The Rain

April 30, 2010
Black clouds threatened from the west, blowing in over the Pacific, over San Francisco, and over the coastal range. I sat by myself at the table, front and center in Spanish class. It was like every other day I walked the halls of the small town's high school: All the students going about their business like actors in a play, shrieking and talking and sauntering around campus unaware of their audience of one.

Their audience of one- me, watching their carefully rehearsed play alone, alone, alone. Always alone, always wondering why they put so much energy into things that are so small and won't matter a month, a week, a day from the present. Thinking themselves so original, oblivious to the fact they are saying and doing the same things their parents and grandparents did before them. Trying to be different, to live outside the lines. Whispering about and outright laughing at me because I am not like them, and do not wear their uniform of rebellion or act in their rebellious ways. I try to do the right thing, get good grades and dress neatly. But I wonder where the point comes where I am the one who is different and they are the normal ones. If, in trying to be unique, all follow the same recipe, are the truly unique? Or is the one who didn't join the masses yearning for individuality the real individual?

When everyone goes outside the lines, does the space they go to become inside the lines? It does, if we assume "inside the lines" is the more populated space. Since I remain in the original space, by myself, that would make me "outside," not all of them. Which is alright, but it gets lonely. Not ever having anyone to talk to at school hurts sometimes, even though it shouldn’t. When I voice this to my mother, she asks me whether I really want to fit in with the oh-so-adolescent high school crowd. I can't lie, I don't. I am caught between desperately wanting company at school and in our town, and being unable to accept all the short-sighted immaturity.

That afternoon, the spring thunderhead hung heavily in the sky as I drove to Faraway Farm to ride. My horse, Milanese, was away at a different trainer's barn, and my trainer, Deirdre, had found a horse for me to ride in her absence. I hit pockets of drizzle on the way, but the day remained ominously dry. When I arrived at Faraway, I pulled my saddle out of the back seat, hefted it onto my hip, and walked to the back barn.

"Hey Kitty," Deirdre greeted me from a stall.

"Think the storm'll hold off for a couple hours?" I asked hopefully.

"It might," she replied, slipping a halter off a young mare, "But I doubt it."

I grimaced. Atlas, the stately, partially retired hunter gelding I was to ride, hated the rain, and the covered arena even more. Both made him persnickety.

"You have spurs?" Deirdre asked. I nodded, glancing down at the rounded Prince of Wales spurs firmly anchored to my boots.

Thunder rumbled as I tacked up, and Atlas looked outside with an expression of distaste. I fastened the chinstrap on my helmet and led the huge chestnut out into rolling heavy mist and mounted. While he trudged along the track to the covered arena, I thought. Individual ideas traveled through my head at the same rate water beaded up and dropped from my helmet visor.

It bothered my peers that I was different, but wasn’t the more important thing whether or not it bothered me? If I was content with myself, that was the only thing that mattered, right? Had I accepted myself?

reached the arena gate, pushed all my uncertain thoughts away and began focusing on my ride. At the walk, I adjusted myself: sank down into my heels, kept a straight line from my elbows to the bit, closed my hip angle. At the trot I focused on getting Atlas to push from behind. He lightly accepted bit contact, his mouth a feather at the end of the reins. It began raining in earnest, and the droplets created an unrelenting din on the arena roof.

At the far end his steady one-two trot was interrupted. He skittered sideways, out of reach of imaginary coyotes. “You’re way too old for that,” I scolded, giving him a little spur. He went on grudgingly, but still kept one suspicious brown eye on the world outside the arena. We cantered.

In the same corner as before, Atlas spooked. He spun, throwing me onto his neck. My only thought was that it would be a long way down. When he bolted, I scooted back into the saddle and sat down deep, just in time for the bucking. He only got in two or three before I yanked his head up and spurred him through. Within three strides, he was back to his normal cool, detached self. “Horse…” I began. Atlas switched his tail and chewed the bit.

By the end of our ride, Atlas and I had reached an understanding. I kept a feather light touch on the reins and didn’t pinch with my knee, and in return, he accepted bit contact and stepped out smoothly and boldly. In about sixty minutes, we had become a team.

Before my ride, I wondered whether I could accept who I am. After, I realized that I can. My ability to ride is my most cherished talent. To me, it is more important than my skill at applying eye shadow, and my equitation is more important than my hairstyle. I am perfectly fine walking along my own path, and like Eleanor Roosevelt said in a quote that is now almost passé, so one can make me feel inferior without my consent.
It began to hail when I was untacking, and Deidre and I had to shout to hear each other over the pounding storm. By the time I was ready to leave, rain was coming down in sheets. Deirdre was on the phone, so I quietly hefted up my saddle and slipped between the crack in the barn doors. I was using my jacket to cover my saddle, and the raindrops stung against my bare arms. At first, I tried to hunch over, I let the storm force me into lowering my head in submission. But why? I thought. I was still getting soaked. So I straightened up, looked ahead, and let the rain wash down.

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