We drove away from the big-box stores and suburbia and straight towards the mountains. Rolling over pavement onto gravel until we reached the country. Our friend had invited us over for horseback riding, and without hesitation, we said yes. Her home oozed out adjectives like homey and warm. Quilts draped on couches, family photos grouped on walls, bible verses engraved on horse paintings. Like mulberry and vanilla; 90’s style and sugary sweet.
Right away, we met the animals. Nosey goats and aging horses. Chickens, rabbits, cats, and a dog. It was like a real-life Little People farm – complete with a tiny tractor and movable pens. Later, the kids got to ride her Palomino named Issac. But before they did, my friend told us his story. A local ranch had rescued him from an abusive home. His previous owner had tried to control him by power and fear, rather than trust and relationship. And after a trailer accident, he ended up with a broken nose and worse, a broken spirit.
My friend had acquired him a few years ago in the hopes of rehabilitating him. She warned us that while he was a good horse, she couldn’t guarantee when/if he would panic. When something would trigger feelings from his past. Past trauma. Past hurt. Scars that still festered that would cause him to react. Loud noises could startle him. Sudden movements could agitate him.
And I couldn’t help think of how much we are like him. How are experiences shape us, stifle us, motivate us, and paralyze us. How our pain is part of our story. And you never know what/when/who will trigger those feelings.
Recently, I started talking to someone from my maiden-name-days. A conversation was started and we decided to catch up over coffee. Days before D-day, I was a nervous wreck. I worried that the anticipation wouldn’t match the reality. That one/both of us would be disappointed. That we actually liked the idea of the person more than the actual person.
Then, some poisonous feelings surfaced unannounced and uninvited. I was talking to my girlfriends, and I told them how I couldn’t imagine anyone being interested in me. And if they were, well… it wouldn’t last. They would leave. They would find someone else. They would figure it out. And then, I would be left alone. Again.
As the words and tears slipped out, they listened. They encouraged. Rallied. They told me words that mattered: that I mattered. Yet, the old tapes were still there. The experience of betrayal still lingered. I thought I had buried those feelings at least six feet under. I thought the scar tissue was strong enough. And I was wrong.
I wonder how many of us have these old tapes? Tapes that say things like success is only measured in dollar signs. Or, beauty looks good skinny. Or, failure is not an option. Or, the exterior matters more than the interior. Or, men don’t cry. Or, good moms raise good kids. Or, fill-in-the-blank. How many of us go through life, pushing these tapes down, only to hear them surface on one random, uneventful day?
I’m going to guess, all of us. Every single one of us. Some of us just have better masks. Or push them under thicker rugs. But, we all have issues. Hurt. Broken tapes.
And by being aware of them, we learn to deal with them.
My kids spent the afternoon riding Issac. My friend even let us help give him his very first bubble bath. Miraculously, there were no incidents or reactions. With tenderness and awareness, we navigated the entire ordeal. Does that mean he will never react again? That he has been healed from the trauma? No. But, at least we know the trigger points. And we are fragile with his sensitivity.
I think maybe that’s all we can really ask for from others. That they know our story. And that they tread gently around the edges.
During the reunion coffee date, and while giving the CliffNotes versions of our lives, I apologized to this guy for unloading such heaviness into the conversation by bringing up my divorce. I had every intention of keeping the conversation light and airy and fun! (No one wants to hear about baggage, do they?) But instead of dismissing the recap, he reminded me that it’s part of my story. That it would be hard to disconnect it from my life. From ending up here. Now.
He’s right. Perhaps our vulnerability makes us more human, after all. When we own up to our past. Recognize our pain. Our old tapes.
And with awareness, move forward.