Fresh Horses

“What is luck when it comes right down to it? How exactly does it differ from fate? Are we really the stories we tell? This, Judge, is just the tip of my iceberg. Grace – I need it – I need it badly. But the thing is, I can’t find it. Is it enough to be a decent mother, a wife or do I need to do something big?” She tucked in, her lemony hot breath puffing in his face. “Answer me this: Do you believe today everyone has the goods to be a champion?”

“Ah,” chuckled Artie Green, “a liberal.”

Three Stages of Amazement, Carol Edgarian

In the aftermath of the heated battle which shall not be mentioned again, I doubted myself. I doubted my ability to champion a cause. I thought about abandoning it. There were a few heated discussions with Darcy, wherein he told me that he would prefer me to channel my creative energies elsewhere. Why, he wanted to know, am I so focused on what lies in my past?

There are creative energies that are being left behind. The unfinished novel. I look to Esperanza with naked envy: she has taken her literary aspirations and turned them into a real, living, breathing, wailing, colic-y book.


At the resort where we stayed, almost every morning I slept in. I knew this act would be disapproved of. I knew I was missing out on activities, sun, life. But I repeated to myself: “Fresh horses, Jessica. Fresh horses.”

I told my mom before we left, “Faces of ALI is the best thing I have ever written.”

She asked me: “Do you know what the favorite work of every writer is?”

“No,” I replied.

“Their current one.”


I read three good novels on vacation. Room, by Emma Donoghue (which I almost didn’t finish: it is that disturbing), Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, by Helen Simonson, and Three Stages of Amazement, by Carol Edgarian. And also, a Sookie Stackhouse novel. After Room. I needed some light relief.

I hadn’t read a novel in over a year.


At the resort, a jovial happy place where smiling seemed de rigueur, cliques didn’t exist and everything was easy, I thought and thought. Why am I the lucky one who gets to enjoy such a place? Shouldn’t I be out in a fishing village volunteering my time? Is it never possible to quell my mind of guilt?

I hung out with native Mexicans and asked them what Mexico was like, now. How was the country holding up in the face of the drug wars?

Armando laid it out for me: “My brother graduated from a top college in engineering. He works at a kind of Bed Bath and Beyond. But he’s lucky. Some of his fellow graduates drive taxis. The economy, it is BAD.”

And the drug wars, I asked?

“Unless you are in a cartel, they don’t concern you. At least, here. In this province.”


Why are some lucky and not others? For the longest time, I thought I was unlucky. I blamed the status anxiety of where I live (where BMWs are called “Basic Marin Wheels”) and the fact that having children was not a given for me. That it took science, a lot of it, to make me a parent. I worried that I am such an anxious mom, compared to others. Compared to the lucky moms on the playground, who I see judging me in their narrowed eyes. Oh, she has twins, you see. Fraternal twins. And you know what THAT MEANS.

They worry that my circumstances will rub off on them. They are afraid. They are scared that life is but a sacred veil: an illusion, that we control nothing, that we are born into a set of parentheses. That nothing is guaranteed except death. That death will come for them, too. For none of us wears an invisibility cloak. Ignotus Peverall only fooled death for a while.


Like David Foster Wallace, vacations make me ponder death. Why, I’m not sure. Maybe it’s that the business of daily living doesn’t permit thoughts of death to enter into my head.

There was a water aerobics instructor who looked like Brad Pitt in Thelma and Louise and each day he danced to a special routine to LMFAO’s “I’m Sexy and I Know It.” He was in on the joke. He winked. He knew he was helping us bide our time here on this funny, strange, tragic, stunning blue and green ball (I know I’m paraphrasing Anne Lamont here) through his comeliness, his willingness to make himself ridiculous in front of us. To me, he was courageous. For cheerfully reminding us all how absurd life is.


This is sounding depressing. I don’t mean it to.

On the last full day of our trip, Darcy took me on a guided horseback riding trek on a deserted, unfathomably lovely beach. We walked our horses past a crocodile-filled lagoon. And our guide let me gallop down the long, U-shaped bay. As I spurred my horse onwards, I rushed past Darcy and the guide, and felt the salt-filled air fill my lungs and nostrils as I steamed across the beach, fully engaged, completely in control of my running mutt of a filly and we both charged into the distance: crazily, optimistically and at odds with our own skeptical natures. (For the horse stepped carefully and I knew her to be of my mindset.)

And that’s what life is: it’s a gambol. It’s a wild ride of a trek. We don’t control it, though we often think we do.


In the end, I choose to try to champion.


You may not need me, you may well be better off without me, but I need you. You have been my lighthouse in the fog, you have made me laugh, you have made me think, you have made me look.


“A woman could die from a lack of real talk. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it a hundred times. And it’s not the kind of thing that a man can or should provide. In fact, any fellow who doesn’t worship his wife’s girlfriends is a fool.”

Three Stages of Amazement, Carol Edgarian


Thank you, for the real talk. It means more to me than I can say.



Filed under Discovering joy

14 responses to “Fresh Horses

  1. Mel

    I didn’t think it sounded depressed. I thought it sounded contemplative. Like someone who is weighing out things in order to determine their worth.

    How does your mother’s thought stand up if you’re writing two things at once 🙂 Which is your favourite when both are current?

    • This is a good question. I went back and read my novel about a month ago (it’s a lighthearted mystery I’ve been writing for 7 years on and off) and I thought it was dreadful compared to some of the writing I’ve been doing lately. I think part of it is I’m not in the lighthearted space: I abandoned it after my miscarriage.

      Maybe I’ll put up a couple of chapters like Esperanza did and let people critique…

  2. I thought this was beautiful. And Mel … it seems to me that writing two things at once is sort of like having twins, isn’t it? Neither one of them can be your favorite. They BOTH are. 🙂
    Welcome back, Jj. We missed you, and you weren’t even gone.

  3. Vacations rock. : ) (It’s sadly the only time I ever seem to get these days to read lots of books too.)

    And so do you. We need your voice here. Welcome back!

  4. What a well-timed vacation! It sounds like the perfect space and time to decompress the thing-that-shall-not-be-mentioned.

    I just finished Room, too. Wow. While it was hard to read, I also could not put it down. She is such an amazing writer.

    As are you :-). Because you are a deep thinker, a brave writer.

  5. Room was so intense, right? She created such an incredibly sympathetic narrator, so I was really invested in what happened.

    Thank you for those incredibly kind words 🙂

  6. “Room” is on my to read list at the moment I’ll have to dive into it soon. Sounds like the vacation did you good 😀

  7. Sounds like a wonderful vacation. Time to read. Time to think. Horseback riding. Sleeping in. I hope it left you well-rested for life back in the real world! Glad you’re back!

  8. Esperanza

    Yay for vacations! Yay for places that entertain your kids for you! And most of all, yay for reading books!

    Having said that I’m really, really, REALLY glad you’re home. I missed you something FIERCE!

  9. Welcome back, you have been missed. That horseback riding sounds amazing. So does your whole trip. Be gentle with yourself, and write what you need to write.

  10. I think this might be one of my favorite posts of yours. It feels free or something. And man, lady, you blow me away with your writing. Someday, when I grow up, I want to write just like you.

    (I missed you so much!)

    Also, was Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand good? I’ve had it in my nightstand for months now, I just haven’t picked it up.

  11. All these books sound great.

    And, your writing is beautiful. I agree with bodegabliss that this is one of my favorite one of your posts.

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