Saturday, July 19, 2014

Day 254 - July 12th

Calera, Alabama
I broke away from my writing with only one reasonably good paragraph to show for the afternoon’s work and decided to walk out to the barn. I saw a girl astride a sorrel horse gliding in a circle, plumes of dust dragging behind them. The rhythm of hooves drumming the earth underlined the horse’s snorts as Haleigh urged him into a trot. It looked as though horse and rider communicated telepathically. Everything Haleigh asked of him, Tristan did and it was beautiful to watch their movement which appeared effortless and unscripted, one long improvisation.

Seeing me, Haleigh halted Tristan and we talked. She told me about her life. Though she’s 14, Haleigh looks and acts like a 19 year old. I have met kids like her before. They are harder to read, more reserved. They have had to grow up faster than others their age in order to survive. Her childhood was cluttered with an alcoholic mom and stepparents, physical and emotional and sexual abuse, fights at school. A boy once pushed her into a fence and she leapt at him, wild with rage, and broke his cheekbone and nose against the pavement. She says she nearly blacked out she was so mad. Her stepmom who would often become violent when drunk and threaten and beat he. One day Haleigh nearly knocked her out with an empty vodka bottle.

When Haleigh first arrived on Donna’s ranch at the age of 9, she was brimming with this tremendous anger and would sometimes take it out on the horses. Upon seeing this, Donna immediately took her aside, sat her down and said quietly in tone that brooked no nonsense, “Now we’ll have no more of that, you hear me?”  Donna and Haleigh share a mentor/prodigy relationship but corrective moments like these resemble more closely the bond between a mother and her daughter. I see that bond today though Haleigh has learned to let go of some of her hurt and anger. In my outside opinion, Donna and Haleigh's love of horses have saved her. Through her Christian values, Haleigh also finds protection and strength in God. Now, at age 14, she has recently won the 4-H State Championship and will be competing at Regionals in two weeks. Tall, beautiful and an independent, headstrong tomboy, she loves to ride horses and work, despising "girly girls." She tells me trucks are sexy. Her dad bought her one recently and she plans to raise it up six inches then install a lightbar and a roll-cage. When I would sit and observe Haleigh train, Donna would often say in a quiet aside something like “Sam, you could watch 10,000 riders and not come across anyone like this girl here. She is simply an incredible rider.” Her talent, in combination with her strength of character and spirit, were more than sufficient to awe me. I hope I can see the day when she comes fully into her own and her self-esteem rises to a level more in keeping with who she is. Then we shall see something quite amazing, I should say.

That evening Donna hosted a dinner party and it was a nice gathering of about 10-12 of her friends and neighbors. Sandy, Donna's sister, and their friend Nancy took a particular interest in me and made certain I was comfortable and had plenty of food as well as being flatteringly curious and enthusiastic about the journey. The whole affair was a potluck and there were hotdogs, baked beans, a strawberry and tomato salad, a vegetable stirfry, rice and coconut cake. We all sat outside in a circle of chairs and the evening air was distinctly Southern in ways I can’t pin down. Maybe it was the relief from the intense heat of the day or the fireflies that bobbed above the field. Or the sweet tea Donna infuses with honey produced from her beehive or the accented chatter that sounds so casual and distinctly American. And after dinner, Donna called for everyone to quiet down and she turned the floor over to me so I could tell stories. Since the walk began, I haven’t actually had anyone set aside a space for me to occupy and talk and entertain others. I told them about John and Phoenix and I think I succeeded in holding people’s attention and piquing their imaginations. Such a lovely evening!

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