NONFICTION July 6, 2012

Horse Latitudes

I was standing on the windblown deck of the American Legion pool when the girl rode in. In those days, a dilapidated white building, the sort of multi-story monstrosity you’d expect to encounter in the back streets of Saigon or Beirut, rose up on the west side of the pool, and it was across this building’s ruined courtyard that the girl rode, bareback, her long legs dangling, left hand loosely encircling a hunk of mane. What a sight she was! Nymph-like and beautiful, perhaps fifteen years old (which to me was old, seeing as I was nine or ten), the girl rode the horse with the quiet competence and nonchalance of someone who had been born on horseback.

I remember standing there, the dry Kansas wind raising gooseflesh up and down my arms and legs, as the girl collected the horse beneath her and spun him in a circle, first to the left, and then to the right, directing these balletic movements with nothing more than the pressure of her bare heels in the horse’s ribs. No other part of her moved—not her head, which she held high between her shoulders, nor her back or hands.  Witnessing this, in the moments before the lifeguard came down from his chair to run her out of there, I remember thinking, How is it possible that something this beautiful and profound has existed all my life, and I knew nothing about it?

But it wasn’t the girl alone that provoked this response in me. Nor was it the horse, a run-of-the-mill, aging gelding such as populated pastures for miles in every direction. Rather it was the two of them together, rider and horse, the way they seemed to meld into each other joint and limb to form a completely new animal, an animal far more perfect and complete than either could have been without the aid of the other. The horse completed the girl, and the girl completed the horse.  Seeing them together like that, I wanted them never to part.