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Gift Horse

by Mia Sara


Photo courtesy the author

Divorce Shocker!

Kylie, Pregnant and Alone!

Kate vs Meghan, Betrayal at The Palace!

Secret Sleepovers!


I’m reading the headlines on the checkout line, waiting for Tim, my favorite cashier at the Gelson’s Market on Franklin Avenue in Los Feliz, to finish up with the clumsy guy in front of me who dropped first his wallet, then his car keys, and is now writing a check for $12.85 worth of groceries, because I like Tim. I like his curly blond hair and his little round glasses, and I like the diamond studs he wears in his rosy-pink earlobes. He’s got that pale, translucent skin that burns the instant it’s exposed to the sun. Skin like the Sistine cheru­bim. I like that he never tries too hard to make conversation. And he always helps me help the baggers as they struggle to fill the baffling assortment of reusable bags I give them when I remember to bring them from out of my car. Tim and I, we make fast work of it:

jars and cans in the green canvas tote from Daunts Bookstore in London,

produce with bread in the black, old-fashioned netting bag,

milk, cold cuts, and frozen peas in the big blue Trader Joe’s insulated tote,

Mop & Glo and Woolite, toxic together, in the dirty-white can­vas New Yorker tote,

and then we’re almost done. I’m just waiting for Apple Pay to recognize my face when:

Natalya, the slowest bagger of all time,

Natalya, with the gray pudding-bowl haircut and faint Eastern European accent,

Natalya, with the incongruous name

to whom I’m always extra nice because she seems to be develop­mentally disabled in some way and I feel the need to compensate for the fact that she drives me so crazy,

that Natalya, raises one arm, swaddled against the arctic chill of the air-conditioning, on full blast to combat the searing heat of the now-annual October heat wave in Los Angeles, in her baby-chick-yellow, synthetic wool cardigan, waving my carton of extra-large, free-range Happy Eggs and asks me,

Do you need help out?

and I think to myself,

Out where?

trying not to say it out loud, so as not to be rude, but it does make me wonder.

It’s true that I am shivering a little in my sodden Brooklyn Half Marathon T-shirt, my gray riding breeches and tall boots are dusty with grain and dried horseshit from the barn where I ride, and my iPhone X is a little reluctant to recognize my face, but otherwise I’m a 51-year-old woman in reasonable health with all limbs functioning and two eyes in my head so

it’s a question I have to ask myself because over the last few years, ever since the day my only son locked himself in a stranger’s bathroom and tried to shoot some Horse to greener pastures and didn’t manage to finish the job

which is the best among so many things he has left unfinished, people have been asking me if they can help me out,

good people, well-meaning people—the kind of people who offer to drive you to meetings:

meetings where you go to hear stories about how nobody can save anybody else anyway,

meetings where you learn how to set boundaries, and practice self-care,

meetings where, if you’re so inclined, you can pray for things

like serenity and courage and wisdom. I’ve got nothing against praying. I’ve always liked


A Good Cloister!

A Buttress Flying!

A Monk Chanting!

A Bell Ringing!


It’s just, if I were looking for serenity, or courage, or wisdom, I have other places to look. And anyway I’m not looking for a way to let go my burdens. Not because I’m so strong. My son, even in the most wasted state of his addiction, has always outweighed me. He still beats me in an arm wrestle. He thinks this is funny, that it makes him manly. I think, if he does live to be a full-grown man, I might consider


Surrendering My Fear!

Letting Go of My Guilt!

Overcoming My Shame!


but until then I’d prefer to carry what’s mine into the scorching heat and lay it down in my own damn trunk. Which is all you can do when you realize how little you know about the way it feels to be anyone else, or even yourself, this being the biggest burden of all and why I love horses, because a horse lets you know how you feel the moment you reach out to touch its soft nose,


You Are Scared!

You Are Angry!

You Are Too Tired To Care!


they will soften their neck to give you their head, or they won’t. They don’t believe you if you lie to yourself. Which is why I tell my son that my horse is better than his Horse. He just laughs and says hay makes him sneeze. But I sometimes wonder if I had learned to ride as a child:

I might have known I was high-strung and anxious,

I might have learned to surrender my grip,

I might have learned how to fall,

and get back up and into the saddle even when I was scared. Maybe I could have shown him a better way to be carried on the back of a something stronger than himself, which is something like faith but the fleshed-out version. Kind of like Jesus, I guess, but if I was god and looking to give the ultimate gift, I might venture a little beyond my own image. I might consider something with a little more variety:

Mustangs or Warmbloods,

Cobbs or Criollos,

Blacks and Bays,

Dapples and Grays,

and all the pretty little ponies etc…like the song I used to sing when my son was a baby, and I still believed I could give him every­thing he needed. Before he found his Horse and I found mine. Before I learned that no mistake I made out of ignorance or inexperience, no weight of fear or regret is too heavy for the barrel of a chestnut geld­ing with three white socks who will try, if I ask, to get the right lead as we


One Two Three!

One Two Three!

One Two Three!


canter along the rails, the rhythm of his hooves blocking out the other noise. The one that I hear in the sleepless nights from the TV screen, or crawling through traffic with the radio on, even here, standing in line at Gelson’s. A sound so pervasive

I wonder if it’s audible to Tim, and Natalya, and:

the harried hipsters,

the out-of-work drummers,

the incognito movie stars,

the unwashed, elderly rat-packer who drives a custard-colored El Dorado,

the lone Carmelite nun in her modified habit,

because it seems even nuns run out of Kleenex and light bulbs and Half & Half. A sibilant wail, a constant hissing, a slow, steady leak in my last spare bubble, the one I assumed was already burst.






for being so sorry, for trying too hard keep him safe. Because safe is only what you think you are when you’ve measured the course, counted the strides, and cleared the last fence. Safe is the moment before your horse startles and bolts as the wind catches the edge of the white plastic tarp and you get thrown. Because horses know this is better than waiting:

      for the monster to sink its teeth into your spine,

      for the needle to deliver the poison to your blood,

      for the shock to lull you into a stupor

so you won’t move a muscle as you’re eaten alive. Because dead is the safest you’ll ever be.

   I used to think we were so different, my son and I. But now I see, we both need to learn the hard way. Getting hurt pisses me off. I don’t want to be broken. But I need to ride.

   Thanks, I can manage.

I answer Natalya, taking my eggs, smiling, remembering today’s lesson when my horse stopped short of the jump. How I was scared and pulled too hard on his tender mouth. How he forgave me. How I forgave myself.