by Marie A.
Remembering a summer of discovery spent living in the back field
(A Letter to Jamie)
Jamie, remember when the horses ran headlong down someone’s driveway
And we ran right up in front of some really surprised dude mowing his lawn,
and turned around to gallop away, laughing so hard we almost fell right out of the saddles?
And then just went on to our next adventure shrugging and saying
“Life happens like that sometimes, and at least now we actually know where that road goes”?
Tormenting your brother that summer was a highlight of my life so far (the dead snake that bit him?- and did he really think a gal like me is afraid of mice?)
The campfires and bad hair band songs and old canvas army tent we shared; even in the rain, and did you ever learn to share blankets with a sleeping partner?
Long walks down the road when it was 100 degrees and the asphalt melted under our feet,
the hot tar smelling like creosote in July’s glare; the groundhog bloated with a million pounds of unspeakable gassy pressure;
waiting to burst forth its ichor into the air while we tiptoed past hoping it didn’t let loose on us!
Most important of all, though, were the horses, our tickets to freedom, get in the saddle and ride on away
No-one told us we had to be ladies, and thus we learned to fear nothing, and it was great to be strong just once.
Indeed, you were a lot less afraid than I that year.
At least I had a sense of mortality, having experienced loss that cannot be regained.
I always went first, but cautiously, while you pushed me on, further, faster, deeper; do you have any idea how much trouble you got me in?
We painted your bedspread and shared dreams and fears and even recorded voices of the dead from my family’s cemetery.
We watched stars and awkwardly bumbled through our first loves, and the heartbreak that comes with choosing wrong the first time.
There was always something wild and new to celebrate and explore- remember the campground when my mom just left us to fend for ourselves for a weekend?
Remember Michigan? And my mom’s horrid boyfriend we made fun of? and the lighted boat parade shimmering on the water that 4th of July?
There was even a time I dreamed of marrying your brother; do you think he ever knew I loved him? He was so shy and never even talked to me except that one time anyway.
I only felt I ever had an audience with you; we’d talk all night about silly things (would you rather kiss a pretty girl or an ugly boy?) and important ones too (am I really ready for the kind of relationship he’s looking for?).
I’d been taught at home that my thoughts and feelings didn’t count in the real world, so I became a mute observer, silently trying to find a place I could sneak into while no-one noticed.
Only you listened during those years, when I cried my heart out for the innocence I lost on that bus, and for that I thank you.
Because something happened it seems when I boldly left to tenuously seek my place in the world and find my voice-
You seem to have forgotten how to use your own, and I never once looked back. I couldn’t- it hurt too much for too many years.
When did you give up on your dreams, and when did you stop believing in miracles and horses and the sprites in your mother’s garden and the power of magic to dispel an idiot or two from your thoughts?
Or simply the adventure waiting down the road you never considered before?
Why did your circle of influence in the world close you into a prison cell?
What happened to make you spiteful of those who still journey into the unknown?
And why do you throw scorn my way when I share my successes and heartbreaks now with you?
Is it because we grew older or is it something else more ephemeral, perhaps a difference in the perceiving of light at daybreak? (The light shines like a beacon from across the river for me, illuminating the mountain mist like a soul on fire and compels me to follow it to its source- what about for you?)
Deep down, do you consider my life less real than yours now in some intangible way?
Do the trials and setbacks of an unmarried woman count somehow less; as if our worth only starts to be counted upon the birth of the first child? (is a woman defined by her life work or her family?)
Can you understand the heart of a person who has given her soul to God to rend and shred and tear and remake only to do it all again?
Did you prefer it when I was fettered, before I learned to navigate the cold on my own?
Do you comprehend, having not experienced the darkness firsthand, that those who have lived through darkness will never be content with comfort again?
Is it a sin to celebrate life while actually trying to live it? (Or do you believe the ones who said to you, as they did me, “don’t set your expectations too high or you’ll only be disappointed in the results?)
Will the evil eye shine down on those who celebrate peace and quiet times and life’s little boons? (Hey! I actually met someone willing to live with me!!)
You know, even back then, I always envied you the stability that was your birthright.(Lord knows my life at home was a wreck)
You never had to know how homelessness is as much a state of mind and being as it is lack of mailing address.
You never wondered if anyone would ever be able to love you, because there wasn’t a moment in your life someone did not love you.
You are rich beyond words for those simple things; for the poverty of America is that our souls are abandoned while our bellies are full.
The price we pay for our abundance is forgetting where we come from and what sustains when the day is said and done.
We condemn those who we expect different results from but don’t examine our own unrealistic expectations, and this is our failure.
Yet you seem to have embittered your heart, and etched your shadows into the ground at your feet to mark the boundaries of what you can stand to bear witness now. (and I challenge you to tell me why that happened, and when, and how)
Instead of remembering to walk towards the light of Creation with open heart.
When did you stop trusting and growing and laughing with heart and arms wide open? I always think of you as the only genuinely happy person I knew.
I’d put my little black stallion through his paces across the desert of my highland Central American home, through the Sierra Madre and into another world if could bring you back and make you relive for just a day the way you fearlessly faced your youth.
The sinkholes and scrub and maguey fences and scorching sun would be no obstacles compared to the resistance from your own spirit.
Jamie, come riding again with me in our secret places- the grottoes and valleys and paths through the woods are like the home I seek on the road.
I want you to remember how to leap the hurdles in your path and feel the spirit wind rush through your hair and open fingers while you laugh with delight when you realize the mistakes you've made from being human.
You owe your daughter this much: that you recall enough so that she also know the joy of summers of freedom.
That she learns from your example to face life head-on, because it takes no quarter. Our children’s lives will not be easier than ours.
She needs to learn to gallop headlong down unknown roads, because what good is a life lived with past longings and remember when’s but no maybe tomorrows and let’s todays?
Most of all though I want my friend back but suspect the fissure has developed too wide to leap from horseback and I’m not sure we’re well-versed in construction of bridges these days.
I have a prayer for us this Christmas:
Let’s today set aside our differences for while and take a horseback ride back down that road in Nuremburg again, and try to recall just what it was we found we could talk about for hours by the campfire at night while the owls hooted in the distance.
Maybe tomorrow we’ll distill the starlight into a crystal goblet and offer a toast to the type of future where our daughters can dream without worrying that, in their audacity, they are setting their expectations too high.
Maybe we’ll both take way something to light our way through life’s setbacks and darkness.
Maybe, just maybe, it’ll feel like I’ve come home for the first time in 17 years, and you’ll feel safe again leaving your comfort zone.
Or we'll just go into the damned backyard and build snow forts and stone each other with snowballs until we realize just how ridiculous we're both acting.
Hell, we’ll even give your brother a call.
Dec 1, 2008