Right after school let out for the summer from my ninth grade year, Mom, her fourth husband Emil, and I started packing for our long-awaited two-week horseback riding trip that would take us through the Dakotas and Wyoming. Emil was still off work due to an accident while driving his semi. Mom took a vacation from her secretarial job.
Mom and Emil's custom-built horse trailer with living quarters was hitched to the matching black and gray pickup truck. Our horses, Jazon and Quazar, were loaded in to the trailer. Along with our dogs, Spike and Muffin, off we went to start our trip. Emil stayed at the truck with the dogs while Mom and I rode.
The steep hills of the trails we rode our horses on in the Dakotas and Wyoming were scary but exciting. Straight up and straight down at times. We had to slowly and carefully guide our horses on the dangerous terrain so they would not trip and fall.
As I rode my horse, Jazon, I looked around at the beautiful country and felt the warmth of the hot sun on my back, I felt peace wash over me as I usually did when riding. I also felt an unusual happiness. The depression, guilt, shame, sadness, anxiety and loneliness that plagued me on a daily basis were not weighing as heavily on my young shoulders. The clenched muscles in my body slowly started to relax.
This rare sense of happiness was intoxicating. I wanted it to last forever.
Mom and I got along well as we usually did when riding. We exchanged small talk at times but mostly enjoyed the quiet and beauty of our surroundings and riding our horses. Absent were Mom's usual criticisms and anger about my appearance, my attitude and the way I cleaned the house.
It was a perfect trip.
Mom and Emil must also have felt the same peace and happiness because rarely did they exchange an unkind word with each other or with me. It was great to hear them laughing and see them smiling. I basked in the rare kindness and attention Mom and Emil showed me.
Mom took many pictures of me in my shorts and summer tops when we were not riding.
"Pull your hair all the way back and put your hat on. That looks really cute! Let me take a picture."
"Stand next to this tree. Turn to the side, fold your arms and smile!"
"Here, sit over by this tree with Spike. Smile!"
Snap, snap, snap went Mom's camera while she smiled encouragingly at me.
I loved the attention that Mom so rarely showed me.
Shortly in to our trip we met a man we called Early. Unfortunately, time has erased the memory of where and how we met. He just seemed to materialize out of nowhere.
Mom and Emil took an immediate liking to Early. In no time at all they were laughing and talking about their shared interests, horses and trail riding. Early told us about his ranch and the Quarter Horses he owned.
At some point me and Mom went riding with Early. He immediately took a special interest in me as I rode Jazon, watching and smiling at me and several times complimenting me on my riding ability.
Although I enjoyed the kindness he showed to me, at the same time I was uncomfortable being the center of attention. Each time I got a compliment from Early, I would say thank you and shyly look away. I had no idea how to handle such praise.
Mom proudly told Early that I had been riding all of my life. She explained to him that I started riding Jazon when I was nine years old, expertly handling my young and spirited Arabian with skill and patience that far exceeded the abilities of such a young rider.
After our ride Early invited us to his ranch. We toured the barns and admired his beautiful horses. I was very impressed with all of his animals and his property.
After touring the ranch, we went in to Early's house and met his wife. She seemed nice but was also very quiet. I caught her watching me at different times. Each time our eyes met, I would shyly look away. We did not see her again after our initial meeting.
Shortly after meeting Early, Mom, Emil and I were standing in Early's barn alone. Mom turned to Emil and said, "Oh, Early really likes Morrene. He would definitely try something with her."
I looked at Mom silently. I had no idea why she would say something like that, but I knew better than to question her. I did not want her to get angry at me. As with a lot odd things that happened while living with Mom and Emil, I had to put this out of my head. Again, I knew better than to ask questions.
Mom and Emil told me Early wanted me to come live with him and his wife on their ranch. He wanted to get me professionally trained to show his horses.
I was very excited! I absolutely loved horses, and this would be a dream come true!
Mom and Emil were very encouraging.
Morrene! What an opportunity for you! You need to stay and do this!
We are very lucky to have met Early!
Think of how exciting your life will be! said Mom.
Emil agreed with her.
Mom took me shopping and bought me a beautiful and expensive pair of brown boots with high heels. I had never owned such a nice pair of boots. I was very happy that Mom would buy me something so special for no reason.
Mom repeatedly told me that Early's wife would love to have me there and would buy me many things, clothes, shoes. Anything I wanted. That excited me since I rarely got new clothes.
As the time drew closer for Mom and Emil to leave, I could feel my resolve weakening. I did not want to be away from home, away from Jazon and my friend Lisa. The thought made me very sad. I made the tough decision to turn down Early's offer to live with him and his wife.
Mom and Emil's relaxed and happy moods slowly disappeared the closer we got to home. Soon their impatience and anger with each other and their combined criticism over my appearance and my attitude returned in full force, and the yelling started again.
It also didn't take long before Mom was looking at me with jealousy and hate in her eyes as she usually did. I looked at Mom in sadness and confusion when I saw her angrily looking at me. I had no idea what I had done this time to make her mad.
Once again, my constant friends, depression, guilt, shame, sadness, anxiety and loneliness descended heavily on my shoulders.