There’s no direct path through the debris of a lost life. But regardless of how deserted one feels while floundering to find that path, there are guides all along the way. The trick is to notice and take advantage of them at precisely the moment before you go down for the third time.
The relationship breakup I endured almost four years ago was not remarkable in the history of breakups. I’m quite certain there have been uglier, nastier, more expensive, more heartbreaking ones. However, that knowledge was not helpful to me at the time. For over a year I was in a panic-stricken mode of desperation over being told I had no right to ever again see Destiny, the horse I cherished, nor the particular llamas I had developed my closest relationships with. Any household furnishings basic to starting over were beyond my reach, not to mention essential equipment for animal care like halters, buckets, feeders.
There had been no legal marriage. That was the bottom line – a big, legal, “screw you.”
After 12 years of living with fully combined assets, what I was offered was my own clothing, half a set of dishes, a set of sheets, and all the animals deemed financially “worthless.” Thank goodness for that viewpoint – the worthless were especially near and dear to my heart.
The needs of the animals who first came to North Park with me, served as the permanent demand that I not just function, but actually build something to accommodate us all. We were a ragtag group those first days at the junkyard: about 20 llamas, two aging sheep, three cats, two ferrets and a pigeon. And a recently adopted shelter puppy.
It took a great many people a long time to clear out the trailer I was about to move into, and two very close friends over a week to remove enough rat poison and dead mice for me to consider the space safe enough to take up residence.
The assessment on safety came about as one more act of desperation. Throughout the cleaning process, the puppy kept finding petrified mouse carcasses in dark corners of the trailer, having undoubtedly succumbed to the boxes of rat poison we kept finding everywhere. Hercules would gleefully grab them up, run out the front door over the discarded mattresses and scatter rugs, through the snowmobiles and abandoned jeep that filled what might at one time have been a front yard, and once beyond human reach, would happily swallow the poisoned rodent.
At one point, my friends joined forces to tell me I needed to do something about the puppy before the dead poisoned mice killed him.
“There’s nothing we can do about it,” I told them. “He’s either going to survive the dead mice or they’ll kill him. That’s the deal with this place.”
As soon as I said the words out loud, I knew they were true for all the animals and me. We were moving into toxic territory without a penny in the bank. We would survive or not, by what we had lining our stomachs, hearts and souls.
And so it began. A stumbling, awkward, less than perfect march into a new life. Guides and guideposts kept nudging toward the surface, dragging me reluctantly forward. An unexpected friendship blossomed in the process with a man who had worked for me, and who had walked off that job in protest when I was fired from it. His newly found free time allowed him to help me move. His perspective on things alternately annoyed and saved me.
On August 11, 2010, I began to recognize the value of his perspective, and wrote this:
Yesterday afternoon, Don and I walked the perimeter of this land I’m borrowing. He did it for me, only mildly pretending it was for him, knowing it would make me feel better. Down the gravel road, past the cattle guard and the tiny water hole, south across the irrigation ditch into the lush hay meadow that is prickly from its recent mowing. From the southwest corner posts, there is no junkyard, no collapsing barns or tire-topped trailer. From that corner, I can spin around and around and see only mountains and willows and the tanning green of grazing land. From there, I can imagine the llamas and Destiny content in a new home if some miracle ever lets them all come. From there, I remember an old love of this land and taste the beginning of a new one.
We walk west to the next post, behind the junkyard and the trailer, and I realize I’m a little less distressed by them. We try not to talk too much about the oil well I’ve just learned is coming to the northwest boundary of the property. Don wants to encourage my joy over the beauty of the land (a view I’m not sure he shares, coming from his softly wooded cabin site in the mountains), so he steers me away from talking about anything less than bucolic. We make our way through the rusting fence line that brings us back to the junkyard. He entertains me with junk identification. “Ask them what they want for that Bronco. I could use those railroad ties. Did you know you had the skeleton of a four wheeler here?”
I grumble against his cheeriness, and begin to fight against the wave of depression coming toward me again. Then I see an overturned feed bucket. A rubber one — the size and type I used to feed Destiny her senior equine supplement, one I’m sure I’ll never see again. Tentatively, I flip it over with my foot, fully expecting it to be lined with oil residue or potentially lethal drops of antifreeze. But it isn’t. It’s perfectly clean and dry, almost new. I bend down, pick it up and take it with me as we head back to the trailer.
I have crossed the line. I’ve gone shopping in the junkyard. Don takes great delight in pointing this out to me.