A horse. That's all I wanted when I was a girl.
My mother had a horse when she was young, so I thought it was only fair I should have one too. I talked about it a lot. I was going to save my allowance (back then $4 a week) and I was going to get a tall black horse with a white star on his head. I made plans and adventures for my horse. We would gallop across our alfalfa fields. We would explore the acres of woods behind our house. We would pack picnics and stop for lunch by quick-moving streams.
None of that ever happened, but I never quit dreaming that it someday would. I think it's all tied up in the romance of where my house is. Middle of nowhere, lots of land, woods, creeks, places to run. I always wanted to be more outdoorsy than I was. When I would mow the lawn on the weekends I would make up elaborate alternative lives in my head, where I was the favorite daughter of a wealthy ranch owner. My father employed tall cowboy-types who were a few years older than me, and they would wait for me to finish my chores so we could go riding together. One of these cowboys was in love with my cousin, who my wealthy ranching father had adopted after her parents died in a car crash. One of these cowboys was in love with me, but I always bucked his advances. I was afraid, of course, of the strong feelings I had for him. When he would kiss me under the canopy of trees heavy with ripening apples I would push away, say no, no, we can't, we can't!, then we would kiss some more.
It was a fine alternative universe.
Last night I was thinking of that world I made for myself. I was thinking of it because I herded everyone into the horse barns at the Erie County Fair. Besides the food, seeing the horses and letting them rub their velvet noses on my palms is my favorite part of any fair. I like to put my hand on their foreheads--where the white star would've been on the horse I dreamed about--and think what my life could've been like if I had been a farm girl, if I had even a fraction of the life I worked up for myself while I cut the back lawn.
I guess I've always been imaginative like that. And I guess that a lot of my fantasies involve horses. When I was small, I thought I was an Indian princess. I loved to wear my mother's old riding outfits: leather skirt, leather vest, both fringed. They smelled of summer sun and green grass. They smelled of wind and rain. I would put them on, stick a feather in my hair, and run around the yard whooping. If I'd had the horse I was seeing in my head, we would've been able to rush down past the big apple tree and into the creek, where cold splashes of water would fly up from his hooves. We would've kept going past the grapes and blueberries, past the other apple trees, out into the field, back into the woods. And then we would lose ourselves in the dark cover of forest, and I would whoop and whoop and whoop and no one would tell me to stop it already because it was giving them a headache.
Last night I wanted nothing more than to have one of the owners of the horses, who had names like Tequila and Tidy and Beaner, to say, "Hey, you. Want to take one out for a ride?"
I would've taken them up on that in a hot second. And then I would've immediately looked like a giant ass, because I can't ride horses for anything. A few years ago, my mother and I went out to a place near where I went to college and we went on a trail ride with a bunch of other people who wanted to spend the afternoon pretending they were Indian Princesses or daughters of wealthy ranchers. I could walk the horse fine. But when it came to going faster than that, I bounced up and down like I was on a carousel.
"Don't lock your legs like that," our guide said.
"Let the horse move for you," my mother said.
None of that advice helped. I walked funny the rest of the day.
My mother was sad that they hadn't let us get the horses up any faster than a lope. "I just wanted to take off," she said. She looked dreamy and half-sad. "I just wanted to tear off past everybody."
I understood the sentiment. Boy, did I ever. All I wanted was my tall black horse with the star on his forehead. I wanted to know how to ride him without bruising my inner thighs. I wanted to have a boy in a cowboy hat watch me finish mowing the lawn, then hand me the reigns to my horse so we could go, go, go, far away from everyone else, and we would kiss and not kiss, then kiss some more.
But that's never happened, and it never will. So last night I just let the horses nuzzle my hands, my shirt, my hair, looking for apples or other treats. I let them nudge me with their soft noses. I let them switch their tails in anticipation. I let them look at me with those dewy eyes that looked like they were saying, Let's go. Let's go, go, go.
And then we left the horse barn and stepped back into a world without Indian Princesses and cowboys. And there was the Erie County fair in all its glory. Demolition derbies, gyros, fresh-pulled taffy, warm fudge, hard-shelled candy apples, bustling I Got Its, sizzling funnel cake, men (and the unfortunate baby) with mullets, triplets performing magic tricks with poodles, Chiavetta's chicken BBQ, hot tubs for sale, the Polish gifts table, the amazing (alive! real!) Snake Lady, the World's Smallest Horse (only 50 cents!), and the golden, whirling midway.
And, of course, the 25 cent refresh! rejuvenate! relax! your feet center.