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just wanted to say that this is a journal entry, not really a short story. it is not the first entry, but the first one i am trying to submit, the most recent one i wrote after i left the shamanic healing retreat and before i ended up on the streets. personally, i dont consider diary-type writing as real writing, you know, that dear-diary sort of thing, but looking over my work of the past few years i realized that was just the kind of writing i am doing. so, though im in a bit of denial about what to call this piece of work, since it is not fiction and part of a series i would like to keep coming, i am shielding my eyes and just submitting it as is.
Flying with Pegasus
Late March- Early April, entry
Towards the end of my spiritual field trip, my shaman friend led the group through the journey of spirit-horse. After everything I’d already gone through I found this journey to be the most confusing process yet, although the only requirements were that I listen to his voice and instruction and not do anything on my own. We were meant to bridle the “horse of no color” with the “bridle of intention”, and mount our horse without moving in any direction. If the horse moved a muscle as we climbed aboard, it meant our minds were trying to take over in guidance, and we had to dismount and try again. The horse then was to take us as it wished, turning first into a “black mare in the left lead”, then a “red stallion in the right”, bringing us into the land of death/life and back. When our journey was over, we were to set the magic horse free. This journey was hard for me because it required me not to think.
This story, my shaman friend told us, was the story of Pegasus; only one man could ride him, helped by a magic bridle given by spirits, and in the end, Pegasus was to save his life.
I was on a plane for Guatemala City the next morning, sent away from my school for two weeks on Spring Break, and though the details of the story of Pegasus did not stick with me, the image did. I imagined a Pegasus stretched in flight, its lean body taunt with movement and life but colored only with black and gray, like it had no color at all. I had this image tattooed onto my stomach. When I returned to Sedona, the magic horse did too.
I had a horse waiting for me at school already, my best and most loyal friend, Seraf. He was a red Arab gelding who had spent every day of three years with me, as we tried to find our wings. We always rode bareback, together… and forget cliché, because it was like we flew.
I had plans awaiting me there at school, too. Since I was preparing for the move into my Guatemalan apartment after graduation, I started to go to garage sales, trying to stretch what little money I had into things like gauzy curtains and other American luxuries I couldn’t get in a third world country. Sometimes, when my dollars weren’t enough, I stole. It was a selfish game of overriding my guilt because I felt like I deserved luxuries everyone but me had always had, stupid treasures that symbolized all the love and money my parents had never given me. It was stealing for peanuts. It was deliberate, juvenile, and easy. When I finally got caught, it was almost a relief.
It was a bandana: black, with red pattern. The storeowner kicked everyone out of the surplus store that had come in with me and yelled briefly at my supervisor before dragging me outside for a real bloodletting. The minutes flew by, and I listened carefully to the storm with my fists pressed up to my nose, trying to dam the tears. The crime didn’t scare me, she scared me. “What the fuck is wrong with paying for things like everybody else, you little piece of shit punk! How old are you? Seventeen? I’ve worked this store for longer than you’ve been alive! I should call the cops!” My supervisor, furious at me, actually came out of the car to drag me away in rescue.
“That’s enough,” he said.
“It’s never enough!” the woman said, inches from my face. Her eyes were tired and sagging and they were rimmed with liquid eyeliner. “Listen, bitch! Are you poor? Do you not have money? Do your parents not give you money?”
“No, ma’am,” I whispered, “they don’t.”
“Then tell your fucking parents to give you some!”
…The relief that I mentioned earlier was very, very brief.
My school waited three days to give me a trial to decide my punishment. It was called “DC”: “Disciplinary Committee”. The board was made up of my elected peers and my favorite teachers, who suddenly were required to forget the girl who’d been their friend for the past four years, and instead were made to see a faceless criminal. It was scheduled for six, right after dinner. I went for a horseback ride right before that to clear my head.
Seraf was not happy to see me, even though I hadn’t been to the barn in days. Maybe that was the point. “You’ve got to much on your mind to ride today,” he said. “Ride someone else.” Seraf, the jealous old man that he was, was trying to tell me that since I’d been caught bandana-handed I hadn’t been paying him enough attention.
“No,” I said, but other horses in the paddock whom I had relations with looked over at us, overhearing and wanting the opportunity to spend time with me with the chief’s permission. I ignored them. “We’ll do jumps today, Seraf. Cross-country, just you and me. We both need it.”
“No,” he said, and turned his back to me.
“Haley,” my assistant headmaster called, and we both jumped. Kevin strode over to me in spurs and chaps. He liked to ride, too. “We gotta talk. I don’t know what you were thinking when you stole that bandana, but you’d better be on your best behavior tonight. There’s a good chance that you won’t be coming back.”
He took out his horse from the crowd and moved past me. Seraf hesitated, and then turned to face me again, his horse face as unreadable as always, but his ears drooping. “Get the bridle,” he said.
It was a confusing ride between us. Seraf was agitated to begin with, and I pushed him too hard, trying to make his pace match the flow of thoughts in my head. I pushed his feet to move faster and faster, his stops and his rebound instant, and his reaction time without flaw, and his nerves grew wound tighter than a ball of string. Some girl walking casually by the arena scared him so much that he crushed me against the fence, and when I lost my balance and fell, he ran away. When a horse throws you, you immediately get back on. But I should have known better, because Seraf was not a horse.
Any other day, I wouldn’t have yelled at him in anger for having a natural reaction to a surprise. Any other day, I wouldn’t have gotten back on and made him take the highest jump in punishment. I should have considered first that any other day, Seraf wouldn’t have been so anxious he would throw me, let alone run away and leave me in the dirt… but it was that day, and we were both blinded by it.
We did the entire course, except for the last three cross-rails/lateral combinations. These three were the hardest, because Seraf was a very small Arab horse and it took a lot of work to clear such big jumps. During three years, we had trained to take the smaller two. We stopped, panting a little, and then took the first two cross-rails/laterals like we’d practiced.
Then I pointed him towards the third jump, the lateral we never took without adjustment because it was so tall, and Seraf pulled the reins out of my hands.
He lunged directly for the impossible jump, his stride much too long for correction, and right when we reached the point where he should have leaped he stopped short and slid forwards, bowing down so low I bowed with him, and then he snapped his head back, right into my face.
The crunching was loud, and the blood flow instantaneous, as my nose shattered apart. Seraf heard the ugly sound as loud as I did and froze in horror, still half-bowed over the cross-rails with his eyes wide and scared, and the first spray of blood lashed at his mane. Because no one was left steering, my body separated from his and fell back into the dirt… and my consciousness, unbridled, flew away.
My school court hearing was brief. Refusing painkillers, I floated without orbit in a galaxy of pain, counting stars and coming back to earth from time to time to answer questions and blow a combination of black blood clots and bright red pattern on a pile of napkins.
“What were you thinking?”
I held my fists pressed up against my nose as I considered the question, but now the rivers I tried to dam were made of blood and my eyes were swollen shut.
That night, propped up uncomfortably against the pillows, I was to have a dream about driving a Lincoln town car that couldn’t stop. The brakes slowed down the car so gradually, no matter how hard I pressed my foot, and I would always roll over the line and into intersection traffic. This dream probably came from the thought I had, being asked that question in court. I couldn’t find my brake of intention, and maybe I could never stop.
“I wasn’t thinking,” I said, and that was the truth.
I was given every punishment imaginable, short of expulsion, for my shoplifting crime. Work detail all day, every Saturday and Sunday, plus monitored study hall two hours a night, and no leaving campus EVER until my graduation day. Once a respected RA of my dorm and honor student, I would lose all privileges granted from my four years accomplishments. And, I would have to go back to the store I’d stolen from and apologize with my headmaster.
I had lost the respect and trust of my teachers, who had never thought me a bad kid, and from my associative peers, many of whom had been victim to theft themselves. Thieves are rarely apprehended. For all they knew, the thief could have been myself.
Kevin sat down with me and told me all of this. “Haley, you’re the first student in the history of our school to not be expelled for shoplifting. Be grateful,” he said. “Learn something from this experience.”
Then he sent me away for a two week suspension.
When I was picked up by the airport shuttle service in a Lincoln town car with bad brakes, I can’t say I was surprised. At that point, I was ready for almost anything.
I had packed a backpack with a pocket knife, a change of clothes, soap, and tied a sleeping bag on the top, in preparation for the two weeks of living on the streets. I’d done it before. I had many friends along the river that probably had missed me in the four long years I’d been gone, Acid-Head Ted, the Freak in Pink, Carla, and Mo… they’d always told me, be prepared. This time I’d try. This time I had a can-opener, and band-aids. I had a long stick for defending myself, to aid my walking, and to roast marshmallows on. I even put several bandanas in the front pocket to keep my greasy hair out of my face. I was confident, because I knew they would accept me back.
In the old days, human beings were all nomadic hunter-gatherers. We traveled with only what we could carry, had no concept of horticulture, and never stayed in one place for very long for fear of ruining resources. We lived in close-knit communities that supported one another, because community was all we had.
When you are sent away to boarding school, it’s rare to still have a home to go home to when they don’t want you anymore. You move away from what you know and build yourself a new nest within the school community, and then you’re thrown out like a baby bird for whichever reason they deem fit.
The homeless are a more consistent family, I do believe. They always accept your tattoos, your broken face, and your beaten past, not to mention your flattened wallet. If you come bridled with good intention, you are allowed to stay. These people of the earth, who have been rejected by evolving humanity and left trapped in bus stations, back alleys, and in cardboard boxes along the train tracks; these people have the godly ability to judge you for your crimes, and then, miraculously, to let them go.