February 19, 2014
Earlier today, when I was walking back from picking up some groceries, I spotted a horse drawn carriage “parked” on the side of the street. Two striking black geldings with white stockings stood in front of the carriage, rain sheets draped over their backs. I immediately crossed the street and made my way over to them, pausing beside the one closest to the curb. “May I pet your horse?” I asked the woman who stood holding his bridle.
“Of course,” she said.
I immediately pressed my hand to the warm, muscled neck. I trailed my fingers along the familiar path that I’d traced thousands of times before, the smell of horse sweat and hay filling the humid night air.
I found an inexplicable wave of sadness wash over me. What I really wanted to do was press my face into the soft fur and take a deep breath, lean into the large animal and let him hold my body weight.
At Skidmore, I have the privilege of taking riding lessons twice a week. One of my favorite parts of each trip to the barn is the moment after the lesson when the tack has been put away, the horse has been groomed, the hooves picked. When there’s nothing left for me to do, I press my face into the curve just beneath the withers and lean into the horse. It’s such a wonderful, peaceful feeling to be able to let everything go and just breathe in the smell of horse and hay and sawdust.
Horses are astonishingly patient animals. When my parents were getting divorced, those moments I spent in the barn, resting against a horse, were almost more therapeutic to me than the actual therapy sessions I went to. Horses don’t expect anything from you except kindness—and maybe a carrot now and then. They don’t care if you’re wearing makeup, or if your rosacea is flaming up in fiery red patches across your cheeks. They don’t care if you’re sad or lonely or scared. As long as you are gentle and quiet, they will let you rest against them for as long as you need.
And you know what? Every time I walk into a horse’s stall because I need to escape, because the tears are brimming and I don’t want to have to explain why I’m crying to my riding instructor—the horse knows. He knows when it is one of those moments when I’m splitting apart at the seams. And he will lift his head from his hay or his water bucket and let me stroke his face, let me kiss his nose, let me wrap my arms around that great big neck and cry. Horses are patient as the earth and they never judge. Plus they’re cuddly and warm.
So—getting back to my horse encounter in Bath—I pet Bill (that was the horse’s name, his partner was Bob) for a good five minutes before I thought I better head back to my flat. “Thank you,” I told the owner. “I really needed that.”
And I did. I love being in Bath, but there are things that I’m starting to miss about my house—like the presence of my two cats. Human companionship is great, don’t get me wrong, but there’s something inexplicably calming and therapeutic about having a cat purring in your lap. Seeing those horses tonight reminded me how long it’s been since I’ve had some quality animal time.
During the day, when I’m exploring Bath or going to class or even reading in my bedroom, my mind is filled with the concepts I’m studying, the sights I’m seeing, and the new people I’m meeting. But during the night, there is always a moment, usually just before bedtime, when I think to myself, I am very far from home. It’s a strange feeling—one that I’m not quite used to yet. I’ve never been so removed, geographically speaking, from the house I grew up in. For the first time in my life, I can’t hop in a car and be in my childhood bedroom in a few short hours. There’s an entire ocean between me and that bedroom.
Everything about Bath is beautiful, but there’s nothing quite like walking down the same streets you’ve walked down for two decades, or standing in the dining room where the festivities for your third birthday party took place. I know some people who get restless with the idea of sameness, of longevity. Some people are fed by near-constant newness. I have never been like that. I’m fed by familiarity, and while I feel exhilarated and inspired here in Bath, there are moments when I’m acutely aware that the tie between me and my familiar places is stretched as thin as it’s ever been.
I am very far from home.
It’s a good thing, a necessary thing. I am growing and learning, but I miss my home. My cats. And I definitely miss being able to bask in all that equine goodness twice a week. Hopefully I’ll run into Bill and Bob again soon.