I don’t remember when I started the habit. It wasn’t a conscientious decision or part of a predetermined plan. I just started doing it and like most habits, we get something out of them otherwise we wouldn’t continue. The thing is, like most habits, it has been hard to break.
Five and a half years ago as I packed my bags and moved to the Lone Star state, I joked with my liberal, New England friends, “Don’t worry, I’m not moving to Texas, I’m moving to Austin.” Yet it was Texas – gritty, authentic, passionate, stubborn, the yes ma’am’s and no sir’s, the boots, the hats, the ya’ll’s, and the ‘Come and take it’ – that I fell in love with.
I had relocated to start over – to put a shattered heart back together on a wing and a prayer. Funny thing though, the wings turned out to be hooves, and manes, and one set of very long, white eyelashes. The horses, who belonged to someone else, became part of my life within months of moving to Austin. It felt oddly serendipitous – I may have moved to Austin but today I live in Texas.
I was nervous the first time I visited them – I didn’t know what to do. I felt awkward and self-conscious in my skinny jeans and hiking shoes. I didn’t dare go into their pen but I talked to them and petted them through the gate; they seemed to look at me with curiosity and they didn’t run away. I decided to go again the next weekend and take carrots for them. And that weekend, turned into the one after that, and the one after that, and you get the idea. We were getting to know each other and they didn’t seem to mind that I wasn’t ‘Texas’ but I swear they nodded in appreciation when I showed up wearing Wranglers and a pair of boots I had bought from someone on the ranch who didn’t want them.
Over the months, I learned to groom and put on halters without strangling me or them, take them to the arena, walk them out to graze. At some point, the habit formed. I would tell them I would be back but I was specific, speaking my made-up, lunar language. I figured horses don’t have clocks or calendars. If I told them I’d be back on Wednesday that wouldn’t mean anything, but they have the moon. As I prepared to leave, I’d say goodbye and tell them how many moons would pass before I would return. “I’ll be back in three moons.” Sometimes it was one moon, usually, it was three or four, and never more than nine. Once I said it the first time, I kept saying it. Perhaps it gave me the constant that I was seeking – after all, we form habits for a reason.
I began to think in my new language, counting the moons until I could visit again. Sometimes I’d look at the moon from a camping trip or out with friends and know they were seeing the same moon. In my mind, we were keeping track. Despite making new friends and having a calendar full of activities, I was aware of my changing priorities. Frustrated by our growing divergence, one friend commented, “You know Haven, you don’t have to go out there all the time, they’re not even your horses.” Of course, I didn’t have to go out there. I got to go out there! I was honored to be there, it was special – a privilege beyond my dreams and it was my favorite thing to do. In a city where so many people and things vie for our time and attention – there was nowhere I’d rather be than with them.
I knew it wasn’t permanent – dreams always have an ending.
When I learned the horses were being moved, thoughts swirled through my mind. Over the years, and the hundreds of visits and hundreds of moons, I had learned to ride. I owned a saddle, a bridle, and all sorts of horse-grooming tools. My car, always dusty, had remnants of hay in it and my dog, adopted with the knowledge that she would be good with horses, often smelled like she had just come from the ranch. Because usually, she had. My fridge was always well-stocked with carrots – I’d buy them in bulk.
I wondered about the used saddle that had taken me months to save for the down payment and even longer to pay for. Everyone says a saddle holds its value and it would make sense to sell it, after all, what would I need with a saddle? I asked around and let people know that I would soon have a saddle for sale. But the words felt fake. I knew I wouldn’t sell the saddle. I knew I couldn’t.
The number of moons that separated us would soon have no end and I found myself distracted, wondering what I would do without the ranch and the horses in my new Texas life. I was concerned about my dog – Gracie clearly loved spending time at the ranch and was at ease around all of the horses.
The fateful day came and after a final hug and one last deep inhalation of that heart-healing, soul-soothing, horsehair smell, I walked out of the pen and closed the gate. I left the ropes and the halters and for the first time in years, I didn’t tell them I would see them again or say a number of moons. And this time, instead of turning and walking toward their mound of hay like all the other days – they just stood there, not moving. I got in my car and turned it around, and still, they stood and watched me as I headed down the road for the last time. Before driving through the main gate, I took one last look. They had turned, not to head toward their hay, rather they continued to stand there unmoving, watching me drive away.
Reserving stoicism for another day, I allowed the tears to stream down my face. I was leaving a part of my heart along with Max and Sunny behind and as they got smaller in my rearview mirror, my teardrops grew larger.
It’s been ten moons. I’ve struggled to break the habit of counting the number yet I can look up at night and know they’re seeing the same one. A friend recently told me that a broken heart is an open heart. I’m not sure if that is true but it certainly feels as if my heart has been ripped wide open.
I do know for sure, my mind is rich with memories, my heart overflows with gratitude, and my saddle is not for sale.
Thanks for reading,