Cody called me just after dinner. He burned a few minutes joking around about stuff, and then said, “I thought we could go catch a movie.”
I looked down at the files I had spread all over my bed. “Who’s going?” I asked him.
After a second, he said, “We could probably call Cooper.”
“You know, Cody,” I said, “I’m going to be working all next week. And if I’m going to pass finals, I’m pretty much going to have to study all weekend. But call Cooper. I’ll bet she’d go.”
“Yeah,” he said, but he didn’t sound all that excited about it.
“Or Corinne,” I said. “But I gotta go.”
“Okay,” he said. “You call me if you change your mind.”
Like I had the leisure to do that. Cooper is always complaining that I never have time to do anything. She says I’m abused, like I’m some kid in a Dickens novel. But what she doesn’t get is that I love what we do. Nobody has to make me do it. Cooper can’t understand; she has a part time job flipping burgers. It’s not something she intends to do ever again after she gets through college. She has no deep connection to the food industry—she only does it so she has money. In fact, Cooper is always worried because she has no idea what she wants to do with her life.
On the other hand, what I do here is my life’s work. I love the horses. I love the farm. I love the therapy groups and the riding lessons and the whole nine yards. All this is my passion.
What we do is simple—we help kids heal themselves by helping them heal a horse.
I train the trainers. The trainers work to overcome the horses’ fear and inability to trust, things these horses have learned at the hands of human beings. For every kid who comes here with a story, there is a horse with a story. One team, two stories—I have to unravel both. It’s careful work. But it’s easier if I start out liking the clients.
We’d talked about these files again at dinner. My father is the licensed therapist. My mama and I both qualify as Parelli trainers. I’ve been helping my parents with these groups since I was old enough to put on a halter. And my mom is right—I’m good at it. I’ve seen really fine things happen between kids and horses. I’ve just never had to deal with clients like these clients. Nobody I’d be afraid to meet in a dark alley, I mean. Most of the kids I’ve worked with have been shorter than I am, for one thing. And innocent. Innocent kids with clinically defined problems.
But my mother sure had dialed it up this time.
I started with the easy one. Toni, the girl in the wheelchair. We didn’t know each other well, even from before her accident. To say “hi” to, is all. She was a tall, dark haired girl who played volleyball and soccer. Then some drunk ran into her family’s car, and even with the seatbelt on her, broke Toni’s back and paralyzed her from the waist down. I didn’t really understand the “lack of confidence” angle; even without her legs, Toni had tons of friends.
It was that wheelchair I was worried about. What do I know about wheelchairs? It wasn’t a motorized one, which was bad and good. The ones with motors are heavy, which could be an advantage when you’re working with a horse. But a light chair—what if she got the rope tangled up around it? What if Chessy moved into her suddenly and knocked her to kingdom come? That gave me some pause. What if she got hurt? It’s not like I have medical training.
And horses are funny with things like bicycles and wind-up tape measures—non-organic things that remind them of snakes or predators. Or anything that moves that the horse can’t figure out right away. When you’re a prey animal, you’re going to run before you study a thing through. That’s how you stick around to live another day.
Her horse, Chessy—he was a big guy. But my mother was right, again—he knows where his feet are. Dark gray with good dappling, flaxen mane and tail—beautiful Chessy. Sad story, though, just like most of our rescues. Even so, like a lot of the larger breed horses, he had the disposition of a saint, and that was going to work for us.
I picked up another envelope. The boy. Turner Davis. I read the file through, worried sick for Nova, the quiet little mare my mother assigned to this kid. So, it was his mother’s shack-up boyfriend he’d gone after with the chair. But there was more to this story than what I was reading here; the shack-up had a rap sheet long as a roll of toilet paper. And the mother had suffered more than one “mysterious” injury. Well, that surely did give me a lot of comfort. I blew my breath out and sat back, wondering what Ms. Hyde could have been thinking. I almost got off that bed and marched downstairs to tell my parents they had made a terrible mistake. Thing is, it wouldn’t have done me a stitch of good. Being who they were, they’d just sadly shame me into taking it back and sucking it up. And I just didn’t have that much energy.
Angrily, I pulled out that last folder. I have to tell you, I hated that pink-haired girl’s mouth. I’d seen so many mouths like that—the eyes look at you and roll, and the mouth gets that little sneer on it. People like that cut you to the quick without even thinking about it. And that hair was just stupid. I had no understanding at all what could make a person waste time doing such a thing. I jerked her history out of the file and started to read it. Seems most of her trouble started when her daddy got killed. Car accident when she was fourteen. Made her mean. I wondered about that. I didn’t understand it, but I knew it could be a common enough reaction to something terrible and traumatic. Then her mama remarried a couple of years later. After that, this Lyza started cutting herself. And taking pills. Then too many pills.
So she was one of those kids jerked back from the grave. Now, she wears chains. Too many metaphors on this girl to suit me. I looked at her picture again. There was no light in it. She was opaque, like she was carrying a poster of herself out in front.
And for her, my mother had chosen Jazz. I rubbed my head with my fingertips. Unstable little misfit of a horse for an unstable, pouty-mouthed girl. It would not have been my call.
If I had been the crying kind, it would have come out then. These horses had been through so much, already. And we had invested so much heart bringing them back, promising them that life could be good. Younger kids, especially the girls, come to horses so ready to love. I just didn’t know where any of this was going to.
When I do cry, I tell you true—I’ll save it for the horses.