Have I told you yet about Merlin? I haven’t? That’s surprising, we’ve been sitting here for all of two seconds.
Merlin was the best horse in the world. He was mine for 14 years. He’s been gone now for 11 years, nearly as long as I had him. I still miss him every single day.
Merlin was an Arabian, generally considered one of the most beautiful horse breeds. He was grey, with a coat that whitened as he aged. Arabians have black skin, so under moonlight he was silver. Think of the prettiest white horse you’ve ever seen – Merlin was like that. Only prettier.
I could tell you a million stories about Merlin, including how he came to be mine, but for now I’ll just say, I was his third owner and mine was the third divorce that involved him.
In those early days, after I ditched a terrible marriage I’d gotten into at 18 (I know!), it was me, Merlin, and Robbie-Dog. I moved out of the apartment overlooking the liquor store parking lot in Kalamazoo and into a smaller one on the edge of town. I had an overstuffed chair and a CD player. I slept on blankets on the floor. I ate hotdogs for a month because they were on sale at Walmart for 25 cents a package and, after paying rent and utilities, horse board and dog food, it’s all I could afford. Those were glorious days.
Fast forward to after my second divorce (I know!), also indirectly involving Merlin, and me living in a rented farm house surrounded by 15 acres of fenced pasture in Southern Illinois. At that time, it was me, Merlin, a second horse (my first rescue horse, Crocodile), Odin (my first rescue dog), and my son, Dylan.
The cost of living is low in Southern Illinois, and with all that pasture and neighbors willing to hay it, owning horses was the easy part. Being a single mom working long hours at a newspaper was the hard part. I know when I was living it there were some hard and lonely times, but I remember the years there as among the best days of my life.
There were the times Dylan would play in the water trough with Merlin standing guard. There were a few memorable moonlight rides, and countless gallops down field roads or alongside the river. And there were so-many-and-not-enough evenings sitting on the porch watching the horses graze and listening to the coyotes.
Arabians are long-lived horses. I expected to have Merlin until he was well into his 20s at least. I lost him on St. Patrick’s Day, 2009. He was 18.
We moved not long after that. The magic had gone out of the farm, and black mold was taking over the house.
I’ve changed since then. Of course. Time does that. But it was also losing Merlin.
When I brought my baby home from the hospital, Merlin was the first person who met him. He moved with me four times, twice a substantial distance, and he was my best friend while I was the new girl. He was often the first to hear good news. On nights when worry kept me awake, I’d stand by the gate and he’d come at a gallop to comfort me. I’d cry into his mane when the world was too much, and on long trail rides, all those problems were left behind. He was far more to me than just a horse, even a really good horse. He filled the gaps in my emotional landscape that for most would be filled by human people. I miss him, and I miss who I was when he was mine.
We know when we adopt an animal that loss is likely to be part of the experience. We also expect the joy to outweigh the pain. It’s not the same for everyone, of course. For some, the loss of an animal friend marks the end of having animals – the pain is too much, or the loss of a long-lived pet marks the end of an era. But many of us sign up to do it all again. There is something about the companionship of an animal that can’t be replicated with human animals.
I know not everyone gets this. I also know many of you do. If we meet in person, I invite you to pull up a chair, pour your favorite beverage, and let’s swap stories.
For Pam and Maxell T. Puppy, and for Jayne and Dixie