This week the weather blew in again from the Arctic and spring was vanquished. There was some sun, but there was snow too, horrid bitter blizzards, messy and bleak. The wind howled down from the north, mocking my puny plan. I felt furious and defeated, stumping through the mud to tend to the mares, crossly racking up my daily word count, so grumpy that I refused even to write the blog. You all have weather, literal and metaphorical; I was not going to add to it.
Then, today, something wonderful happened. Within a single hour, I whooped, I wept, and I laughed for sheer happiness. All human emotion was there. I was alive again.
It is quite rare that the weather defeats me, and of course it was not just the weather. I am a countrywoman, and I have an array of absurd hats. I have spent the last four months covered in mud, cracking the ice on the water trough, leading the horses through once-in-a-century floods. I believe in stoicism and buggering on.
The weather defeated me I think because I was faking it, a bit. I had got myself lost in the maze of false expectation. I was expecting spring, and for a moment it glimmered with promise, and then it was snatched away. At the same time, it was six months since my mother died, and I had been getting glimpses of normality. I could go in and make the dear Stepfather his breakfast and cheer him up without having to put on a false front. I could make normal conversation and laugh in an unforced way. I could, once more, see the beauty without squinting for it. I was expecting that this new normal meant the storm was over.
When the literal storms came back, a metaphorical storm returned. Things are going, from the house my mother and stepfather shared. Each day this week, I would go in, and there would be another blank space on the wall. The chair that she sat in, which always had on its arm a delicate Kashmiri shawl I had given her, had been shipped off to auction. There was just an empty space where it had been, with only four melancholy dimples in the carpet to mark its place.
I wanted to cry, but I was not going to cry, because of the new normal, because of the stoicism, because of the expectations. It was six months on and I had work to do and I don’t want to be one of those people who are always leaking like a watering pot. On I stumped, furious at the weather, averting my eyes from those empty spaces.
The sun came out this morning and something was released. It started with the red mare. She let all her thoroughbred glory shine in the light. We cantered round in a vast circle, mapping the set-aside, gathering power and speed, rolling in harmony. Her Aston Martin engine purred beneath me. She was on a loose rein, entirely in command of herself, all poise and elegance, but I let her go on a little, and we picked up speed, and that was when I felt the power and the glory. That was when I whooped out loud into the bright air.
Then I went to cook the breakfast. The dear Stepfather had a little collection of things out on the table. ‘The moving men found this,’ he said, pointing. ‘When they took away the chest of drawers.’ I thought we had done all the stuff. (They are only things I kept telling myself, but some things are more precious and meaningful than others.) I looked, and looked again.
‘Oh,’ I said, my voice coming out in a dying fall. ‘I know that box.’
It was a small, leather, dun-coloured jewellery box with my great-grandfather’s initials on it in faded gold. I did know that box. When I was twelve, I used to open that box every Saturday in the winter and sometimes on Wednesdays too. I opened it now, hardly able to believe that it would still have the thing I remembered in it.
But there it was. It was my mother’s stock pin, a simple, elegant item in low gold, with the familiar dull gleam of use on it. ‘I used to wear this,’ I said to the dear Stepfather. ‘On my pony, Seamus.’ Seamus was the forerunner, the first great love of my life, the one that paved the way for the red mare.
And that was when I burst into tears in the middle of the kitchen.
The dear Stepfather bore it very well. I mopped my eyes and made a joke and we talked of other things. I think that perhaps he quite likes the odd bit of weeping, despite the fact he is a stiff upper lip sort of gentleman, because there it is – a living proof that someone else misses her too.
I cried because six months means nothing, because the new normal comes and goes like radio static and is as impermanent, because stoicism only gets you so far. I cried because this person I loved somehow managed to hold on to that precious object, in its little box, through moves from one side of the world to the other, through a catastrophic fire which took almost all our belongings, through divorce and despair. I loved that pin and I wore that pin on some of the happiest days of my life. And there it was, nearly forty years later, like a dear, shining miracle.
The chair is gone, but the pin is still there.
And then I ate my eggs and drove up to HorseBack and watched some veterans ride their good horses with joy and determination and it was such a happy sight that I exclaimed in delight and shouted ‘Well done, good work, look at you all,’ and took my pictures and came home and wrote 1399 words of secret project and felt like a human being again.
The mare started it. She nearly always does. She has the gift of giving me back to myself. Yesterday, I stood with her in the field, in that bitter, whipping wind, her head on my shoulder, and I said to her: ‘You got me through this, you know.’ She is a horse. She does not know. But perhaps, in some tiny, mysterious part of her, she does know, just a little.
Everyone needs something, someone to get them Through This. It does not matter if it is a human or a place or a passion or a tree. It can be a belief or a view or a dog. Everyone needs something. I got a horse. I got a horse of such beauty and grace and shining authenticity that she lifts me up and gently sets me back on my feet again. I don’t know how she does it, but she does.