My hands gripped the metal frame of the stall door, the only thing keeping me from embracing the ground. Black was all I could see from squeezing my eyes shut, trying to erase the image of what I had just seen. Breath in, breath out. I felt as if someone had hit me, hard, in the stomach.
“No, no, no” was all I could repeat in my head. I forced my eyes open and released my grip on the icy stall door. It had happened. The thing I feared most, had dreaded and prayed would not happen, had finally come. Somewhere deep in my soul I knew this could happen, but I forced that thought out of my mind. We were going to be a come back story. He was going to recover. We were going to get past this.
I turned and faced the little sorrel horse standing behind me completely unhindered by my reaction. He felt only relief. Relief from the pain and awkwardness he had been suffering for the last two weeks. I felt only the sting of knowing this was it. This was the last time I would ever see him. We had won our last buckle, gathered our last cow, ridden across our last sagebrush plain. I tried to recall our last rides together. Why hadn’t I known those would be the last? I would have stayed longer. Lingered enjoying my surroundings and being in his presence.
“We weren’t done” I whispered with tears streaming down my face.
He shook his head back and forth beckoning his morning alfalfa from me. He wasn’t afraid and for that I was relieved. He was simply glad to see me, he was enjoying these final moments together. Slowly I gathered up enough internal strength to walk toward him, ignoring the evidence of his impending doom that lay on the stall floor.
Intertwining my fingers in his thin red mane like I had done so many times before I knelt down and breathed him in. There is nothing comparable to the smell of a horse, but when it is the last time you know you will breath that scent you inhale until it reaches the tips of your toes. I pulled on his mane, almost upset with him. Upset that he would be leaving me and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I stopped breathing in because the feeling of actually breathing was proving more difficult.
I wrapped my arms around his neck. Oh the amount of times I had done this, him always letting me. He knew when I needed him and he was always there. I couldn’t have survived these last two years without him, now I felt a deep loss knowing I would have to go on without him.
I took out my pocket knife and cut a long strand of hair from his tail for me to keep. I spent the next few minutes telling him how much I cherished all he had done for me, how much I loved him, how much I had tried to save his life.
“Thank you for saving mine, mi Rojito.” I fed him extra that morning. I walked slowly away from the stall door pulling out my cell phone to call my dad. Before I reached my car I turned to look at him one last time, he looked out the stall door at me. Memorising the star on his face, the softness in his eyes and the whiskers on his nose. I heard my dad answer the phone.
I nearly choked on my word as I asked my dad for the favour I knew he dreaded almost as much as I dreaded asking for it.
“It’s over. He’s not going to make it. Please come take him home.”