I went to the barn today.
I thought it would be terrible, I really did. I was supposed to go a week ago for the barn holiday party and yearly awards, but I couldn’t bring myself to face his empty stall when everyone was drinking and having a good time. So I sent my trainer my regrets, and put off going back until I felt like I couldn’t put it off anymore.
When Simon first died, things were pretty bleak for me. It felt as bad as losing Tim, although maybe let’s not tell Tim (or his family) that, okay? I think his death opened up a lot of wounds for me that are partially healed or quite frankly, are never going to heal. The day after he died I drove from Mississippi to Austin by myself, and cried the entire nine hours. That is not an exaggeration. I really scared a woman at Sonic in Mississippi when I rolled down the window to accept my breakfast sandwich, eyes swollen like a botched plastic surgery job and a continual stream of snot dripping down my face.
That drive was mentally super dark. I thought to myself at least once that I couldn’t run my car off the road, because I had Pascale with me. It seemed like all the best things of my life had already passed me by. People go their entire lives without finding their best friend and favorite person in a spouse. The same could be said for my partnership with Simon. I had the best husband, the best horse, and they were both ripped from me before I was 35 years old. It didn’t seem like there was much to live for, but I told myself that if nothing else I had to publish my damn book (because I have not worked this hard for it to live in my Macbook forever). Once I finally got into town, I fell into bed exhausted at 9:30pm hoping that the world would seem a little bit brighter when I woke up.
It didn’t, but I went day drinking with one of my best friends (because there isn’t a situation I’ve found that tequila won’t marginally improve). A little day drunk, I was still crushed, mad, and feeling hopeless… but I realized I would miss her. There’s so much about my life I’d miss if I wasn’t here.
Now, about ten days after he died, all those scary moments are behind me. I’m still crushed, of course I am, but there are little glimmers of hope here and there. This quarter at school I’m teaching my own workshop, which means the class is entirely mine to do whatever I want with. My students are a pleasure. An eager bunch who care a lot about what I have to teach them. Writing is still very difficult for me, but I am still trying to make big things happen with my work.
And of course, there’s all of you. I know I did a piss poor job of responding to every comment, text, and email but please know they meant the world for me. They were hard for me to look at initially, but I can honestly say that I never realized how many strangers cared about me or Simon. For a pretty plain, Texas bred Thoroughbred that never won awards on a big platform, he was loved far more than many horses ever are. And it was exactly the amount of love he deserved, because he was the best.
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Trying to find words, but I just walked out of class to see a message from @jenbrandonstudio that an anonymous person paid for the Simon painting. I don’t know who or how or what was involved, but thank you doesn’t quite begin to cover it. I was so in love with this horse, and miss him deeply. I try to keep him with me by surrounding myself with pieces of him. This painting is a beautiful reflection of his spirit and I am so, so touched. Thank you. ❤️ thank you more than I can say.
I’m still shocked (and hopeful they will come forward so I can thank them personally) that someone bought the Jen Brandon Studio painting of Simon for me. If you’re reading this, please know how touched I am. How thankful, and how this is a gift I will never forget. I hope that one day I can return the favor to someone else when they’re hurting and the world seems hard.
So today, I went to the barn. I cried a little driving up. I cried a little talking to my trainer, but mostly I walked around the place as familiar to me as my own apartment. They were very considerate of Simon’s things, and everything at his stall was just like it was when he left it. I tossed the battered fly mask, the dusty salt lick he hated, put his blankets in the pile for the school horses to use. I took apart his bridles, cleaned my tack, organized my trunk. Folded the Medal Finals cooler he won me, and took it home because I don’t ever want another horse to wear it.
It’s folded now on top of the urn containing his cremains, which is almost comically huge. Y’all – if you cremate a horse maybe realize that you’re cremating a horse. His box is the size of an end table. If I kept it as is, I’d have to asks guests to use a coaster before resting their drinks on him. Right now it sits at the foot of my bed, but before too long I’ll start breaking the ashes down into more manageable chunks. Some I’ll spread at the barn on the hill we used to do gallop sets on. Some will go back to Texas for the pasture he shared with his best friend, Orsini. Some I’ll plant with a tree in my backyard in Austin. The rest will stay with me forever in a box made of barnwood.
My trainer was worried I’d quit riding. At first I was worried about that too, but it passed quickly. Horses are part of me. I’ve learned too much to quit now. The knowledge feels like it’s just getting started. I’ve set a pretty strict budget for myself, which allows for a group lesson a week at my barn, but I’m also going to treat Fridays like a little mini-working student gig for my trainer. I think getting out of the house and academia will be good for me, and I have so much I want to learn while I’m still in California.
When I’m bored or can’t sleep, I window shop horses on Facebook. I don’t expect to replace him. Simon was irreplaceable, but I know I’ll want to own my own again. It will be a while before the real search for #notSimon starts, but for now seeing what’s out there gives me a little glimmer of hope that I might have another great horse one day.
It won’t be like him, but it will touch my heart in a different way. Maybe if I’m lucky, it’ll have an easy lead change. Who knows. The future is an unpredictable, murky place.