Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Chapter 9 ~ Heartbreak

Joy was allowed to go home the next day. Clearly, she was not yet well, but so much better. She was still fast asleep that morning when the phone rang. It was Pam. Pam is one of those people who is really genuine. She is kind and loving, hard working and always willing to give of herself to the benefit of those in need. Pam is who I entrusted all 3 of our beloved horses; Blondie, Sparkey and Trojan. Their farm is about the same size as what we were building, but complete with several different paddocks, pastures and barns to accommodate many horses. With this living situation, I was completely satisfied!

“Julie, Julie – You need to come quick!” She said interrupting me as I said hello.

“What is going on Pam? I sat at attention waiting for her answer.

“Something is wrong with Trojan. It is like he cannot walk..or like his back legs cannot walk…Oh – I don’t know. PLEASE just come over quickly!” There was urgency in her voice that I was not going to argue with.

I got up and threw on a t-shirt and jeans as I was explaining the situation to Don. I grabbed my keys and my purse and ran out the door. I took the truck since I was sure a trip to the vet was in order.

The Trojan War Horse as he was dubbed because of his towering stature rising up to 17 hands high. Trojan for short. He was a Tennessee Walking Horse, strawberry roan in color, not registered, 9 years old when I told the previous owner I wanted to buy him…but miraculously aging to 12 by the time he was paid for 6 weeks later! No matter. Now an astounding 30+ years old, he had been a guardian angel to both Emily and Joy throughout their entire childhood. He coached them all around the neighborhood without objection, even as they collected riders along the way. It was not uncommon to see 3 children riding him at once! He would happily bob his head to and fro as he made his way around the lake, with that bright orange mane and tale. Many a times he was involved in the girls sneaky escapades. I once found them riding the horses after dark, in the paddock with no saddles or bridles! Another time, feeling compassionate for riding Trojan too hard on a hot summer day, they just brought him into the house to rest under the ceiling fan! Memories were flooding my head and heart as I feared what I would have to face this day.

I skidded to a stop on Pam’s gravel driveway. Got out of the truck and ran through the barn. I could see several people with Pam, who was holding a lead line attached to Trojan’s halter. His head was low, but at least he was standing up, I thought to myself.

“Oh good. I am glad you are here.” Pam said as soon as she saw me.

“What is going on?” I questioned as I took the lead from her hand.

“He can stand here, but when we try to move him; ask him to walk, his back end doesn’t move in sync and he loses his balance.” She started to explain as I moved closer to him.

“Be careful Julie. I am worried that he could fall on someone.” She followed up as I nodded.

I stepped back, but took the lead and asked him to come up 1 step to me. I needed to see what she was talking about. Trojan raised his head. I knew he recognized me…or maybe just my voice. He took one step forward with his front legs. His left back leg curled under his hip and his huge body started to rock off balance.

“Whoa big boy!” I said as I pushed back on his chest hard trying to help reposition his weight.

I stood silent for a moment. “We have to get him into a trailer so I can take him down the road to the vet.”

Pam said, “Use mine Julie. It has a strong divider in the center he can balance on.” And without hesitation, she ran through the barn isle to start hooking it up.

She backed it into the barn, getting it right beside Trojan. He looked up at it as we opened the back. Trojan was good about riding in a trailer, but this was a special circumstance. I led him in. He took 2 steps with his front legs and then his hip started to sway to the left. Right when I thought that he was surely going to go down, he caught himself with his left leg. His right leg acted as if it had no communication with the rest of his body. I wondered if this could be injury related. Surely it was not intentional because Trojan was stabled in a paddock with his 2 buddies, our other horses, but maybe I thought, one of them could have stepped on him if he was laying down. It took us about 10 minutes to get him secured into the trailer. Pam was right. He was leaning on the divider. I jumped into the cab of the truck and silently prayed that he would still be standing when we arrived. The vet’s office was only a few miles away.

When I pulled into the drive, I noticed that, despite the early morning hour, there were several customers already there. I bit my lip as I looked for the best place to pull in and place the trailer. I jumped out and checked Trojan. Thank God, he was still standing! I ran into the office and explained the situation to the receptionist and she immediately called for one of the doctors. He met me at the trailer. I explained again, what I knew..what I saw.

We carefully unloaded the huge unbalanced animal, my first horse, my pet, Trojan. I watched as the vet preformed several tests on him. I tried to assist when I was called upon to do so and when he left to retrieve an instrument; I buried my face into Trojan’s long winter fur. I could no longer hold back my tears. I sobbed. I knew the diagnosis was not good. The doctor was quiet as he scribbled notes on his clipboard. He did not want to make eye contact with me as he knew I was searching him for the answer.

He returned, bringing with him one of the vet tech’s. They did a few more tests assuring it was not injury related. Several times, Trojan came so close to falling down and each time I felt my heart rip.

“It is neurological.” He finally said. “Your horse” looking down at his notes, “Trojan?..has suffered what can be compared to in humans, as a stroke.”

Silence fell. It was deafening. Other people around were talking. Animals were making noise and I know traffic was passing by as well…but all I could hear was the sound of my own heart beat.

“We could put him into a stall and start him on some fluids and see what happens.” The vet said almost as if he was trying to extend an Olive branch…”but honestly, if he is over 30…and is this right? Did he suffer a massive heart attack and survive 5 years ago?”
Through my tears, I nodded yes. “He has not been ridden since then. He is our pet.”

I stroked his face. The right decision was directly in front of me and I tried everything I could not to confront it, but I knew. I knew it was time. God had given us 5 extra years with him, 5 years that no one could have imagined that he would have survived. I did not want him to be in pain. I did not want him to be in danger of getting hurt from falling. I swallowed a hard knot in my throat. My voice cracked as I said, “Let’s put him down.”

I no longer tried to hold back the tears. A constant stream flowed as I whispered so many loving words of thanks into Trojan’s ears and bestowed so many kisses to his face.

The vet touched my shoulder as he came around to my side. He reached up, taking a part of Trojan’s mane, he lovingly braided it. He ended it with a small rubber band and wrapped a small piece of tape around the top just prior to cutting it off.

“I am so sorry.” He said as he handed me the keep sake. I held it next to my heart. I hugged Trojan one last time as I breathed in his scent. It just wouldn’t be the same, I thought, moving out to the farm without our big gentle Trojan War Horse.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Chapter 8 ~ The Move

It was hard to pack up my beloved treasures. I carefully wrapped every single memory as best I could, hopefully preventing any breakage during this move. Some of the items could be retrieved as soon as we moved to the farm, I consoled myself. Others though, I knew, would be packed away for years until we were able to build a real home.

Our rental was not ideal, but we were thankful to get it considering the very few options we seemed to have. It was a duplex home about 15 minutes from my work. The neighborhood consisted mostly of renters which made for no welcoming party…to say the least! There were 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a kitchen and den. Both our daughters, Emily and Joy lived there with us until they returned to college. To be quite honest, the place gave me the creeps. I knew most of my neighbors by name though. I could easily read it from their tattooed backs! I found myself constantly checking the doors and windows, making sure all was secure and I stayed inside after dark. Other than that, it was clean and it was the one place that would rent to us for only 6 months. It had a fenced in back yard and other than the Pit Bull next door, who dug under the fence and tried to eat our Corgi KC, everything was fine…just FINE…. I vowed not to stay 1 hour past our 6 month contract, even if it meant pitching a tent at the farm!

Once a well was erected, I spent most afternoons at the farm for a few hours every day. It not only allowed me to watch the progress of the building, but when I was there, I worked on the back pasture fence. I had a goal of completing 4 sections of fence a day. I tried to time it so that I arrived back at the duplex right before sunset. Upon arriving home one day, I entered the house and heard a strange noise. My heart started to race. I stood perfectly still waiting to hear another noise. I searched for our indoor dog Chrissy with my eyes but did not see her. Again, I heard the strange sound. It was a moan. I raced to the back bedroom frantically looking around. Nothing. I leapt forward into the bathroom. There was Chrissy standing next to Joy, our youngest daughter. She was curled up around the toilet in obvious pain.

“What’s wrong?” I questioned as I knelt down beside her.
She tried to focus on me while answering. “Momma, my stomach hurts really badly.”
Joy was ghost white and there was a veil of sweat over her face. She had her left arm curled under her body and around her abdomen. The toilet was full of vomit and she continued to gag.

I ran into the kitchen, grabbing a towel and dousing it in cold water. I took it back to her, trying to sit her up to wipe her face. She threw her head back and cried an agonizing wail. A sound no Mother ever wants to hear come from her child. I grabbed her arm and pulled it around my neck, picking her up. We went straight out to my car. I tried as gently and quickly as I could to get her situated into the car. We sped off on our way to the Emergency room.

“Joy. I have to ask you a question and you MUST answer me honestly! I mean it Joy, I will not be angry with you. You just have to be honest so we can figure out what is going on!” My voice was shaking as she nodded yes.

“Have you done any drugs?” I asked as I turned my head from the road to her.
She nodded no.
“Any drugs, means anything from taking anything the doctor prescribed to anything legal or illegal…ANYTHING?” Again she shook her head no. Her big brown eyes filled with tears as she started to get ill again and we sped down the road.

We arrived at the hospital and wheeled her into the Emergency room. Her cries and dry heaves would have brought a grown man to his knees. Everyone who saw her had a look of either sympathy or terror on their face. Once on the gurney she could not stay still. She rolled and flipped and cried. It was hard for the nurse to get an IV started. When they did, they proceeded to give her syringe after syringe full of pain medications, a veritable cocktail that would have put an elephant to sleep and yet she was still crying and begging for more. They did blood tests and physical exams. They took her away to do x-rays only returning to ask me to come and hold her down. She could not even be still long enough for the few seconds it took to get a clear picture!

I followed the tech into the lab. Joy lay on the cold hard table crying. She reached for me when our eyes met. I leaned over the upper part of her body while they x-rayed her abdomen whispering calming words to her. She laid still just long enough for them to get the shots they needed. We returned to the emergency room. I asked the doctor to give her more pain medication while he looked over her chart. He agreed as he glanced up at her. I watched as they had now given her what I estimated to be over 10 times what I had been given to calm me down during natural childbirth! It was as though they had injected her with water. I have never witnessed so much pain and agony and all I could do to offer comfort was to hold on to her.

A few moments later the Emergency Room doctor came back into the room. He had reviewed her x-rays which confirmed Joy had a large kidney stone!
“Kidney Stone?” I questioned. “Old men have kidney stones, not young women!”
He nodded and agreed with me saying, “Yes, that is usually the case. We are calling in a Urologist for her. This stone is fairly large and seems to be stuck in her ureter.”

“Hurry! Just make it go away!” Joy responded.

Don arrived shortly after her diagnosis was given. I gave him the updates as he went over to offer her some comfort while I went outside to call my Father. She was still rocking back and forth and moaning. Moments later the Urologist arrived. He told us that he had reviewed her lab work and x-rays advising that the stone had a barb which had hooked itself to the side of her ureter. She was in as much pain as a patient with a gun shot wound to the stomach! Surgery was needed to free her from the anguish.
“Yes! Do it! Please get it out of me!” Joy begged as she overheard the doctor’s diagnosis. I ran outside to again call my Father with the updates.

Within moments a nurse came into the room with a gown. She instructed us to help Joy get undressed and ready for surgery. All of a sudden Joy was completely still. She did not move except to raise her head and ask if she could keep her socks on.
“No Hon,” the nurse replied, “you need to take your socks off too.”

I turned my head slowly looking at Joy while squinting my eyes in suspicion. The nurse reached for her sock. Joy jerked her foot away and tucked it all the way under her left hip. My mouth dropped open. Not 10 seconds ago, this child of mine was crying and flipping all over the bed like a fish out of water and now she lay in a yoga like position not uttering a sound! I reached under her and grabbed her foot by the ankle ripping off the sock.
“Oh my God!...When did you do that? Oh my God!” I screeched as I pointed to a tattoo on her toe.

Sheepishly she looked up at me, still not moving a muscle.
“A couple of weeks ago.” She mumbled.

Still holding her foot, my grip tightened. Through clenched teeth I asked, “Is there ANY THING ELSE you would like to confess to me BEFORE you go into SURGERY Joy?”

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Chapter 7 ~ Hurry Up and Wait

The next month was a blur. Every waking moment was spent doing projects around the house from big to small with one simple goal in mind; to make our home look irresistible to as many people as possible!

It was an older ranch style house situated on three acres. Our small subdivision was developed around a manmade lake, maybe 5 acres in size with one road coming in, wrapping around the lake and exiting the same way it entered. Ours was one of the lake front pieces and although we had come incredibly close, our home had never been touched by flood waters! About four years prior we had erected a shed row barn that sat comfortably to one side of the house without looking intrusive. It was a lovely set up which attracted quite a bit of attention from realtors and buyers alike. There was but one problem; our neighbors. Our subdivision, like so many other older developments had an interesting selection of home owners; those who loved their dwellings and those who did not. Sadly, one of the ‘nots’ lived directly across the street from us!

I implored them both by phone and in person to clean up their yard, even offering my help, without response. Their garage too cluttered to be used for vehicle storage was one thing, but the unsightly empty lot beside their home housing an assortment of dead car parts and wooden pallets was inexcusable. Many interested buyers did not bother to stop and visit our dreamlike home because of this. I watched as they sometimes would not even turn into our drive after seeing the pig pen my neighbors called their home.

Month after month passed us by with no contracts offered on our home. It nearly broke my heart and started a swell of doubt to rise inside of me. I tried to bide my time with a contractor we hired. Don and I decided create our dream farm in stages. We opted to build a custom barn instead of a pre fabricated one. Along with this idea, we wanted to have an apartment situated above the barn that we would live in for a small amount of time and later possibly rent out, after of course, our real home was built. As often as my mind started to drift backwards into worrying about the sale of our house, I would force my thoughts forward into this building project.

Six months had passed and we still did not have one offer so we made the decision to let our realtor go and hire one who was of a more aggressive nature. With her tactics we drastically lowered the price and forged forward. Within days we had two interested parties and an offer was on the table. We reached an agreement and our house was SOLD! This entire process took nine grueling months.

Not one week later a massive storm deluged the area with torrents of rain. Again, our home was not flooded, but so many in our area were, that trying to find a rental house while we built, was quickly becoming an urgent situation! It was not a matter of being picky about where we were going to rent, it was a matter of just finding a rental property that was available and would accept our 3 dogs, 3 cats, 1bird and 1 fish! The horses obviously, had to be boarded.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Chapter 6 ~ The Stud Contract

Once we were sure that we were going to move further out into the country and build our farm, I decided to give myself a gift. Always dreaming of breeding and raising my own horse, I thought this would be the perfect time. It was almost springtime and I just finished showing our mare Blondie at the Pin Oak Charity horse show. Hours of winter evenings were spent thumbing through Saddlebred journals that were filled with advertisements for Stallions standing at stud around our nation. Carefully studying pedigrees and body types only confirmed my original choice. My favorite was a former World Champion 5 gaited stallion named Heir to Champagne.

I phoned the barn manager where this stallion was standing to get some information. She advised me of the costs, which, when added up, were substantially more than I thought they would be. There was the stud fee, the cost of same day air transport and the collection fee. Using a stallion that was located out of state meant that we were going to either have to ship the mare to the stallion or do artificial insemination. We chose to transport the semen here and have the vet inseminate her.

My next step was to take our mare to the vet to get a fertility check up and to have an ultrasound performed to see how close she was to ovulation that month. The next day I left Blondie at the vet’s office with the intention of picking her up that evening after work.

During the day, I received a call verifying that the mare was in perfect health, but that she was going to ovulate in only a few days! Very excited and yet panicked, I called the barn manager again. She calmed my nerves and told me how to express mail the check to them. She would fax me a copy of the Breeding contract the next morning, and before we ended the call I gave her all of my vet’s information. I was elated! Another piece of my dream was going to come true.

Barely able to sleep, I envisioned the beautiful foal we would have the next year. I got out of bed and started to get ready for work early and tried to think if I had forgotten to call anyone of our many friends to inform them of the great news. I could not stop smiling.

Getting to work and trying to concentrate was difficult to say the least. Every project I worked on was interrupted by my day dreaming. I knew the contract was going to be faxed to me and was anxiously waiting for it. About mid-morning, most of the workforce had arrived but the office was still a bit quiet. A woman was walking through the isles on our floor from the business station towards me. I could see her over the half back cubical wall that surrounded my desk. Keeping my fingers crossed, our eyes met when she was still about 100 feet away.

“Juuuuuulieeeeeeeeee” Her voice sung out nice and loud as she started to smirk. Skipping and waiving the paper around the top of her head as if she were imitating a helicopter. “I have your stuuuuuuuuuddddd contraaaaact!”

I bit my lip and tried to sink down in my chair to disappear. Almost everyone around me stood up in their cubical to see what was going on. A roar of laughter rang out over the floor and I realized I had to stand and face my tormentor. “Give me that.” I said as she approached. I started to laugh.

Just as I was about to sit back down, another woman stood up. She was a passive meek looking lady in her mid sixties. I do not remember ever seeing her. Looking straight at me and in a whinny voice she said, “I want a stud contract!” Not sure how to reply, I just sunk back down into my chair and hid in my cubicle the rest of the day.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Chapter 5 ~ "Don; We Are Moving!"

The truck could not go fast enough driving home…not giving one thought to the reason I why I was running errands; why I was in that area or what I was hauling home. The only thing on my mind was our new home and how I was going to tell Don about it. This, after all, was not something I wanted to tell him about over the phone. It had to be done with finesse. It had to be done with emotion. It had to be done with excitement!

“Don!” I screamed before I stepped through the door. “We are moving!”
Well, THAT was full of finesse! I thought to myself.

With eyes are large as saucers, he listened to me describe the property and what had happened. I spoke as much with my hands as I did using my mouth pacing all about the floor. I could not stand still. Adrenaline rushed through my system and I hoped it was spilling over into his.

“So what do you think?” I asked.

Dead silence fell over the kitchen as he backed his head up into his shoulders. I think he was waiting for me to pass out. He stood there with a sandwich in his hands ..in the same position he had been in when I rushed into the house nearly 20 minutes earlier.

“Do you want to go and see it?” I asked breaking the silence.
“Now?” he responded.

“Well, I want to go now and if we left right now, we would still have about 20 or 30 minutes of daylight left.”

“Don’t you have a big chest in the back of the truck?” he said still trying to absorb everything I had just laid on him.

“Oh yeah – that…” I looked down biting my lip.

“Can’t we go Sunday – on my day off?” He said still gripping his sandwich.

“Yeah.” I was disappointed and could not hide it in my voice. “Okay, I guess that would be better and I can call and find out more about it too.”

I fished the tiny piece of paper out of my pocket where I had scribbled down the number posted on the for sale sign as I walked over to the phone. By the time the dialed number was ringing, I had a pen in hand slanted down at a note pad.

A 10 minute conversation revealed every detail that was going to be legally necessary, but not mandatory in my world. That particular track of land was roughly 28 acres, mostly pasture and although it had an elevation slope of about 100 feet, none of it was in the flood plain. The attentive sales person was providing information faster than I could request it. This new development was a small grouping of ranches no less than 15 acres and most closer to 50 created from an 850 acre ranch owned by one man that was sold upon his death. They were in the process of creating a fishing lake, there were going to be horse trails and blah blah blah… Little did he know that I was sold the minute he told me the land was still for sale…at any cost!

It seemed to take forever for the days to pass until Sunday when Don and I would return so that I could introduce him to our next home. I made list after list of things to be done before we placed our house on the market. I made several calls to friends requesting Real Estate Agent referrals and actually started to clean out the attic for a garage sale. My family surely thought that I had gone mad.

* * * * *

“There it is!” I said pointing to the short gravel drive.
Don pulled the truck up to the gate and slowly got out. I noticed his eyes squinting as he looked around.
“Come on. We have to jump this gate.” I encouraged.
“Okay..okay, just wait for me!” he said.

He could not have been moving more slowly, or so it seemed to me at the time. I grabbed his hand and we headed up to the top of the hill. Just as we reached the highest point the breeze blew and stroked my face. To me it felt like a greeting from someone I adored. I inhaled deeply and closed my eyes. Still clutching Don’s hand, I prayed that he too felt the connection. Opening my eyes, I looked over at him. He was looking back and forth. He turned around and looked over at the wooded area.

“Is that where you saw the three trees that grew together? Do you know where the property line is? Do you know how far back it goes? What are the building restrictions? How much did you say it is? ..and how many acres is this?”

A smile crept over my face. He was hooked!