This made me cry. It reminded me of what I would could confess right now, were confession possible at this hour. I miss my horse. More than that, I cannot face my own culpability in the way my life changed, in the way I had to give him up in order to help Zeke. Was it worth it? Absolutely. The divorce destroyed something in her — her trust, her faith that things would turn out all right. They always had before, but when she was 10 — almost 11 — they didn’t. By the time she had turned 13, she was struggling. Adolescence stretched before her — before me — and I dreaded what was happening. I was struggling to keep my horse, and working off his board, and rarely home, and she said, one day, “You love that horse more than me.” And I said, “It’s not true.” And she didn’t believe me.
My friend, who was letting me keep my horse at her place, said she was being manipulative, that she was being spoilt. She might have been, I suppose, but still, I couldn’t sleep for worry about her. Another horse friend said I needed to assert my authority. “I would never have been able to treat my parents the way she treats you,” she said. “You need to teach her who’s boss.”
But my heart said something else. Zeke is sensitive, extremely so. I knew it. Whatever was happening was a response to pain, not misbehavior. So I gave away my horse. I couldn’t sell him, although he had cost me a lot. I just couldn’t sell him. It was like taking money to sell a friend.
Zeke got better, though not totally. “What do you need from us?” I asked her one day, meaning “from your father and me.”
“I want to live with you,” she said. “All the time. I don’t want to have to go to Dad’s house.” I had full custody at the time, but she had been staying with him on a three or four school nights a week because her school was in his town, not mine, and she didn’t want to change schools. I would pick her up from school and bring her home with me, and she’d stay with me till he picked her up on the way home from work. I saw her every day that way, but didn’t have to get up an hour earlier to take her to school. It seemed ideal, except that she was struggling.
It’s not that she doesn’t love her dad. She just didn’t click with his wife (and there are good reasons, I would say). So I talked to her father. We worked something out. She has been with me full time for two years, and I drive her to and from school every day. Two days a week he’s supposed to pick her up from school, but he’s busy, and doesn’t always have time. It’s OK. She is far happier now.
In the end, listening to her worked. Giving up my horse was what she needed. Getting up an hour earlier every day to get her to school so she didn’t have to stay with her dad made the difference. Her grades are good. She is popular and happy. She stands up for what matters to her — a day of silence in support of her gay and lesbian friends, choosing to sit at the lunch table with the overweight new girl, resisting the tremendous peer pressure to smoke cigarettes and the omnipresent we*d, to have s*x, to drink and party hard.
On Mother’s Day she and a friend made me dinner, baked me a cake. We sat down together and ate and talked and laughed. That night, at 1:00 a.m., she came into my room and lay down beside me (as she sometimes does; she’s been a lifelong light sleeper, starting before birth!). “I’ve been thinking,” she said. “I’m lucky to have you as a mother. I can tell you anything, and you listen to me.” We talked for a while, and then she hugged me and went back to bed.
I’m proud of her, proud to bursting. She’s funny and strong and sweet. She’s beautiful and smart too. I think of Molly, and my own horse, whom I gave up and miss terribly at times. I think of Zeke. I wish it could have been different, but I think it was right not to teach her “who’s boss.”
It’s the human conundrum. I did what I must confess, failed to love my horse enough in order to love my daughter the way I think she needed to be loved. One wrong to try to make a bigger right. Is it bigger? People who don’t love horses the way I do would probably say yes, but horse lovers would probably disagree. My horse friends would. Childless themselves, they don’t understand. Their horses are their children. They see me as having given up my child.
Conner. I’m sorry.