Remember how “pervert” was the worst thing you could call someone in fifth grade? It went:


Cooties

Pervert

Two-Faced

Conceited

Slut

 

Top five insults of childhood.

Remember the first time, Harry? I think it was the farm, in the hay bales. I remember the day, it was filled with adrenaline and heat and dust and the smell of sweat— ours and the horses. I have pictures, even, from that day. I was hopeful and scared next to that old shabby quarter horse I thought was so handsome. He couldn’t have been more elegant if he were a goddamned unicorn. I had on tall black rubber boots that were supposed to pass for leather (later I realized the rules of horsemanship dictated that I should have been wearing jodpurs and short boots, but I didn’t know any of the rules. The older I get, the better I am at knowing and following the rules, but I broke them all that day.)

 Those boots were the only thing I had on that were mine to begin with. So it was a costume I was wearing, someone else’s clothes, and someone else’s horse. A play-act.

 We were at the Marlborough town fair, a seedy event in seedy central Connecticut, and filled with more 4HR enthusiasts and American cheese grilled sandwiches than a town in fancy, Western Connecticut could ever imagine— this was no tony horse show, but it was big to me, it was major. It was my first show and it all scared me. The horses backing off of old, dirty white trucks, slipping in their nervous shits. It felt like a lot could go wrong.

 Did you know American Cheese has formaldehyde? The Kraft kind does. (Kraft also makes Jell-o, but don’t tell that to the horses.)

 (Horse play in general seems like a bad idea— trucking these massive animals around, and then getting on top of them and going over obstacles! Who the fuck thought that up? It’s much, much crazier even than skiing. And skiing is crazy.)

 But I felt glamorous, amongst all that. I did.

 The first class was Walk, Trot. A very rudimentary class. I was unremarkable, but I didn’t screw up. The ring was filthy with sandy dust; there were potholes and rocks strewn about. I could hear my horse’s hooves hitting the rocks and him almost stumbling. (Impending almost-doom, the recurring theme of my life.)

 I’m not sure I enjoyed myself, I just sort of waited it out until it was over. Fully mediocre.

 I got Fifth, pink. Pale, petal pink, second to last. A color that did not befit me, but I was pleased.

 My second and final class was an obstacle course, on horseback. Walk through orange cones, put a flag in a basket, carry a bucket from one place to another, make your horse back up over some logs on the ground, etc. This one I hadn’t really prepared for at all, but how hard could it be? You didn’t have to jump over anything or go faster than a walk.

 Turned out my unicorn horse was really fucking terrified of buckets. As soon as I picked up that white bucket and the little bucket handle slid down against the side of his neck, he went absolutely batshit.

 Full-on rodeo style batshit. Bucking, rearing, eyes rolling back in his head, sweating, shimmying side to side. If they had had video phones back then, this video of this crazy freaking out horse would have lit up the internet, I’m telling you. The craziest horse freak out you can imagine, Harry. If he had freaked out any more, he would have thrown himself on the ground and died right there in front of everyone.

 The whole goddammed arena was slowly turning in my direction and then was riveted, clearly alarmed, talking to one another (I could see their mouths moving) and then they started yelling something— chanting something at me, slowly, in unison.

 I took a while for me to make it out, because the hubbub of almost dying on top of this crazy horse was quite distracting.

 “DROP THE BUCKET!”

 “DROP      THE        BUCKET!”

“DROP                      THE            BUCKET!”

“DROP       THE          BUCKET!”

“DROP     THE     BUCKET!”

“DROPPPPP THEHHHHHHH BUCKETTTTTT!!!!!’

Oh right. Drop the stupid bucket. Why didn’t I think of that? So I dropped it.

But Harry, what did you notice about this story? The second class? The second class, when absolute fucking disaster struck— dangerous, life threatening disaster struck— I was calm. I didn’t fall off that fucking crazy horse. I had FUN, Harry. I held on and smiled during the bucking and the rearing and the eyes rolling back. I was proud. I was invincible. I was fucking great at riding that horse.

 It was much, much better than the first class when I was just following the rules and trying to sit up straight enough.

 I got last place. Sixth, just for staying on. They made a (slightly patronizing) speech about my bravery when they gave me the ribbon— bright green. Beautiful. And still my favorite color, to this day.

 So you see— I’m better in rough times than in calm. I can handle my shit when it hits the fan. It’s the calm times that are hard. It’s the calm times when you’re just sitting there waiting for something to go wrong. And something always will.

 When we got back from the horse show, you and I snuck up to the hay loft with a stolen hard lemonade from the groom’s fridge and watched the hazy sun set.

 I don’t even know whose idea it was. And it wasn’t even sexual, it was more primal or instinctual, like a puzzle we were figuring out for ourselves. I remember the imprint of the hay on my back and the way you sneezed from the dust, and the way you touched me, first like a ghost, and then like you meant it.

 You were proud of me, I think.  For staying on that horse like a triumphant mother fucker.

Matilda,

 Do you know that I have that green ribbon? It’s currently my bookmark in a Proust tome, which I’ve never managed to finish.

Harry,

Thank you.

 Matilda,

 You’re welcome.