When I was 8 year old I went to horse camp — one full week of learning to groom, saddle and ride horses. I was so excited. One of the first things our horse instructor told us is that there was an award given to anyone who fell off their horse and got back on to ride again. It was called the “Spurs Award.” That sounded nice, but I wasn’t going to fall off my horse. Of course, I did fall off. I don’t remember how or why I ended up on the ground – those horses must have been the tamest animals in the world to be putting little kids on them — but what I do remember is that I wanted to win the Spurs Award. I was going to get back on and ride again. So I went running after my horse, chasing it so I could get back on, immediately. At the end of the week, at the closing ceremonies for camp, when all the awards were granted – for archery, for team spirit, for cleanest cabin – I was called up to receive my award, a paper certificate with my name on it: The Spurs Award. The horse instructor handed it to me and said, “When we said get back on your horse and ride again, we meant sometime during the week, not ten seconds after you fall off.”
I am reminded of this episode, this “award,” as I move through the days following Marcus’ death. Friends have written kind words telling me things like: You’re a survivor. You’re resilient. You’re resourceful. You are brave. You are a strong woman.
I don’t want to be strong. I don’t even want to live anymore. I’m tired. I’m not 8 years old anymore with that kind of determination to get back on my horse. And yet, I’m still here. And, like it or not, life keeps moving forward.
I am moving forward – at 75 miles per hour, to be exact. I packed up my beloved writer’s cottage in Terlingua, loaded the dogs in the Mini Cooper, and am currently heading West — to Los Angeles first, to visit my family, and then to Portland, Oregon, where I will stay for at least two months to get medical treatment for my hyperthyroidism (when you see the goiter in your neck growing to the size of a grapefruit, you know something needs to be done about it!)
Portland is where my trusted endocrinologist practices. But Portland is where Marcus and I lived for a year and a half (for his job). And Portland is where Marcus died one month ago.
Portland is the place I fear being because of All Those Memories. I fear the St. Honore Bakery and Caffe Mingo because those were our favorite restaurants and to not be able to go there with him, meet him for lunch, go out for dinner — that can only add to my sadness.
I fear driving on the Fremont Bridge as that’s the route he took to work and to think how much he was looking forward to his new project – that can only give me more heartache.
I fear hiking in Forest Park because that was our backyard and where we rode bikes, and to remember how much he loved biking and how he isn’t here to ride anymore — that can only make me feel worse.
I fear the American Medical Response ambulances, ubiquitous in Portland, with their sirens blaring, because one of those took Marcus to the hospital that fateful morning.
And thus I fear passing Emanuel Legacy Hospital because that is where he was pronounced dead.
I fear all those people – neighbors or coworkers – who haven’t yet heard about Marcus and will say, “But we just saw him a month ago…” or “He was so healthy” or “I cannot believe it” — that will just send me further down into my abyss of grief.
Portland is my horse. I have learned that you don’t need to run after the horse to get back on and ride. Besides, real life doesn’t give out Spurs Awards. I will take my time. I will try to remember and to BELIEVE all those kind words – survivor, resilient, resourceful, brave, strong. I will pack those words in my saddle bags to help me confront my fears when I arrive in Portland. I will cherish the good experiences Marcus and I had there and I will be grateful for those memories. I will eat at St. Honore Bakery and Caffe Mingo and order his favorite dishes. I will ride my bike in Forest Park and sing to Marcus in the trees. I will drive across the Fremont Bridge and shout Marcus’ name. I will see the AMR ambulances and the Legacy Hospital and I will thank them for trying so hard to save Marcus’ life. (From reading the hospital report, it’s clear they did everything possible.) I will eventually get back on the horse and ride. Like it or not, the saddle of life awaits me.