by Mari McKee
A lonely young girl finds love and friendship
Isabelle is an odd child, both in appearance and in manner. She is in that awkward, prepubescent stage where she is all elbows and big feet. Her untamed, frizzy red hair sits atop her head which seems too big for her body. Izzy once counted over one hundred huge freckles laying siege to the milky white skin of her face. She is aware that her father fervently hopes that she is the proverbial ugly duckling who will undergo a metamorphosis and turn into a beautiful swan. Izzy decided that her mother doesn’t have an ounce of maternal blood running through her cold veins. It is obvious that her mother cannot wait for the end of summer holiday, so that she can pack her back to boarding school.
An introvert, Izzy is painfully shy. She would rather be alone and lonely. This morning she wanders aimlessly around their twenty five acre estate. Heavy sighs emanate from her thin chest, then radiates to anyone within thirty feet of her, to their exasperation. She has no siblings, no cousins, and no friends either at home or at school. She blames her parents for her lack of friends because of their naming her Isabelle. No matter how often she says her name is Isabelle, inevitably, everyone refers to her as Izzy. Izzy sounds like an inanimate object. She knows of no women named Izzy, who are beautiful, talented, or popular. She knew that being homely, shy, and lacking any redeeming qualities, did not help her situation of being friendless.
Yesterday, her mother, an equestrian, purchased a roan mare, wanting to train her in dressage. Izzy loved watching dressage where the horses appeared to be positively dancing. Izzy was bucked off a pony when she was five years old which resulted in a fractured arm. The pain and terror she experienced would not allow her to get back on a horse. Her mother first tried pleading and bribing to no avail. Then she demanded that Izzy mount her pony. Izzy ran off in fear with her mother chasing her and screaming obscenities. She never again mounted a horse.
Izzy heads to the stables and hesitates at the doors. She hears a soft whinny which gives her courage to enter and find the new horse. With heart palpitations threatening to make her run, she stops in front of a stall door that carries a new name plate. It reads, “Red Badge of Courage”, which is the mare’s registered name. She meets the gaze of a beautiful mare whose eyes emanate kindness. As Izzy cautiously strokes the red head’s face, she decides to call her “Courage”. Courage nuzzles her hand and gives a gentle whinny of thanks. For the first time she can remember, Izzy feels excitement that another soul appears to like her.
Tonight it is her father’s turn to put Izzy to bed. As he listens to her prayers, tears come to his eyes when Izzy includes Courage in her prayers and asks God to allow Courage to become her friend. He watches her as she quickly falls asleep with a smile on her face. For the first time in her life, he sees a never before seen beauty in her freckled face, topped with frizzy red hair.
Each morning Izzy gathers a carrot and an apple from the kitchen and runs to the stables. Courage is always happy to see her, anticipating not only the treats Izzy brings her, but her company. Izzy is still leery about opening the stall door, but now she goes to the stables with her mother and watches as she grooms Courage and tacks her saddle, girth and reins. She follows them to the small arena and watches her mother put Courage through her paces. Courage looks at Izzy with those beautiful eyes as she nears where Izzy is sitting atop the fence surrounding the arena. Izzy’s heart nearly bursts with joy for Courage, who is working hard to learn her new dressage steps. After her lesson, her mom puts the mare in a pasture with lush green grass to graze. Izzy stands on the gate of the pasture and watches Courage as she contentedly munches grass and enjoys the sunlight and freedom. Every so often, Courage approaches the gate so that Izzy can stroke her.
Always having been shy and mostly silent at dinner, Izzy begins talking about Courage’s accomplishments for the day. This delights her parents, especially her mother who has begun to show an interest in Izzy. She has dreamed that her daughter becomes an accomplished equestrian on several occasions.
However, whenever she asks Izzy to mount Courage, Izzy adamantly refuses. This causes the resurrection of old frustrations for both of them. Izzy can’t understand why her mother has no compassion for her fear. Her mother can’t understand why Izzy refuses to try to ride again. It is akin to taking one step forward then taking two steps back.
After days of watching Courage’s progress, Izzy heads for the pasture. After watching Courage for a few minutes, she cautiously opens the gate and goes into the pasture. Feeling as if she is about to faint, she sits in the grass and puts her head between her knobby knees. She begins crying, not just from feeling stupid because of her fear, but for everything about her. Why can’t she be pretty and make her parents proud? Why couldn’t she make a single friend?
She is startled when she feels a warm nose tousling her hair. She slowly stands and puts her thin arms around Courage’s neck. She continues to cry into Courage’s mane while the mare softly whinnies in reassurance that she understands Izzy’s pain. She steps back, looking into Courage’s eyes, as the realization hits her upside her too-big head.
“Courage, you love me! You are my friend! Thank you, God, for answering my prayers!”
Courage takes a step towards her. For the first time Izzy remembers, she bursts into a happy laughter as she hugs her big, beautiful, loving friend. She stays with Courage, talking to her, until her father comes to get her for dinner. She kisses Courage good-night, and then chats non-stop with her startled, but enormously pleased father as they return home.
Tonight’s dinner is a celebration for a new life for Izzy. Gone are her sullen looks and her single word responses. Her parents are amazed at her transformation.
The next day, her father finds both Izzy and Courage lying in the cool green grass. Izzy’z head is on Courage’s chest as she talks to Courage while listening to the horse’s heartbeat. It is such an idyllic image that her father often brings it back to mind.
After a beautiful night’s sleep, she returns to the stable to be with Courage. When her mother comes to tack Courage, Izzy tells her that she wants to ride Courage today. Her mother’s huge smile is contagious and Izzy smiles at her. Her mother is astounded at the transformation of Izzy’s appearance with that smile. She sees a hidden beauty emerging from her freckled, red headed, and gangly daughter.
Once in the arena, Izzy mounts Courage fearlessly, and begins to walk him, as if they are one. Her mother cries at their beauty and perfect movement.
Izzy’s love and friendship with Courage grew each day. They would lie together in the grass as Izzy confided thoughts and feelings to Courage, who appeared to understand. Sometimes, she would read books aloud to Courage or sing songs to the mare. As the days grew shorter, Izzy approached her parents to ask them to allow her to stay home and go to the near-by public school. She was ecstatic when they agreed. They knew she couldn’t leave Courage, nor could Courage be happy without Izzy.
The once lonely, homely, and awkward girl entered public school that fall, with her head held high and feeling worthy of friendship and love, all because of the love of a roan horse named Courage.