Tonight I’m driving to IKEA and I have the radio on, tuned to 89.3, of course. I have the radio tuned into 89.3 because I like the CBC. And the kiddo is not in the car to catch any of the intermittent news-telling that he shouldn’t be hearing. Right now they are playing a band called The Young Pixels*, from Brandon. It’s a song called Wild Horses,** about living with the “wild horses” of depression, and mental illness in general. And I get it. I like the comparison and the song itself too, is not bad. Not bad, I think as I turn onto the Kenaston exit. Not bad.
(Oh, the traffic is thick tonight - it’s always thick on this road! Where are people going, I wonder. Snow flies sideways seemingly in anger against my windshield and I am reminded that I did not clear it properly before leaving tonight. It will have to do. It will have to do).
I peer out. The song comes again: And voices in my head / choices in my head / horses / wild horses in my head / horses watch them run away watch the run away -
I grew up next to horses, you see. The area at the time was known for two things: horses and strawberries. And while my family indulged in the strawberries and likewise the picking of such fruit,*** we only politely acknowledged that horses even existed. We are not horse-people, I remember my mom insisting at one point, as if such people were a species unto themselves.
Perhaps she didn't see but we were hedged in with horses, there. Our neighbours had them. Our other neighbours had them. In fact, if I were able to give you a tour of our (then) two-and-a-half acre yard, each corner (save one) would be marked by fences - both wooden and electric - with those unspoken-of beasts standing beyond each one.
And they watched me grow up, those four-legged mares and stallions! In fact, it was my duty, every weekday morning throughout many years of schooling, to walk to the farthest corner of our yard. There, I would be greeted by a wooden fence. A grey one. My backpack, catapulted over. Oh, it would (inevitably) land with a thud on the other side, and I, silently and religiously pleaded with the Master of the Heavens for it not to land in any horse plop that day. And usually it didn't. Then I would climb. One, two, three tiers. I would climb up and once there, survey that horse-filled coast as only the eyes of a trespasser could. And then, swing my legs over, jump down. Immediately upon hitting that beast-trodden grassmud floor, snatch my book bag and run.
Oh I ran. I ran! I ran like a kid with stories of horses back in Holland who had kicked and pushed and broken my dad’s bones. They were to be feared! I'd listen about needing his nose bone removed - sans anesthetic - and his then broken leg in a cast for months following. My dad, with one leg shorter now, always.
(And though he told this story to us kids with a smile on his face and a chuckle over his words. We knew: horses were not to be trusted. We are not horse-people).
But here’s the thing. I ran through that field twice every weekday, for nearly five years. And nothing ever happened. Oh, the horses lifted their too-big heads and maybe looked over at me. But our horses stood still. Perhaps, if I recall a memory or two, one of them may have snorted at me. But from a distance. But from a distance. Nothing ever happened. And I yet was scared every time.
In my family, we were surrounded by these horses but also by the horses of mental (ill) health. We were hedged in, so to speak. But unlike that lovely song by the young band from Brandon, Manitoba, our horses were not wild and definitely did not run. There was and is no romanticizing; those - our - horses simply stood and stared. They just were. And are.
And I am tired of being afraid of them.****
*either a career-limiting name (how long can one be named ‘Young’?) or a wonderfully ironic one, and growing in irony every (age-filled) day. In that case, kudos, my fellow Manitoban friends. Well done. Well done.
**Ok, I was sure that the announcer said that the song was titled “Wild Horses”. But now, upon reflection and a good o'l fashioned google search, it doesn’t seem like that band even has a song called that. So I am mystified. Here are the possible logical conclusions: either I heard incorrectly (plausible, considering that my right ear is currently plugged and devoid of much use), or that I imagined the entire song. Also plausible.
***my first job, age thirteen. Earned $2.65 per flat of strawberries. On average, it would take about an hour to fill a flat. And while I did not earn much money that summer, I did eat a couple belly-fulls of those still sun-warmed berries.
****written in response to #BellLet’sTalk, a day focused on mental health, with a desire to end the stigma attached to it.