According to Chinese astrology, 2014 is the Year Of The Horse.
Not coincidently, I received a card in the mail from my godfather, New Year’s Eve day. “Thought you might enjoy this,” he wrote, “I found it while packing boxes, and decided to send it on.”
Tucked inside the card was a note written to him from my mother when I was three months old, thanking him for agreeing to sponsor me at my baptism. I pushed the single page back into the card, her loss still unbearable when confronted with it head on. “Not now,” I thought, “I can’t do this, now.”
After a few hours, I returned to read it, and, taking a slow deep breathe, I let her cadences rise from the words that she wrote decades ago. The note was brief, but on the last day of the year, the final lines managed to find their way into my hands, “. . . and I told her that they had a little girl cousin she could play dolls with and she laughed like she knew exactly what I was talking about. Last night her and Walt carried on quite a conversation. I must close now.”
A conversation. I once had a conversation with my father, three months before he left my mother, six years before his death. For the first time, I see myself as his infant daughter. He’s cooing in an affection laced gibberish, prattling on with the child who carries his DNA and these buried moments in her, even today.
That this bit of my mother’s storytelling arrived on the day before New Years as we enter the Year of the Horse, shimmered with epiphany.
Allow me to explain.
Over a decade ago, my journaling transformed while working with dreams and unconscious imagery. What persistently appeared, the image running through my journal for almost a decade, was a black horse. This animal was a beautiful untethered creature, running on an ocean beach as though its heart were ready to burst, mane and tail flowing, nostrils flaring in rushes of wind, scorching sand under its gallop, eyes burning in the sun’s glare. Reminiscent of Coppola’s cinematic images in “The Black Stallion,” my unconscious creation was an animal of remarkable power and beauty.
I viscerally sensed something about this animal, and wrote, “I am the horse,” a line punctuating my journal pages, over and over through the years.
“What does it mean?” I had no answer, and, over time, I began castigating myself for my overactive imagination, these silly exercises of unconscious journaling, and my obtuse assertion about my identity. I increasingly came to loathe the decades of journals haphazardly stuffed in my bookcases, hodgepodge documents of the inconsequential, chronicles of mania, ruminations on suicide, too soulful love poems, aphorisms wanting context, meaningless affirmations, uncompleted sketches, banalities in the extreme.
Inelegant excursions strewn on pages whose end eluded me.
Then there was the horse.
Irredeemable tripe. What would-be writer puts pen to paper to write, “I am the horse?” I tried imagining any self-respecting, or respected, author so doing. My inner critic reprimanded me, “you’re an unskilled, talentless neurotic wasting her time, spewing self-absorbed psychobabble onto the page.” The hoard of journals, and this strange imaginative creature appearing on their pages, became emblematic of my self-loathing, and a life that I imagined was beyond my reach.
A shift in my critical declarations would come. One clear New England autumn afternoon, about a week or so before my birthday, I came home and found a box on my porch. I opened it. “You seem to want to know about your father. I found these. Maybe you will want them,” my father’s younger sister scribbled on a loose piece of paper, with no salutation or signature.
Wrapped inside crumpled newspaper were two items. The first was a tooled and painted leather purse made by my father, with two handsomely executed large black horse heads facing each other on the front flap. The second was a copy of “Black Beauty: The Autobiography Of A Horse,” given to him for Christmas when he was seven, inscribed by his uncle.
As I removed newsprint from handiwork and book, an inscrutable bond between my father and myself revealed itself. I had never before held objects caressed by his hands, yet these two objects, now tenderly stroked by me, mirrored that animal appearing in my journals, a creature unconsciously forged, and with whom I instinctively if disparagingly identified.
I didn’t know what it meant — I only recognized an enigmatic tie between my father and myself, peculiarly embodied in a splendid black equine.
I set the revelation aside, though not forgetting it, and regarded my journals with a kinder if still skeptical eye.
Fast forward. A little over a year ago. I am leaving Cambridge in a whirlwind exodus. On the surface, all was chaos — a pending eviction, a pro se bankruptcy, selling everything that could be sold, giving away what could not. All in less than two months. I shed most of what I owned. Reluctantly, I even sold my mother’s diamond from her second marriage. Though I received less than a fraction of its value, I needed the cash.
Yet I was calm and conscious. I felt my mother’s presence. I felt her assurance that the ring’s only value now was to serve me. When I write, “my mother’s presence,” I mean a knowing, an awareness, a shimmering behind immediate sense experience. This elusive perception was connected to a larger one: everything unfolding in my life was a necessary dissolution. The circling storm of circumstance was merely an illusion — life was changing, a new landscape emerging. There was room for drama, but no need or desire to fill it.
In that rapid flux of conditions and choices, with little time to think through details, decisions seemed unfamiliarly random and arbitrary. Seemed random. Seemed arbitrary. What I failed to recognize is what we tell ourselves and life when we’re pulled along by something larger than ourselves.
Not until I received the letter from my godfather New Year’s Eve day did I see the significance of my decisions a little over a year ago. Everything gone. Yet I saved my journals. Those chaotic chronicles filled with embryonic dreams survived the dissolution, because I chose to save them, above all else.
I see clearly now that they were the reason for the dissolution, or, rather, the dreams and desires nestled in their pages were the reason for abandoning a life not worth hanging onto, and entering a new one.
By keeping decades of pages filled with myself, that self-absorbed, neurotic animal whom I had loathed for so long, I embraced my deepest self, a creature whose power and beauty I have yet to understand. I never saw the depth and breadth of those decisions before that note — humans being expert at burying life’s brilliance under the mundane and inconsequential.
In saving my journals, deep in my psychic recesses, I decisively chose to become the strangest of all animals, a writer.
I have felt painfully alone in these decisions, too often reaching for my comfortable blanket of self-loathing and insecurity while second guessing myself, wondering about my judgement, or lack thereof.
Financial pressures and uncertainties press hard.
Skills and creativity want.
But a note written when I was three months old traveled through time and landed in my hands, arriving on New Year’s Eve. In its lines, I feel my mother standing behind me, smiling. My father with whom I share an obscure connection appears and urges me on. Storyteller and artist stand together behind me, and they are as perceptible to me as that creature who for years ran on an ocean beach, sun burning its eyes, heart bursting in an untethered stride, a singularly magnificent beast forged in my unconscious that found its way into my journal pages.
A note written decades ago arrives on New Year’s Eve, and I understand that I am not alone.
Then, in a moment lit by an epiphanic sun, and bitten by the mysteries of sand, wind, and water, I realize that 2014 is the Year Of The Horse.
And I understand, I am the horse.