This old man is sitting in the corner staring at me. I think he wants to come sit at my table. I also think he might want to fight me. He just got up and walked past me and said hello.
Three minutes later he walked back in and says hi to me like the first time never happened.
“I never forget a face,” he told me as he pulled up a chair to my table.
I never forget a face I just saw either.
He told me a story about a 4-year old girl he danced with at his friend’s party in San Antonio. “I ain’t no goddamn child molester if that’s what you’re thinking.” Actually, yes it was. And how yesterday he saw her and her mom and the girl was 28 now.
“They both wanted to plant one on me I can tell you that much!”
Then it turned military as it almost always does with veterans coming to their end.
He told me about a his foster dad saying he’d be a failure. “I’ll show you,” he said. And how his doctor said he’d never walk again after breaking 16 bones in his back. “All I heard were the words ‘you can’t,’ that’s all I needed to hear.”
Then he told me how god decides what happens, not people. “I shoulda been dead 9 times but he isn’t ready for me yet.”
Another man joined us – Cory, aged 35 with deeply intense eyes and a little PTSD on his face.
He asked me what I did and I panicked and said I was a writer. I thought about lying and saying I too was in the military. 4th battalion. Turns out, Cory is a professional fighter. 4-time national grappling champion and world silver medalist.
He was about 6’3”, 250 pounds and looked mean as hell. That was before I saw the tattoo of a series of broken arms on his forearm.
“This is a record of all the arms I’ve broken in my fights.”
*gulps as he looks around for check
Then Shane the vet was getting all bothered because we weren’t talking about how tough he was anymore so he started talking about how they trained to rip a man’s heart out through his stomach.
“They started by pouring sand into a bucket…”
I turned my shoulders back towards him to be polite.
“Then they added hard beans. All the while we are punching it with our 4 fingers. I don’t like to talk about this, but I could pull your heart clean out.”
I’m sure you don’t like talking about it. That’s why you keep talking about it.
Then Shane turns to me and asks about artificial intelligence and I’m thinking this just took a turn.
“That’s the devil’s work right there.”
-his actual words.
Meanwhile I’m trying to eat my salad and wings and reflect on my day in peace. Society stifles the spirit.
Tomorrow we have our last ride and I write a fat check to Colleen because this is a therapy retreat after all. God ain’t free people. I’ve already started researching horse lessons back home. As much as I love the emotional work, I love the horsemanship more. Like when Colleen told me to collect the horse by shortening the reigns in my trot it was a tactical point I could apply and see immediate results. I want to know more of those things.
There was no poetic ending to Shane and Cory. It didn’t make me realize the power of strangers and the interconnectedness of all humans. I was mostly just wondering if I was supposed to turn and engage him or if he was like the neighborhood street cat that is best ignored. I was looking around for clues but the waitress seemed content to let me figure it out.
My last meal (presumably) at Yarnell Family Diner. They know my order without the menu. The same old guys are at the same corner table, the man at the end with a cane and his leg sitting straight drinking his sweet tea eating his eggs. The old man in plaid and suspenders talking about “no wonder we are 3 trillion dollars in debt.” All of them talking about the end of the world in between sips of their coffee.
This town is abandoned and from what I can tell the people are sitting around waiting for the jobs to come back to them, talking shit about this and that and blaming everyone they can name. No matter what, their position has nothing to do with their own actions and if you mentioned that they would take a grudge with you to the grave.
Maybe these men are hurting inside like I’m hurting inside because they don’t get to be themselves.
Being yourself in this town would be harder than I can imagine.
Horsehair. I took this note in my journal because I caught a look at myself in the mirror and thought I discovered beauty for the first time. It’s actually better than ocean hair. Ride around in the dust on a big hairy beast for a few days and your locks will be looking like an Abercrombie ad.
10:35pm, San Diego.
Alexis’ flight was delayed almost 2 hours. She doesn’t get in til midnight. I’m laying with Woody pretending he is a mini horse.
We drove past some 6 month old horses on the way back from our ride this morning. Tiny little friends.
I felt Lance was my horse today. We probably logged close to 10 hours on the trail and that stubborn gus gave me shit for about 9.5 of them.
But today I got him going on some figure eights out in the desert hills. At first he wasn’t doing shit. Barely even walking. I looked at Colleen and even she knew he was being a bastard. So I got on him a little bit and eventually he started to cruise.
You’re supposed to ride on the outside wall when you’re in a trot. When he is making left-turn circles his right shoulder is my cue to lift my hips. When his right leg steps forward it moves his right shoulder forward in the socket. As that is happening I need to lift my hips up off his body and then sit right back down. Back and forth – lifting and sitting in time with his legs. To get the timing right on the other side I just sit twice in a row at the center of the figure eight and set myself up to rise on his left shoulder. It seems simple enough but it’s hard to practice the technical skills when you’re still getting used to the 1600 pound animal under you that could toss you at any second.
Colleen was proud of me. I miss her. Saying goodbye to her company left me with a sense of fear and abandonment. Such a sincere and honest lady. We drove up and down that countryside half a dozen times a day and she told me all about her late husband David and how much they loved each other. When I asked her a question she took her time and answered meaningfully. She never sugar-coated anything. I was inspired by her directness and noticed how she delivered in a way that wasn’t for the effect of being the ‘honest one’ but because her speaking the truth put her in a state of grace and flow. Being around her made me at ease, unafraid to ask her questions about anything. Most of the time we sat quietly and watched the sky change colors across the desert hills. I became accustomed to the simple routine of eating, riding, and feeding the horses every day. Being in tune with the storm clouds that brought the rain. Sitting outside my hotel room and writing in my journal in my dirty jeans and plaid shirt. All of these things that were strange initially felt very comfortable to me. I am left with a calm and a quiet and a sense that there is softness in me and it can be the thing that makes me feel the most like myself.
I’m having a hard time being back. Already the emails are coming in and the traffic on the roads. The noise. It’s aggressive. No wonder we are all losing our minds.
David used to say cities were viruses. I love cities so much but it sure seems like they just keep trying to fit more shit into smaller places at the expense of someone’s ability to stretch their mind across open space. If I learned anything in the past week it’s that you become your environment. And whatever we’re surrounded by will affect our mind in ways that are so fundamental we don’t even see them.
Alexis and I decided we’re going to work for 3 more years and then buy some property out East. We want a German Sheppard brother for Woody, two horses, hens, and a mini goat just for the entertainment. I will do things like chop wood and drink black coffee and have a separate room just for writing.
Colleen says EMDR gets the brain lit up again. It rewires trauma. Turns it into something better. She said it only gets stronger as time passes. I already hear myself reframing things. When I want to speak hatefully my body tenses up. When I let it go, it softens. Simple.
It’s okay to be angry. And it’s okay to be happy.
I’m glad I feel an emptiness where that trip just was. I feel something and that is the goal. To feel as much as possible. To feel all of it. And to know that my words are sacred and everything that comes out of my mouth contributes to the way I think and feel. Quiet is okay. We all need more quiet.
I just miss those fields.