The Heart of Life is Good This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

May 26, 2010
I looked to my mom for some kind of answer. I wanted her to tell me that tomorrow he’d be okay, the blood would be gone, and the memory would disappear. But she choked on her words and couldn’t say anything. She knew I was hurting too deeply.

The sawdust rose, forming soft, amber clouds around the veterinarian’s knees as he crouched near my gelding’s sweat-laden bay coat. With trembling hands, he gently moved the skin from around the wound, searching for the metallic glint that would ­indicate the bullet’s location.

“I’ve never seen anything quite like this,” he said in a shaky voice.

I could see the red dripping and falling into a pool on the frozen earth. My tears were doing the same, almost matching the rhythm. My family crowded around me, arms crossed, brows furrowed, lips tight. Like me, they were apprehensive. For that one moment, the room stood still. The poignant sound of Sabre’s wheezing stole the silence. In. Out. In. Out.

The murmurs drowned me. Their whispers stabbed me. This would leave a scar, not in my mind, but on my heart. This mark would be so immense that no bandage, ointment, or prayer could counter its destructive power. The knowledge that someone could shoot my horse made evil a toxic reality. Who in their right mind could do such a horrible thing without feeling guilt?

“If he doesn’t make it, I don’t think Steph will, ­either,” I heard my brother say.

Images of wild daisies, black-eyed Susans, and magnolias on a grave flooded my mind. I could see myself standing there, alone in the field, watching the other horses stare at me. They would understand why I was there. The limp limbs hanging from my trembling body and the barn boots slowly shuffling through the wild plants would indicate only one ­emotion: misery.

The seconds ticked. I found myself on my knees, leaning against Sabre’s soft, warm leg. It was ­trembling.

“There’s not much I can do for him. I’ll disinfect the wound and wrap him up,” the vet said.

His worried and helpless expression left me numb. The only thing I could feel on that winter day was my heart slowly falling apart.

“There’s nothing we can do but wait and keep an eye on him until morning,” my dad said nervously.

“I’m not leaving. I’m staying here with him tonight and every day until he’s better. He needs me,” I replied ­forlornly.

I knew my family understood how ­serious the situation was, but I don’t think they knew how much of me had been torn away. I felt helpless, regret at not being there to stop the bullet, misery at the flood of memories that might be all I had left of him.

I ran from the barn, one foot flying by the next, to grab blankets; the night would be freezing. My heart was thumping like a warrior drum. My horse’s painful whinny stopped me in my tracks. He was scared; he wanted me next to him.

When I returned, there was Sabre, head held high, fear in the whites of his eyes, anticipating me. He wheezed for air and whinnied again as the brightness in his eyes continued to fade.

“I’m here, boy, don’t worry,” I sobbed, throwing my arms around his muscular neck. “You guys can go; I don’t expect you to stay out here with me,” I said to my family. “I just want to be alone with Sabre tonight.”

My mother, father, brothers, and sister looked at me tentatively. I looked at them with quivering lips and nodded toward the Dutch doors. They slowly walked out one after another, whispering. At first, I was glad, but when I realized I was all alone, I got scared. I knew Sabre and I would keep each other company, but I desperately needed my family to promise me that he would live.

I found a spot next to Sabre’s manger and set a chair down. I wrapped Sabre up in one of my blankets, then did the same for myself. I closed my eyes, praying this nightmare would disappear and I would wake up. The bitter draft of a harsh winter’s night stung my body as it sneaked through the cracks.

Suddenly, I heard something move and felt a nudge on my cheek. I opened my eyes to see Sabre standing over me, breathing heavily, blinking slowly. I began to cry again, knowing what he was trying to tell me. He wanted me to stay awake with him; he didn’t want to be alone. He didn’t want to die with no one to comfort him. I stroked his soft brown neck until he started to bob his head, falling asleep. Once I saw his eyes shut and his breath shorten, I fell back to sleep, too.

“Steph? Are you in here?”

A voice came thundering in from the barn as the lights flashed on. It echoed in the hollow space.

Alarmed, I whipped my head up. It was my sister. She opened the gate and peeked around the corner. In her arms were her sleeping bag, pillows, magazines, and a thermos of hot cocoa.

“What’s all that for? I’m fine, I have everything I need,” I said.

“Steph, this isn’t for you … this is for me. I’m staying out here with you. We all are.”

I followed her eyes to the barn door to see my whole family standing there with armfuls of blankets, faces lit by smiles.

My dad was standing tall, head held high. He is tough, serious, and intimidating, but he is also the most loving, respectful, smart, and responsible man I know. When he decides he’s going to do something, there’s no stopping him. He does it wholeheartedly, confidently, always with a reason for doing it. I think I know why he stayed there that night.

My mom, next to him, arms full of random things that we might need, was trying to fake a grin. She is the strongest person I know, not just physically but emotionally. When it comes to the important stuff, she’s a brick wall. Her faith, love, and diligence are traits I will forever cherish. She is the reason I had as much faith as I did that night.

Wearing his bulky hunting suit, mask, and gloves, my oldest brother, Brent, stood there. His personality, a mixture of kindness, caring, and humor, always lifts the mood.

My little brother, Jake, was in the front. He was holding his favorite toy car; he couldn’t go anywhere without it. I don’t think he quite knew what was happening. He was only eight. But he was there with the rest of them, willing to give up his warm bed to comfort Sabre and me. He knew how much my gelding meant to me.

“You guys are staying out here with me?” I asked, amazed. My whole body tingled. I wanted to cry and laugh and smile all at the same time.

“Steph, you really think we would leave you out here?” Brittany asked.

“We’re your family, and we love you,” Brent added.

My mother said, in a soft voice, “We know how much Sabre means to you.”

“And we will be here for you no matter how hard it gets,” finished my father.

My knees were quivering, my heart thumping, my eyes burning, my cheeks flushed. I kept saying, “Thank you. Thank you so much. I love you guys. Thank you for being here for me.”

Everyone tucked themselves into a hay-bale bed. Side by side, we closed our heavy eyes and wished each other a good night’s rest. Their humbling voices hypnotized me and Sabre back to sleep.

I wasn’t alone that night. I had everyone I loved around me, caring about me, being there with me. I didn’t cry alone. I didn’t sleep alone. I didn’t think alone. I didn’t pray alone. They are the reason that night was bearable. They are the reason the long days that began with the sunrise did not crush my soul.

After months of constant treatment, time, love, and tears, Sabre healed. It wasn’t the medicine that saved him; love created his miraculous recovery. He is my best friend, the one I go to who won’t judge me, question my actions, or hurt my feelings. He is the other half of my heart, and makes me whole.

One morning, months later, the sun had just begun to share its radiant warmth and color. There, in the flower-speckled field, stood a herd of horses, all staring in the same direction. In the distance, a young girl lay across the back of a bay horse with a deep hollow in his side. Muffled giggles distracted the herd from their quiet grazing.

They knew it was Sabre and me, enjoying the morning in the field where so many memories had taken place, the field that could have been his final resting place. The horses swished their tails and kept munching. At the other end of the field, a family, wrapped in each other’s arms, watched that little girl ride away.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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Miya2013 said...
May 27, 2010 at 9:54 pm
This made me cry!!!!! I am sooooo glad that your horse is a lot better, and that he lived! I have a horse too, and i always worry about him! Thank you for sharing!!
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