I read somewhere this week that grief is like moving towards a big lake and you skirt around its edges not knowing (but having a fair idea) how deep and cold and dark it’s going to be, so you don’t want to get in. Then you realise the lake is not a lake but an endless river and there’s no getting round it, you have to get in, so you do and it’s the most shocking thing as you swim its depths and try and breathe and reach for the bank but the middle of the river is where the current holds you, and so you stay there not knowing how long your stay needs to be, but knowing at some level this is exactly where you need to be and that that is just how it is for now.
It’s been over a week since the foal died. The same foal I watched cantering behind its mother a few weeks back as the afternoon light played on everything there was to love about movement and long grass and freedom. The same foal who threw her head back to catch the light on the curls in her mane. Look at me.
I found her in the yard just on dusk. Just after I’d had the most perfect afternoon ride with the Lightwood crew around the property, making it all the way down the east facing hill to the Little Coliban River. The same afternoon light followed us along the river bank, teasing us into submission, making us believe we were untouchable.
Her eyes were open, a small trickle of blood from one nostril, but otherwise perfect. Freya (the foal’s mother) nuzzled into me and I hugged her head and scratched her neck and could barely breathe as I fumbled with my phone trying to ring A. to tell her what had happened, to try and make sense of what I had stumbled upon. I stroked the foal’s neck, still warm. Only a few hours earlier I’d stroked the foal’s neck and she’d cheekily pranced about, full of it. And now this. This.
I let Freya back out into the paddock. She casually walked back out, past her dead foal, and didn’t even look back. I sat in the car and sobbed, still hyped with adrenalin, devastated it had happened on my watch. A freak accident, said A., just one of those things. But that didn’t stop me feeling like shit, that if I’d returned earlier, if I’d put them both in the smaller yard, if, if, if, a self-serving rabbit hole of maximum shitsville.
I tried to write about it each day after it happened. But I’d get a few sentences in and crack. I’d visit Aoibheann and I’d watch her watching me and think: I don’t know how long we have together. I might need to make a call one day that results in you needing to be shot because (like the foal, perhaps) you’ve got herself caught somewhere, and the situation is dire. It seems so brutal to even think such a thing. Maybe I need to toughen up if I want to be around these big animals, that in owning one you sign up to these kinds of days too. Animals who panic when they can’t see a way out, who can’t think logically when they’re panic-ing, and who are capable of killing themselves in trying to sort it out or not sort it out while we look on helplessly.
I visited Freya a couple of days ago. The first time I’d been back. I wanted to give her a brush and have a chat about where we were at. I drove past the yards and up the driveway until Freya and the Old Car came into view. Freya lifted her head and with a real spring in her step, cantered across the paddock towards me. I think I let out a big sigh of relief. In that moment, somehow I felt forgiven (I know, I know) and that she still wanted to hang out with me after all that had happened. We both walked back into the yard and I started brushing her. Old Car sidled up next to us ready for a chat – the scab’s fallen off his hind leg now and he’s recovered from his unplanned fence sit. And so the three of us just hung out, just like that.
Farewell Fialka. You beautiful foal.
You taught me to make precious those moments.
You cantering across that paddock is tucked away for keeps.
I feel like I’ve made it to the bank on the other side of the river. All my friends are there, in various states of drying off, but ready to do it again.