It was the beginning of May in 2004, and the end of my high school career was a year behind me. Kicked out at the end of my senior year for a slew of interrelated reasons, all of which circled around my irrational teen behavior, I had somehow managed to secure a GED and a chance to actually go to the college of my choice, attempting to change my fate and make something of myself. Opting to take a year off between schools, I had rested and recharged enough to feel hopeful for the future for the first time in my life. With two horses in my care, I found myself very busy, and extremely happy for the first time in years. It was an emotion I had completely forgotten, one I had become disconnected from, and one I had welcomed back with distrust and fear. But I was healing. Three years with my Quincy, and now a few months with my Metro, and I was healing. Finally, I could stand on my own two feet. Finally, I could breathe the free air and look towards the horizon, a fresh and bountiful view. Quincy was gracefully slipping (or accidentally falling, I might say) into retirement, as his ability to not fall down at inopportune moments was becoming impossible to manage. His bout with EPM had left him permanently damaged, but it was clear that he was going nowhere in life without me. He had happily been living for slightly less than a month at an 'old folks home' of sorts, a pasture boarding situation 40 minues from my house where he had 50 friends and hundreds of interconnected acres to play with. It was true horsey heaven, and he was happy as could be. I saw him less than I wanted to given the distance and Metro's need - just a few times a week - but I cherished those moments and looked forward to when I could be closer again. Everything was looking so good, and I was excited for the future.
The morning of May 3rd dawned chilly and misty. Rainclouds gathered ominously on the horizon, roiling on top of each other, threatening to break out overtop the gorgeous weather we had been enjoying that week. It wasn't quite 40 degrees outside. I spent the better part of my morning making a list of things that made me happy, and adding pictures to each item. Sunsets... painting... Metro... poetry... Quincy. I got to 'baby foals' on the list, added a picture of a tiny leaping chestnut with all four off the ground, and decided to hop in the shower. No sooner had I stripped down than my cell rang. The owner of the barn addressed me in a slight panic: "Hi, is this Andrea? Yes, Quincy is sick. He's very sick. We called the vet already, he is colicing and we found him when he didn't come in for breakfast." The jumble of words took a second to sort out, but I shook out of it and told them I'd be there as soon as I could. Colic, what was that thing? I knew what it was, to be sure, but the seriousness of the situation was not clear. I tossed on a sweatshirt and jeans, hopping in my Jeep, and headed out.
The icy air hit me as I left the warmth of the car and headed down to the barn's holding paddock where Quincy was. I stopped dead when I saw him. Standing completely immobile and splay-legged, his head hung low, and his eyes had a detached, glossed-over look of pain in them. I moved to his side, and put my hand on his neck, stroking off some of the caked on mud that coated a good part of his gleaming black coat. Patches of open, raw wounds glared angrily back at me, places where he had rolled so ferociously during the night that he had ripped his own flesh off. From what the barn owner explained, it sounded as though sometime during the night he had coliced, and got down and thrashed in the field like a maniac. He didn't come in that morning for breakfast, and they had found him near the very back of the pasture, up and standing in the exact posture I was looking at in disbelief. Pieces of turfed-up ground around the place where he had stood told the story, and using a whip and some brute force, they had dragged him step by step back to the holding pen to await the vet. I reached up to touch his mud-encrusted ears, and he didn't move or respond at all. He absolutely hated his face touched, especially his ears, so I wasn't sure to make of this. When the vet finally arrived, I was shivering, frozen through my sweatshirt, the icy wind cutting through my thin clothes. Unsure of what to think, I cracked a few nervous jokes as the vet took Quincy's TPR. At a dead standstill, his heart rate was 80. His breath came in rapid, shallow inhales. His gums were bright purple, his skin stood tented when pinched, his temp was below 99.0. His gut sounds were silent. I heard all these things without really understanding what they meant. It sounded bad, but the barn owner and her sister tried to be encouraging. "Oh we had a horse this bad once, but he turned around, he was fine!" If I ever saw a horse that shocky today, I would euthanize it. Immediately. But back then, I didn't understand.
We did a rectal on him and found nothing to note. Frowning, the vet decided that we should move him to a stall in case he went down, and we agreed. To keep him quiet, we took his favorite old mare with him, a crusty old bat named Bid who had to be at least a thousand years old. "She's cute... in a goat kind of way," my mother had said about her. Pink, weepy eyes, clumps of matting Cushingoid hair, and a few awkward Appaloosa spots later, Quincy was madly in love. Bid was none to happy about her role in the neighboring stall, but she grudgingly accepted. We pulled, pulled, and half beat Quincy up the small hill into the small, square four-stall barn, Bid in one of the back stalls and Quincy on the side where he could still see her. We tubed him and found nothing to note. Pumped full of pain meds, Quincy stood looking somewhat more alert, and I began feeling somewhat optimistic. The barn owner had said that she'd seen a horse this bad before turn around, why couldn't my horse? It couldn't be that bad. "Well, it's a waiting game now," the vet told me. I had already told him that Quincy wasn't a surgical candidate, so all that remained to do was wait and see. When the pain meds wore off, what would happen? "I'll be 10 minutes down the road," said the vet. "Call me if anything changes." I assured him I would, and bid him farewell. The barn owner and her sister also had things to do, so they too took their leave, telling me to call if anything changed. Left by myself in the barn with my best friend and four-legged soulmate, I suddenly felt very scared and alone.
Absolutely frozen to the bone, I pulled my Jeep into the barn entrance and sat for awhile with the heat on, making calls to the owner of the barn where I kept Metro. She assured me that she was sending my friends Amanda and Sarah out to meet me, and that they would be bringing delicious food and hot chocolate to warm me on his dreary day, ready to stand vigil with me until my horse got better. I had hooked a leadline across the doorframe of the stall so that I could keep an eye on Quincy while attempting to get warm, and as I watched, he started to stumble towards the door, leaning forward across the makeshift stallgate as if looking for me. I staggered out of the car, my joints stiff and numb with cold, and took his furry black head in my arms. He had never been tolerant of having his face touched, so I was surprised to find that he leaned his forehead into my chest, heaving a great sigh of relief, relaxing into my touch. I played with his ears, stroked his great black neck, and kissed the tiny spot of white on his forehead, telling him how much I adored and needed in him my world. He just stood there, patient and steady, letting me drink in my fill of him as I talked and shivered, relishing the little bit of warmth he gave me. "I love you Quincy," I whispered into his ear. "Please don't go." I didn't know it then, but he was saying goodbye to me.
A few hours passed. I huddled in a ball by his stall, I did jumping jacks, I crawled under a cooler and waited, watching the seconds creep by. Time seemed to stand still, and my thoughts were empty. I couldn't think of what-ifs, I couldn't think of what might happen at the end of the day. All I could do was stare red-eyed at my broken, beautiful friend, the spell of painkillers breaking at the seams, the throes of agony starting to sweep back into his body. At around 2 or so, his behavior changed dramatically. Spasms of pain wracked his body, rippling in waves down his entire length, and his legs began to quake under his own weight. I sat up, alarmed as he began staggering around his stall, stretching out as if straining to pee but unable to do more than struggle to get his hind legs back underneath him again. He stumbled forward out the front of the open stall door, his weight caught against the leadline, and the glossed-over look of detachment in his eyes suddenly changed to absolute terror and agony. He looked at me, stumbling towards me as if silently begging for help, and white foam began dripping from his mouth and nostrils, his breath gurgling shallow and fast. Completely panicked, I called the barn owner's sister, who immediately came down to the barn to see what was happening. I also called the vet, frightened, and he told me that he would be there in 10 minutes. The barn owner's sister pulled me out of the way as he stumbled to his knees and stuck a hind leg out the door, and together we struggled to push him back in the stall, close the door, and get out of the way. Watching from inside Bid's stall, I stared in open-mouth horror as Quincy staggered forward, muscles clenched tight in pain. In one violent, crashing moment, he lost his hind end, flipping himself over backwards, spraying white foam across the walls as he went. His head hit the side wall with a sickening crunch, and he seized. Groaning, screaming, making noises no animal should make, he writhed against his own body, and all I could see from my vantage point was a set of four legs thrashing, struggling to run and release himself from his pain. With a rattling, watery breath, his motion began to slow, and the sister said to me, "I think he just took his last breath." It was as if a bomb exploded in my brain. Hysterical, crying and shrieking, I burst from Bid's stall just in time to see the vet truck pulling up, and I ran to him, begging him to euthanize him right then, just stop his agony, just stop the pain. The vet was already in the stall before I knew what was happening, and stethoscope in hand, he turned to me slowly with words I will never forget: "His heart just stopped." My best friend in the world - my savior, my soulmate, my partner, my angel - was gone.
I laid over his body for hours and cried harder than I ever had before.
The next few hours passed in an empty blur. Amanda and Sarah thankfully got lost and showed up too late to see his death, but they sat with me on his body and talked with me about everything, as I slowly described the day to them piece by piece. Dust settled over his liquidy black eye, now so completely still and vacant. His head, propped up against the wall where he fell, was so strange and still, and his lower lip drooped unnatural below his gumline. I wanted to put it back, but when I tried, it was already cold and starting to stiffen. I recoiled in terror.
We made arrangements to move his body back to the farm where Metro was, where Quincy had been while in work. The backhoe couldn't get there until the next morning, so we planned to leave him in the field until then, but the truck got lost on the way over. When I arrived at the farm myself, I was assaulted by a slew of screaming children, asking a thousand questions that I didn't want to answer. I found myself answering slowly over and over, my voice empty and emotionless like a recording, until Amanda's boyfriend Timmy came over and lifted me over his shoulder, carrying me down the driveway away from everyone. "I thought you needed some rescuing," he said.
The horses were all so strange around me that day. Perhaps they could smell the death lingering about me like shadow. Even steady Metro, always unwavering in his emotion and demeanor, began prancing around me like a stud when I went to bring him out of the field, and I released him in the outdoor arena to let him get his kicks out. He ran, he bucked, he squealed and leaped, and I found myself hungrily watching his every move, his muscles gleaming and rippling with tension in the fading evening sunlight, his every move so alive, so unlike Quincy had been. I drank in the sight as though I had never seen a horse running before, and burned the memory into the back of my head in case he, too, were to lay down and die on any old regular Tuesday like Quincy had just done. Still in disbelief and shock, unable to think or feel, I laid out on the trampoline by the house, staring up at the setting sun and wondering if Quincy was up there looking down at me. Perhaps he had found a big banana tree to hang out in, we mused.
The transport for his body had gotten lost on their way to the farm, so it was nearly 10pm by the time they arrived at the farm. It was dark out, and using the light of our cars' headlights, we backed the truck up to the place where we needed his body to be. Unchaining him from the other dead horse in the truck, they began lifting the dump bed without warning, and I realized a second too late what was about to happen. With a sickening crunch, all one thousand pounds of him tumbled from the truck bed, landing with a heavy, dull thud on the wet grass below. I almost thew up at the sight.
We watched Finding Nemo that night. I'll never think of that movie in quite the same way again.
In the morning, we laid him to rest. They wisely put him in the hole before I arrived, so the only traumatizing thing I had to endure was watching his already stiff legs swaying back and forth as the dirt filling around him rolled him up onto his back. I threw three tulips into the grave with him, plucked from a neighbor's garden. One for his heart, one for his soul, and one for the piece of my own soul that had died with him. I suddenly found that I couldn't cry, couldn't think, couldn't do anything but go into hyperdrive for an entire week, living every last second as though I too might die without warning, filling as much into a week as I possibly could, running on almost no sleep. At the end of the week I crashed, utterly exhausted, crying myself into nearly 24 hours of almost consecutive sleep. But Metro needed me. Metro was what got me out of bed in the morning. Metro helped me keep going when all I wanted to do was go dig a hole in Quincy's grave and bury myself in there too. Metro buoyed me up when I needed it most.
I hope none of you ever have to witness anything like it. It was the most traumatic experience of my young life, and I hope nothing ever tops it. I've never really written about it like this before.
I miss him. Every day, I miss him.
The very special Ridgeway weekend
3 days ago