run from the trailer that was about to take her away from me. Free to gallop and play, chasing the wind as she whinnied to the light blue sky above. I wished she would run. Run. Run. Run! I wanted to tell her. I wished I could climb up on her back and gallop away so that we could be together, and nothing and no one would be able to stop us. My tears began to flow as I gave her a hug. Embracing her soft fur, I could hear her heartbeat. Then I could hear mine. I felt my face grow warmer. My tears were hot and burning my cheeks as they ran, but I didn't care. I just wanted this moment to last.
“Jenny!” I turned around, my body instinctively tightening up at the sound of my trainer's loud voice. Cora stood at the top of the hill where her little cottage sat, nestled in between a few tall trees. She stared at me with confusion. I straightened up and felt my jawline do the same.
“Yes ma’am?” I politely answered as I had been taught to do with all adults, emotionally abusive or not.
“What the hell are you doing? Don’t you know they're coming to get Misty right now?” I stuttered, trying to explain my decision to let her keep her freedom for a moment longer, but she wouldn't listen.
“I… I… just wanted to say goodbye to her.” I looked at her innocently as she walked quickly down the hill to me.
“That’s ridiculous! Put her in the barn on the cross ties!” Nodding my head in submission, I hid myself behind the mare's tall neck for a moment, whipping away my tears as I regained enough strength to put her halter back on. Our moment of freedom was gone.
Not before long, a lengthy white, horse trailer pulled up the winding road and into the grassy driveway. The new owner examined Misty for a few minutes. I simply stayed back, but my eyes never left Misty’s. The man left to open up the trailer, I swallowed hard.
“This is it, girl.” I smiled at her friendly gaze. I wondered if she knew what was about to happen. With a wave of a hand, Misty and I were summoned as we steadily walked up the hill. She stopped every couple feet, trying to grab a mouthful of green spring grass on her way to the trailer. That made me laugh, though Cora was not as amused. A familiar SUV pulled into the driveway as well and I was surprised to see my mom step out. She had come to see if I needed a ride back home. But I didn't want her to see me this emotional. Giving Misty one last hug and a kiss, I stood back as she was led into the stall. I watched, my eyes begging to cry, as my girl was swallowed up by the darkness of the trailer, the door slammed shut behind as the last glimpse I had of my best friend was gone. Gone.
As the man locked up and climbed into his truck's seat, I felt warm tears cascade down my skin. I could feel Cora’s cold eyes on me, on my vulnerability, on my weakness. I couldn't take it anymore.
“Do you want a ride home, honey?” My mom’s voice rang in my ear. I was in a daze, holding my emotions in as long as I had ever before. I shook my head, trying to show a smile through my pain.
“I’m just gonna walk home.” I barely got the last word out before my heart exploded with pain. I turned in embarrassment as tears flooded my eyes and face, I walked quickly through the tall grass, across the gate and back into the pasture that had once been thriving with freedom and a beautiful creature that was now gone. All I could think about was her. Everything in my mind was her. My best friend, my only friend. The one creature I could talk and cry to, laugh with and play with. My breaths became rapid as I tried to control them. Her soft brown eyes were in my mind. My heart felt like it was breaking from the inside out, boiling over into flames and all I could do was stand by and watch my favorite relationship in the world burn down to the earth. I climbed over the pasture fencing into my neighborhood. I wanted to hide. Hide away from neighbors prodding eyes, from my family's concerns and hugs. Once I reached the corner of our large backyard, I knew I didn't want to go inside my house and pretend I wasn’t completely heartbroken. Their hugs were always warming, and I know they meant well but at that moment, I wasn’t ready to be quieted and calmed.
I needed to release my heartbreak.
I needed to feel everything.
So coming to a large grouping of towering pine trees at the corner of our property, I hid beneath their evergreen branches, sitting down on the pine straw floor as the tree's arms hid me from view. I felt warmed by the nature around me, and felt safe to cry. I buried my head in my hands, exhaustingly pouring out my broken spirit until there was nothing left to cry. After 20 minutes, it felt as though every ounce of liquid in my body was gone and my tears had used up the last of it. I breathed heavily, smelling the fresh pine in the air, the spring flowers that sprung and speckled around my boots. I felt better about everything, and all I needed was time and compassion for myself to be able to heal. Standing up on wobbly legs, I held onto the sturdy branches of the tree beside me to keep from falling over.
She’s gone. I had accepted it as hard as it was to remind myself of.
`But she’s gonna be okay, and I’m gonna be okay. I breathed in even deeper than before, closing my eyes as I let them recover for a minute. And bravely stepping out of the shadow of the pine trees, I made my way home again.